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Should You Go Back To That Fitness Class?

Nate Clark working out alone in a hotel gym in Texas
Think twice before you buy that class pack, even after COVID-19.

The following contains an excerpt from my book, How I Did It: A Fitness Nerd’s Guide to Losing Fat and Gaining Lean Muscle.

With (most?) gyms closed and fitness classes canceled due to the pandemic, many of us are exercising alone these days. It’s required a drastic shift in our routine, especially for those who’ve come to rely on businesses and gyms to help us pursue our fitness goals. If you needed an instructor to get you moving, you’re probably struggling right now. (This pandemic sucks, right?)

COVID-19, social distancing, masks, etc., weren’t an issue when I originally wrote about this topic in my book. I merely wanted to explain the ways group fitness can, IMHO, distract us from our goals. However, now that so many of us are forced to exercise in solitude, the points I initially raised in the book have been magnified.

If you used to rely on group fitness classes to workout, there is a solid chance that your exercise schedule, frequency, and your motivation, have all taken a hit during this pandemic. You might even be avoiding exercise altogether by telling yourself that you’ll get back in shape when your regular class resumes or your gym re-opens. I feel ya. A deadly virus is a legit excuse to crawl under the blanket and avoid… everything.

But maybe now is a good time to re-examine why you relied on those classes in the first place. Perhaps now is the best time to strengthen your internal will and discover a motivation to exercise without an instructor coaching you along the way. Pull off that blanket and start moving—you can do it! You might even surprise yourself to discover just how strong and fast you are when you only have yourself to rely on!

Eventually, the pandemic will end, and those classes will resume. They do have their place in a training program. (Plus, they can be fun.) But before you consider signing up for another class-pack, here are a few things to consider.

Should you take that “Thai-Zumba-P90-Xtreme-Cardio-Yoga-Barre” fitness class?

I have a friend who takes that class. He wears a heart monitor during the workout. He and his classmates compete to see who can make their heart explode first. There’s a flat-screen TV with a leaderboard that broadcasts everyone’s heart rate, so my middle-aged friend can compare himself to the 19-year-old next to him. As if he couldn’t take one look at that twink and know that he’s going to lose this battle.

That craziness is not for me—hard pass. But, you do you. I won’t tell you not to take that Thai-Zumba-P90-Xtreme-Cardio-Yoga-Barre class if it works for you. Everyone needs to exercise, and you gotta do what you gotta do to keep moving. If you enjoy those classes, then go for it! Group fitness classes work for lots of people.

Some people like the camaraderie. Don’t talk to me because I am trying not to trip on this treadmill.

Other people like the techno music they play in class. I think the music sounds like aliens are attacking me from the sky.

Some people want a pushy fitness instructor. I want that guy to piss off.

If you need to take classes to get your butt in gear, I feel ya. But if you are looking to try something new, here are a few things to keep in mind before you commit to that class pack.

Being competitive in a fitness class isn’t always constructive.

Peer pressure is powerful. The herd mentality favors bigger, faster, harder over safety and technique. Competitive exercise classes only benefit you when you know what you’re doing.

That’s especially true for classes that incorporate resistance training. I’ve mentioned CrossFit, but there are also many other boot camp workout classes gaining popularity. These classes have you sprint on a treadmill one minute, only to then run across the room and do dumbbell presses on a “bench” that was designed for step aerobics. With 30 people in the room, it’s difficult for an instructor to make sure you’re doing it all correctly.

It’s hard to feel good when the guy next to you is doing shoulder presses with 25 pounds in each hand, and you’re holding the little pink five pounders because that’s where you are today. It’s even harder when the teacher keeps barking at you to bump up the weight.

Sometimes you will be the slowest, weakest, newest person in a group fitness class. We have all been that person at one time or another, and we will all be there again. It’s tough to fight the feeling of inadequacy when you fall behind the group. That’s human instinct.

But feeling inadequate is a fast track toward self-sabotage and abandoning your goals.

When I’m in a class setting, I tend to forget that everyone is different. We all have different bodies and different goals for those bodies. Comparing my performance to others is distracting me from my path. I don’t need any more distractions in life.

Instead, I compete against myself. I’m here to challenge myself to do better. To beat my previous best. To go an extra 10 seconds without collapsing. I am my own competition.

The “group” in “group fitness” can be a positive motivator in the right situations, but for me, it’s usually more of a distraction than it is a valuable tool. If you’re in a group, make sure you put yourself and your goals ahead of any expectations from the class or instructor. Listen to your body, practice good form at a speed that feels safe to you, and if you find yourself sacrificing either of those things, skip the class.

Fitness class schedules can be inconvenient.

Are you sure those classes are convenient for your schedule? Check out the times and plan before committing to a class pack or program.

I prefer to exercise on my schedule when it’s convenient for me. That might mean 6 a.m. one day, and 9 p.m. another day.

If I sleep in and don’t get to the gym until 6:05 a.m., I still get the same workout I was going to get at six. Nobody is going to lock the door and tell me I’m too late for my workout.

If your training program relies on classes, then you are beholden to someone else’s schedule. It’s too easy to skip a class because you are running five minutes late and have back-to-back meetings ahead of you for the rest of the day.

For example, there is one popular fitness class near me that I take on occasion. The classes are fun, and the instructors are attentive. So, earlier this year, I bought a class pack, assuming I’d take a class once a week to mix things up.

I went to a class in January, but I didn’t go back for four months because there never seemed to be a class that worked with my schedule. Guess what? The class credits I purchased expired, and those assholes kept my money. Ugh.

Fitness classes are expensive!

Maybe money is no object for you, but that’s not the case for most of us. The more expensive your exercise program is, the more likely you are to drop it when your budget tightens. Why risk it?

Single classes in LA cost $20 per class on average. That means $100/week if you exercise five times each week. That’s $400/month. They convolute this price with packs and bundles and the occasional deal, but it still costs a lot to work out a few times every week.

However, most gyms near me charge between $30 and $80 a month for a membership that you can use whenever you want, as many times as you want. Even the fancy gym with the eucalyptus towels is less than half the cost of a month’s worth of group fitness classes.

Keep your workout strategy affordable and straightforward so you never find yourself cutting exercise out of your monthly budget.

So, should you go back to that fitness class?

Group fitness classes work for people who struggle to motivate on their own. But this pandemic is forcing most of us to choose between exercising solo and not exercising at all. Instead of being down about that, consider it an opportunity to grow your motivation and excitement from the inside out. Now is the perfect time to pursue your goals—on your terms and schedule.

When studios reopen, think twice before committing to someone else’s program before you honor your own. Exercise classes are riddled by distractions. If you are human (hint: you are!), you can and will be distracted by other people, schedules that don’t fit yours, and financial concerns. This doesn’t even account for the instructor playing that song you hate 1For me, this song is Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time.” No thanks! Let’s leave 1999 where it belongs. while you are in the middle of a grueling set of pull-ups. That shit definitely happens.

Why risk it? Find the motivation you need from within. You won’t be reliant on someone else to motivate you, or dependent on class availability or a hefty bank account. I suggest a self-directed weight-training program to get the results you want, not the results the instructor, your friend, or the 19-year-old twink across the room wants.

Picture of Nate Clark

Nate Clark

Nate Clark has been making content for the Internet since 1921. He's best known as a musical comedian, a fitness enthusiast and author, and as a voice talent for lots of stuff. He's also a filmmaker, and has directed content for brands including Louis Vuitton, FENDI, The New York Times, Breeders' Cup, and many more. He lives in West Hollywood, CA, but he doesn't like visitors.
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