From yoga to spin, fitness classes have exploded in Calgary in the past 10 years. They’re a great way to get a workout in with friends, meet new people and get some guidance and encouragement through a workout. While there’s a lot of great things about fitness classes though, there’s also a lot of things that fitness classes and studios could be doing better.
If you haven’t already seen it, I Feel Pretty is a great portrayal of some of what’s wrong with fitness studios. It features the Soul Cycle Spin Studio, a very popular and expensive chain studio. It’s an interesting decision as while Renee, the main character does seem to like the classes, there’s also many scenes that don’t paint Soul Cycle in a great light and there’s not much obvious artistic license with them.
1) Take a minute to be safe
In the four visits to Soul Cycle in the movie, 2 of them end in injuries due to her not setting up the bike properly. In the movie world it makes free soloing look like a safer option than spin. And while most spin classes are substantially safer than that, I’ve been to a few where people haven’t fully locked in their seats or have trouble clipping in. Spending a minute to remind people and show any newbies how to clip in and adjust and secure their seat in a spin class should be a must. The same goes for any classes with equipment. Instructors should also ask if people have any injuries or restrictions that they need to work around.
2) Welcome new clients and create community
Trying a new fitness class can be intimidating but a warm welcome can make it so much better. Studios should orient clients so that they’re comfortable in the studio and equipped for class. Instructors should make an effort to introduce themselves and foster community. While there’s some groups of people that this will naturally happen with regardless of the situation, there’s other groups where this requires some work. With the rise of online fitness classes, people that continue going to in person fitness classes are going there for the human connection and community.
3) Stop pretending that classes are for all fitness levels
For some reason most studios really want to push the idea that their classes are a good fit for all fitness levels. While there are some classes that do an ok job of accommodating most fitness levels, I find the majority of classes are geared towards a medium level of fitness. While it’s not really a problem for those who find the class easy, as they can just use it as a warmup or recovery workout, for those that struggle, it can be a negative and potentially injurious experience. Safetywise, while the group dynamic of classes can be great for keeping people motivated, it also makes it a lot easier for people to push themselves further than they should leading to injury. Plyometrics and high intensity exercise are great ways to workout and are popular right now but shouldn’t be attempted by people that are new to or are just coming back into fitness. Emotionally it’s embarrassing and demoralizing for people to not be able to make it through a class or do movements that everyone else can do.
4) Invite and welcome diversity
If fitness studios feel exclusive to you, that’s because they usually are. Boutique fitness studios have built an aura of exclusivity so that people will pay more for their classes. While it’s fine for studios to charge whatever they want and deck it out to be the hippest and trendiest, once someone’s paid their class or membership fee, studios should welcome them. All too often though fitness studios are looking for another demographic, young and thin women. They are the pictures used on their advertising and the employees that they hire. For clients that don’t fit this mold, there can be some perceived discomfort from looking different but there’s also discomfort brought on by the cues and motivation from the fitness instructors. There’s a lot of focus on losing weight and looking lean instead of muscular, some of which border on fat shaming and are not the goals of everybody in class. It’s another reason online classes have been growing in popularity, people feel that they just don’t fit in fitness studios. While it may not be financially possible to stock wider shoes or longer yoga mats, there’s a lot studios can do to make themselves more inclusive.
5) Try and ensure proper technique and form
Many group fitness classes are notorious for teaching/allowing bad technique. While it can be really hard to ensure that proper technique is being used in a class, there are a couple things that will at least help. Firstly instructors should be visible to at least the majority of the class. As anyone that’s played a game of telephone knows messages get distorted as they are passed along and the same goes for movement when people are forced to look at one another for what to do. Instructors should also make sure to always demo an exercise and talk through a couple of cues unless they are sure that everyone in the class is confident with the skill. People need reminders and most need to hear and see to learn a skill. If needed instructors should also circulate to make individual corrections.
6) Treat modifications the same as the main exercise
Oftentimes modifications are just thrown out in the middle of a set without any tips or demos. Any necessary modifications though should be treated just like the main exercise and demoed and cued before you start.
7) Accept that they aren’t the only workout
There are a million different ways to get exercise and no one is the best for everyone. There is no need for studios to demonize the gym or any other fitness program. It’s also important for studios to accept their limitations, a strict yoga studio isn’t going to provide a great cardio or strength workout and they don’t need to try and incorporate these elements.
8) Invite Feedback
Studios should always be open to feedback. While an instructor or front desk person may ask how your workout went, studios should do a better job of actively soliciting feedback both to new clients and to returning ones.
While there are great Calgary studios and studios around the world that do address these problems and do a great job of all the things above, The lack of response from Soul Cycle and the rest of the fitness industry to I Feel Pretty show that there are a fair number of studios that still don’t care.