How do you make the most out of a one-hour group fitness class? People want to lose weight, get stronger, move better, and generally live a more-healthy lifestyle. How can you help someone with all of these things if you’ve only got one hour with them in a large group, only a few days a week?!
Dial-in the Basics
It’s easy to want to help someone improve in his or her fitness journey by making them a stud mover right away, or “Oh, they have a good-looking goblet squat, HERE’S a 120 lb. DUMBELL!” I’ve been in these situations before and it’s easy to get excited about someone’s success, but it’s important to remember that someone isn’t going to see giant improvements in a day.
At Force Barbell, we break-up our group fitness classes into a few basic parts, so that our clients can improve just a little bit in every important area in each class they attend.
Capitalize on the Warm-up
The warm-up period before the “real” training starts is a part of training that a lot of people take for granted. The warm-up is a period of 10-15 minutes that you can use to become a much better mover. We use the first 15 minutes of our group fitness classes as a warm-up to specifically focus on posture, mobility, and stability in areas where most people lack all of these. We use basic exercises that focus on specific things and we coach them up so everyone knows what he or she should be focusing on, why they should be focusing on it, and how it’s going to make them better. Below are a few exercises that are used almost every day in our group training classes. They may be simple, but they’re very effective and challenging, especially if you lack some simple body awareness.
Strength is Essential
While most people don’t want to be the next National Champion Powerlifter and squat 700+lbs., increasing strength is important, even for the non-committal athlete. Strength is important to building stronger bones and connective tissue in the surrounding joints, increasing resiliency to injury, improving movement quality, and improving body composition by increasing muscle mass and decreasing body fat mass. I think it’s safe to say that these are benefits that most people would like to see. We use a 15-minute period right after the warm-up that’s solely focused on gaining strength. We rotate through different variations of squats, deadlifts, presses, pulls, and other more dynamic exercises, such as DB snatches and clean and jerks. The amount of reps performed is usually lowered during this period of the training session to drive more strength adaptation, and this also allows our clients to not let technique break down. We aren’t building any 500-lb. squatters with this program, but our clients experience some serious strength gains over time. Taking someone who has never squatted with a barbell to squatting 200 lbs. in less than a year is a big achievement.
Moving better is great, getting stronger is great, but people also need the ability to play with their kids and not feel like they need a rest period. Improving conditioning and work capacity with individuals is essential to living a healthier, more fulfilling lifestyle. This is also what people think is going to help them lose weight most effectively, which holds a little bit of truth. However, we’re a bit more focused on improving people’s ability to work consistently over a longer period of time, and when they get better at this, they usually see their body fat mass going down. The reason for this is they can get more work done in a given period of time. If they can perform more work in a given timeframe, they’re more prone to increasing lean muscle mass and dropping body fat, because their body expends more energy and they’re accumulating more muscle-building work.
The key to conditioning is doing it right. A lot of conditioning programs can get caught up in having people work really, really hard for a short burst, but then they don’t have any gas in the tank for the rest of the program. The key is to implement sufficient work:rest intervals, so people can keep a good steady pace for 20-30 minutes. It’s also important to know how different exercises effect the body. Thirty-seconds of burpees is going to have a very different influence on the body than a 30-second plank. It’s important to structure the conditioning program where people not only have appropriate work:rest intervals, but also have their exercises managed where they aren’t so demanding they don’t have energy for others. Thirty-seconds of burpees, followed by a 30-second rower sprint, followed by 30-seconds of sled sprints, is a recipe for disaster. It would be smarter to throw in an exercise that isn’t going to have as high an aerobic demand, so that the client can catch his or her breath and let their heart rate lower and have enough energy to adequately perform the next task at hand. Below is a basic, but very good example of a typical conditioning circuit we have our group training classes perform:
5 Rounds – :30 work/:30 rest
This circuit is set up to give each muscle group a chance to rest, while other muscle groups are being used. An example of a more aerobic demanding circuit might look like this:
4 Rounds – :45 work/:15 rest
The bulk of our group fitness classes consist of what I just went over. Some days there’s an additional 5-10 minutes at the end where we throw in a finisher activity that helps build some team camaraderie and the sense of working extremely hard. Other days, we might use this last bit of time for a cool down to help promote recovery characteristics.
If you’re looking to get stronger, improve your body composition, and stay out of pain, this is about the best well-rounded group training plan that you can find.