All Together Now
Harness the Latest Trends in Group Fitness
By Deborah L. Vence
Group fitness can be a fun way to get in shape, with a wide range of classes designed to help motivate and encourage people to reach their goals and feel a sense of accomplishment.
"Group training or group fitness encompasses a wide variety of styles and disciplines, including indoor cycling, boot camp, Pilates, yoga and body sculpting, to name a few," said Grace DeSimone, editor of American College of Sports Medicine's (ACSM) Resources for the Group Exercise Instructor and IDEA Health and Fitness Association's 2016 Program Director of the Year.
In fact, group training grabbed the number two spot in fitness trends for 2018, behind high-intensity interval training (HIIT), according to ACSM's Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends. It was only in 2017 that group exercise training made the top 20 in fitness trends, appearing at number six.
Even more importantly, researchers have found that group exercise improves quality of life and reduces stress far more than individual exercise. A study published in November in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association indicated that group exercise participants experienced a 26 percent reduction in stress and improved mental, physical and emotional quality of life. And, while those who work out individually put in more effort, they did not experience significant changes in their stress level and they saw limited improvement to quality of life.
Why Is It Popular?
As research shows the health benefits of group exercise, there are many reasons as to why group fitness programming has grown in popularity, including the fact that, "There is more energy when you're working out with a group," said Geralyn Coopersmith, chief content officer, Flywheel Sports, New York.
Group training grabbed the number two spot in fitness trends for 2018.
"There is more accountability when you're working out with a group," she said. "Exercise is less boring when you're in a high-energy environment with great music. The communities that form around fitness become very meaningful in a person's life."
Suzanne Gray, owner, Right Fit Sport Fitness Wellness, Willowbrook, Ill., noted five principle reasons driving the recent trends in group fitness. "The first," she said, "is economics. The growing trend in group fitness is coming from the economic advantages for clients, but also the economic benefits it offers clubs and gyms."
"Clients get nearly the same personalized instruction and attention in smaller (four to six) group classes as they do in private sessions for only 15 to 20 percent of the cost," she said. "Privates can run $75 to $100 per hour vs. $15 to $20 per hour for group classes. Clubs and gyms see the economic benefits, too. Instead of earning $75 to $100 per hour from a single client, they can earn $120 or more per hour from group classes."
The second reason is the social appeal of doing things together, working out with other people and socializing. Third, is the accountability to be disciplined and stay committed to fitness goals.
"Fourth is to ensure higher levels of motivation and output efforts," she said. "Fifth is the enjoyment to share success and results within a caring community of like-minded people.
"What makes it appealing? People enjoy not being just a number in a large group class. People enjoy more personalized attention and instruction. People benefit from more tailored instruction to their needs and abilities," Gray added. "Many that never had a team experience enjoy the first-time camaraderie of achieving goals together."
To boot, fitness enthusiasts are selecting their favorite group activities from a variety of settings, including boutique specialty studios (yoga, Pilates, cycling, boot camp) and combining those with favorites at their local fitness center or community center, DeSimone said.
"The boutique offerings have caused a rise in interest in group training. These small studios create a vibe that starts as soon as you walk through the door," she said. "Some look like garage spaces, others are upscale and sleek. Participants can shop for the vibe, workout and community that best suits them. Imagine surrounding yourself with a group of people who love the same music, workout and environment. Sounds like a party to me and, in many cases, that is what it feels like to the consumer."
Other reasons for the increased popularity include "First, when some individuals are starting a physical activity program, there may be confusion as to what to do, what equipment to use, how often to exercise, etc.," said Beth Taylor Mack, Ph.D., director, health behavior and wellness, membership and programs, YMCA of the USA. "By participating in group fitness, the responsibility is on the instructor who has the expertise to construct and periodize the activity such that it's pre-programmed for the participant," she said.
"Therefore, it takes the guesswork out of the workout. Second, classes are usually offered at various times throughout the day, thus designed to easily fit into one's schedule and, therefore, lead to the creation of a routine," she said.
