Group Fitness: Strength in Numbers | General Wellness | Hudson Valley | Hudson Valley; Chronogram
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Group Fitness: Strength in Numbers 

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Because she sees dance as a social art form, Pastorella says it can have significance beyond its ability to shape the body. And as a result, the benefits of its being used as a form of physical fitness can actually be magnified. “Dance is something you don’t do alone in your living room,” she says. “Culturally and historically, dance has always been something people do together. I think that people coming together inspires unity among ourselves and also a certain profound recognition of our own humanity.”

It’s the recognition of humanity, Pastorella says, that can help people new to group fitness get over their trepidation. “I guess what I look to do is to have the people in the class really get that we’re all built the same way. We’re all human and we have pretty much the same mechanisms; we only have different limitations. I’ve always been in classes where there were many people, and I think you learn from each other. Watching each other is where you’re really going to learn, getting inspiration from the people in the group and becoming familiar with each other. As soon as there’s a human recognition with people recognizing each other in the space, they start to have fun, they start to work harder and focus on what they’re doing instead of how they look, and I think that’s really important for people.”

Competition & Community
Peter Nathan runs the Gunx CrossFit Studio in Gardiner, focusing on a relatively new form of fitness that combines weightlifting, sprinting, and gymnastics in short, intense workouts. Nathan says the sense of community is there in CrossFit, but also a natural feeling of competition. “Since you’re in a group, you look around and say, ‘I’d like to do this faster than he does or she does,’” he says. “There’s a competitive aspect, but at the same time there’s a community. In the middle of a workout you might think, ‘I’m tired, this sucks,’ and you want to quit. But you look around and people are cheering you on.”

Nathan says the mix of competition and support can lead to the greatest success in fitness regimens like CrossFit. “The combination allows you to increase the intensity of your work, and the more intense that you work, the bigger the fitness return,” he says. Nathan adds that working out with a group is also helpful for people who might be inclined to let themselves off the hook. “If you’re working on your own, you usually work on your strengths,” he says. “You do what you’re good at and ignore what you suck at. I post my workouts every day on my webpage. If you look at the workout and say, ‘I don’t want to do that,’ that’s the first clue about what you really need to work on.”

Michelle Duvall, co-creator of the BeyondBarre program at Pilates in Motion in Warwick, agrees. “Having somebody in a competitive sense to push you beyond your limits, or someone to lean on when you’re sore, is an advantage of group fitness,” she says. “The support and camaraderie lifts up the entire class.” BeyondBarre is a ballet-based workout that combines small muscle movements, isometric holds, and slide boards that allow for precise body-sculpting. “We use small weights to tone the arms, do some mat work to narrow the waist and strengthen the core, and we put a lot of emphasis on stretching,” says Duvall. “The slide boards really bump up the cardio.”

Regardless of which group fitness option you choose from among the many offered locally, what you may find yourself coming away with is a bunch of new friends.

“By the end, everybody’s been put through the same misery,” says Nathan. “They meet people they can hang out with, and that’s probably one of the biggest draws. Unlike going into a large or a big-box gym, where you’re shown how to use the machines once and everybody is walking around and doing the same thing—you can go to one of those for a year and still not meet anybody—there is definitely a sense of community in group fitness.”
Burns agrees. “The classes build friendships that they take outside the Y,” she says. “They go for coffee, or there’s a triathlon somewhere.” She adds that there’s even fun to be had within the classes themselves, such as a recent costume party in a barbell class on Halloween, when one (male) attendee dressed as the Tooth Fairy. “It’s not as easy to have fun when you’re working out on your own. Besides,” adds Burns, “who says you can’t squat in a tutu?”

click to enlarge Zumba class on the lawn at the YMCA in Kingston.
  • Zumba class on the lawn at the YMCA in Kingston.
click to enlarge A group fitness class at Beyond Barre in Warwick.
  • A group fitness class at Beyond Barre in Warwick.
click to enlarge Step class at MAC Fitness in Kingston.
  • Step class at MAC Fitness in Kingston.
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