Are Competitive Group Fitness Classes Right for You?

Montreal fitness classes, gyms, and centres include these free yoga classes.
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Chances are you've received the special offers in your inbox for group fitness classes. Or your friends have shared images of their evenings spent at cute neighborhood Pilates studio. Or maybe your city or town offers numerous boutique fitness classes that look inviting and would allow you could get in shape in innovative ways.

But there's something stopping you from giving group classes a try.

While it may sound fun to meet new people and try new workouts, you may worry you will feel embarrassed to exercise with others. Is the competitive culture keeping you away?

If so, you're not alone. Feeling nervous about competition and experiencing gym intimidation is natural. Fitness classes often bring out people's competitive nature (or encourage it), but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Here you'll find pros and cons to group fitness competition. Take a look at both sides by examining your personality, overall fitness goals, and what fuels you to work out. This will help you make a decision if group fitness classes are right for you.

Statistics of Group Fitness Classes

According to a Nielsen study of more than 3,000 group fitness classes throughout the world, 85 percent of class members visit a facility or gym twice a week specifically to take a fitness class, and 43% visit a facility four times a week to attend class.

Boutique fitness classes are so popular that they can even bring in anchor tenants. In a 2019 review of fitness trends from the American College of Sports Medicine, the boutique fitness boom lures other organizations in commercial real estate strip malls.

For example, a company like SoulCycle, an indoor cycling organization giant, attracts exercisers into class two to four times a week. These riders could shop or eat at nearby merchants before or after class. Hence the attraction of other similar-minded stores—your target demo is right there already. You might not even need to spend marketing dollars.

Pros of Group Fitness Classes

If you want to try a boutique fitness class, understanding the positive ways competition plays a role in these classes could motivate you to register for one:

Self-Esteem Boost

Fitness classes can actually boost your self-esteem rather than hurt it when competing with others. In a December 2016 study from Scientific Reports on exercising alone versus exercising with others, researchers found that working out with other people provides a strong sense of self-esteem and social capital.

Progress on Goals

Competition can fuel you to achieve your fitness goals faster. According to the American Heart Association, working out with like-minded people, such as those in a boutique barre class, can keep you motivated to accomplish your goals.

Time Spent Outdoors

Exercise can feel less challenging when done in an outdoor setting, despite a competitive setting. For those who dislike the competitive nature of fitness classes, you might want to look at your outdoor boutique exercise fitness offerings instead of indoor ones.

A January 2013 review of outdoor exercise published in Extreme Physiology & Medicine found that exercise occurring in a natural setting makes exercise feel easier than when inside.

Researchers said this is due to visual inputs. Looking at nature can act as a distracting stimulus and reduce the perception of exertion. As a bonus, anyone who feels a sense of danger working out alone in a park or on a trail have the safety net of others when taking an outdoor class.

Motivation to Exercise

Competition beats friendly support for motivating you to exercise. In a 2016 study from the University of Pennsylvania, with funding from the National Cancer Institute’s Center of Excellence in Cancer Communication Research, researchers found that competition truly fuels your exercise.

In an 11-week exercise program, 800 Penn graduate and professional students signed up for weekly classes at the university fitness center.

Researchers split these 800 students into four groups: individual competition, team support, team competition and a control group:

  • In the individual group, participants could view leader boards listing anonymous program members. They also earned prizes for their own success in attending classes.
  • In the team support group, students used an online format to chat and encourage members to exercise. The most successful teams with class attendance earned rewards.
  • In the team competition group, participants could see their team standing.
  • In the control group, exercisers simply took classes and received a prize based on their own success.

Results showed overwhelmingly that competition incited participants to exercise. In fact, attendance rates in classes were more than 90 percent higher in the competitive groups vs. the control group. In the team support group, the exercise rate was half of the competitive groups.

Better Attendance

The competition in fitness classes can get you to show up for class. (Just be sure to not overwhelm yourself at the beginning by doing too much too fast.)

In an August 2015 study from Frontiers in Psychology, researchers at Penn State University developed a fitness routine mimicking the Physical Activity Guidelines for Fitness to determine the effectiveness of group exercise to help onboard members. Fifteen women and 10 men between 25 and 40 years of age completed a 30-week group exercise program.

The fitness program involved the following:

  • A six-week familiarization period in which fitness classes were introduced; researchers wanted this to be a slow process and not overwhelm members.
  • A 12-week block of six group fitness classes per week of three cardiovascular, two strength and one flexibility.
  • A 12-week block of seven group fitness classes per week of four cardiovascular, two strength and one flexibility.

Results showed a 98.8% compliance rate, as competition and intrinsic motivation fueled exercise adherence.

Cons of Group Fitness Classes

Working out in one of these ever-growing boutique fitness classes isn't for everyone. Negative aspects of competition in such classes include the following:

Burnout

Competition can lead to burnout. Trying to attend every class, beat others' scores written on leaderboards, comparing yourself to the next person—all of this can lead to heavy burnout and make you not want to return. This burnout can even bleed into other parts of your life, leading to a joyless existence.

