That's the general "pretty much" answer I would give if I only had about 3 seconds to live. It's not that simple though. Context is important, in this case, do classes actually deliver a large portion of people's goals?
In this case, sadly not.
There is an abundance of different freebie and small fee classes you can put your name down for in big box and small time gyms. Yoga, pilates, boxfit, aerobics, spin, TRX, bootcamp, strength, conditioning, abs, stretching, Zumba, aqua and everything Les Mills from GRIT to body combat and of course pump. Plus I'm sure there are many more.
Now I'm not going to say they're a bad idea or that you shouldn't do them, but I do want to stress some fairly important considerations that aren't always spoken about.
An abs class for example, is good in some situations, not so good in others. The problem is the general gym goer who just wants to feel good, keep the weight off and stay active, is not going to spot the pitfalls for themselves. They need to be told, educated.
I want to lose weight, I'm not sure what to do so I'll start with classes!
That's great. One of the pros about gym classes is bridging the gap between absolute beginners and the proficient gym member. A beginner signs up for their local gym and finds themselves stood amidst a variety of people performing all sorts of impressive looking exercises. You're left wondering what on earth to do that'll complement your personal goals, how much weight, where, what the unwritten faux pas' of the gym are. It's madness.
So, the obvious and effective 'confidence building' answer is to jump into the classes and get told what to do. Disappear amongst everybody else and hope for the best, hope that your leggings stay on, or you don't fall over in spectacular fashion. Simple! The problem is, as good as the instructor may be, their primary goal is to run a safe, enjoyable and sweaty class. Their primary goal is not to personalise the class for an individual, nor are they there to encourage you to venture further into your own personal endeavours for training. They could! As a personal trainer I certainly do. Though it isn't written down in the rules of class conduction I'm afraid.
Fast forward 6 months, you're still doing classes, you haven't really learned much new, you hit a plateau 4 months ago and you're hardly any closer to your weight loss and tone up goals. Think about it. Say you go to two 45 minute classes per week. That's an hour and a half of impersonalised training with no attention to the greater picture. Your own rest periods, your own nutrition, your own strengths and weaknesses. You get bored and stop going.
That's not a success story in my mind, and it pains me to say that I see it ALL the time.
Step outside of your comfort zone in manageable ways. The first step was signing up to a gym and going to classes. You must do it again as soon as you settle in. Start asking questions to the trainers about how best to move forward. Start using weights outside of classes, movements that you have picked up in these classes. There's your next step into the unknown. Go for it.
I'll just do the quick abs class, I only want to tone up my abs anyway.
No no no, and no.
If all you're going to do is annihilate your 'ABZ' then you're going to encounter a problem. Your core is much more complicated than the cheese graters plastered all over magazines and fancy Instagram photos. Because you'll hardly be working the core for what it is, a stabiliser. You'll be hard pressed to make much progress with the abs alone since your body likes to develop in proportion. So the core as a unit must be worked in a balanced way to maximise the bumps and tone lines many of us strive for.
Let's say you do pump up your abs, you're going to set yourself up for likely issues with the imbalanced strength of over tight hip flexors and abs, with the rest of the body struggling to keep up. This is no good I assure you. An extreme but very real example.
The classes are designed to accommodate a huge variety of different levels. So, the instructor is unlikely to set up exercises that actually promote strength and growth of a muscle. The sort of rep ranges you need to grow the abs are not what you usually find in an abs class. Usually you're working to get a sweat on and "feel" like you've had a good work out.
There are hundred of ways to end up feeling like you've had a good work out. Jumping up and down and flailing your limbs about as hard as you can for example. This will usually give you a good, albeit strange work out. It won't promote your goals though. The rep ranges are usually 15+ which develops muscular endurance more than anything. I'm fairly sure you're not there to be able to do as many crunches as possible, right? In case you are, soldier on Mao Weidong.
The final consideration which is fairly intertwined with my point "Your body likes to develop proportionately" Is that just working the core and nothing else in your body is tantamount to making life a lot more difficult and unrewarding than it needs to be.
