Whether we do it or not, we know that regular exercise makes us happier and healthier people. Gyms and fitness centres have been reaping the benefits of our increased focus on health and wellbeing. It makes sense because forming a good exercise routine is all about finding a type of exercise you enjoy and doing it in a place that you feel comfortable. Gyms offer all of this and usually include classes in their memberships to keep you interested and motivated.
Back in the day when Les Mills’ classes ruled the gyms, advising on which exercises / classes to avoid used to be easy! But now gyms offer classes like Pilates, Yoga, Zumba, Barre, ABT (Abs/Butt/Thighs), Tabata, TRX, which makes our job much harder.
As mentioned gym classes have a lot to offer. They:
- Are affordable
- Are accessible
- Give you variety so you don’t get bored
- Help to keep you motivated
All of these benefits do come at a cost. Some disadvantages to gym classes are that:
- They are usually done in large groups, which means you may get little to no supervision
- They are designed to be challenging for the majority, which might leave you feeling inadequate or worse; have you doing things that are far too difficult for your body
- The instructors have a variable amount of qualification and experience. Whilst some might be very capable of offering advice on exercise modification for injury, pregnancy etc, others may have no advice to offer or terrible advice that can put you at risk.
Over the years I have seen some nasty injuries come from gym / large group classes. It isn’t really fair to blame the instructor / gym in most cases though, because they are usually only working within their expertise. Where I think the problem lies is that participants in group classes often give the instructor too much credit for what they know. 9 times out of 10, the injuries I have seen have come from someone ignoring a warning sign from their body because they figured the instructor would tell them to stop if necessary.
So should you avoid gym classes?
For all the potential risks that come with exercising in a large group, I still think the benefits that gym classes offer are fantastic.; they get us moving and keep us motivated to exercise. To keep you safe in a group class setting, I believe the number one rule is to:
“Understand and listen to your own body”
This is something I am very focused on teaching to my own clients. If you can:
- know and understand what your body is capable of and what it’s limitations are,
- know the risks to your body if it’s pushed too far,
- understand your body’s warning signs; and
- listen to these signs and respond accordingly
your risk of injury in a big gym class will be hugely reduced.
How can you better understand your body?
There is no shortcut to this. In my experience, the most body-aware people are those who have spent a lot of time focused on their own body. They tend to be high level sportspeople, dancers, health practitioners and people who have had injuries, to name a few.
If you are not sure whether gym classes are safe for you, or you’re worried that you might be putting yourself at risk, the best thing you can do is to have an appointment with a good physiotherapist. Whilst we don’t always know the exact structure of the classes at your gym, we can assess your movement and strength and show you how to identify your own body’s capabilities and limitations. In my experience, this is by far the most effective way to stay safe and get the most out of your exercise.