Lacking Results in Group Classes.

Hey Davey Wavey,

A couple of years ago, I started attending fitness classes and have increased the amount of classes I do over time. I now do 6-8 classes per week, each at an hour. Some of the classes involve weight training and others are cardio.

While the classes helped me slim down and build some muscle, I’m at a stand-still and am not noticing any changes. Am I doing something wrong?


Hey Peter,

I’m not at all surprised by your situation - and it’s actually very common. Fitness classes are fun, informative and a great way to get started or to add variety to your workout. But because it’s in a group setting, it’s hard to build a class around one person’s specific goals.

Your goal may be to build muscle. The person next to you may be looking to lose weight. Moreover, your ability levels could vary greatly. Ideally, the instructor would be working with the two of you very differently - but, in a class, everyone gets lumped together.

Breaking through fitness plateaus involves taking your workout to the next level - but, since new people are always coming into a class, it’s unlikely that the instructor will increase the intensity of the program. With classes, participants tend to get more of the same, day after day and week after week. If you’re just looking for maintenance, then this is great. But if you’re looking to build on your results, group classes almost always fall short.

If you’re serious about building muscle, then you’ll want to spend some time training with machines and free weights. Because free weight exercises are so specific, take time to setup (i.e., loading the weights, etc.) and require space and equipment, most classes exclude them. You might find a class with light dumbbells, but I’ve yet to see a class that incorporates, for example, the bench press.

It sounds like you’re ready to take your workout to the next level - and, if I were in your shoes, I’d scale back the number of classes that I take in exchange for some individual workout sessions. Ideally, it may make sense to higher a trainer for a week or two to help put together a customized program.

Having said that, group classes are still great for adding variety to a workout, and an effective way for gym newbies to get acclimated to exercise.


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  1. That’s great advice for Richard. I totally agree that drop-in/bootcamp style classes have major limitations for the reasons that Davey suggests and further because they offer little of the structure that well-designed program would and they also don’t give you the nutritional advice you need so that the way in which you eat will support your fitness goals

  2. Have you ever tried Les Mills BodyPump? I don’t know who offers them in the US, but they’re taught around the world (at GoodLife gyms in Canada)… They’re barbell-based group ex, and do involve, among other things, bench press. But they’re high rep/lower weight, so not great if you’re looking to build muscle. But being able to use as much or as little weight as you need make them pretty easy to customize to your situation, as long as you’re looking to shape and tone, not pack on muscle.

    • LW, I agree with. I love taking BodyPump. It is a great way to get introduced to weight lifting and a way to learn the different exercises for different muscle groups. I still take BodyPump twice a week, but now that I feel comfortable with the actually exercises - I do them on my own outside of class with heavier weights to build muscle.

  3. I also started like that and slim down a lot, tone my body too, and that was it, so I took in addition boxing and the routine combine with weights added muscle. Now I try my cardio and pump classes (wich I take them as warm ups) and hit the weights, I feel more confident around that area now (as when I was a newbie) because I know how to use the equipment and how much I can pump too. Care

  4. Michael M says:

    Peter, I think Davey gives good advice if you’ve hit a plateau and want to see more muscle. I don’t disagree with him but do take issue with his denigration of group classes.

    Diss-ing group classes sounds a lot like the peacocks that strut around the gym with huge pecs and arms but who also have guts and skinny chicken legs. It sounds a lot like regional gyms where classes are an afterthought and teachers are certified but lacking experience.

    In larger cities you should be able to find a gym with boot camp type classes nearly as challenging as the P90X and Insanity programs available on DVD. And any good instructor will encourage and not be threatened (as long as you’re not in the front row) if you adapt routines for more difficulty that challenge your personal workout in a class setting — such as adding free weights instead of bands, etc. to their class.

    My observation has been that the peacocks avoid classes because they are intimidated by the rhythm and balance (great for your core) required in advanced classes. Many of the peacocks in my gym would not be able to complete the cardio portion of an advanced class, let alone complete a high intensity spinning class.