"And finally," Mack added, "there is a natural social connection that occurs when people exercise together that leads to relationship building and accountability that perhaps is not found when performing a monotonous exercise like those on traditional cardio-based equipment (e.g., treadmill)."
Some of the top trends right now in group fitness programming include "high-intensity style athletic boot camp classes, indoor cycling, fitness barre classes and programs that measure heart rate or other metrics and allow you to compete for best-in-class ratings," DeSimone said.
For example, "High-intensity style athletic boot camp class includes short duration (usually 20 to 120 seconds) high-intensity drills (sprints, burpees, squat jumps, high knee jogging, etc.), combined with muscle-conditioning work (squats, lunges, push-ups, dumbbell or medicine ball exercises, etc.)," DeSimone explained.
A fitness barre class typically is offered in a studio with a ballet barre. "Exercises are based on dance and Pilates-inspired movements designed to tone muscles using a unique total-body toning approach. Classes typically offer a variety of exercises performed on a mat, light dumbbell work and exercises at the ballet barre," she added.
What's more, sport and private athlete training are moving to small group fitness programming, Gray said.
Also, "I see families capitalizing on the economics and efficiency of time that small group training offers. Lastly, I see huge growth in middle-age and senior populations moving to small group fitness training," she added.
Similarly, Mack said health-related classes (tai chi to improve balance, classes for individuals with arthritis (such as Enhance Fitness), classes for individuals with Parkinson's (like cycling or boxing) and classes geared toward active older adults are among the trends.
For example, Enhance Fitness is described as an evidence-based group exercise program for older adults that uses simple, easy-to-learn movements that motivate individuals (particularly those with arthritis) to stay active throughout their life, according to information from ymca.net. The program has been shown to make notable changes for participants, such as more energy, better balance, increases in upper-body and lower-body strength, more flexibility and range of motion, better sleep, more feelings of happiness and a sense of independence.
Mack noted other trends she sees in group fitness that include mind-body classes (yoga, yoga-fusion, mindfulness), equipment-based classes (cycling, strength training, step, barre, suspension training), functional and athletic-type classes (HIIT or boot camp-like classes) and dance-based classes.
With one of the common trends being HIIT classes, Coopersmith added that there also are different types that are being fused with other formats, such as HIIT-plus-boxing or HIIT-plus-yoga, body weight workouts, digital or online fitness that connects people virtually and cardio modality plus resistance training (such as treadmill plus weights, rowing plus weights, etc.).
The overall benefits for end users of group fitness programming include lower costs, increased social interaction, improved motivation and a higher level of commitment and personal responsibility, Gray said.
"Consistency is key with fitness. Feeling part of a group can keep people consistent," Coopersmith said.
Other benefits include "expertise, people aren't sure how to structure a workout or how hard to push themselves. Having a fitness professional coach takes out the guesswork," she said.
Also, "[It] taps into our natural competitive tendencies. People tend to do more when there are other folks working out alongside of them than they would alone," she said. And, "Encouragement, being part of a group can provide motivation to work hard and stick with, both in class and outside of class."
What's more, DeSimone noted several benefits of group fitness programming that include:
- Accountability: "Your fellow classmates will cheer you on when you show up and call you out when you don't."
- Camaraderie: "It's fun working out with friends or foes."
- Anonymity: "Some class enthusiasts like being 'alone in a crowd' and self-charge from the group energy."
- Motivation: "The music, the mission, the instructor, the energy—it's contagious."
- Fun: "Instructors make it entertaining and leave you wanting more."
- Serve Many: "As a fitness instructor, I can impact more people to lead an active lifestyle than I can in a smaller setting (personal training)."
The health aspects of group fitness programming are related to overall benefits of physical activity, Mack said.
Some of those benefits include weight control, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, strengthening bones and muscles, improving mental health and mood, etc., according to information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website.
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