Runners notoriously like to run and only run. We have a limited amount of time to work out, after all, and why not spend it doing our favorite form of exercise? A few years ago, I started taking a few group fitness classes a week and fell in love. In fact, I loved them so much that I became an instructor 18 months ago.
Group fitness classes are a great way to learn new exercises, cross-train, meet new people, and challenge yourself in a group setting. Because an instructor has already designed the workout for you, all you have to do is show up and follow along. They’re usually set to great music and you just might push yourself more than you would alone because there’s a room full of people encouraging you to work hard.
Ready to get started? Here are some classes that are great for runners.
**A few caveats: a group fitness instructor designs a workout for a large group of people, so the exercises won’t necessarily be specific to your needs and fitness level. A good instructor will provide modifications, but she can’t intuit your exact injury history and limitations unless you discuss it with her beforehand. Therefore, it’s important to listen to your body, even if that means stopping a class early or resting while the rest of the class does a particular move.
Indoor cycling is my favorite way to cross-train. It is a no-impact workout that gives you similar cardiovascular benefits to running without the impact on joints and ligaments. There’s no choreography to follow, the room is dark, and great music makes the class fly by quickly. Indoor cycle studios like Soul Cycle, Cyclebar and Joyride are popping up all over the country, and classes are offered at most corporate gyms as well.
For a great class, arrive 10 minutes early so your instructor can set you up on the bike properly. This will help prevent the discomfort from the saddle that keeps most people from coming back.
Ugh, strength training. It’s the thing we know we need but we hate doing on our own. There’s nothing less fun to me than staring at myself doing bicep curls in the mirror while some meathead next to me grunts and drops his barbell on the ground over and over. Luckily, there are group fitness classes that are strength training specific.
Strength training classes let us focus on the muscles that we tend to neglect while running, like our upper body, and have the benefit of instructors coaching us on correct form so we can build muscle safely. Look for classes like Body Pump that let you work each muscle group while listening to fun music. *Meatheads not included.
Zumba has become one of the most popular forms of group fitness classes. It’s choreographed dance moves that are set to fast-paced music, which boosts your heart rate. Essentially, it’s a cardiovascular workout that is different from other forms of cross-training because it’s like dancing. If you’re not a very coordinated person, Zumba has the benefit of keeping your self-esteem in check.
One tip: most Zumba instructors use the same routines regularly, so if you’re new to class you may not be able to keep up with the other participants, but the more regularly you go, the easier it will be.
Pilates is a core-focused form of exercise that can either be done on a reformer machine in a small group, or on the mat in a larger group. It has several benefits for runners: it improves core strength, increases flexibility, and can even help strengthen pelvic floor muscles. It’s also non-impact, making it easy on joints and ligaments.
Here at Salty Running, we have mixed feelings on yoga. I personally try to get to yoga once a week because my physical therapists recommended it for my hips. It’s not my favorite way to workout, mostly because I’m so inflexible and I spend much of the class staring at my nasty feet and thinking about how badly I need a pedicure.
Yoga has several benefits for runners: it helps with flexibility, particularly in the hip joint, which in turn decreases injury risk. Yoga can help build arm strength (each sun salutation is essentially a slow push-up) and helps with focus and relaxation. If you’re looking to increase your heart rate, look for a Vinyasa style class that is faster paced. Some runners use hot yoga for heat adaptation when training for a hot race.
Try a boot camp-style class, and you’re likely to see lots of plyometric and HIIT (high intensity interval training) moves. Runners gravitate towards these classes because they boost heart rate over the anaerobic threshold (the point where your body goes from burning fat to burning sugar, aka when exercise goes from moderate to hard) and mimic the heart-pounding, gasping-for-air feeling that hard running generates.
Studies show that plyometrics help increase speed and build fast-twitch muscles. These classes can be just as helpful as speed work in increasing explosiveness in running, and their intense nature makes them go by quickly.
Whether you’re a little bored with your running routine, want to meet some new people, or need to force some cross-training into your life, signing up for a group fitness class may be the spark you need! Give it a try because you might just surprise yourself and really enjoy it!
Have you tried group fitness classes? What’s your favorite?