The newbie guide to fitness classes

The newbie guide to fitness classes

The range of fitness classes on offer at gyms can be overwhelming. For those whose knowledge of fitness classes stops at Jane Fonda and her leotards, here is a guide to some of the options now on offer.

 So you have decided that you will be joining your local gym or leisure centre, and that the camaraderie and encouragement of an exercise class is the best way for you to get fit.  Now for the hard bit – choosing a class!

Fitness has come a long way since the days when it was aerobics or step, take it or leave it. While both of these activities are still very much with us, there has been an explosion in new workouts which means that there is a bewildering choice. To help you choose, here is a quick run-through of just some of the options on offer. Leisure centre staff will always be happy to advise, and you can usually have a look at a class in progress to see if it appeals to you.

Classes with a soundtrack will meet most people’s expectations of a fitness class. There is no doubt that exercise to music is a lot of fun – this is why it has stood the test of time and has continued to evolve. Most people will know about Aerobics, which is the same thing as Cardio – a workout designed to get the heart rate and breathing rate up so that more oxygen reaches the muscles. The work level should be controlled so that the muscles can always receive enough oxygen, which means working at about 60% of maximum heart rate. Obviously this varies between different people according to their metabolism and fitness level. Most of these workouts include stepping or jogging movements to get the heart rate up, followed by a section of ‘mat-work’ – done on the floor to work stomach, back, arms and legs. The session will finish with a cool-down and stretching section.

Step Aerobics is a variation which works leg muscles by using the action of stepping up and down. The original idea was to reduce the strain that can be placed on the knees with traditional aerobics. Step is lower-impact as there is no jumping, but the class requires co-ordination and a correctly placed step. It is more difficult than it appears not to fall off the step while trying to stick to the routine!

For those with both feet on the ground, Zumba is now a worldwide craze that shows no sign of waning. With a party atmosphere and a lot of hip wiggling, Zumba is marketed with images of lots of beautiful people but is actually accessible for everyone. As it is low-impact there is no minimum fitness requirement, and with no need for a partner it makes dancing a lot of fun. It is also surprisingly hard work, but the Latin-influenced music is guaranteed to leave everyone smiling.

Dance moves no good? Concerned about having two left feet? Why not try spinning? The ‘spin’ refers to the pedals on the adapted exercise bike that is used for this class. The instructor cycles to nowhere with you, and the bikes have adjustable gears so that the difficulty of the workout can be varied. It may be done sitting down, but spinning will certainly leave you feeling like you have worked hard.

For those wanting to slow things down a bit, consider Pilates. This involves gentle and controlled movements with a great emphasis on correct technique. Pilates works the body core to build strong stomach and back muscles, and with patience will tone and strengthen arms and legs. It has a slow pace and a lack of ‘sweat factor’, very different from the other workouts.

Outdoor exercise also lends itself to fitness classes. There are innovative ideas for everyone from new mums pushing buggies to those training to run marathons. Boot camps have also changed in the last few years. Military-style fitness is often taught by ex-military personnel, but part of their training involves adapting their style to suit civilians. They recognise that everyone present is a paying customer and is there by choice, and so there is no need to worry about motivation becoming abusive. Your instructor wants you to be there!

So all that remains is to try out whichever session appeals to you. For all your classes, remember one or two pointers:

  • It is important to arrive on time. The class will include a warm-up and it is not safe to leap straight in without this. Generally instructors will not allow anyone to join a class if they are more than a minute or two late.
  • Turn off your mobile phone. The world will go on without you for an hour!
  • Bring a full water bottle and keep it with you.
  • Don’t clutter the exercise area with your possessions. All you need with you is that water bottle and a small towel to wipe off the sweat (if you are male) or the glow (if you are female).
  • Position yourself so that you can see what the instructor is doing. New class members should be at the front. Don’t be shy – that’s where you will get the most help.

For all these workouts, remember that your instructor wants you to enjoy the class so that you will come back. If you have any queries, don’t hesitate to ask before or after the session.



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