It's noon at the gym. Don't hit me with a thousand "you're sexist" comments—because I've got some perspective on this industry—but most of the female members will be found in the fitness or spinning or yoga studio enjoying an instructor-led class. Fitness classes are a great way to add long cardio sessions to your repertoire, and sometimes (depending on the type) supervised strength training at a lower cost than working one-on-one with a trainer. But if you're in the same step class Monday through Friday, or you know the spinning playlist better than your instructor, you might be overdoing it.
, S, who I have been training for about seven years, is a retired office administrator, a competitive amateur golfer, and a professional fitness class participant. There is not a fitness class she hasn't tried. Her current weekly repertoire involves fitness classes 2-3 days per week, plus a session with me, and another strength work out on her own. From time to time, I try to encourage her to stray from her routine and incorporate other types of cardiovascular exercise—
jogging outside, perhaps, or doing a routine that I've given her. Mostly, I leave her alone. She's in great shape. She almost never misses a workout. But those fitness classes are like old shoes—they're comfortable, they get the job done, and she's not eager to replace them anytime soon.
One thing I do point out to her on a regular basis is that it's important to put your max effort into those fitness classes you love so much. A fitness class can be a great way to hack through an hour of cardio—an hour you might not get through if not for the catchy tunes, the creative choreography, and the pert little instructor screaming out orders. So, take your fitness classes, if you must. Just mix it up once in a while with a new class (particularly, strength training classes please!) and work hard while you're in there!
If you give it your all, you can burn a lot of calories in just an hour.
Here's how some of the most popular forms of fitness classes stack up:
- Step Aerobics: Moderate to high intensity movements on, over, and around an adjustable step. Usually involves some jumping and may not be suitable for those with joint conditions. Set to music with a quick pace that burns 300-600 calories/hour, depending on intensity.
- High-Low Aerobics: High impact moves are those in which both feet are simultaneously off the floor. Low impact moves are those in which one foot stays on the floor at all times. Put them together with a soundtrack straight from Much More Retro, and you've got traditional aerobics. Burns 300-500 calories/hour (higher impact=higher caloric burn).
- Abs/Core: Usually 15-30 minutes, these classes are crammed with sit ups, crunches, planks, and other moves often borrowed from traditional yoga and pilates disciplines. Set to music and faster than regular strength training to burn around 150 calories/half-hour.
- Yoga: Adapted from the traditional religious and meditative rituals of India, modern "yoga" classes are full-body strengthening and stretching sessions that build focus, balance, endurance, and coordination without impacting joints. The most common types, ashtanga and hatha, burn 300-500 calories per hour, but do not offer the same cardiovascular benefits as more intense aerobic exercise.
- Pilates: Another adaptation, "pilates" classes are variations on the classic pilates dance training method. Focus is on the core—abs, back, and hips—with high reps to build endurance and discipline. While not a cardiovascular workout, pilates burns 250-450 calories/hour.
- Kickboxing: Yet another adaptation, aerobic kickboxing mixes martial arts with conditioning exercises, like push ups and jumping jacks, at a quick pace set to music. Tones most muscles of the body and works the cardiovascular system for 400-600 calories/hour. May not be suitable for those with joint problems.
- Pump/Strength: Basic weightlifting moves, like chest presses, squats, lunges, and rows, are set to music. Weights are very light and reps are extreme—approximately 50-100 reps per body part—to build muscular and cardiovascular endurance. Burns 300-500 calories/hour.
- Spinning: One of the newest styles, spinning is just cycling set to music, and usually involving various speed and resistance intervals to burn more calories than traditional cycling. Performed on a spin bike at a very high intensity that burns 400-600 calories/hour.
- Hip Hop: Aerobic dance classes, these are the jazzercise of the new millennium. Aerobic dance builds coordination and endurance, sometimes with high impact movements or complicated footwork that may frustrate some exercisers. Burns 300-500 calories/hour.
- Boot Camp: Usually a mixture of aerobic and strength training exercises modelled after the military training camp workouts that get recruits into tip top shape—fast! These classes rely on body weight exercises to torch 500-700 calories per hour.
The key, as with anything, is moderation. Five spinning classes a week will not only become boring and easy (translation: you burn fewer calories as you get used to doing the same workout over and over), but it may even cause what we call "overuse injuries" that cause joint and muscle pain or even keep you from working out altogether. Mix up the classes and don't forget to add traditional strength training at least twice weekly. Mix up the classes and don't forget to add traditional strength training at least twice weekly.
Jazz hands, everybody . . .