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Jul 08 2017
by Meghan Field

The Ultimate Guide to Group Exercise Classes

By Meghan Field - Jul 08 2017

A goal of almost every college student is to go to the gym. If you’re anything like me and don’t have any upper body strength, fitness classes are most likely a better alternative and you can still get some gains. In my personal experience, I have had friends who have gotten on-campus gym memberships and haven’t used them for whatever reasons. The most common reason I have heard, despite popular belief of being too lazy or not having enough time, is that they are too afraid to come to the classes because they do not know what it will entail as opposed to going to the weight room of the gym where everyone knows what to expect and tailors their workout to them.

Fitness classes are a fun way to get a full body workout in without relying on machines to do the job for you where you have to work in short intervals for each type of muscle you would like to work on. Fortunately, fitness classes hit them all. There are a plethora of options when it comes to fitness classes, and what might work best for you depends on what type of person you are. So, if you’re that type of person, consider taking this kind of class!

Dance Based Classes

1. Barre

Barre class is a ballet based class that tones each and every part of your body. When you go to this class, you will focus on one part of your body until it is fatigued and then move on and never see it again. Growing up as a ballet dancer, I absolutely love this class. You have the support of the barre right next to you if you were to need it. First, you work on legs while keeping your core engaged and do a lot of work with medicine balls. Then, you do a lot of work on your arms with weights and the great part is you get to pick how heavy they are! And lastly, you do a lot of work on your core with crunches and finally stretch out like you would in a dance warm up. Overall, I’d recommend this fun dance based class if you would like to really strengthen a lot of your body. Here is a full 40-minute video so you can see what a barre class is all about! This is just one way that a class could be structured, but your class may go in a different order.

2. Power Remix

Power Remix is just like Zumba but plays the most popular music going on currently and has various choreographed dances with a lot of squats and arms incorporated in the routines. A lot of current dance moves (including whipping and dabbing!) are incorporated in each routine which makes the class fun yet challenging if you do not know the routine yet. While the class can get tired with only short intervals in between songs, the stretching and cool down at the end of class definitely makes going out to it worth it. Here's a cool video of one of the most common songs done at Penn State University for Power Remix!

3. Zumba

If you're in the mood to shimmy it out while breaking a sweat, Zumba is for you. Zumba is a Latin music and dance based class that will leave you wanting more after each class. From my personal experience, you often get really tired during the class but then are left wanting more and wanting to dance for the rest of the day. You will also now have a new repertoire of international dance moves at your fingertips!

Relaxed Classes

1. Cycling

At first, you might be thinking how the heck can cycling be relaxing? Well, with a class that you can do at your own pace and imagine yourself frolicking through a calm trail with beautiful sights around you, what's not relaxing about that? OK, I might be exaggerating a little bit, but cycling can certainly be relaxing if you really get into the music and keep pushing through. Yes, there will be times where you feel like your legs want to fall off and you can’t keep going, but your body is capable of much more than you might think. The great aspect about cycling classes is that you can always change the resistance to ride at a pace that seems easy, moderate, hard or breathless, so the choice is yours and only you will know how far you have ridden for the duration of the class.

2. Pilates

Pilates is a class where the end goal is to gain a long, lean body. The exercise regimens done in this class work heavily on the core, body alignment and muscle coordination all without the added pressure of weights. Since there is no added bulk, you can rest assured that this class, although challenging, will reap the rewards of a lean body without too much muscle mass. Another huge focus of this class is to focus on posture, flexibility and enhance your mental awareness around you which is rather relaxing to think about while you are exercising.

3. Yoga

Yoga is definitely the classic go-to class if you want to rid yourself of all stresses. With various breathing patterns and closed eyes, you can really tune into your body and mind during yoga classes. Yes, some of the poses and exercises will be difficult, but overall this class will help you become one with yourself and is a great way to destress during the year. Yoga was always a great way for my friends and I to take a study break!

Intense Classes

1. Calorie Killer

Calorie Killer is just what it sounds like: A class that erases calories from all parts of your body. This is a high-intensity interval training class that combines cardio and muscle strengthening regimens to target all parts of your body by focusing on two types of training. While this class is exhausting at the time, you will certainly leave the class feeling reenergized. In this video, you can burn up to 500 calories in 45 minutes!

2. CrossFit

CrossFit is a new branded exercise that has become really popular within the last few years. This exercise is all about starting small and then increasing the intensity and amount of repetitions of a particular exercise, whether that is something that is traditional or incorporated into a sport such as rowing. The exercises allow for maximum power that is put out in a short amount of time, which allows for results to be seen faster. You’ll definitely be feeling the burn after a CrossFit session. Here's a little video explaining what to expect at your first CrossFit session.

