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The Good of the Group 

click to enlarge Group cycle class at the Ulster County YMCA in Kingston. - AMBER S. CLARK
  • Amber S. Clark
  • Group cycle class at the Ulster County YMCA in Kingston.


Group exercise classes have undergone a renaissance: What we once avoided like a mother-in-law now has us eager to find our sneakers buried in the back of the closet in order to participate with dozens of others in achieving physical fitness. It begs the questions: How did we get here? How did we move from telling ourselves we didn’t have to go to the gym if we ate one less Oreo to lining up for a group fitness class 15 minutes ahead of time with 30 other people?

According to Mike Arteaga, owner of Mike Arteaga’s Health and Fitness Centers in Highland and Poughkeepsie, when group exercise programs began to take a nosedive 10 years ago, the American company Body Training Systems (BTS) worked with a company in Australia—where classes have up to 1,000 people in them—to revamp classes and increase their appeal in the US. “They created a wonderful array of classes with continuity, great music, and great instructors,” Arteaga says. The BTS classes that were created are Group Power, Group Kick, Group Ride, Group Step, Group Centergy, Group Groove, and Group Active, many currently available at both Mike Arteaga locations, The Ridge Health and Fitness in Stone Ridge, Breathe Fitness in Kingston, and, starting in December, at 28 West Fitness Center in Woodstock.

Because of BTS’s strong influence, many other fitness facilities began to require that their instructors were certified to teach as well. In turn, aerobics classes that once relied on a teacher to develop choreography and sometimes invent the movements as the class progressed are now a thing of the past, says Anthony Covello, owner of The Ridge. “Group exercise programs are nationally designed and change every three months,” Covello says. “The programs are developed to make sure they are well liked before they’re launched.” In addition, the majority of the exercise classes are designed with participants seeking to multi-task in mind: Many fitness programs today allow a participant to burn fat while building muscle simultaneously.
But the popularity of group exercise programs can be attributed to more than just BTS’s involvement. Group exercise provides a structured, supportive, and more social environment that motivates people and makes exercise generally more appealing, says Amy Kapes, a cycling, barbell, and Zumba (Latin dance-based aerobics) instructor at the Ulster County YMCA. “The more working out feels like having fun with friends, the more likely people are to do it.” Covello emphasizes this point by adding, “You’re not on a treadmill and zoning out. You’re using group motivation—you’re feeding off of the other people in the class by watching them.”
Additionally, group exercise classes are very encouraging to those who have difficulty trying to stick to a fitness regimen. “Group exercise has the highest retention rate than any area of the club—for every health club in the country—because people get hooked on it and they begin to schedule it into their week,” Arteaga explains. Also, the fact that your instructor and fellow classmates expect your attendance can act as an additional motivating factor. “Your mind is saying you have to attend because all these other people are going to be there and relying on you to attend,” Covello said.

The variety of group exercise classes being offered seems limitless. Whether you want to try aqua aerobics, boot camp, spinning, yoga, Pilates, kickboxing, or Zumba, an outlet for it exists at your local gym or YMCA facility. Just remember to try a class several times before ultimately deciding you don’t like it. “Don’t judge it by the first class because your body has to acclimate. Try it at least six times, and then you can decide if you don’t like it,” Covello says. Remember, everyone started as a beginner, even your instructor.

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