How group exercise helps you push fitness boundaries
From trampoline jumping routines to high-intensity training on water, fitness classes have exploded across the UAE. Keith J. Fernandez looks at some of the benefits of group workouts
A series of studies testifies to the benefits of approaching fitness as a social activity. New England researchers tracking medical students over 12 weeks found that working out in a group lowers stress by 26 per cent and significantly improves quality of life. By contrast, people who exercise individually generally put in more effort but see no lifestyle or stress differences.
“The communal benefits of coming together with friends and colleagues, and doing something difficult, while encouraging one another, pays dividends beyond exercising alone,” Dayna Yorks, DO, lead researcher on the study, wrote in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. “The findings support the concept of a mental, physical and emotional approach to health that is necessary for student doctors and physicians.”
That chimes with the findings of a four-year cross-sectional study correlating physical exercise and mental health in 1.2 million Americans, published in Lancet Psychiatry last October. While all exercise is beneficial — those who worked out had 1.5 fewer days of poor mental health than people who didn’t — the respondents who participated in team sports had 22.3 per cent fewer bad days than couch potatoes.
“There are many health benefits of working out in a crowd but one of the most significant would be a mental benefit or mood boost,” says Talia Moreira, Manager at Max & Aegle, a 500,000-sqft wellness facility that opened in Dubai’s Meydan development earlier this year. “When you are in a great class surrounded by inspiring, goal-driven people, you are able to push yourself harder, and by smiling and cheering you release endorphins that are a natural pain reliever and happiness booster.”
A good vibe
In Ramadan or otherwise, anyone struggling with a lack of motivation can benefit from working out in a crowd, she tells GN Focus. “Group classes are filled with encouragement, good vibes and drive not only from the trainer but from the classmates as well, creating a great bond, building relationships and giving you the purpose of coming back again and again.” That’s in addition to other benefits such as strengthening the cardiovascular system, increasing the body’s range of motion, mobility and flexibly, improving stamina and endurance.
Adding to the appeal are the trendy new workout offerings. High-intensity interval training, a comparatively recent fad, is now performed on the water at the One & Only Royal Mirage’s Drift Beach, where Super Sup Fit incorporates resistance bands, balls, freehand exercises and the principles of balance in a routine set to music and executed on floating mats. Boxnflow integrates boxing and yoga in the Instagram-ready environs of Underdogboxn in Dubai Media City. Prama, at Fairmont The Palm, is a functional training routine that has been compared to a sports video game, with spatial directions on the floor and walls accompanied by lights, sound and sensors.
Cardio classes are great for people who need motivation to work out. Group sessions are fun, effective at burning fat, lowering blood pressure and reducing cholesterol levels.- Paul Holder, Group Exercise Instructor, GymNation
On a busy Ramadan morning, fitness influencer Paul Holder leads a group of 70 adults through a high-intensity workout on mini trampolines at the Al Quoz branch of budget fitness chain GymNation. His class, JumpNation, is a low-impact cardio and flexibility routine that aims to provide the benefits of running without the muscular and joint issues. The entertaining, high-energy session aims to tone the core, legs and glutes. “JumpNation is a mixed class and one of the club’s most popular,” the GymNation Group Exercise Instructor tells GN Focus. “Cardio classes are great for people who need motivation to work out. Group sessions are fun, effective at burning fat, lowering blood pressure and reducing cholesterol levels.”
Even if you think these classes might be too challenging or hard for you, don’t worry, because group classes have many options which can be great for an athlete to a beginner, a teenager to an older person.- Talia Moreira, Manager at Max & Aegle
Perfect for all
Holder says classes work for everybody, with routines set up to cater to different capability levels within the same group. So an older, fitter person may work out at a higher intensity than someone who’s younger but out of shape, for example. “Classes are generally mixed ability. In my class there is always a modified version of the exercises. I always ask if any anyone has any medical issues that will prevent them from doing certain moves,” he explains.
Except perhaps for women who have just given birth, for whom she recommends personal training, Moreira says gyms work to ensure a variety of classes for everyone. “Today group classes are designed the way to suit most of the people who want to work out in a group,” she says. “So, you can always choose a class that is going to match your gender, age, fitness level and health condition. Even if you think these classes might be too challenging or hard for you, don’t worry, because group classes have many options which can be great for an athlete to a beginner, a teenager to an older person.”