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A Newbie's Guide to the Gym - Part 1: Aerobics Classes

Whitney Carlson10 Comments

As a personal trainer and an aerobic fitness class instructor, I see it (and hear it) all the time - you go to the gym following your New Years Resolution, you are pumped and as soon as you get there, you freeze. Dead in your tracks. The size 0 girls, the large, muscular grunting guys lifting more than you weigh, the clanking of the weights and the loud music pumping out of the aerobics room - it's more than you bargained, or psyched yourself up for. NEVER FEAR!!

Whitney and I will help you navigate what to do, where to be and how to feel and trust us... NOBODY is looking at you! They are more concerned with how they look! (Unless you are walking on the treadmill backward or spontaneously fall off a piece of equipment - then maybe they would look at you!)

So... you want to take a class but are not sure which one to start in or if you will be able to hack it? The good thing, there are TONS of classes with varying exercise types to choose from. The bad thing, you have to know what you are getting yourself into before you get in there.  Here is a basic outline of different classes taught throughout the country at local fitness clubs and gyms (not specialty fitness clubs) and suggestions for frequency of classes, what muscles are worked more than others, etc.

  • Weight-Lifting Cardio Classes - These classes go by many different names - you may see them listed as Cardio Pump, Body Pump (LesMills), Body Works (LA Fitness), Cardio Tone, etc.

Premise: Using a weighted bar and/or dumbbellsyou will move quickly through toning and muscle-building exercises, keeping your heart rate higher than a tradition weight lifting session.

Benefits: 60-minute classes typically burn more than 600 calories. This is a great workout, especially for those that do not have access to a personal trainer - with a qualified instructor, you will target every muscle in your body using exercises that are targeted for each! Look for fat burn and toning with this class.

Disadvantages: If you have never worked out before or have little experience with lifting weights, you may find it difficult to learn the proper lifting technique. Tell the instructor before hand so they can give you some extra attention and help - don't worry - they will be discreet! The other disadvantage - If you are looking to build lots of muscle - this probably isn't the class for you! You will tone, but you won't see your muscles growing in this class.

How Often do I take this class? I would recommend this class 3-4 times per week. DON'T take it back to back - you will want your body to recover from the weight lifting involved in the process!

  • Step Aerobics Classes - This is pretty straight forward - most classes are listed as step although I have seen some as "varying heights" classes.

Premise: Cardio class where you control the height of your step with "risers" - patterns and routines are choreographed to music throughout the class.

Benefits: Exceptional leg toning and cardio workout, similar to a workout on the Stepmill or Stairmaster.

Disadvantages: You have to have some coordination for this class - I have taught many step classes but will admit, I am not the best! People either get it or they don't. Also not a fully functional full body workout - you do move your arms, but unless you have weights, it's not the same.

How Often do I take this class? Take this class 2-3 times per week. It's incredibly great cardio, so try to mix it in with your weight training if you like it! (And maybe skip it after a hard leg workout!)

  • Bootcamp Classes - There are all sorts of names for these classes, but essentially they are the same!

Premise: Circuit-based class with little to no equipment that may take place inside your gym or outside in the parking lot, a grassy area, etc.

Benefits: Typically is a full-body toning workout designed to promote fat loss. Depending on the instructor, very few of these classes are ever the same - less boredom!

Disadvantages: If you are new to working out, you may want to start elsewhere. Depending on the class and the instructor, it may be harder than you are ready to undertake and any slacking on your part during the class could be discouraging.

How Often do I take this class? This is another one like the Body Pump classes! 3-4 times per week is sufficient with ample rest time. Substitute similar classes if you would like (like Body Pump).

  • Yoga/Pilates Classes  

Premise: Yoga - Focuses on stretching and methods of breathing. Pilates - Focuses on toning and methods of breathing.

Benefits: Relaxation, stretch and toning! Need a little stress relief - it's right here!

Disadvantages: Unless it's a fast paced class (which some are), these shouldn't count as your cardio.

How Often do I take this class? I use these classes in my "down" time or recovery time (especially yoga). You will know what your body needs!

  • Water Aerobics Classes - Don't be fooled! These are not all for "Old People" (sorry, no disrespect meant)! If you find the right class, you will be challenged beyond your expectations!

Premise: Using water as resistance, and a few pieces of equipment, full body workout designed for toning and stretch.

Benefits: Great for those with knee or joint problems! Between the soothing water environment and the relief of stress on the joints than on land, Water Aerobics can be a great choice.

Disadvantages: Some classes can be just too easy! Find one that works for you - many gyms can tell you which instructors seem to teach a more advanced class or if there are classes that are graded in terms of beginner, intermediate or advanced. The other obvious disadvantage - if you can't swim, make sure it's not a deep water class!

How Often do I take this class? Whenever you would like! I really like to take this class when I am tired or am incredibly sore from a hard workout the day before.

Find what works for you! I love to take classes on days that I don't want to "think" about my workout or need some added encouragement of a group where I know I won't quit! What is your favorite aerobics class?

Here is A "Newbie's Guide to the Gym" - Part 2