Best Group Fitness Classes for Runners

slack_for_ios_uploadRunners 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

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.

Strength Training 

Try out some new equipment in a group strength class!

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

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

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.

Yoga

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.

Boot Camp

12543362_1542881516023919_1382616545_nTry 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.

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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?

I am a stay at home mom and group fitness instructor from South Texas. I love reading, wine, and travel. I write about trends, injury prevention and maintenance, and satire. I am training to break 1:30 in the half marathon sometime soon, and for the 2017 Boston Marathon.

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19 comments

  1. I’m in the same boat — a couple of years ago I joined a new gym and loved the group classes so much I got certified, but in Pilates. (Although the instructor that really inspired me teaches a mix of other classes, and not Pilates!) As a runner, Pilates is the perfect fit for me. I get all the core and hip work that I need to make me a stronger runner, plus better posture that helps me in running, too. You also strengthen your mind-body connection and focus on your breathing, which help make you more tuned-in to your body and your effort when you’re running. And I like that the slower pace is a nice counterbalance to running!

  2. Spinning was the first group fitness class I ever took, and is definitely my favorite. I use to do it a few times a week, in conjunction with running/marathon training and it helped me stay healthy but gain endurance even with lower running miles. I would like to get back into taking classes again, as it’s something I enjoy but don’t feel pressure like I do with running (I love running, but you know what I mean….it’s easier for me to just “do it” with a spin class where when I’m doing a run workout I’m analyzing everything making sure I’m following the plan to a T).

    A few years ago the gym I went to started offering PiYo classes and I LOVED IT. I like pilates, and I like yoga but the blend of the two made for a slightly more upbeat class which allowed me to get the movements in but not get impatient as I sometimes do with yoga and slower moving classes. I stopped attending that gym as they merged with a bigger company and I believe they dropped the class anyways. I’d love to find something like that again, especially right now While I am looking more to cross training and different fitness routines to go along with my “casual running”.

  3. I find solo cycling challenging, so I love group cycling classes. (What’s not to love? Music, camaraderie, and most importantly someone else tells you what to do and you don’t have to think about it!) I also like PiYo, when I can find it. I am a terrible, impatient, wandering-monkey-brain yoga student, though, and unless the class is specifically tailored towards helping athletes stretch, I’m just not into it.

    I think my best tip would be to find an instructor you’re comfortable talking to and who understands your needs, whether it’s in yoga, spinning, Pilates, etc. For instance, when I was pregnant I talked to a friend who’s a cycling instructor, and she 1. helped me raise the handlebars to accommodate a more upright position that was still a good fit, and 2. suggested where in the routine I could cut back the intensity if I wanted. Likewise, if you have a history of injury, you should DEFINITELY tell your instructor so they can suggest alternative positions/ poses!

    1. Yes! I stopped running after the first trimester but I kept Spinning. My instructor raised my handlebars at 37 weeks and I couldn’t believe I’d ridden squished over my belly all that time.

  4. Whew, I’ve tried yoga, “tease ‘n’ tone” (yes, as fun as it sounds, a mix of burlesque, dance, and aerobics), spin, body pump, and plain old jazzercise. Looking back, I guess I just wanted something different each time! For running, I mostly cross-train with climbing and individual yoga, but I think PiYo would also be an excellent fit….if it could be done to Beyonce? I think a class that has fun music and incorporates strength would be ideal…hmm, wonder what it’d be called? Oh wait, maybe that’s what “tease ‘n’ tone” was supposed to do 🙂

  5. I love body pump and rpm (indoor biking class) but struggle knowing how to juggle with my running training schedule. How far to space out from a long run? How often? Etc. any insight? ?

    1. It’s tough! Usually your muscle soreness peaks at 48-72 hours, so I’d try to give yourself 2 days before/after a long run. I feel like yoga or a less intense class would be ok closer to a long run though.

  6. I’d like to point out that the anaerobic (or lactate) threshold is where the body goes from aerobic (with air), where free fatty acids are the primary fuel source, to high intensity anaerobic (without air) exercise which uses carbohydrates and phosphocreatine as the primary fuel source. Lower intensity exercise utilizes fat as a fuel source, which is why people can run marathons at a steady pace for hours. Your body only has enough stored glycogen and glucose in the blood stream to fuel you for an hour. However, anaerobic training is high intensity, so it burns more CALORIES per minute. Anaerobic interval training is good for raising your lactate threshold so that you can exercise at higher intensities longer.

    1. Thanks for the comment! Just a couple of things to clarify. In practice AnT and LT are usually very similar efforts, if not the same effort levels, but they’re different concepts – one is the point at which you switch from burning mostly fat to burning mostly glycogen (AnT) and the other is when an increased effort produces a certain level of lactate (4mmol/L) in the blood stream (LT). Some argue they aren’t particularly helpful concepts, but that’s beside the point. Anaerobic or lactate threshold intervals may raise those thresholds, but only when done at the proper effort level. Again, whether this is important is debatable. You have enough glycogen to perform at your AnT for about an hour.

      1. Right, AnT and LT are at roughly 60-70% VO2 max for most individuals, although their exact physiological markers are different. In the post it says that you switch from burning carbs to burning fats at higher intensities, which isn’t true.

        1. Whoops, good catch! Just a mistype on my end, sorry about that. Now I’m worried that I explained it backwards out loud to the members in my class today too!

  7. I’ve just started barre and I really like it – I can literally feel it making my flutes and quads and inner thighs stronger. I can DEFINITELY feel it two days later. I also secretly love zumba but the last time I did it, I twisted my ankle badly and had to miss a trail race.

  8. Strictly focusing on Group Classes. I like Pure Barre (especially platform) because it really has helped strengthen my core, plus there are a lot of runners in some of the classes which make it even more fun. I like yoga because it has helped with my lack of flexibility and has helped make me a stronger runner mentally. Last, my favorite group class is…CrossFit. I’ve run plenty of marathons with and without CF as my cross-training; I was a heck of a lot faster runner when i incorporated CF into my training schedule than when I decided to quit and focus more on miles and speed workouts (and only doing PB and Yoga).
    But let’s be honest. Any group class that gets you out there and wanting to come back is a “best for runners.” Some classes aren’t so much what you are doing but who you are doing them with. Sometimes it’s who the instructor is (and even better if it’s an instructor who knows that you are a runner and how to help you best). 🙂