Also something to consider is exercise order, programming. Ideally - as a general rule when programming a session - You wouldn't put a core exercise at the beginning of a session. Especially if your next exercises happen to be big movements like the deadlift.
Your core plays an extremely important role in stabilising the spine during hip hinging, taking up the slack from the shear forces generated from the bottom of the movement. So coming to an abs class, destroying them, then asking them to work hard for you during a 4 set deadlift? Not such a good idea. You need your core to be super strong and fired up, otherwise those shear forces are going to go straight through the ligaments and cartilaginous joints of the spine. It is not a question of if, but when your back explodes all over the wall of the gym, all over people's faces too. Nobody is a winner.
Abs classes have their time and their place. You go in with a good understanding of what the long term effects can be, you work to balance out your training evenly across your body. Plus, doing an abs class at the end of your own gym session? Why not, get involved.
You may not have your muscles firing correctly in the first place.
Let me explain. In today's world a lot of us have sit down jobs which left unchecked, leads to two common and misunderstood issues. Upper Crossed Syndrome, which manifests itself in the rounding of the shoulders and upper back. Plus poor gluteal recruitment. In other words your butt muscles are switched off, they are not working at their true potential. If you're after better posture and firmer bum cheeks then you'll want to read this carefully.
Starting with Upper Crossed Syndrome. All this means is you have tight muscles in the chest and the upper trapezius along the top of your shoulder, draw a diagonal imaginary line here. Then you have weak mid to lower back muscles and weak cervical neck flexors, draw an imaginary diagonal line here too. These two lines form a cross and thus, the name Upper Crossed Syndrome. For gym classes, if all you're going to do is spin bike classes whereby a rounded upper back is a standard bike posture, then you can't contest it will exacerbate this issue.
Recognising this pattern allows you to begin to know what you need to stretch and what you need to strengthen. So whilst you proceed to do pulling exercises to strengthen your back, can you be sure you're activating your back muscles correctly? Guessing doesn't cut it in my experience, your time is worth more than this.
The gluteals are funny sods. Whilst they are the most powerful muscles in the body - Sitting central to the other big names of the hamstring group, quadriceps group, the core and the lower back. - They're also rather lazy, you could say they can't be arsed.
The main reason these switch off is because we apply pressure to them for prolonged periods of time in a constant elongated position. Sitting down does this nicely. Another reason is injury, say you pull a muscle or damage your foot sufficiently enough to have to hobble around. Your body is likely to switch the gluteals off. Having this big bad muscle firing at full capacity is not conducive to allowing your body to recover from injury.
And no, they do not turn themselves back on, you need to do this with the correct exercises. Try this now, stand up straight and clench your bum cheeks. I want full pressure, so much that if I were to put a piece of coal between your rosy cheeks, the pressure should turn it into diamonds. Believe me, I want my diamonds.
This exercise should be no problem.
Now I want you to bend over at the hips to approximately 90 degrees. Try and squeeze them at the same capacity. struggling? Your bum isn't switched on. If you're looking to do deadlifts which vastly recruit the gluteals, yet you cannot fire them properly at 90 degrees at the bottom of the lift? Or the bottom of a squat movement? How can you say you're executing this movement correctly? That extra work has to go somewhere and it is usually the lower back that picks up the slack. Recipe for disaster.
The point here with classes is you're unlikely to learn how to achieve optimal muscle balances and recruitment, given that classes are not tailored to any individual. So you can't really expect to make significant progress if your goals are to tone up, lose fat, and rectify posture, which are extremely common goals. It is the sedentary western lifestyle that promotes the need for these goals. Be sure you know what you're doing.
As I said, I don't wish to discourage anyone from doing gym classes, there are many benefits! It is social and gets you working out, you're burning calories, you're feeling good and working hard. Just understand some of the pitfalls so you can navigate around them, maximise the sessions and reach your own goals injury free.
Have any questions? Comment below!