Vail Daily column: Consider these group fitness caveats |

Vail Daily column: Consider these group fitness caveats

Ryan W. Richards
Make It Count

There is nothing wrong with group fitness programs, but you need to understand what you’re getting into. I have coached group fitness dynamics for over a decade and have realized like most things in life, you really do get what you pay for. The most appealing benefit of group fitness programs is the financial savings for the consumer. Most group fitness services such as CrossFit, Pure Barre, yoga, and ski conditioning classes that are numerous in the valley right now, cost $100-$150 per month for unlimited participation; at specific clubs, group fitness offerings are complimentary. The problem is, the financial savings can cost you physically. Let’s talk about the potential problems with group fitness, and solutions for the economical fitness consumer.


First of all, I’m not against group fitness or semi-private training sessions. I coach several semi-private training programs that are incredibly successful for the value oriented fitness enthusiast. However, there are specific caveats that must be considered. The first consideration is that everyone has very specific needs that vary greatly across gender, age groups and athletic history.

For example, most women I have evaluated need more strengthening and stabilization training and less mobility and flexibility training. In general, men need more range of motion and aerobic work and far less stability training. In a group setting, if a coach focuses on mobility work and flexibility training, women will often feel like they’re not getting a workout, while the men are gasping for oxygen as they attempt to touch their toes.

Before participating in a group setting, understand that your fitness needs may be far different than your peers, and someone might get the short end of the stick. The good news is that most comprehensive group fitness programs cover all bases, but this remains a common issue.

The next consideration is scalability. All people need to execute movements that are non-gender and age specific, and need the same evaluation for a baseline in competence. For example, in CrossFit programming, the brand recognizes that all people need the same things because movement is non-specific. CrossFit believes scalability is a key factor for fitness development success across differing demographics. In other words, all people should and need to squat, but the variables such as load, speed, and total workload should be managed to the individual in question.

By the way, this is unequivocally true in a perfect world where it’s a paradise surrounded by rainbows and unicorns. In the real world, there’s decades of inactivity, the aging process and mortality. In the Vail Valley, the biggest limitation is the proverbial injury history from playing hard. Here’s a typical scenario. An aging woman comes to a group fitness program that seems like it fits her needs. She hasn’t ever participated in an organized fitness program outside of walking, hiking and skiing 50 days per year. She’s had two knee replacements, a torn rotator cuff that she’s never seen a doctor for, because after all, how important is the shoulder joint in skiing anyway? She participates in the group workout and low and behold, she has acquired fitness alright, but her knees and shoulder are worse, and the fitness adaptations that she’s acquired moved her in the wrong direction.

Group fitness only works if an individual has a reasonable level of movement competency, doesn’t have a long list of injuries and has realistic expectations. The squat can develop high levels of fitness and athleticism for one trainee and send another trainee to the PT’s office. Consider this, and understand the dilemma.

The final consideration is general body awareness and athletic ability or lack thereof. In a group setting, it can be difficult to monitor all participant’s form and technical proficiency during more complicated movements. Technical failure under duress is a potential injury mechanism. If a participant doesn’t understand the mechanics, or can’t assume the proper posture because of a limitation due to inactivity or a previous injury, we can be inviting a problem.

What are some solutions to navigating a group fitness program? First, spend some one on one time with a coach to learn the fundamentals of proper human movement. Find out from a professional ahead of time what your limitations are, what you need to focus on and spend time performing your own specific movement homework that can better prepare you for the rigors of group fitness. What’s great about CrossFit is that most good locations have a fundamentals course that participants must attend to ensure proper mechanics before engaging in more aggressive training. Good CrossFit gyms look at the individual trainees objectively before they load or progress through more advanced scenarios.

Also consider one-on-one private coaching once a quarter to monitor progress, regroup your specific needs,and rescreen your baseline to see if you’re adapting in the right direction. Lastly, please understand that I am not deterring fitness enthusiasts away from group training to more specific individualized coaching. For the last five years, semi-private and small group training has been the most successful fitness model and will continue to be in the future.

Furthermore, the safety history in group settings is spectacular. However, 23 is the average age for peak performance in high intensity semi-private training programs. Just understand that even though you are saving money financially, you are potentially opening the door to movement compensations and injuries, specifically for people who are aging or have an intensive injury history. Have a great week!

Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at or 970-401-0720.

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