9 Things You Need to Know About Group Fitness

Whether you’re just jumping into the workout scene or consider yourself a seasoned pro, group fitness classes can give you the boost needed to push yourself to the next level. Plus, there’s a sense of community that you might not get in a normal gym setting. Now, you might picture Richard Simmons in an intense moment of step aerobics when you hear the words “group fitness,” but you should quickly clear that from your mind. Yes, aerobics is definitely considered group exercise, and it totally started a revolution, but there are plenty of other types of group fitness classes that don’t include steps or sweatbands.

You can try body sculpt, cardio (like kickboxing, dance or step), bootcamps, cycling, yoga and Pilates. All levels are welcome but be sure to check with the studio about whether a class might be best for beginners or a more advanced skill set (it’s often noted specifically for yoga or Pilates classes). Consider these tips from group fitness instructors themselves.

1. It’s great for beginners

Remember what we just said about community? Group classes help you fit in right away. If you find yourself staring at an elliptical machine wondering how long you should be on it or how hard to push yourself, jump right off and sign up for a class. The group class instructors will take you through each move, hold you accountable and push you harder than you might think you’re capable of going. “Group fitness is scalable too. If you’re a beginner, it’s okay to use the 3-pound weights,” says Michelle Akda, Funk Fitness instructor at Swerve in Los Angeles. “Simply work at the pace you need to work at.”

2. It provides a workout regimen

We know how hard it is to sign up for a class and show up to it. But once you find a few classes you really love, put them in your calendar and designate that one hour each day or every other day to do it, says Michele Gordon, creator of Cardio Sweat Party in New York City. Remember: It’s just an hour. (That’s like an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale.) You can totally do it.

3. It’s downright fun

Go to the same classes for a while and you’ll start making some friends. “There’s energy, music and people. For those who dread the gym, signing up for a class makes a good sweat session so. Much. Better,” says Gordon.

4. It’s easy to get started.

Show up a little early to class and introduce yourself to the instructor to let him or her know it’s your first time attending. “If you have any questions on your form or a certain exercise, catch the instructor after class and ask away,” recommends Gordon. “Most instructors, while busy in between classes and training sessions, will designate 10 minutes before and after class for talking with students.”

Once you sign up for the class you want, look up what you need to bring. The studio’s website will usually specify if they offer gear like towels, mats or cycling shoes. You can also check out reviews on Google, Yelp or ClassPass for any helpful hints on what to expect. Tap your friends who have attended the class before, or better yet, reach out to the instructor for the rundown.

“Other than that, just bring a great attitude and the desire to push past your comfort zone!” says Akda.

5. You’ll learn about yourself.

While you will go through a bunch of movements, remember that instructors are teachers too. So, yes, while you’re there to work up a sweat, it’s also an opportunity to learn new moves and execute them properly. Don’t be embarrassed if you can’t execute a crow pose or properly swing an uppercut right away. That’s why you’re in class!

You might even learn things beyond the physical exercise—like how to breathe better or focus. “It’s the only time I see people actually put their phones away,” says Gordon. A mandatory break from the world? Sounds wonderful, right?

“I learned that I am a competitor, a warrior and an athlete,” says Akda. “Your group fitness classes should push you to new heights and abilities, and that just feels, well, amazing!”

6. It’s a time to be social.

While working out alone is the perfect opportunity to schedule some “me time” into your day, exercising with a group can motivate you to work harder. It can create a sense of camaraderie, like you’re in a team setting. Make an effort to talk to fellow classmates before and after class and don’t be afraid to yell a “c’mon, girls!” when everyone (including you) is feeling exhausted and could benefit from some extra encouragement.

7. You don’t have to create the game plan.

We spend all day making decisions for ourselves—when to start working on a project, what time to make dinner, how to confront a sticky situation. All you have to do with a group fitness class is show up. The instructor has the rest figured out. You can totally set an overarching goal like, “I want to have more energy,” but when it comes to the actual workout, the instructor creates the sweat sesh for you, says Gordon. “You don’t need to think about it—just do it!” she assures.

8. It’s fit for anyone.  

But certain people might enjoy it more than others. If you don’t love working out or don’t know how to program a workout, group classes can offer motivation and proper instruction to make the hour or so of time you dedicate to it worthwhile. You might normally do 10 reps, but your instructor will push you to do 12; you might typically skip burpees, but your instructor will work them into the routine. With a teacher by your side, you’ll likely find yourself doing more than you’d normally do on your own.

Even if you’re a gym rat, a studio setting could help you switch things up. “You could be sprinting around the room, working to complete eight strength circuits or shaking your way to a stronger core. But in the gym, it’s more challenging to do these moves with little space or no interruptions from other members,” explains Gordon.  

9. The instructors are there for you.

Instructors are motivational powerhouses, personal cheerleaders and fitness role models. They’re full of energy and they’re knowledge, so no matter what your day is like, know you’re walking into a welcoming space. It might not be the actual exercise—but the person at the front of the room that keeps you coming back week after week.

“I love connecting with each person who comes into the studio. Sometimes it’s just to say, ‘I know you’ve had a long day. I get it. You’re here. Let’s have some fun!’ Other times it’s because they couldn’t hold a plank for 15 seconds in their first class, but after three weeks they can hold it for 45 seconds. Seeing progress is the best,” says Gordon. “I fully believe that fitness is fuel for all great things in our lives and that success is drenched in sweat. Showing people that they have the power to take on whatever comes their way is the greatest.”

“When I look behind me while teaching and see my students with big smiles on their faces and know they’re having fun and feeling good—there is no better gift in life,” says Akda.

Emily is a recent graduate and proud Midwesterner who just moved to the big city to start her career in magazine journalism. When she isn't commuting between Brooklyn and Manhattan, she enjoys browsing bookstores for her next read, sipping chai tea lattes at local coffee shops, and playing tourist in the city she always dreamed of living in.