The dynamics of group workouts
Preeti Punjabi, 24, has struggled with her weight for as long as she can remember. “I have wasted thousands of rupees on gym memberships. But I couldn’t stick with it because working out becomes mundane after a while,” she says.
Then she discovered the fun of group workouts—aqua aerobics and yoga. “You have someone to motivate you all the time; sometimes it gets a little competitive and you push each other too. I look forward to my classes,” says the young lawyer, who has lost over 10kg since she embarked on her group routine early this year.
Being part of a community does help you reach your fitness goals more easily, says Abhinav Shankar Narayan, former cricketer and founder of the Bengaluru-based Namma CrossFit. “Unlike in a gym, where you barely talk to anyone, group classes promote social interaction. It helps people sustain a programme—when you run out of self-motivation, you can rely on the others in the group to push you and see that you turn up. That is half the work done, really,” he says.
This is particularly useful because “a common reason given for quitting an exercise programme is boredom”, wrote senior US Olympic Committee sports nutritionist Shawn Dolan (PhD, exercise physiology) in an article on the website of the American College of Sports Medicine in January 2012. Dr Dolan added that the social atmosphere provided by group exercise “offers camaraderie and accountability among participants, as well as between participants”.
When it comes to group classes, the range is endless. You can shimmy and shake away at a dance-inspired class like zumba and bokwa; get fit and toned through a session of strength-training classes such as TRX or body-pump; flow through an aqua-aerobic or vinyasa yoga class; or push your limits with CrossFit, parkour or boot camp.
Of course, these different forms of exercise don’t provide the same benefits. “Fitness has various components and not all workout programmes address every one of these,” says Narayan. Dhananjai Golla, a martial art expert, fitness trainer and founder of the Chennai-based Evolve Fitness Studio, agrees. “If weight loss is a goal, for instance, you have to ensure that a cardio-focused programme like zumba is balanced out with strength and conditioning. And yes, you have to watch what you eat too.”
While motivation and competitiveness are what draw people to group classes, these do have a flip side. Orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist Madhu Thottappillil says many of the people who come to his Chennai-based clinic have been injured (some badly) during group sessions. “These classes have people of varying ages and fitness levels, and because of the competitiveness, people push themselves beyond their limits and get injured,” he says, adding that some pre-screening should be a prerequisite before people join fitness classes. “You need to be aware of your body and be able to differentiate between good and bad pain, else it could get very nasty,” he says.
This reporter attended five such interesting classes to understand the dynamics of a group class and find out which one burns more calories.
My borrowed swimsuit (neon pink) is not particularly flattering and I walk gingerly across the pool deck clutching my blue-striped towel. The warm-up drill has already begun and the rest of the class is spot-jogging in the water. The jogging is followed by high-knee and jump squats (all in the water). Despite the explosiveness of the movements, however, my slightly iffy left knee feels alright.
Bengaluru-based Pooja Bhatia Arora, who is conducting the class and is an aqua instructor certified by the Federation of International Sports, Aerobics and Fitness, says: “Water, due to its buoyancy, lessens the impact on the joints while you work out. This makes it a perfect workout for people who are heavily overweight or are recovering from an injury.”
We move from conditioning to strength training. This comprises basic moves such as presses with water dumb-bells, push-ups against the pool wall, lunges and squats. Basic they may be, but I can feel my muscles working quite a bit.
“Water is denser than air and the resistance it provides is higher. This means that even a simple workout like jogging requires more effort in water than on land,” says Arora.
As I finish stretching and climb out of the pool, my limbs feel remarkably heavy and fatigued. Arora tells me not to worry too much about it: “There is no delayed onset of muscle soreness in water, as lactic acid accumulation does not happen due to the water pressure,” she says.
She was right. The fatigue soon disappeared. The only catch: I was ravenous the entire day, which is apparently a normal reaction to any water-based activity.
The wooden flooring, long mirror and glass door look like a dance studio, but one might be confused looking at the letters tacked up on the wall.
Senthil Kumaran N., a bokwa educational specialist trainer, laughs at my quizzical expression. “Participants move in the shape of letters and numbers, like they are drawing with their feet, while performing an energizing and addictive cardio-workout routine to popular music,” he says.
Created by Paul Mavi, a Los Angeles, US, based fitness instructor, the name is a portmanteau of two words: boxing and kwaito, which is a music and dance routine that has its origins in South Africa.
Unlike most dance exercise routines, which follow an eight-step count, bokwa veers more towards a freestyle dance pattern—perfect, apparently, for someone with two left feet, like yours truly. “The steps are structured and predictable, which means anyone can do it, including people who cannot dance,” laughs Kumaran, who has obviously underestimated my ineptitude on a dance floor.
To be fair, the rest of the class finds it easy enough and follows Kumaran (he uses a lot of sign language) as he traces numbers and letters on the floor with high energy. I move around randomly, producing a half-hearted kick from time to time, “Move”, yells Kumaran, “Feel the music and move with the beat. Don’t stop moving—you will get it.”