    Free weights, machines and treadmills rarely vary from gym to gym. But classes and excellent class instructors can distinguish a mediocre gym from an excellent gym and enhance not only your experience but also your motivation for attendance.

    Yes, classes are great for variation and beginning classes are great for newbies. And yes, as you & Davey know there’s not much opportunity for individual instruction/attention in a group setting. But to generalize and denigrate classes by lumping them all together “for newbies” and using a picture of Richard Simmons to illustrate that point is both juvenile and somewhat misogynistic since my observation is that a majority of class attendees are female.

    Davey has good advice — depending, of course, on your goals. Classes are great for variation and as he recommends both scaling back on their number and adding a personal trainer for a couple of weeks should lift you out of your plateau. At the same time, you might scout other gyms that place more emphasis on quality advanced classes and experienced instructors.

    • christopher says:

      oh that Richard Simmons guy photo doesnt do it for me-except its comical-because he is staying on course-and being on a daily course-plan of action-yes everyday-sounds monotonous but i get results.persistence pays off.issues?ive no issues-as long as i stay on course.sometimes i do better than my neighbour-and hes the wanabee personal trainer-pts get 35 dollars per average-just saying.

  5. christopher says:

    i didnt know all this.and this gives me an understanding.the club i work out at has no group workout self motivated-my work days vary from day-to-day-yet each and everyday i do the fail.if i walk the dog or dogs-thats great.usually i do 1.5 miles but i feel-thats gr8 exercise-but wheres the sweat?so i do at least 1.5 miles on the some days combined exercise-thats three miles-everyday.if i was in a group-i could accomplish goals with a group.but only within-the group.everyone has needs-different needs.i think this is the theme or what is being workout is great-but not for some individual goals.

  6. Davey thanks very much, and I’ve read and taken into account all of your comments!

    those of you who mentioned Les Mills - THEY ARE THE CLASSES I DO!!!! I do Body Combat, Body Attack and Body Pump, two cardio and one weights, I absolutely love them and as much as I up my weights in pump I’m still not seeing the results I want… My instructor is one of the most experienced instructors that I know of and she has got amazing results and says my technique is perfect… Also there is a hugely known Les Mills fanatic called Glen Stollery and he’s in AMAZING shape, purely because of Les Mills classes, so this makes me think I’ve just not been doing it for long enough?

    Who knows, but I think it must be time to hit the gym more often!

  7. Peter: What are your specific goals? Saying that these classes don’t work for you is really telling us nothing. Combat/Pump/Attack are cardio/endurance classes. Even Pump isn’t a true weighttrainimg class, altho some of the attributes of Pump are used in the weightraining community.Spending 6 to 8 hrs per week in classes IMHO is way too much. 3 sessions per week supplemented by other activiities/sports/training should be enough. Unfortunately everyone wants a quick fix. I disagree about personal trainers, unless they’re sport specific. How did ppl ever survive before these personal trainers? Why MUST everyone have a personal trainer? Do I have to pay someone to count my reps? Do I have to pay someone to make a spreadsheet so I know my daily workout & track it? Ego?? Invest in some books & magazines. Most have sample routines. Go to the gym. Ask questions. Watch others. Stand there and watch the personal trainer work out their clients. Make notes. I’ve worked out with some pro & expro’s athletes for nothing, or for peanuts for specific sports training cause they love their sport. The undereducated, nonexperienced, overpriced personal trainer is a scam.

  8. Peter, what body type are you?

    Ectomorphs, endomorphs, and mesomorphs, are have different body shapes that they are genetically predisopostioned to. Ectomorph’s tend to be the lean wirey types, and find it hard to put on muscle no matter how much iron they pump (the classic “hard-gainer”). Endomorphs tend to be naturually stocky, they gain muscle easily, but also gain fat easily. Mesomorphs, well they are typically the naturally strong and athletic, they gain muscle easily. Frankly, they naturally tend towards the body most people have to work very hard for.

    Be aware when you are comparing other’s results from working a specific exercise plan. If they have a diff body type, they may be able to get results doing a routine that just won’t work for you. You gotta know your type and work your plan accordingly. Good luck