Every fitness goal I met this past year I owe to someone wearing a headset and barking orders over some of the vilest pop remixes ever heard you ever heard outside of an Alvin & the Chipmunks movie. And still, I am grateful. This year I discovered the fitness class, that schedule group workout loathed and derided by many, and the path to fitness for countless others. I am of both camps – I resent the barking, the music, the forced enthusiasm, and still find myself lying to lunch dates and catering my weekend so I can get down on the floor and do burpees or throw kettle bells around with thirty strangers to a turbo-charged Katy Perry remix.
I'm not alone. Though men remain wary of most group activities that don't feature either charred meat or draught beer, thanks to Crossfit, and the yoga classes they secretly enjoyed a few years ago, they're opening up to the idea. And gyms are offering more weight resistance classes and group workouts that hit heart rates slinging iron instead of through step moves.
Lashaun Dale, who heads up Equinox's group classes, credits some of the boom to a broader definition of interval training. "Since the beginning of time we've known that it was a great way to train," she says. "But it used to be there was one type – very dance, high reps – that was the traditional group class. Now the growth is happening and more group resistance training is catching on because more men are doing it."
I'm one of them, and here's why.
Somebody Made a Plan
The guy or girl with the psycho shoulders and the headset came prepared to give you a solid workout. This morning, for example, I went to a conditioning class that hit all the major muscle groups, cranked my heart rate up into the gasping range more than a few times, enhanced flexibility and agility and balance and somehow tricked me into doing about ninety or so push-ups I wouldn't have done on my own. Would I have bothered to do a quick stretch before and after? Probably not. Would I have spent as much time on my hips and quads and back as I would have on my upper body? Of course not. Would I have made myself do lunges and squats? Uh, squats?
No Thinking, No Cheating
There's a certain brainlessness I experience in a conditioning class. After all, they are held in a gym. All that's required is for you to show up and make an effort. You don't have to keep time, count the sets, or wonder if what you're doing is generating any real benefits. (Yes, you have to be conscious of form but there are enough teacher's pets in the mirror along the front row to provide examples.) So you can let your mind wander while still busting your ass in a way you wouldn't when you're on your own. Because, no matter how low our estimation of our fellow classmates, you're less likely to cheat, slack, or blow off a set in a room full of people making an effort. Besides, you never have to wait for some gigantour to get off the bench press or find the right set of dumb bells to keep working. It's all there for you.
You Can Pick Up Some Tricks
Tedium is the key to a soul-crushing workout, and ultimately a chronically unused gym membership. There are literally thousands of ways to work out, we all know now – from innovative body weight workouts to sand bag routines and kettle bell sequences – but you have to know about them first. Instructors spend their lives thinking and learning and swapping secrets about this very thing. (I go to Equinox where the instructors consistently keep the workouts varied and challenging and you should ask the same of whatever class you go to.) All of which means that whatever funky ass move you learned in class can enhance the workouts you do on your own.
Okay. They're Sort of Fun
Humans are fundamentally social creatures, and even if you find it ridiculous and somewhat emasculating to shadow boxing while holding light dumbbells and kicking in sync with fifty other people, there's something cool, even militaristic, about working out in unison with a group. And even though at times it's a little more Bob Fosse, than Lieutenant Murphy, it's a motivating.
It's Practicing Humility
Every worthwhile workout involves a little humility, and the secret to whatever success I've had in adopting a pretty regular and satisfying routine, I owe to humility, the faux hawk with the headset, and the time-warping pop troika of Katie Perry, Madonna, and Gloria Gaynor. That's right, Gloria Gayor, because you don't know humility until you've looked across the room into a mirror and seen yourself doing a synchronized step, squat, kick routine in a packed, mostly female room to an "I Will Survive" dance remix and had to dig deep and breathe hard just to keep up and felt a burst of sweat and watched it actually splash down on the floor.