I can’t admit that I moved all the while but I did have fun and, by the end of the class, was drenched in sweat. “It really is a great workout: The energizing music and enthusiasm of people moving together to music get you addicted to it. You would not even realize you were burning up to 1,200 calories in one workout,” says Kumaran.
The 10-year-old in my Parkour class somersaults across the park bench; three burly young men also jump across. I climb over sedately. It doesn’t really matter, says Prabhu Mani, founder of Parkour Circle, who is guiding us. “Parkour is the art of moving the human body in a way that is most efficient for you.”
Parkour or free running, derived from military obstacle course training and developed by father-son duo Raymond and David Belle, involves navigating a complex environment in the best way possible.
Walkers in the park where our session is being conducted look curiously as the motley group of traceurs (that is what people who practise parkour are called) scan the space looking for fresh obstacles to cross—benches, trees, monkeybars, a covered well, walls are all fair game. “Unlike other forms of movement, parkour is defined by the environment,” says Mani.
In a way, we all practise some form of parkour, he adds. True enough—we have all scaled walls or gates while trying to sneak out of home, balanced on wooden planks to cross a ditch or squeezed under a bench (or bed) while playing hide-and-seek.
But channelling your inner spiderman is a lot harder than it looks—you need to be agile, be able to think on your feet and have the strength (physical and mental) to pull yourself across. I try to scale a low platform without landing knee first and find it incredibly hard—my arms aren’t strong enough to push my entire body upwards.
“No, it’s technique,” says Mani, demonstrating the move in a single fluid motion. I attempt to emulate him and almost succeed. “You will get there,” he laughs. “Just keep trying.”
It is 7 on a Friday night—you can either head directly to your favourite watering hole or begin your party at Shwetambari Shetty’s zumba class at The Tribe, a fitness club.
Shetty leads you through a series of simple, uncomplicated moves which, coupled with excellent music and her infectious energy, make the exercise session seem like one big party. “Zumba is a Latin-inspired cardio-dance workout that uses music and choreographed steps to form a fitness party atmosphere,” she explains, adding that it was a somewhat serendipitous discovery, a happy accident made by Alberto “Beto” Pérez when he forgot the music for his aerobic class and had to improvise with a tape of Latin music.
The moves may not be complicated but some are explosive, and coupled with the sheer number of people filling up the studio, necessitate a water break after every song.
It gets harder as the class progresses: Squats and lunges rub shoulders (and feet) with sashays and hip swivels, ending finally with a prop-based (tinsel string) number, vaguely reminiscent of a burlesque dancer at a strip club, leaving the participants in splits.
“Because zumba is so much fun, the participant comes back to class very often. There is never a reason to bunk a Zumba class,” says Shetty.
Rahul Muthayal Pradeep can be reached at email@example.com
I must admit that I have neither the poise nor the figure for ballet. But if it counts, I have watched the Black Swan five times.
“Barre refers to the stationary handrail that ballet dancers use,” Barre Fusion teacher Rahul Muthayal Pradeep tells us in his class as he leads us through a series of seemingly simple exercises performed holding the handrail that runs across the studio. We point and flex our toes, perform exercises to activate and open the hips, work on shoulders, arms and core. The movements are small, barely a couple of inches, but precision is key here—Pradeep walks around the class, making micro-adjustments to a slightly slouchy back or shoulders, threatening dire consequences if the alignment is wrong.
“Ballet is all about reaching for perfection that does not exist,” he quips, placing small balls in our outstretched arms, instructing us to simply hold them in the same position. Easy? Not really. Ten counts in and hitherto unknown muscles begin to twitch and ache. “Using classical ballet exercises and asana alignment from yoga, Barre Fusion imbibes the theory of calisthenics (where the surface muscles of the body are supported by deeper muscles),” he says.
The result: “A dancer’s body—lithe, limber and, above all, intelligent. The class may seem low-impact, but it is high on intensity,” he says.
As I rub my aching arms, I cannot help but agree.
This workout is yet to find its way into India, but then, we have our own version
It almost looks like a dandiya session: think swaying hips, clanking sticks and plenty of fun. Except that your stick probably weighs a lot more than the one you use during Navratri. And you squat and lunge your way through it instead of engaging in elaborate footwork with an attractive stranger.
POUND, an intense new cardio-jam session, is the brainchild of two young US-based women, Kirsten Potenza and Cristina Peerenboom, who sought to merge their love for fitness with another great passion: drums.
“We understood the physical rush of slamming our hearts out on a drum kit, the primal aggression released with each strike and the neuromuscular reward of mixing sound and movement,” says Potenza on email, adding that the duo also understood the physical benefits of having a stable core, joints that move through a healthy range of motion, balanced musculature, and a strong cardiovascular system.
And that is exactly what a POUND workout will give you, she says. “Using Ripstix, lightly weighted drumsticks engineered specifically for exercising, POUND transforms drumming into an incredibly effective way of working out.”
In a 45-minute POUND class, you will end up completing up to 15,000 repetitions and burn close to 900 calories, she says, adding that the movement also improves rhythm, timing, coordination, speed, agility and endurance.
And yes, it’s a lot of fun too. “Instead of listening to music, you become the music,” says Potenza.