Chris Goodson, an Oklahoma City  fit camp instructor, says the unity in his classes keeps clients motivated. Photo by J. Christopher Little.
Chris Goodson, an Oklahoma City fit camp instructor, says the unity in his classes keeps clients motivated. Photo by J. Christopher Little.

Smart phones, tablets, computers – much of the time we are sucked in, zoned out and mindlessly glued to them, disconnected from other people, going through the motions of our day-to-day and waiting for our next text message, email or Facebook update so that we may lock our eyes back onto a screen.

Forget the threat of a zombie apocalypse. It’s already here.

Online social networking has created quite a challenge. Not only are we spending more time being stationary online, we are not physically connecting with other people as much as we probably should be.

A lot of what we do all day has become very isolating, but the cool thing is that we have the choice to put the toys down, get off our rears and be proactive.

Research shows time and again that, like good nutrition and physical activity, social engagement is a component in quality of life and successful aging. By fusing exercise with socialization, group fitness classes are an excellent way to improve overall health.

“Studies have shown that people who are members of a peer group with a common interest are more successful with behavior change in the long term than people without a peer group to support them,” says Dr. Rachel Franklin, medical director of OU Physicians Family Medicine. “In addition to the emotional support groups provide, the positive peer pressure of exercising with a group often results in us working out harder than we would have had we been alone.

“Group fitness classes often result in friendships among participants. Just as you wouldn’t want to disappoint your friend by failing to keep a coffee date, many people find that they hate disappointing their fitness friends. This motivation to support each other can help get a person out of the house early on a cold morning when she’d rather stay indoors.”

No doubt, fitness is fickle.

Even the most active people will get bored doing the same things over and over, and since boredom is the number one reason people get in exercise ruts, group fitness is a great way to keep you on your toes.

Workouts choreographed by trained instructors mix things up and keep things fresh, while motivating music combined with the presence of others who are all there for the same healthy reasons make for a fun and positive environment.

Small studios and fitness centers are on the rise, with attention to individual interests, so a wide variety of group fitness classes are no longer confined to gyms and health clubs, taking what can be an intimidating and overwhelming aspect of fitness out of the equation for those who don’t consider themselves “gym people.”

Challenging and fun, the environment offers a built in support system that provides motivation and accountability, where you may establish yourself within a community of like-minded individuals that can inspire you to want to be better in everything you do, in and out of class.

“Having a prescheduled appointment on your calendar – especially when you know you’re meeting others – can help us prioritize exercise as a part of our daily lives,” Franklin says.

“The most successful group fitness opportunities involve a lot of positive reinforcement, where your fellow exercisers, and even the instructor, encourage your efforts and urge you on.  We all love encouragement; if we know the class will boost our confidence, we’re more likely to attend.”

Whether you are already an established active person looking to change things up or a workout newbie who’s never exercised before, group fitness is a surefire way to bring more energy into your life.

Back To Basics

Boot- and fit camps have exploded in popularity in recent years, and for good reason.

These classes are suitable for anyone and have proven to be highly effective in helping people make the lifestyle changes they need in order to achieve long-term weight-loss goals.

With varied levels and modifications made by instructors, most of these classes involve free body motion using mainly one’s own body weight to increase heart rates and burn calories.

From warm-up to cool-down, participants get a full body workout in about an hour.

“There’s a lot of energy, and we as instructors work to keep the energy level high to keep everyone at a good pace. Fit camps help build self-confidence and self-esteem,” explains personal trainer Chris Goodson, who runs multiple fit camps around the OKC metro area.

“People can complete a workout and not have to struggle with it. Involvement with others makes for a lot of unity – they all come together, have a great time and keep each other positive. It’s like a big family.”

Goodson says that fit camp participants stay motivated because they are surrounded by others who are working just as hard, under the instruction and supervision of trainers that want to help.

“In any group fitness class,” he says, “people feel more comfortable when they can see other people at their level doing the same work out. It gives them the motivation that, ‘If they can do it, I can too.’”

No-slack Zone

For anyone wanting to kick things up a notch, the vine is ripe for picking.

In a survey conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine, high-intensity interval training classes are at the top of the list for fitness trends.

These workouts use a combination of exercises performed in short bursts of high intensity, followed by low to medium intensity recovery periods.

Currently one of the most popular classes around, CrossFit is an extreme, high-intensity strength and conditioning system built on constantly varied functional movements.

