By , YMCA Registered Dietitian & Group Exercise Instructor

Are you ready for the next level?

There’s a time to focus on showing up consistently, and then there’s a time to push harder, go faster, and see what you're made of.

One of the best things about group exercise is how it meets us wherever we are and helps us to grow.

As an instructor, I would rather see people attend my class regularly and increase their weight and stamina over time rather than see someone overdo it the first time and never come back.

So, if you’re new to group ex, first check out the three things you can learn about yourself. Get good at coming on a regular basis and completing the class.

Once you’ve got that down, it might be time to look for ways to maximize your workout. You can set challenging, yet attainable goals to measure, celebrate and repeat. If you want to move beyond the basics, here’s how to step up your group ex game.

Take it to the next level

  1. Wear a calorie counter. Aim to burn a total number of calories during a class. You can ask for advice on setting a calorie goal from our group fitness instructors at the Y.

  2. Wear a heart rate monitor. Try to keep your heart rate at a certain elevation for a set amount of time. Again, our instructors know their stuff! Ask them for help.

  3. Set a goal with a classmate. A little competition can be a fantastic motivator. In your next class, challenge one of your classmates to join you in setting a goal and work together to achieve it. Maybe you decide to try and hold the high plank for 30 seconds instead of staying in low plank. Having a buddy alongside you will help you both accomplish more.

  4. Grab a front-row spot. We tend to have more effective workouts when we are closer to the instructor. Give the front row a try. This will allow you to use the mirrors found in most group fitness studios to check out your form while you are exercising. The visual reinforcement can motivate you to push yourself a little further.
  5. Increase the intensity. Let your instructor's knowledge and experience help elevate your workout efforts. Ask them to give you modifications for exercises that are too easy for you. Challenge yourself by doing a couple push-ups on your toes instead of your knees in Boot Camp class. In a Zumba or Rumble class, try doing the higher-impact or higher-intensity movements for a few minutes, then modifying the exercises to a less intense level. 

  6. Modify moves. Which exercises have you found to be intimidating or uncomfortable? Modifications that lower the impact (the stress put on the joints of the body) of an exercise don’t necessarily have to lower the intensity (the cardiovascular effect). For example, if jumping jacks are hard on your knees, do modified jacks that keep your feet on the ground and lower the impact. However, be certain to fully extend your arms overhead to preserve some of the intensity. Modifying moves allows you to keep them in your workout while also pushing yourself to try new exercises.

  7. Incorporate heavier weights. Start off with heavier weights than usual, and decrease when you need to. For example, during a BodyPump class, try putting extra 2.5-pound plates on your barbell for just one or two muscle groups and using more moderate weight for the others. Before you know it, you'll be using heavier weights the whole time!
  8. Add reps. Is the class counting down from 10 reps? Count down from 12. As long as you are working out with proper form and listening to your body, don’t be afraid to go the extra mile. Just know that it’s common to experience muscle soreness and fatigue one or two days after a challenging workout, especially when you are adding reps or increasing the intensity. 

  9. Add time. If the instructor asks the class to wall sit for 30 seconds, try 35. Over time, your muscles will gain strength and your endurance will build, allowing you to continue adding to the amount of time you exercise more intensely.

  10. Take a new type of class to work different muscles. The Y offers a wide variety of class types. There are plenty of options to choose from in both strength training and cardio formats. From BodyPump to R.I.P.P.E.D to Zumba, there really is something for everyone. Get to know the group fitness schedule for your center and branch out to an unfamiliar class format or an instructor who's brand new to you.

    Schedules are available on the website, app, and in print at every center and include a detailed class description for each format.

    Still not sure if a class is right for you? Arrive a few minutes early and introduce yourself to the instructor. They’ll let you know what to expect and how to modify the class for your needs.

Progress is perfection

Remember, we tend to be highly motivated when we begin something new, but try to avoid the “more is better” or “all in” mentality. I tell my classes to exercise wisely and not forget that rest days are important, too. Strive for progress, not perfection. Your fitness level and abilities are likely different from those of your instructors or your classmates, so don’t focus on trying to look like them when you take a class. Push yourself instead, and you’ll feel stronger with each workout.

Learn more about making the most of your Y membership through fitness advice, nutrition tips, and recipes on Thrive.