My Group Fitness Class Experiences During Our U.S. Travels

As a Group Fitness Instructor since 2009, I have taught weekly, group fitness classes around my full-time work schedule continuously. This has ranged anywhere from 1-5 regular classes per week, plus subbing for my fellow instructors when I have been available to help them out. My main formats have included Zumba®, Step Aerobics, Cardio Kickboxing, and Tabata Bootcamp™ classes, and this is constantly evolving as my knowledge, experience, and interests expand. I spent a few years teaching exclusively for health clubs/gyms until 2013, when I branched off on my own to offer a weekly, Saturday morning Zumba® class to the public; this has grown into more offerings for a steady following of lovely women, whom I am very fond of and am blessed to have in my life, not just for the opportunity to share my passion for fitness with them and influencing them in pursuing healthy lifestyles, but on a personal level, too.

Needless to say, no longer teaching and being surrounded by my fitness peeps regularly has been a change to my normal routine, and naturally, after the hustle and bustle of preparing and then leaving to embark upon our travels passed, and after spending a couple of weeks on the road, I felt it’s absence in my life and have missed it, as I knew I would! Add to this being immersed in my own, personal workout routine, where I performed HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training, resistance band, body weight, and free weight exercises in my living room multiple mornings per week, and suddenly not having access to all of the equipment or space I was used to any longer. I knew I would be seeking out group fitness classes when possible while traveling! The benefits are not only to do something active to stay in shape and keep up my fitness level and abilities (or just not let them regress significantly), but to try some new formats, meet and experience other instructors, and see what fitness classes are like in various parts of the country. As a fitness instructor at home balancing my teaching and full-time work schedules, I unfortunately, rarely had time to take other classes; so I was excited to enjoy the treat of being a student again and remind myself of that perspective, which in turn, helps me become an even better instructor for my own students, and incorporate some of what I learn and pick up into my own class material when I am in the position to teach again.

I am about to share my feedback about my personal experiences as a participant in various group fitness classes I sought out during our U.S. travels over approximately a 6-week period of time. I would like to preface my comments by stating that these are my perspectives affected by the fitness and leadership training I’ve received personally, listening to my own body — including its capabilities and limitations, and my preferences for elements of group fitness classes. I do not claim to be a “perfect” instructor who knows everything about fitness and class instruction, because I’m not and I don’t; when I point out something critical, it’s because I picked up on a safety concern or the instructor acted in a way that didn’t consider their audience, which I’ve professionally been taught to do otherwise. Recognizing these types of things actually helps me become a better instructor through reinforcing what I’ve learned. I humbly, openly admit that I have taught classes of my own where I did or said something that I cringed at and made a note to self about not doing or saying it next time, or where something was pointed out to me that I wasn’t aware of and that I worked on or immediately corrected altogether moving forward; I’m constantly learning and growing myself! If I didn’t make much of a personal connection with an instructor and/or didn’t overwhelmingly enjoy their class, I didn’t include photos of them or their name below. I am also sharing my experiences, positive and constructive, and information about how to check out classes, instructors, formats, and facilities in case you, the reader, are interested, whether you will be in the exact locations I was or want to look up potential classes near you that are similiar. Most of my experiences were great, and I have photos to share and shout-outs to give to those instructors I met and made a positive connection with!

My first group fitness class experience while on our road trip was in Missoula, Montana, in an Oula Fitness class at a local gym downtown, PEAK Health & Wellness Center. I had taken an Oula class once in Sacramento, coincidentally from an instructor who had just moved from Missoula and was trying to introduce the format to the area, and the instructor whom I took this class from in Missoula knew her (small world)! Oula is a mostly cardio-based, dance fitness class to Top 40 music. Jen, the instructor, was easy-to-follow, and I had fun getting a great workout before spending prolonged time in the car again. Jen is a real estate agent and teaches fitness classes around that work schedule; we enjoyed chatting briefly after class before she had to head out to show a home. She shared with me that Oula is very popular in Missoula and that the evening classes are highly attended and have a very lively crowd, so she recommended checking an evening class out, too, which I likely would have if we had stayed longer in Missoula (we left that afternoon). The morning class I experienced drew in just over a handful of us, which is not uncommon for morning fitness classes, from what I’ve seen and experienced over my time participating in and teaching them. As a student, I like having this amount of people (or less) in class with me because I enjoy more personal space to move! 🙂 To drop into the class, I paid $10 (but for those who may check this health club out for the first time in the future, I am now seeing on their website that if you email your information in advance, you will receive a free guest pass, although there is no verbiage listed to specify whether this is for locals only or also applies to out-of-town visitors). Find an Oula class near you on their dedicated website page to it here; it also appears you can take Oula classes online. Thank you, Jen, for a fun class!

