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Your fitness class is oxymoronic

If I paid money to go to a german language class and all the instructor did was shout random words in german at me for 45 minutes, do you think that would be an effective method of learning the language?

Likewise, if I went to a Judo class and all the instructor did was throw me on my head for an hour and a half do you think I would have learned much in the way of practical application?

Then why do we go to fitness ‘classes’ to be shouted at by a sweaty psychopath for 30 to 60 minutes? Are we learning anything new or practising/executing a skill we’re proficient at?


These types of classes lack the key factors that cause the physical changes you want to achieve, consistency of practice and variation of difficulty.

The thing most generic fitness classes have in common with the first two examples are confusion and injury. The confusion is shared between the instructor and the student. The instructor is trying to retain customers and do their best to entertain, the student doesn’t really know what the best course of action is and will pretty much do what they’re told. Injury normally comes because the students physically can’t do whatever circus trick they’re being asked to do and, like a car driven down the motorway in reverse, eventually breakdown or crash.

Yoga tends to be the major exception to this pattern, somehow retaining most of it’s integrity in the modern era. Yoga teachers, and we think of them as teachers rather than instructors, tend to go through many years of practice in the art before several more years as an apprentice teacher. They’ve clocked thousands of hours of practice before they are even allowed to be left alone with a room full of students. The teacher guides the student through a series of related postures and positions with no expectation that all, or any, of the class will achieve the final one in the sequence. Where is this sensible progression in the rest of the fitness community?

Fortunately, the modern professional fitness community is fighting back in a variety of ways. Through the ‘kettlebell revolution’, a revival of interest in classical bodyweight training and the development of systems like Crossfit we’re starting to see fitness classes that offer safe and sensible progressions.

Progression can be measured most simply in the increasing complexity of technique, intensity of technique, or number of repetitions the student can perform. This usually also results in an improvement in waist size and general appearance. Perhaps there was some sense in the tradition in historical systems of pursuing set physical standards rather than solely chasing aesthetics. Those who can perform awesome deeds tend to look awesome too!

So when you make your resolution to ‘get fit’, don’t just blindly chase a route that might lead to poor results and injury. Seek out a teacher, a mentor or a coach who teaches a system rather than a mishmash of fads.