Your Guide to the Most Common Group Fitness Classes (2022)

You've probably heard group fitness classes are a great way to work out. They're led by a certified instructor, you'll feel extra motivated by the people around you and all you have to do is show up. What's not to love?

But one look at your gym's weekly calendar or online browsing session for boutique studio classes and you might be left scratching your head. Body Pump? What's that? And is kickboxing just boxing with, uh, kicking? You've heard the word "Pilates" tossed around, but what exactly happens in those classes?

We know you have questions, so we're breaking down a few of the most common workout classes that we're seeing everywhere these days.


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Unlike high-intensity cardio classes, Pilates focuses on small, controlled movements with the aim to strengthen, tone and stretch muscles, particularly in your core. Pilates classes typically take place in two ways: mat Pilates and Reformer Pilates. As its name suggests, mat Pilates simply means Pilates done on a mat; this is the most common class, and you can expect to be on the floor or close to it for a big part of your workout. Reformer Pilates alludes to the Reformer machine, which individuals can strap themselves into and use the various pullies and springs to create greater resistance. Both types of classes are defined by repeating small movements in a slow and controlled manner to tighten and tone.


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You may already know the deal with yoga. Yoga takes place on a mat, and classes can range from 30 to 90 minutes. Yoga focuses on breath control, flexibility, coordination and balance. However, yoga is a diverse practice with many different types. It's also common for gyms to list skill levels within yoga classes; since a beginner's class will vary tremendously from an advanced class, you'll want to make sure you choose the appropriate one.

Bikram yoga is especially common in gyms and specialized studios. In this type of hot yoga, you can expect to practice in a room heated to 95 to 108 degrees for an extra burn.


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Kickboxing is a cardio-based activity that focuses on martial arts techniques and choreographed movements like punches, jabs, crosses, uppercuts, knee strikes, kicks and more. Since this is a high-intensity activity, classes typically include a warm-up and cool-down portion to prevent injury. Unlike traditional boxing, it's important to note this class also requires zero physical contact. Most moves are done in the air or occasionally against a weighted bag. Kickboxing also has a surprisingly large mental component; remembering the moves and their different orders requires focus and concentration, which is perfect if you're looking for a class to get you in the zone.


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Zumba is an aerobics-focused, dance-based class created by a Colombian dancer and choreographer. The moves are inspired by Latin American dancing and usually performed to Latin American music. The dancing involves a wide range of styles–think everything from hip-hop to salsa and tango–but this is by no means an advanced dance class. In fact, Zumba is practiced by a wide variety of ages and abilities, and all moves are kept simple and demonstrated ahead of time. Classes last about an hour, and most Zumba-lovers swear by the class' ability to make you forget you're working out–because it's just that much fun.


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Spin or cycling classes have grown in popularity in recent years, especially as boutique cycling studios like SoulCycle pop up in cities across the U.S. These classes involve pedaling on a stationary bike while an instructor guides you through different speeds, resistances and positions, often in tune to bass-pumping music. This is a cardio-based class, though you can expect to work the muscles in your lower body big-time.

Your everyday gym should have little "cages" on the bike's pedal for your feet, so you don't need to purchase special cycling shoes; you can call ahead of time to confirm. On-site instructors will also help you adjust the bike once you arrive. It's important to note that most gyms require you to reserve a bike in advance of the class.


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Boot Camp

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A boot camp class is about what it sounds like–a rigorous, military-inspired workout that is pretty much guaranteed to leave you huffing and puffing. Most boot camp classes combine both strength and cardio moves for a full-body burn, but the specifics vary by gym. Some gyms do circuit-based boot camps with different stations set up around the room that you rotate through for a set amount of time; others simply have an instructor who dictates the different moves at the front. Some boot camps use weights while others rely solely on bodyweight. Regardless, a boot camp workout is notoriously tough and a great way to push yourself to the next level.


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Aquatic Fitness

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Aquatic fitness classes, which are sometimes called "aqua fit" for short or "water aerobics," all revolve around the same idea: low-impact exercises performed in a pool. In this class, you'll typically be in waist-deep water, engaging in vertical, resistance-based exercises. Much of this resistance will come from the water itself, though water-friendly dumbbells are often incorporated to maximize your gains. This class is ideal for anyone who is battling an injury, joint problem or muscle strain, but rest assured it can provide an optimal workout no matter your fitness level. You will be asked to wear some type of swimwear, with swim shoes and swim caps optional.


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Barre classes are another popular trend these days. This ballet-inspired class mixes dance, Pilates and yoga, with a focus on using the traditional ballet barre to sink even deeper into the movements. Hand weights and small weighted balls can also be incorporated into the class. The focus of Barre is strengthening, sculpting and toning your muscles through small and controlled movements. This is a full-body workout and muscles are exhausted one by one until failure, so you can expect lots of shaky and quivering limbs–don't worry, it's normal. Music is usually incorporated and your instructor will likely offer modifications for every fitness level, so it's OK if you find the first few classes difficult.


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A BODYPUMP class uses a barbell to deliver a strength conditioning workout, and most instructors encourage you to use a low weight with a high number of repetitions, not the other way around. A class should target all major muscle groups, and you can expect to perform moves like squats, cleans, deadlifts and bicep curls to upbeat music. If you're new to strength training, this can be an especially informative experience since an instructor will be nearby to watch and correct your form during these moves. You choose your weight, so this class is also appropriate for both weight-lifting beginners and vets. BODYPUMP classes are also great for pairing with cardio workouts for those whom weight loss is a fitness goal.

Note: Sometimes these classes don't run under the trademarked BODYPUMP name but may be called something like Body Works or Body Power.


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Step Aerobics

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A step aerobics class centers on a portable block that you step on and off of to elevate your heart rate and build muscle, particularly in the lower body. These blocks can vary in height from 4 to 12 inches, with the higher step giving you the tougher workout. Each class participant will be provided an individual block for their use and can customize the height with risers.

If you've never taken a step class before, you might be surprised by its difficulty. The basic step-up-then-step-down movement is just the start; you can also step around, sideways and backwards at varying speeds and intricacies. Some step classes also incorporate small hand weights to increase your calorie-burn. There will be an instructor at the front of the class who demonstrates each of the moves, then performs the choreography with you to music.


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