Vail Daily column: Are you ready for group fitness? |

Vail Daily column: Are you ready for group fitness?

Ryan W. Richards
Make It Count

The iconic Richard Simmons popularized televised group fitness programs throughout the 1980s, and fitness clubs nationwide have been following the crusade ever since. The propagation of Crossfit and Pure Barre have pushed the industry skyward with no end in sight. Now more than ever, the fitness consumer can access group fitness programs at a nominal fee. Semi-private training and small group exercise programs receive the glory, and will be the future moving forward. These opportunities provide motivation, accountability, value and exhilaration.

However, I don’t love group fitness programs for the most part. Large herds of people gathering to pursue challenging movements to increase their cool factor will fall into one of two categories. People either move well and efficiently, or they don’t. Even though group fitness programs offer value over specialization, you really do get what you pay for. I’m going to discuss group fitness practices, and what you need to know to safely maneuver the challenges that haunt the group fitness culture. For the record, Crossfit and Pure Barre receive too much criticism. There is rarely such a thing as a bad exercise program or structure. There are people who absolutely have no business participating in specific programs, however. This is precisely why I don’t particularly love group fitness programs.

Last week I was teaching a traditional group fitness program with several attendees. Five of the attendees moved very well; they all maintained a high level of fitness, and had the requisite ability to exercise safely and effectively. The other three were a different story. I doubt I will see two of the participants again.

Human movement is human movement and the fundamentals still trump fancy execution of exercises that are awkward and unreasonable for truly developing lasting fitness results. The problems arise when individuals walk into a group fitness program and pretend to be fancy before they are even good; they can’t even perform the fundamentals. Too many participants feel they are “fit” by the standards of riding a bike or because they are particularly lean. Injuries await you.

There is rarely such a thing as a bad exercise program or structure. There are people who absolutely have no business participating in specific programs, however.


Here’s a checklist of what you need to know if you’re planning to pursue group fitness.

Deep Squat: Do you know how to properly perform an unloaded deep squat? Can you drive your hips back while keeping your back straight? Do your knees cave in as you squat down? Can you sit low enough until your thighs are just below parallel to the ground, while keeping your feet flat? If you answered no to any of these questions, you don’t belong in a group session just yet.

Lower back: Are you at risk for a lower back injury? Here’s a great self-check. Can you bend down and touch your toes without bending your knees? Can you lie flat on your back, and without bending your knees, raise one leg at a time as high as possible and achieve 90 degrees at your hip? If you can’t, stop blaming Pure Barre for your nagging lower back. This issue needs addressed, and a group class isn’t going to cut it.

Shoulders: Stand tall and place the palm your right hand behind your neck, and the top of your left hand on your lower back. Try joining your hands together behind your back. Switch sides and perform this drill again. If you can join hands on both sides, you’re doing just fine. If you can’t, how far is the gap in between your hands? If it’s not within 1.5 hand widths, you’re at a greater risk of shoulder, neck, and potentially lower back problems. If one side is much better than the other, an asymmetry persists; an additional risk factor for injury. Overhead lifting and specific pressing exercises might be unreasonable.

Core stability: So many group fitness classes focus on core training. This is great, but make sure you’ve covered your bases first. Can you perform a strict pushup from your toes? If you can’t, it’s not likely your upper body that’s lagging behind. Your core stability needs work.

These are merely guidelines that baseline a level of efficacy. If you struggle to meet these standards, clean up these movements before engaging in a group fitness setting. Be encouraged, these deficiencies can be corrected relatively easily within a handful of coaching sessions. Seek out a qualified coach, and your body will thank you as you pursue group fitness programs. 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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