Do Intense Workout Classes Motivate You Or Make You Wish You’d Stayed At Home?
I like to be pushed in my workout classes.
Something I’ve always enjoyed about training in a group setting or with a personal trainer is the fact that you’re motivated to work your body in ways that you don’t get to when you visit the gym by yourself. And although I loathe them, I can do the burpees for 30 seconds. I can do the mandatory leg lifts and bicycle crunches at the end of class. I can do jumping jacks for a minute. I can, as Iyanla says, “do the work” to see the results I want. I get the bigger picture, for the most part, that shows that all of the hard work put in is meant to build my endurance and help me reach my fitness goals.
But there is a difference between encouraging people to push themselves past their limits and pushing people to the point that they can barely make it through a full class.
Something I’ve found myself complaining about lately is that in place of well thought out and complex workouts, more and more instructors are trying to work you into complete exhaustion to make you feel like you’re getting a good exercise session in and will see results quickly. I’m talking about the dizzy, I-don’t-think-I-ate-enough-before-I-came-here type of exhaustion. That’s not a challenge. That’s just doing the absolute most.
I started noticing this when I went to a popular, cushy fitness studio in Manhattan last year. By the end of an hour workout, I found myself lying flat on the ground on my back, trying to breathe slow to prevent myself from vomiting. The instructor had us doing sled pushes with weights on top of them, suicide sprints, bear crawls back and forth across the room, jumping jacks with weighted bags in our arms — the works. Every heavy bag we could find we picked up and threw around, and we pretty much ran for our freedom. I like to consider myself a pretty conditioned person, but I just felt like I was being run ragged and to the point of almost getting sick.
And not only that, but I also started to notice that classes where people of varying abilities are present feel like they are filled with threats. If you don’t squat as low as possible, you have to do burpees. If you don’t keep your hands up while you throw punches, you have to do push-ups. If your knees touch the floor during planks, you have to hold them for 15 seconds longer.
Is this a conditioning class for adults or are folks getting hazed?
And even in a class I took this week, we were asked after 40 minutes of intense training to do bicycle crunches and tabletop crunches for 30 seconds, three times back to back, on top of v-up sit-ups and knee extensions three times back to back right after. Instead of being encouraged for doing our best during the intense “cool-down,” as many people started to give up, we were told we could do more. We could do better. We could go harder.
“Summer bodies are made in the winter, people!” the teacher shouted. “So we’re going to go hard on abs every time I see you!”
And I think therein lies the problem with these type of class situations. Granted, there are plenty of misguided people who want to get “summer bodies” in a span of weeks and ahead of vacations, therefore, they’re willing to go to ridiculous lengths to look good in a swimsuit for an Instagram photo. But if every class is about reminding people they need to spend every year getting their bodies together for summer and making up for holiday mistakes (the two Ps: pressure and punishment), then how healthy is such a fitness regimen? In what ways are we fostering practices that people can maintain for the long haul and feel good about? When did burnout become the end-game?
There needs to be more of an overall interest in taking things at a moderate speed and encouraging the celebration of progress being made in group settings. When classes are hard (because they shouldn’t be a cakewalk) but you walk away feeling accomplished instead of depleted, you feel more confident in the idea that you’ve found a workout you can sustain. You come back. You can feel the changes your body is making at a realistic pace and before you know it, workouts aren’t just for weight-loss goals, but also for overall contentment and well-being.
But when you are burning yourself out and cursing your way through classes, and maybe even being cursed at as a form of motivation, you could, instead, find yourself slowly but surely dreading your routine and with less of an incentive to keep it up. And while the strenuous schedule you keep in your gym’s classes might bring you temporary results in time for summer, they are less likely to keep you from feeling like you’re in a constant battle to transform your body every year, all year. When does it end?