The Group Fitness Class Experience


Yesterday, I witnessed a group movement experience that I was SO glad I was not a part of.

After a month away and a week of living the truck driver life, I got a month-long pass to a nearby gym. It’s primarily a rock-climbing gym, but they have a weight room upstairs.

This particular gym runs some group conditioning classes inside of the weight room. While I was gleefully doing irreverent things on the back extension bench, a voice came over the loudspeaker letting everyone know that “Body Blast with Mr. Blasty Blast” [ok, not his real name] was starting soon. I thought, “Oh nice, I’ll get to see if I would ever want to join the class.” Consensus:

OH NO, I WILL NOT FUCKING EVER. (Unless you pay me. I’d consider it if money were involved.)

The class started like this. Mr. Blast, wearing jeans and looking at no one in particular, shouts flatly, “Let’s do this. 30 jumping jacks.10 bodyweight squats. 2 push-ups.”

They held minute-long side planks in silence while Mr. Blast sat and watched his timer. He had no cues, no jokes. Nothing to draw their focus into the details of work. The only thing filling the air was 9 women and 1 man’s people's radiating expressions of, ‘FML how many more seconds.’

Now, I know, hard physical work tends to skew the face into a grimace (so does orgasm). This expression can be understood as misery when it's just focus, output, or cathartic release. But after the waves of work comes relief, no? They were doing intervals. This is when an engaging coach can help people in the room recenter, reframe, support others, and connect with the pleasure of the (even really hard) work.

Many people associate suffering through movement classes with more significant benefits. Like, if they endure a militaristic random collection of exercises, it leads to real fitness. The benefits of woebegone work are more significant than playful work, right?

Personally, I swell with a negative feeling when a teacher comes in and barks generalized orders with no warmth, no reason why, and no insight into what to focus on.

I recognize that it’s likely that I am overly sensitive to cues and delivery. I've invested so many years in examining what language FEELS like in the body, that my adverse reactions are amplified. I’ve experienced such brilliant cues, words that shower me in insight and motivation, that when it’s missing- I really feel it.

I believe, that in a group movement setting it IS possible to work really hard and:

  • *Feel a sense of community

  • *Feel like your presence in the room matters

  • *Gain new insight into the technique of familiar patterns

  • *Smile occasionally

  • *Challenge yourself creatively

Even while doing shit like burpees. Not only is it possible, but it's also better. Life tends to be stressful, isolating, and confusing. Our group movement classes can be different. Even when we work hard. Even when we 'suffer' through exercises.

It saddens me that SO many people return to movement as adults, and in their quest for fitness (or whatever), they learn this way. No how, no why, no encouragement to connect to others. Just isolating commands that reinforce the belief that the experience of exercise must suck to be beneficial.

Long term, if someone depends on environments like this to guide their movement, how will it shape their abilities, beliefs, and insecurities? What is your experience in movement environments like this? Am I just out of touch and overly sensitive?


Photo from a time scaled the Old Man of Stor (a mountain in The Scottish Highlands). It was so rainy and windy that we crawled up the mountain, digging out fingers in moss and narrowly avoiding face-fulls of sheep shit. Everyone else was getting out of there as we went higher. We became heavy with all the water we absorbed and shivered or asses off. But the hilarity and magic of it all made the suffering feel enriching the whole time.