Another big one is TRX suspension training. Developed by Navy SEALS, TRX challenges the body in every way possible by using body weight and gravity as resistance.

Like with any class, there are different levels available, and workouts are aimed at people who are already accustomed to exercise and are looking for something different and challenging.

For the rush of a high-intensity exercise on a less extreme – if not more fun – level, going nowhere fast has never been more exciting than a spin class.

Involving a stationary bike and riders pedaling as hard as they can while adding and subtracting resistance, there’s a strong sense of camaraderie among spin riders.

Most students will tell you that there’s nothing like finishing a class feeling exhausted, accomplished and part of a team after sweating it out in a dimly-lit studio with heart-pounding music.

“Though you’ll get an amazing workout, many people go just for the atmosphere,” says Hillary Kallenberger, spin instructor at OKC’s Moxieride studio.

“We’ve seen people really transform. There’s something about this kind of group fitness when you’ve got everyone cheering one another on, telling you, ‘Awesome job!’ and ‘Way to go!’ Where everyone is pushing each other and supporting each other, especially when you have a goal like weight loss.”

Contrast to the Norm

On a different end of the spectrum, dance fitness is seeing a boom in participation for more than the “get fit” element. Getting your body moving (and maybe your booty shaking) to rhythms and beats can be a liberating experience.

From hip-hop and Bollywood to pole dancing, people are swarming to these group classes and having a blast working their cores and legs, getting cardio fixes.

Zumba – one of the veterans of the genre – combines fitness, entertainment and culture into a dance fitness considered by many to be more like fitness parties.

The blend of upbeat world rhythms with easy-to-follow choreography provides a total-body workout that feels like a celebration.

“Dance fitness is low-impact exercise, so although you may get a little sore, your body does not hurt. You can keep up with it; it’s a totally manageable hour. We have fun, it’s light-hearted and you get to do something that you wouldn’t normally get to do,” says

Whitney Young, barre instructor at Fusion Fitness and Yoga in Norman.

Barre classes allow participants to stretch like a dancer and emulate the poise, grace and repetitive combinations dancers practice to perfect in an actual ballet class.

Although classes may vary in workouts, some having more or less cardio or yoga/pilates undertones, the barre is key and used as a stabilizer and reminder for balance.

Pulsing movements target, warm up and work out ligaments and tendons to sculpt and stretch muscle tone, helping to create a long, lean dancer physique.

“I’ve had so many students tell me that they’ve always wanted to take a dance class but have always been too intimidated to take a class with other dancers. That’s the nice thing about fitness on a dance level – everyone comes in on the same playing field because the competition part has been removed,” Young says.

Mind-body Connection

Complementary to any workout or fitness routine, or simply good rolling solo, yoga speaks for itself, and its ability to maintain popularity shows that it works.

Evolving from traditional yoga, Westernized yoga has spawned different styles to fit the needs of every person, no matter the age, size or fitness level.

Improving flexibility, range of motion, strength and posture while reducing stress and anxiety, yoga classes are an enjoyable, low-impact way to join a fitness community while making a connection between mind and body.

In yoga, students combine different postures set at a pace and level that suits their individual needs with controlled breathing and relaxation techniques.

In a go-go world, Tiffany Porte, owner and instructor at Yoga at Tiffany’s, says that a yoga class is a venue to learn how to let go of some of that pressure.

“People who are new to yoga often come in looking for a ‘workout’ and don’t necessarily get what they initially came for, but they leave with exactly what they need, because a yoga class is so much more than you expect,” she explains.

“It happens very organically. Yoga is a practice for overall well being as opposed to just fitness. We work on the internal, as much as the external. Like, you don’t do weights and think, ‘I’m going to be loving to myself and others today,’ or think, ‘I’m going to be honest with myself this week’ in a spin class. With yoga, there is a philosophy that focuses on multiple levels of awareness; and with awareness, there’s growth, whether it’s [needing] balance in life or how we treat others and ourselves. All are aspects of yoga – finding acceptance of who we are in each posture, in each movement and in life.”

Keep In Mind

Making it to that initial class is the hardest step, and everyone there was once a newbie.

Doing a little research, talking with an instructor to ask questions before signing up and taking a friend with you are some of the best things to do when starting.

“There are as many different types of exercise classes as there are personality types, so finding a class or classes that fit your interests fuels your spirit and keeps some diversity in your training,” says Franklin.

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