We've all been to a great group exercise class.
However, these quality experiences are now quickly being outnumbered in the modern fitness world. Bad group fitness classes have become an epidemic. These classes tend to ride the coattails of whatever's hot in the fitness world at that given time, but their design and implementation is shoddy and inefficient.
Because all group classes don't deserve a bad rap, I want to help you avoid these imposters. Here are seven signs of a bad group fitness class.
1. Neglecting to Offer Options
Bad group classes start a little like this: "Hi, I'm _____ and this is what we're going to do in class today *Points to notebook scribbled with words you can't read* Any questions? *Half-second pause* Great! Let's get started."
The focus is on them, not you. They're concerned with getting through what they have planned for the hour so they can get you out the door and go teach another class or do something else. A great group instructor will offer and demonstrate modifications. If they've been around a while, they'll already know some info about many of their class members and should be able to give them a heads up about certain moves that may give them issue (and provide potential alternatives).
They'll clearly delineate exercise progressions, get to know the experience level of the people in their class, and outline what the goal of the class is before you start sweating. You don't want someone who just blows in two minutes after the class was supposed to start and immediately starts exercising at break-neck pace and expects you to follow suit. Which leads me to my next point...
2. Wasting Time Pre-Class
You've arrived for your noon boot camp, and it's 11:57 a.m. No sign of the coach yet, and everyone is kind of just stretching or idling. Finally, at 11:59 a.m., the coach rushes in, plugs in their music and dives into leading the warm-up.
Ten minutes later, they're wasting your time by asking you to go grab certain pieces of equipment, and it's clear that they're making some stuff up as they go.
Instead, in a good group class, the coach is already there and preparing for class no fewer than 10 minutes before the start of class. Even if they were coaching a client or class beforehand!
If you get to a class, look around and everyone is kind of staring off and wondering what to do, then you're probably not in a great spot. If you get there and the coach is chatting with members, has stations set up, and the warm-up and workout are written on a board where everyone can see it—that's more like it. The more the coach can do before the class to ensure good flow and good form during the class, the better.
3. The Programming Doesn't Match the Description
As I previously mentioned, many bad group fitness classes simply latch onto the latest fitness trend and throw out a bunch of buzzwords designed to attract clients. But often the programming doesn't match the description. If a class is being marketed as a great way to build strength, but you're spending the entire session doing a thousand reps with teeny, tiny dumbbells, there's a disconnect between what's being promised and what's being programmed. If it's being marketed as an "interval" training class, yet you're never actually taking any structured rest breaks, there's a disconnect. Great group classes offer an earnest description of the methods that will be utilized in the class and deliver on the promised programming in an intelligent way. And great instructors aren't afraid to explain their programming.
4. Rotations and Transitions Are Impossible
Most group classes include some kind of rotation or transition. You move on to a different exercise, pick up a different implement, transition to a different area of the floor, etc.
When people move from one area or one exercise to the next, it should be seamless. There should be clear directions about where to go and what to do, and exercises should transition logically. If you have to go outside to flip a tire and are forced to run through a narrow gauntlet of swinging kettlebells, only to return inside to throw a barbell around right next to people doing core exercise on the floor, it's really not a question of if someone's going to get hurt, but when. Great group fitness classes have smooth, structured transitions and safety is always the number one priority!
5. Newbies and Vets Are Treated the Exact Same
Look, this is just lazy coaching. No one expects you to lead a staff-wide meeting on your first day at work, just like no one expects to have to direct you to the bathroom in your fifth year at a company.
In every other facet of life, beginners and veterans are treated differently. So why do group exercise coaches think their class is an exception? The number of times you have to cue someone's exercise on their first day vs. their 500th will vary. The amount of explanation someone needs on their first day vs. their 500th won't be the same. A good coach knows when a long-time member loves to be vocally pushed, but maybe a newbie doesn't like the same type of motivation. But this all goes back to the first sign of a bad group class—neglecting to really know the members.
6. You're Thinking: 'Am I Doing This Right?'
It's never a good feeling to not know if you're performing something correctly. It is the coach's job to provide quality cues and to help you know whether you're doing something right or doing something wrong. The coach should either provide confirmation that you're on-point with your form and movement or help you address the issue if something's off. If they're totally ignoring you, that's an awful sign.
How are you supposed to know what's left from right? How are you supposed to grow? That's not even coaching. If you're constantly left wondering, "am I doing this right?", make a swift exit to the nearest coach who will actually train you.
This issue can be exacerbated by the fact that many modern group fitness classes are totally devoted to a "rhythmic" nature. Exercises are done in a certain cadence, usually to ear-splitting music, and if you're not moving "on beat" you stick out like a sore thumb. So now you not only don't know if what you're doing is actually right, but you're also feeling forced to do it extremely fast while trying to stay in concert with everyone else.
7. No Post-Class Plan
On the other side, time after the session is just as important as time before the session. A good group class should have a cool-down of some sort, and the coach/trainer should hang out for a while as people file out to welcome anyone who wants to chat or ask questions. That's when you build the camaraderie that can make these classes so fun!
If a coach always rushes out of the class after the final rep with little to no explanation, that's a sign they're just there to make a quick buck.
I truly hope you haven't fallen prey to a bad group class, but with how common they've become, it's bound to happen at one point or another. But by knowing the signs of a bad fitness class, you can recognize when you find yourself in their midst and promptly seek out better options. You deserve coaches who will actually coach you and help you get the most out of your group fitness experience!
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