Lessons from one month of group fitness

Decision fatigue is a real thing, as is actual fatigue. I did not even realise I was suffering two major bouts of decision fatigue until I used group fitness classes to remove both of them entirely.

Heading to the gym, in fact joining a gym in the first place, is always a well-intentioned and noble pursuit. There exists a general aspiration of physical improvement and healthy well-being, driven by motivations derived from personal hopes and goals. It is a good thing to do and we all know it is better for us than visiting the pub or watching even more Brooklyn Nine Nine on Netflix.

What is the best group fitness class for a bloke who is now over 40, asking for a friend?
Contact Downunder Dad directly.

My fitness goals have not changed in over 20 years, I am still trying to be comfortable without a shirt on. Simple. I’m failing, but it is a simple goal.

I love my gym, it has plenty of treadmills and rowing machines, loads of free and rack weights, friendly staff, clean spaces, massage chairs, a cafe and best of all an outdoor area that includes a magnesium pool, sauna and steam room. It sounds posh, yet it isn’t and that’s a valuable balance.

Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue – you’re not consciously aware of being tired – but you’re low on mental energy.

New York Times, John Tierney, 2011

There are also a few really large rooms with stages and killer sound systems, they have giant fans mounted on the walls and little store rooms full of mysterious gym gear. I have never paid them much attention, not at this current gym or any others I have visited.

Until recently.

Not exactly how my group fitness classes look, but you get the idea. (Credit: Bruce Mars on Pexels.com)

So how did I go from gym visits that seemed to require more planning than building a stadium, to making them a no-brainer?

Decision Number One

I was constantly needing to arrange our whole family around when I could go to the gym. I am aware that sounds dramatic, but with two young kids it is true. I could not just leave work, feeling energetic, head to the gym (which I can see from my office window!) and quickly SMS Mrs DD to tell her I would be home late for dinner. That would create turmoil at her end most nights. When could I go to the gym?

Decision Number Two

I was constantly needing to plan what exercises to do while at the gym. Unfortunately for me, despite my best efforts, this was mostly being generated from a mediocre knowledge base. I know a little amount about exercise and how my body works, I believe I am undertaking a productive workout during my gym time, however I am not an expert. What to do at the gym?

Enter group fitness. Now stay with me here, I know it sounds lame.

By visiting the gym straight from work every Tuesday and Friday to participate in scheduled group fitness classes I have instantly removed two weekly recurrences of decision fatigue. I no longer need to consult with my wife and cross reference our calendars or double check what the kids have on. Plus I no longer need to ponder what to do while at the gym.

By visiting the gym straight from work every Tuesday and Friday to participate in scheduled group fitness classes I have instantly removed two weekly recurrences of decision fatigue.

I arrive at the designated time. I participate by following the instructor. I sweat my ass off. My whole body gets worked over. I make it through the 50 minutes. I collapse into the awaiting magnesium pool. I ride my bike home. Simple.

Solution Number One

My wife, my kids, my boss, my body, everyone knows that I now go to the gym after work every Tuesday and every Friday. Again, it is simple. I do not need to worry about constantly gazing into the future and ponder the ramifications of my exercise and how it might affect others. If an opportunity arises to visit between these days, I add that in there.

Lift together, sweat together. (Credit: Lukas on Pexels.com)

Solution Number Two

The certified group fitness classes are not just thrown together like my haphazard workouts. They systematically work their way through a variety of warm up, stretching, cardio, strength, stretching (again) and warm down. Plus they logically address conditioning the majority of the body, areas that I would never think to exercise. You should see some of the positions I end up in, you should feel how oddly sore I am days later.

And just when you are getting good, figuring out the timings and counts, getting better at all the moves, getting stronger and more coordinated… they fucking change it all!

It is just another positive of the concept, for me anyways. As the muscle memory develops and as the benefits start to plateau the variety of exercises gets updated.

Group fitness has also helped me to learn more about my body, especially my strengths and weaknesses. As it turns out, I was well misinformed about where I am strong, my side obliques are an embarrassment.

You know it is good for you when the sweat runs down your shins. (Credit: Downunder Dad)

Witnessing the progress for yourself is both motivating and rewarding. Additionally, I find myself working much harder within a group fitness environment. I am forced to keep my heart rate up or I get left behind and I am certainly having less rest between exertions.

I read a quote on my gym’s Facebook page recently that said, “you know you are smashing the squats track when you feel the sweat dripping from your elbows!” That’s me.

Knowing that the class is happening with or without me is also motivating, but not nearly as much as the thought of skipping a week. After my first Body Pump class and probably over-doing it on the bicep curls, I could not straighten my elbows for five full days. It was crazy. I am not keen to revisit that feeling, I will not start over again.

A personal trainer is costly, and given my level of “fitness” they would not exactly be straining themselves intellectually to offer my an effective service. They would preach all of the annoying exercises that I know I should be doing, but hate.

Plus everything in a group fitness class is done to the music, and it is loud and fun. And I even know some of the songs!

The qualified instructors assist with form and provide good tips and techniques each time. I feel as though the risk of injury is reduced because I am not just being left to my own try-hard and optimistic internal devices.

The tight-ass within me also loves that I can do as many classes as I like for the same price as doing none. It adds value to my gym membership. Not that I am yet to tackle more than two in a single week.

There are also a few really large rooms with stages and killer sound systems, they have giant fans mounted on the walls and little store rooms full of mysterious gym gear.

In summary it is a rather impressive list of benefits and lessons learned after just a few weeks of dipping my nervous toe into the group fitness pool of intimidating cultiness:

  • Instantly reduces decision fatigue
  • Receive structured and educated guidance
  • Added variety within each class
  • Added variety with regular changes to class content
  • Regular schedule
  • Efficient and harder workouts
  • Motivating (like footy training)
  • Low injury risk
  • Adds value to gym membership
  • Generates regular attendance
  • The perve (there I said it!)

I want to elaborate on my last point, I’m not that guy. Most guys are not that guy. Truth is… Mrs DD is my group fitness instructor. Yep. And having your wife run a group fitness class is arousing, just saying.

And this brave article will now form the basis (if she reads it) for the biggest “I told you so” of our entire marriage. And I don’t care because group fitness has already proven to be very beneficial for a bloke like me. Just like my wife always said it would.

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