You may love the idea of group fitness classes: The camaraderie, accountability, and encouragement of the people and coaches around you; the lively, energetic atmosphere; and the motivation to really push yourself. And these are all great reasons to join group fitness. But you may not be aware there are dangers of group fitness. Now that we have your attention, let’s take a look at some of the potential dangers surrounding this very popular type of exercise.
What Is a Group Fitness Class?
A group fitness class is simply a class held by an instructor, typically at a gym or fitness facility, and performed in a group setting. Often, there is music or a specific theme to accompany the class. Group fitness can take on many forms, such Zumba dance classes, spin classes, boot-camp type classes (which incorporate bodyweight, weights, or resistance bands), yoga or Pilates classes, barre, body pump, step, CrossFit, boxing, and more.
Classes usually follow a simple format including a warm-up, the body of the exercise class, and a cooldown, all of which last about an hour to up to an hour and a half. Classes are often held at fitness facilities or gyms, and some are standalone franchises, like Burn BootCamp and Orange Theory fitness, for example, and can also be held at parks and recreation centers.
While the classes look like all fun and games (and a good way to sweat and get fit), there may be some common, hidden dangers of group fitness classes:
6 Dangers of Group Fitness Classes
1. It’s Too Loud
Did you know the music they play at gyms, and in particular, music played during group fitness classes, can actually be harmful? It’s true. Normal conversations are usually around 65 decibels. Many group fitness classes blast music in the 90 – 100 decibel range, which can cause significant hearing loss.
According to a study released by Australia’s National Acoustic Laboratories, adults can tolerate up to 85 decibels for an eight-hour period, but once you go above that level, damage starts to rack up quickly. Many classes blast music in the 90 – 99 decibel range on a regular basis, and it’s a big problem.
The reasoning behind the loud music is that it’s more motivating, so you’ll push yourself to have a better workout, and it simulates a club-like atmosphere which many patrons will find inspiring. However, all this inspiration may only be fortifying the fitness facilities’ bottom lines as they encourage an almost cult-like following while leaving participants with permanent hearing loss.
This is an especially poignant reminder for seniors trying to do something good for their health by joining a group fitness class. However, hearing loss may already be a problem and engaging in a typical group fitness class on a regular basis could cause real problems for the already hearing-impaired crowd.
Researchers say if you think the music is too loud, guess what, it probably is. If you experience ringing in your ears after a class, it’s time to turn down the music. Or, if that’s not an option, break out the earplugs.
2. You Might Push Yourself Too Much
The dangers of group fitness classes don’t stop with just loud music. Participating in group fitness does not give you the personal attention you may need from the instructor. When you start working with a personal trainer, you will usually begin by having a fitness assessment done. This tests many aspects of your health and fitness level and assists the trainer in determining the best course of action for your fitness plan. It can also reveal injuries and limitations that need to be taken into account when you engage in exercise.
The problem with many group fitness classes is they operate on the assumption that everyone is on the same level. While there may, on occasion, be small adjustments offered to intensify or to reduce the intensity of a workout, in general, the workout is the same for everyone.
This can become a problem if you happen to have some health limitations. And, unless you personally know how to dial down the intensity to reduce your risk of injury, you could be putting yourself in harm’s way. Be aware of the temperature and monitor your blood pressure and heart rate if you engage in group fitness classes. Pushing yourself is great. Pushing yourself too hard can be detrimental.
3. You May Exacerbate Injuries
Not enough attention from the instructor can also mean you’re furthering injuries. If the instructor doesn’t take the time to go through the class and assess everyone’s level of fitness and note any injuries (which they cannot possibly do in such a short time span), then any injuries you have could get worse.
Neurological and muscular injuries can occur, and if you already have an injury, participating in a class that may have you over-compensating for injuries and developing bad movement patterns can be a recipe for disaster.
Often, folks nursing various injuries will attend a class hoping to further their level of fitness, and the instructor, not knowing the extent of the injury, may unwittingly push a person to perform exercises which could be harmful to them.
If you suffer from back, shoulder, neck, or knee injuries, or if you have heart issues, high blood pressure, diabetes, or other ailments, it’s a good idea to check with your healthcare professional to make sure you should be doing this type of class. Additionally, let the instructor know your limitations before your first class (and remind them during class if need be). Once they are aware of your injuries, they can usually make adjustments for you during the class.
4. You Might Not Push Yourself Enough
When in a group setting, it’s also easy to get lost in the crowd. While you may be tempted to push yourself too much, it’s also easy to blend in and not push yourself at all. If you’re only there for the social aspect of the group fitness class, that’s great. But, be realistic and acknowledge you’re just there for fun, and if you’re going to get in a real workout on a consistent basis, it may need to be in an entirely different venue.
5. Your Instructor May Have Minimal Training
Some instructors have a vast amount of knowledge and training and have advanced certifications and college degrees along with continuing education. These trainers can be extremely knowledgeable and helpful when it comes to mechanics and physiology to help you avoid injury. Plus, they know CPR, what to do in an emergency, and training for how to monitor and adjust quickly to what’s happening within the group.
Other so-called instructors may have only gone for a half-day training seminar, paid a fee and taken a short online test, or even just attended the class for a while to become fitness instructors.
Before your first class, it’s worth it to find out if your instructor has been certified (from the American Council on Exercise, the American College of Sports Medicine, and the National Strength and Conditioning Association, for example, or received specialized certificates such as those offered by the Pilates Method Alliance for Pilates instructors) or specific university degrees in a sports related field and if they have training and experience working with groups rather than just one on one.
Here are some good questions to ask a trainer or instructor before working with them:
- What are your certifications and credentials?
- How much experience do you have? How long have you been teaching this class/form of fitness?
- How do you stay on top of fitness-related research and topics?
- Do you have experience working with clients who have similar goals, limitations, or injuries?
- What are your strategies for preventing and/or dealing with injuries?
- Will you provide references?
And don’t be afraid to speak to others who are in the class to learn more about what to expect from the class and what they think of the instructor.
Working with unqualified trainers and instructors can lead to strains, downtime, and sometimes serious injuries—especially in a group atmosphere where all participants are expected to perform the same exercises regardless of personal limitations, flexibility, experience, or fitness level. This is one of the scariest dangers of group fitness classes. So, make sure you’re working with a pro.
6. You Might Think Group Fitness Is Enough
Don’t be lulled into thinking that only engaging in group exercise constitutes a healthy lifestyle. There’s a lot more to it! The exercise is great, but another one of the often-overlooked dangers of group fitness classes is that they do not address the full fitness lifestyle. A well-rounded healthy lifestyle should include other areas like:
- A healthy diet and nutrition program
- Weightlifting or some form of resistance training
- Stretching and flexibility
- Cardiovascular exercise
- Stress relief
- Sleep hygiene
- Social support
Don’t be scared off by the dangers of group fitness classes. There are definitely some pros to these types of classes as well—including how much fun they can be and the fantastic fitness options they offer. Just be aware of some of the drawbacks and always ensure your exercise regimen is well rounded and solid from a health standpoint. By taking a bit of time and personal responsibility to find out about the instructors and modifying as necessary for your body, even if that just means wearing earplugs, you can enjoy the comradery, accountability, and energy from the class while protecting yourself from the potential dangers of group fitness classes.