To find out if you're experiencing burnout, the American Council on Exercise says your life might look like the following:

  • I’m bored. My job doesn’t excite me anymore.
  • Energy? I can barely get out of bed in the morning.
  • I would rather be doing something—anything—else.
  • I can’t seem to focus or finish a project.
  • I’m late to work a lot lately. Some days I just decide to not even go in.
  • If I have to listen to one more client’s or coworker’s problems I just may lose it!
  • I can’t relax enough to unwind or even sleep.
  • I feel depressed.
  • I’m using drugs or alcohol to help me through this time.

If any of these "I" statements describe you, you should scale back your exercise regime and work on a plan of action instead.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Body dysmorphia can become worse. When competing with others who look more in shape than you, body dysmorphic disorder can exacerbate. If you experience this disorder, you might want to speak with a medical professional before entering into an exercise class that is competition heavy.

Unfortunately, body dysmorphia is quite prevalent. In an April 2019 study from PLOS One, researchers looked at image-related psychopathological disorders using a large cross-sectional sample of 1,711 people. They found that 38.5% were at risk of body dysmorphic disorder, with almost half of those being female.

Even 39.8% of individuals used fitness-enhancing supplements without medical consultation.

You should make sure your mental health is in check before seeking out an environment that could make you feel worse.

Risk of Injury

If you are constantly competing against the next person, you could become injured as you don't often think of your own limitations. If the person next to you spins faster and at a higher resistance, you could end up turning up the dial and instead, go home with shin splints.

In a review of 2,873 cases of workout injuries from July 1999 to June 2013 published in Injury Epidemiology, 36.2% of all cases were due to overexertion.

Sometimes, you have to only compete with yourself.

Cost

The price of a class can amplify your inferiority to those wealthier than you, which is not the good kind of competition. How? One 45- to 60-minute class can equal the price of a month's gym membership.

So, for the budget-conscious, shelling out upward of $40 per class can feel extremely excessive. Most franchise gyms cost between $30 to $40 per month and offer their own fitness classes, which are inclusive of the price.

Impact of COVID-19 on Group Fitness Classes

Of course, one thing to consider with discussion of group fitness classes is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Some gyms and fitness studios around the country have reopened or offer limited capacity to encourage social distancing. Others have created or enhanced their virtual class options to help people get workouts in from their own homes.

Fitness options are always a personal choice, depending on your own needs, goals, and level of comfort. Stay informed about your local or state guidelines regarding access to gyms and group fitness classes.

Top Group Fitness Studios

If you decide that a boutique fitness class is right for you, top organizations in the market that offer a class you might want to try include the following:

SoulCycle

This indoor cycling organization uses high-energy music and motivating instructors to push riders through a workout in a dark, candlelit setting.

Flywheel

This organization offers another party-type cycling atmosphere similar to SoulCycle, but ups the competition level. Riders can hook up to a TorqBoard to track their progress and compete against others in the class. Instructors also come up with various challenges to make the session more challenging and interesting.

According to the Association of Fitness Studios, cycling classes are the most popular of all boutique fitness classes. They generate 55% more revenue than other fitness studios.

PureBarre

Exercisers attend a Pure Barre class for its combination of postures inspired by ballet, yoga, and Pilates. You use a barre for balance, just as a ballerina would. Good news: You don't need a ballet background to succeed in class.

Orangetheory Fitness

In each 60-minute class, you'll train using a high-intensity interval workout (HIIT) format, cycling through treadmill, rower, and floor exercises. Each class focuses on a specific type of training: endurance features long lengths of time on the treadmill and high reps on the floor, strength classes have uphill climbs on a treadmill and heavy weights on the floor, and power classes work on speed.

CorePower Yoga

The largest yoga studio chain the U.S., CorePower Yoga touts itself as yoga studios offering modern, spacious environments with mindful, highly physical workouts that use every muscle in the body.

SolidCore

This fitness organization created a riff on the traditional Pilates reformer in an effort to activate slow-twitch muscle fibers. Participants move the body about an inch at a time, much slower than other Pilates classes.

Club Pilates

A new take on Pilates, you can work your core with slow, steady Pilates sessions in this novel hybrid format. 

A Word From Verywell

If these pros of group fitness classes helped you learn that a competitive group setting sounds perfect for you, that's great! However, if you're still not convinced that competitive culture will help you feel motivated or comfortable in a group fitness class, that's OK too!

Especially during these days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's most important that you choose fitness options that best suit your personal needs. Don't put any extra pressure on yourself to try something new, or to get back into an in-person studio if it doesn't feel quite right. However you choose to work out, just make sure it makes you feel good—physically and mentally.

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Article Sources
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