Why Group Exercise Classes Aren't Working
& why your workouts IN GENERAL...
Does that title make you mad? Are you ready to tell me off? Do you love your classes?
Sure. I get it.
Now, before you throw a minor internal fit about how wonderful your “tribe” is, and how hard those classes you go to are….
Please take a step back, abandon your preconceived ideas, proceed forth with an open mind, and be willing to listen to something that matters in this discussion…science. Also, when I say results, we are not talking about how much you sweat, how you were sprawled out on the floor at the end, or even better, how sore you were. All of that is what we call the “feel test.” It felt hard. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily equate to changes in body composition.
What I'm asking is simply:
Did your body change?
Did your weight go down?
Did you decrease your body fat?
Did your lean muscle mass increase?
Can you answer these questions?
This is measurable data that can tell us if we are making some headway.
How does the body lose weight?
We can’t have a real discussion on the "feel test", or anecdotal evidence. Even though it felt hard, doesn't mean it was effective. That said, let’s break down why most people do not get results doing group classes.
For years, it was thought that weight loss was as simple as burn more calories than you put in your body (The law of Thermodynamics). This has been true since published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in September of 1958
While yes… this is the starting point, it is not as simple as that. I wish it was. Things would be much easier. Essentially, this is a law of physics that does not carry over to the biochemistry of the body with 100% accuracy.
Because the body is an amazing machine that adapts!
The body constantly adapts. To lose weight, so must your training!
A cool study that showed this took place during 2009-2010. Herman Pontzer, an anthropologist, traveled to Tanzania to study one of the last hunter-gather tribes. The men hunt most of the day, and women forage for food. They chase animals. Climb trees. Dig up roots. They are the highest of any civilization ever studied in terms of their activity. Pontzer expected to see their energy expenditure (calories burned) to be significantly higher than the sedentary western culture of the United States. Pontzer and team measured things like urine and carbon dioxide emission from study participants to analyze the energy expenditure.
The big reveal: It was no higher than the energy expenditure of the current day U.S. or Europe! Which is pretty crazy.
While Pontzer himself admitted that there are many variables as to why this may have occurred, and the flaw in such a small sample size… it still raises questions about what we once thought about exertion and caloric expenditure.
So, how was this so?
Well, when you put the pieces together and connect the dots… essentially, it’s because their bodies adapted. Our bodies adapt to how much we move and how much we eat. It does this for self-preservation. These people would waste away if they were at a constant state of caloric deficit. DUH!
That would be a serious flaw in the human design. In terms of evolution, we would have never made it to 2019.
Our bodies adapt to our workout routines too. Meaning that we always have to do more. Ugh.
This is concerning as being volume dependent on our workouts is a fast-lane to overuse injuries. More isn't better. More is more.
And as we saw in research from Pontzer, the body adapts to more.
What does this have to do with Group Exercise Classes?
Well, most classes are built on intensity. They turn the volume up on the beats, and start saying things like “one more rep”, “110%”, “leave it all here” or something you've seen on an Instagram #fitspo post.
Obviously it has to be high energy as people come for the environment, and to sweat. This is NOT a bad thing. This is an environmental stimulus which is good, but means nothing for your body's physiological makeup.
Remember, your body adapts, and that needs to be taken into consideration in your workouts.
If you have gotten results from your group class, and you’re all like “my body has changed stupid Julian," That is awesome! But, you would generally be the outlier, and not the norm.
For many de-conditioned or sedentary individuals, ANYTHING will work right off the bat.
As there is a dramatic change in your lifestyle, that increase in activity in conjunction with dietary changes may have been enough to move the needle and progress you from your previous adapted lifestyle.
In those cases, the results generally only last for the 1st three months, then things stop changing.
I’m not singling anyone or any modality out specifically. This goes for your cardio class, Crossfit, Zumba, body pump, hot yoga... whatever. We even see this in our group classes. Rebirth Body Transformation Center is NOT immune to this. We just try to educate people on what proper progression is for them.
(Seriously, anything was going to work.)
What essentially happens is that you make a dramatic change in lifestyle. You start working out. You start eating better. Things change a little. Then they stop.
So, why is that?
What to do?
Before I get to the answer (the reason why you’re probably still reading this), two last things you must consider on the downside of high caloric expenditure workouts.
1.) There is something called “Metabolic Compensation.”
This has been seen in cases that were studied that did high calorie burning workouts like Cycling Classes or Running. It’s essentially the body trying to find homeostasis (a balance) after a high amount of calorie burning in a short time. The body can down-regulate for the rest of the day after the high-output workout.
2.) The individual can experience a significant increase in hunger
This leads to unintentional overeatting the rest of the day after the intense workout. Raise your hand if you’ve experienced this (both my hands are raised… and both of my feet.)
The Solution: Progressive Overload
The body needs to progress. Period. Because, it is always adapting. It all makes sense now, right?
Your body is always adapting to your movements, duration, frequency, weight moved, repetitions done, sets completed, resting periods, intensity, etc. Everything! To change your body with the help of exercise, a few things need to be your primary focus.
Building More Lean Muscle Mass
Building lean muscle mass is crucial. It helps your caloric burn increase around the clock, even when you are sleeping. Cardio does NOT do this.
Create Consistency & Challenge It.
Be consistent with your workout. Avoid changing it all the time. Once you have a strong reliable pattern, it's time to systematically progress.
If you have taken one of our bootcamps or small group classes, you’ll notice we program for consistency so each individual can measure their progress from the time before. Then, before the body adapts, and before people get bored, we progress the moves. Simple in theory. Hard in application. Many people come to us mentally conditioned to want to do something different every time. We have to undue this as coaches.
With all that said, you’re probably asking what every person does when we throw research and facts at them… “So, what does that mean for me? Put it all together for me.”
Here are 5 Steps to Keep the Progress Going & Minimize Adaptation
1.) Strength train 2-3 days a week minimum trying to up your weights consistently (even just 1-3% each time.
2.) Progress workouts every 4-6 weeks
3.) The other days, do the classes that you like to do. You have to like exercising. Do a little of what you like, and a little of what you need!
How has your journey to a healthier life been going?
4.) Find a nutritional approach that is sustainable for you. One that you can stick with. Whether it is caloric reduction, a whole food based diet, anti-inflammatory diet, counting macronutrients, whatever you can stick with long enough to see if it is right for you.
5.) Find both a coach and a community so you do not have to do this alone. Change is hard. Especially when you are alone.
Surprise factors that can complicate your journey:
One final note - there are a few things that throw all of this out the window
1) Your hormones
2) Your genetic makeup
3) Food based inflammation
These things can trump any good exercise routine and diet. If you think you may have some underlying imbalances, you may want to speak to your doctor. We also offer these advanced testing. Feel free to read a little more about them on our site.
As always, if you have any questions, or feel like you need a little help, please reach out to us.
This is what we do. We put it all together for you in a clear and focused plan, while providing you with unlimited support. We're here to walk this path with you.
Your friend in fitness,