Power Ranking the Best Fitness Classes
"What are your fitness goals?"
I ask the question every day. Then I smile to myself as I wait patiently for the new customer in front of me to think hard and long about what they really want out of their experience.
10 seconds of silence... "Hmm." Another 20 seconds go by...
I smile to myself knowing that no matter how deeply someone thinks about the answer to this question, I'm going to get the same combination of answers I always do.
So let me tell you right now that your goals are to:
a.) Lose Fat
b.) Get Stronger
c,) Move/Feel Better
See? Your goals are similar to 99% of health-conscious people out there. And that's a great thing. But while almost all of you have the same basic goals, you all have very different methods of getting there.
Running, lifting weights, yoga, pilates.... We're all looking for the perfect combination of workouts that fits our goals and lifestyle.
How does your workout routine stack up? Does it appropriately target your goals? Do you even know what each of these different workouts aims to accomplish?
So today I'm going to shed some light on 5 of the most popular types of group workouts:
Yoga, Pilates, Spin, Barre, and Circuit Training.
SWEAT CITY'S FITNESS CLASS
Each workout is given a score of 1-5 (5 being the best) and evaluated on it's effectiveness on:
c.) Movement (functional patterns and flexibility)
4TH (TIE)- BARRE (8 pts)
No traditional cardio, but you do get a little aerobic work from the constant movement. You won't be huffing and puffing by any means, but your heart-rate will rise slightly and maintain at a consistent level.
Using your bodyweight as resistance, barre classes emphasize small, repetitive movements to isolate muscle groups. With lots of calf raises, half-squats, and tiny kicks, you will definitely feel a great burn as the lactic acid really builds up.
However, strength gains are limited due to the lack of progressive resistance (heavier loads). That, and the fact that most muscles are isolated rather than combining them with other muscle/joint groups, is why barre doesn't get a full 5 in strength.
One of the safest, low impact workouts. It is great for developing mobility around the hips. Also improves balance and body control. The absence of full-range functional movements like squats, lunges, and hinges keeps barre from getting a higher score.
Total Score: 8
Barre is a safe workout that improves your body control and REALLY gets you feeling that muscle burn. However, it lacks a true cardio/fat-burn component and it's functional strength gains are limited by its smaller, non-resisted movements.
4TH (TIE)- SPIN/CYCLING (8 pts)
Aside from going for a run, nothing beats spin class when it comes to cardio. You'll be breathing heavy, your heart will stay elevated, and you'll need a towel to wipe up the pool of sweat beneath your bike when you're done. Spin classes are very high energy with fun, upbeat music that really keeps you pushing hard.
Yes, I know some spin classes will incorporate some light weight training into their workouts. Other classes will combine their spin with another strength-based class. But if we're just talking about your traditional spin class, you're really only building strength in your lower body.
While you are pedaling furiously and sweating bullets, from a mobility/flexibility perspective you really aren't getting much.
Total Score- 8
Spin is an amazing cardio/fat-burn workout that hits both aerobic and anaerobic levels. You'll burn a very high amount of calories and your lungs/heart get a terrific workout. However, the lack of upper body and core strength gives it a low strength score and there's even less functional movement worked in. Pair a spin class with a great strength/movement based class like circuit training.
3RD- YOGA (9 pts)
Yoga is slow-moving, controlled movements. If you're looking to get your heart-rate up and blast a bunch of calories, it's probably not the best suited for you. It's cardio aspect is pretty non-existent.
Yoga is great for your muscles. You'll be holding positions and supporting your body weight for extended periods of time, resulting in shaking, burning muscles. This is especially great for developing core stability. Yoga strength is different in that you are building endurance in your muscles as opposed to muscle contractions. While it's important to have muscular endurance, you also need to contract and extend your muscles if you want to build strength and gain muscle.
The king of mobility/flexibility, yoga is a must for anyone wanting to move better. Yoga lengthens your muscles, helps you move around your joints, and vastly improves your stability. Noting beats yoga when it comes to movement, but you already knew that.
Total Score- 9
I think you know what you're getting when you sign up for yoga. You'll become more flexible and develop great muscular endurance. But you won't get much cardio or fat-burn, despite some classes' gimmicks to crank up the heat and get you dripping sweat. Combine yoga with some spin or a run.
2ND- PILATES (10 pts)
Most pilates classes don't incorporate much traditional cardio, but the fact that you are consistently moving can serve to keep your breathing and heart-rate elevated all class long.
The next best strength workout to circuit training in my opinion. The reformer machine you are using is great for providing different levels of resistance, while hitting full range movement patterns at the same time. It's a full-body workout. However, all movements are in a closed-chain environment (you can only move as much as the machine allows). You need to be able to build strength in open-chain movements to gain total body strength.
You'll be pulling, pushing, and rotating through a cable pulley system. The pros to these controlled movements is that you shouldn't have limbs flying all over the place and impact is kept very low. The cons are that you don't get as much free, real-world movement since you aren't standing on your own 2 feet much.
Total Score- 10
Pilates can almost stand by itself as a complete workout. You'll get stronger, move better, and get in great shape. If you add a little bit of cardio to your routine, you'll be extremely fit. A word of advice: pilates has a high level of variation and really depends on the quality of training. So check out a few different ones and find one that's the appropriate level for you.
1ST- CIRCUIT TRAINING/BOOT CAMP
Ah, finally we get to Circuit Training! Unlike all the other workouts, Circuit Training is very open-ended in terms of the exercises you'll be doing. Because of this, you have very different levels of cardio at each class. You'll be getting a combination of high-intensity intervals (HIIT) like burpees, jumps, sprints, and mountain climbers. You'll also get some steady-state cardio like treadmill running and jump rope to target your aerobic training. I'd give it a 5, but that wouldn't be fair in comparison to a cardio blast like spin class.
Nothing comes close to building functional, full-body strength like circuit training. Again, since it's such an open-ended workout, you'll really get a little bit of everything. Full body movements, open/closed chain, power movements, stability, you name it. Plus, you can load the resistance with everything from dumbbells to medicine balls to cables to kettlebells. Hands down the best workout when it comes to building strength.
A dynamic warm-up in the beginning and a static stretch in the end is a thorough mobility/flexibility routine. Combine that with functional strength movements like pushing, pulling, hinging, squatting, and lunging. You'll also move linearly, laterally, and in diagonal planes. Many exercises are also what physical therapists use to rehabilitate injuries. The only drawback is that there is a fair amount of high-impact movements, which can lead to some aches and stiff joints over time.
Total Score- 14
There's a reason why professional athletes do all the same exercises as Circuit Training. You'll build amazing strength, burn loads of fat, and move more efficiently. It can also be customized to fit all levels of exercisers. It's all the same exercises as you'd get if you hired a personal trainer, but class moves non-stop and is extremely efficient with your time. It can be intimidating your first time "pumping iron," but just know that circuit training is the holy grail of exercise classes and if you find one that you like, you are set for life!
Well there you have it, Sweat City's Fitness Class Power Rankings. The key takeaway is that you need to find a complete routine that incorporates cardio, strength, and functional movement. While some classes like Circuit Training hit all of these, you'll often need to mix and match your other workouts accordingly. And if you've never tried a type of workout before, remember that fitness is all about stepping out of your comfort zone and trying new things to continue to progress.
Sweat City Fitness