6 Ways Group Exercise Classes Help You Hit Your Health Goals

By Bethany Kirk, Zumba Fitness® and Healthy Hearts Instructor at NCAC

When I joined the gym back in 2008, my goal was solely to fight off my depression. I was pregnant, a newbie to fitness, and life-long exercise hater. Just getting through the door here at North Cascades Athletic Club was a win. I quickly discovered that attending group exercises classes was key to progress toward my goal.

Over the years, my goals have varied: defeating depression, lowering blood pressure, being able to out-sprint my toddler, gaining strength, increasing endurance, improving flexibility. Whatever my goal, I’ve consistently found the most success when I include group exercise classes in my plan of attack. Here’s why:

1. The Appointment Vibe
For many people, despite best intentions, just getting to the gym is a hurdle. There is something about the appointment-like-vibe of putting an exercise class on my schedule that gets me into a tank top and out the door with reliability. If I wake up on Saturday and think . . . I’d like to get a workout in today; I’ll hit the elliptical sometime before the gym closes at 8:00 . . . odds are high that at 7:45, I’ll be finishing dinner and realizing I missed my window to get my workout in.

If, however, I wake up on Saturday, knowing I want to make it to an 8:30 strength training class, it suddenly feels like an appointment. I’d never blow off a doctor’s appointment, and I’m unlikely to blow this off either. Now I’m whipping up breakfast, grabbing my shoes, and loading kids in the car. I’m focused and intentional on getting to my class just like I would be to an appointment.

2. Community


Anytime I attend a class with even semi-regularity, I pretty quickly learn the names of the instructor and other regular attenders. Going to work out becomes like going to hang out friends—or at least good acquaintances. (I call them gym buddies.) Connecting with gym buddies before and after class becomes added motivation to get out the door and make it to class.

Although I’m very introverted and thrive on alone-time, I increasingly realize that being in community and connecting with other people is also critical to my sense of well-being. Certain seasons of life can be very isolating: moving, becoming a stay-at-home parent, retiring. Classes are a great low-commitment way to build relationships—no issuing an invitation, cleaning the house, or prepping food—just show up at that appointed time, and, bam, I’m part of a tribe. Moving toward any goal always works better when I’m connected to people who share similar goals.

3. Accountability
No, no one is going to haul me in front of a gym-truancy board if I don’t show up to a class, but, if you’ve become my gym-buddy, you’ll notice if I disappear from class. If I see you at the grocery store, you’ll say, “Hey, I miss seeing you at class! How is everything?” Sometimes that little friendly nudge is just what takes for me to realize I’ve let an illness or busy schedule derail me from the goals I’ve set. It will be the little nudge that gets me back to class the next week.

Really want friendly accountability? Friend your instructor on Facebook. I promise you’ll get a friendly nudge if you disappear.

4. Positive Peer Pressure
Working out is, well, work. And there’s a basic human tendency toward efficiency—in other words, avoiding work. Overcoming my tendency toward avoiding work just happens better with the positive peer pressure that comes from working out with a group of people.

I remember being 25 minutes in to an intense class and thinking . . . “If I were doing this workout at home from a DVD, by now I’d be sitting on the couch watching—not doing. I’d be sipping water, and thinking, ‘Dang, the people on this DVD are nuts.’” Good thing I was in a room full of people powering through: I powered through too and found endurance and strength I didn’t realize I had.

5. Variety
When I work out alone, it’s easy to fall into a rut. It’s easy to gravitate toward activities that are comfortable and hard to mess up—like using a treadmill or elliptical machine. Even for an experienced gym-rat, there’s a tendency to stick to the known and the comfortable. Often the exercises I dislike and, therefore, avoid, are the very exercises my body needs to overcome an area of weakness.

Group exercise classes are designed to offer variety, introduce you to new movements (what the heck is a Turkish Get-Up or a Bulgarian Split Squat?), and challenge you in new ways, moving you toward your goals. As a bonus, instructors are there to help make sure you’re doing these new movements safely and correctly, so you’re more likely to reap benefits.

6. Always More Fun than a Treadmill
I’m sure there are some running addicts who will disagree with me, but I have so much more fun in a group exercise class—even one that’s not my favorite—than I ever have on a treadmill. Listening to good music, connecting with other people, having instructors who crack jokes and encourage me to keep going, having gym buddies to whine with about how sore I am at the end . . . it all adds up to making group exercise fun. And at the end of the day, most of us will only persist in an activity if we genuinely enjoy it.

We all walk into the gym with different goals and motivations, but with the wildly diverse class offerings here at NCAC (seriously, from Zumba to CrossFit to Healthy Hearts) odds are good you can find something that will be fun, motivating, and help you move toward your goals.


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