3. Total Muscle Challenge

For a class that deals with a wide range of muscles and exhausts them until you can barely do any more work on them, Total Muscle Challenge is the way to go. You’ll start out with working on each muscle group individually without weights and then move onto the portion of the class where various muscle groups are combined with weights. The class will definitely be hard, but the gains will be worth it! As you can see here, Total Muscle Challenge is definitely a challenge on your legs!

Area-Specific Classes

1. Butts and Guts

One of the most popular classes at my university is Butts and Guts, since that is an area of the body that a lot of people want to work on. As I’m sure you can tell from the name of the class, this is a class that incorporates various types of repetitions that work on your butt and core through a series of squats, lunges, crunches and planks. This class is a perfect way to kill two birds with one stone and give each muscle group a break in your butt and abdominals. Here is what a typical Butts and Guts workout class might include.

2. HIIT 

HIIT, otherwise known as High Intensity Interval Training, works a different muscle group each week in long intervals with short recovery periods that keep that specific muscle group engaged for the entire class. While a specific part of your body is really feeling the burn, you can look forward to another part of your body will feel the burn when you go to class the following week. Here is an example of a HIIT class.

3. Washboard Abs

Washboard Abs is one of my favorite classes at my university. For a half hour straight we do an entire ab routine that is difficult to do at the time but feels amazing afterwards. Your core will be worked to the maximum with a series of crunches, sit-ups and planks. If you go to this class weekly you will definitely notice a difference in how strong and defined your stomach area is.

Other Classes

1. Aquafit 

Aquafit is a relatively new kind of group workout class that takes place in a pool! This class combines cardio conditioning, endurance and muscular strength all with the added support and cool down of water surrounding you the entire time. If you want to get your anger out in a safe way, this class would definitely be the place to do so, since you can splash around the water and not necessarily hurt anyone around you. This class is also great because while you're working on various locations on your body, your tendons and joints get a break because of the buoyancy of the water.

2. Kickboxing 

You can definitely relieve some anger with a kickboxing class. Anything with the work kick in the name will definitely owe itself to being an anger releasing class. Martial arts techniques are combined with fast paced cardio to build stamina, improve coordination, flexibility and burn calories while doing so. This is a fun class that allows you to channel your inner anger and get it out. You can also perfect your kickboxing skills while being challenged at the same time.

3. R.I.P.P.E.D.

R.I.P.P.E.D., which stands for Resistance Intervals Power Plyometrics Endurance and Diet, is a class that combines all types of workouts. The workouts are primarily cardio routines with a dash of weights and resistance work. You will definitely have all of your anger out after working on every square inch of your body during this exhilarating workout.

Once you actually decide to attend the classes, here are some tips for success.

1. Wear comfortable, breathable clothing.

It always stinks when you show up to a fitness class and you're in constrictive clothing or in clothes that make you really hot. My tip is to wear some shorts and a tank top as the comfiest outfit, as well as a pair of non-clunky sneakers.

2. Drink plenty of water.

If you don't drink water during your workout, you will burn out really quickly. There are times during your workout where you will feel breathless if you put enough work in so drinking water will help you cool down and catch your breath again. You will also be sweating a lot, thus losing water, so it is important to regain water back in your body.

3. Don't forget to breathe.

During a workout, more often than not you will forget to breathe. Try to focus on your breathing pattern all throughout your workout or else you may tire out quicker than you would like. Breathing properly in your nose and out of your mouth keeps your body centered and will definitely benefit you in the long run.

4. Make your fitness class your workout.

If you think the class is too hard, take a step back, or if you think the class is too easy, crank up the difficulty. The point of group fitness classes is you put in what you want to get out of it, so it's totally up to you!

5. Eat healthy afterward.

While it might be tempting to want to go eat a huge mass of food after working out, it will benefit you more if you were to eat a salad, peanut butter, fruits or anything of that sorts as opposed to something like a cookie or ice cream. You can treat yourself, but in moderation.

6. Find an exercise buddy.

Sometimes it can be hard to get yourself out of your comfy home to actually go out to the gym, but it is always more appealing if you decide to go with another person.

7. Remember to have fun.

What is the point of a workout if you don't have a little (or a lot) of fun while doing it?

I wish you the best of luck with your fitness class endeavors! Whether you find one class you really like or learn to love them all, getting out to the gym is a great way to spend some of your extra time in college.

Lead Image Credit: David Marcu via Unsplash

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Meghan Field - Pennsylvania State University

Meghan is a sophomore at Penn State - University Park. She's from Hershey, PA. She is going to major in Biobehavioral Health and Psychology with a minor in Global Health. She has been dancing her whole life and has always had an interest in writing and anything science related. Instagram is @meghanfield.

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