Exercise Classes: The Good, the Great, and the Glorious

A couple nights ago, my one year old decided he didn’t want to play in the gym nursery. And, knowing all too well how to get what he wants, he wailed at the top of his lungs until mama came back to get him. After being pulled out of my favorite Zumba class just as it was getting started, I came close to challenging him at a crying contest. But, instead of causing more of a scene than we already had, I admitted defeat, scooped him up, and left. As I was driving home and thinking about how much mama needed that workout, I realized I have a slight (?) addiction. I rely almost exclusively on exercise as my stress relief. At least three evenings a week, I enter the door to my gym, tattered and torn from the miscellaneous stressors in my day. Exactly one hour later, I exit transformed.

My life is not all that difficult. It’s just that I’m not very good at dealing with the little annoying things that come up between sunrise and sunset: deadlines at work, my 2nd grade stepson refusing the dinner I prepare, my toddler not being able to tell me what he needs. The minor stuff adds up over the course of the day, and I need a major release. I find that in exercise classes.

I mentioned in some of my other recent posts that May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. I’ve already talked about the benefits of exercise and how to overcome excuses and barriers to getting active. Before we head into June, I wanted to squeeze in at least one or two more posts on exercise. Today, I thought I’d mention my personal favorite way to work out. Although there are millions of great ways to get and stay active, I have to say I’m actually quite picky about how I do it. I’m all about the classes. Here’s why:

No more going it alone! My very favorite thing about classes is they are full of people like me who are all there for the same reason—to sweat! Sure, I’m there to de-stress, while the guy on my left with the sweatband may wish to reduce his blood pressure, and the woman in the pink biker shorts behind me may hope to someday fit back into her skinny jeans. Still, ultimately, we’re all there to work. I love the people factor—people to complain to about the difficulty of mustering the energy to make it to class, people to grimace or moan with me when things get tough, and people to share in the relief and success of making it through when the class is over.

Motivating, knowledgeable instructors. There is always someone up front whose sole purpose is to keep you safe… and especially to keep you going! Besides pushing you to your full potential and guiding you through proper form for the motions, instructors are usually there to answer your questions before or after class.

Upbeat music. There’s a pretty sizeable body of scientific research showing that music and exercise make a fabulous team. When people work out to music, they work harder and are more likely to stick with it. That doesn’t surprise me at all—who doesn’t want to move when there are some good tunes and a solid beat playing in their ears?!

A way to clear your head. Focusing on choreography means I can’t think about whatever is stressing me out. With each instructor’s cue that enters my head, one of my destructive thoughts is shoved out. And, concentrating on pushing myself physically is a great way to empty my mind.

Something for everyone. Wanna fight? Try kickboxing. Love to swing your hips? Try Zumba or another dance class. Always wanted to be able to touch your toes or stand on one foot without wobbling? Try a yoga or pilates class. My favorites are weightlifting—a class that devotes one five-minute song to each muscle group, and step aerobics, which I love so much that I teach it!  What’s your thang? You may not know until you try them all.

Ready-made workouts. Even those among us who live to exercise get in ruts. Before I started classes, I did the elliptical trainer and ….NOTHING ELSE. Besides overworking certain parts of my body and underworking others, I was totally bored with it…for like five years. The beauty of most exercise classes is they are designed to optimize your workout. Most include the ideal recipe of highs and lows, strength training and cardio, and warm ups and cool downs for a balanced, whole body workout. That way, you don’t have to think about fancy equations for giving your body what it needs. That part of the work is already done. All you have to do is show up!

Structure. The times are already set for putting them into my schedule. When a class that I like occurs at a certain hour, it’s on my calendar. Instead of doing everything else and then hoping that I find time to exercise, I plan for exercise and then work the rest of my life around the classes.

Accountability. Once you go regularly, there are a couple accountability issues. If you don’t show up for a class you usually attend, people start asking where you were. Sometimes I go to class against my will just so I don’t have to prepare 100 excuses for next week when everyone asks why I didn’t make it. Also, I can remember so many times I’ve started a bike ride or a run and five minutes in decided I wasn’t in the mood. Not so much with a class. Once I’m there, I’m kinda stuck. Who wants to shimmy past swaying booties to get to the exit? Or weave through a crowd whose punches and kicks you have to dodge just to reach the door?  Plus, I find that 99% of the time, once I’m there, I don’t want to leave!

Fun! Have a good time while you work out. This one is a little redundant to some of the above because it’s probably the people sweating with me, the personalities of the instructors, and the music that make exercise classes enjoyable. But, I can’t leave it out because it’s a biggie for all us group fitness fans.

Okay, I know, I know. I need to simmer down on the enthusiasm. I totally realize that exercise classes are not for everyone. I also admit that I’m a little biased as an aerobics instructor myself. But, it was my passion for the classes that led me to get certified. Plus, I actually attend far more classes than I teach.

If you’ve never tried exercise classes, my suggestion is to give it a shot. Many gyms offer free trial passes, so there’s really no reason not to try it out. You might actually find something you like (plus childcare usually comes with your gym pass!). And, if you’re like me, you may find it’s a major stress reliever…and as I say time and time again, we, moms, can never get enough of that!

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Posted on May 20, 2011, in Fitness and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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