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My next group fitness class experience was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in a Cardio Blast class at Blast Fitness in Haymarket Square, where I got to take the class for free with a 3-day pass I was given by the instructor who was working the front desk upon my arrival (score)! The class featured cycling and step drills, burpees, jumping jacks, push-ups, and more and  incorporated resistance band and free weight exercises to the beats of rough rap music (which I kinda liked, lol, but was obviously the instructor’s taste rather than considering what his audience might prefer). I appreciated that he gave me a brief overview explanation of what we’d be doing in the class once we were in the group fitness room and I was standing around waiting for the class to start, and he assisted me in setting up my stationary bike appropriately for my height.

Personally, while I got a good workout (and it was a challenge, as my heart rate was all over the place throughout the class!), it was my least favorite class experience. First of all, the instructor appeared to like to watch himself work out in the mirror rather than looking around and paying attention to the form and alignment of his students. He also taught to his own abilities rather than focusing on those of his class participants, which looking around the room, evidently varied. For example, the only option I recall him giving throughout class was for a burpee sequence. <I am about to being a detailed, relevant aside.> This consisted of performing a full burpee, then jumping over a step, then performing another full burpee, then jumping over another step, etc., in a line of students (so everyone pretty much had to keep the same pace or it would slow down the progression and cause people to have to stand there and wait for the person in front of them to finish) continuously for 3 rounds that lasted for several minutes each. (Side note: Burpees are high intensity and the muscles they recruit fatigue quickly from doing them, so less duration and shorter work/rest intervals are ideal and more effective from a performance standpoint). Also notable is that jumping is not appropriate for or accessible to everyone, so options to leap or just step over the steps could have been offered. The alternative option given for this entire burpee/jumping sequence was going away from that area and performing squats instead (which is part of the initial movement of a burpee, but he could have, perhaps, illustrated regression options for performing burpees, breaking down how to perform the exercise into parts to choose from, or encouraging us to find our own place in the room to perform the burpees at own pace that is comfortable and safe for our individual bodies). He had verbally assumed to me before class that I would perform what he called the “advanced” version because I am a fitness instructor, but even I could not keep up with the flow expected and went off on my own to perform burpees at my own pace and appropriate modification for my body (I am mindful of impact to my low back), which I could do because of my knowledge and experience as an instructor (but might not have known about if I were a student and hadn’t had a another instructor show me previously). I am coming from a place of wanting my own students to feel successful and pleased with their performance in the classes I teach, having exercise options to choose from that are accessible to them, so I take this expectation with me as I am a student in other instructors’ classes. As a student in this class, I felt like I was letting the instructor down because he had already expressed his expectation of me, which if I was not an instructor myself, I would have felt unsuccessful because I could not do what was illustrated and would have been unsure of what to do, other than just go off and do some squats, which seemed like a consolation prize, or not as good as the burpees, the way it was presented. <Aside complete.>

He also led the class in performing so many jabs (punches aiming out in front of the body) while holding free weights and moving forward towards the mirror to the beat of the music that I lost count of how many we did, and we did more than one round of this. I’ve learned in my training from the American Council on Exercise (ACE) that punching while holding weights is a movement that increases the risk for injury because of the added stress it places on the shoulders and upper arms, pulling them downward (vertically), while they are extended outward (horizontally), and causing the person to fight the vertical pull of gravity to keep them up when the focus and purpose of the exercise should be concentrated horizontally. It is even more risky doing this at a speedy pace trying to keep up with a fast music tempo.

Overall, this class was an experience, but one where I took silent note of a teaching style that for several reasons, I do not and would not want to model.

I would like to note that I have taken both Zumba® and Cycle classes and worked out in Blast Fitness’s Fresno and Clovis facilities (the Fresno one I went to on First and Herndon has since closed, but they have a current location on Blackstone and Shaw in addition to their Shaw and Willow location in Clovis) previously as a guest of my sister’s when she lived in Fresno and had a membership; the Zumba® instructor’s class was okay, and I really enjoyed the Cycle instructor’s class (so what I’m trying to say is, as with anywhere, your experience will highly depend on your personal experience with the instructor). If you are interested in taking a group fitness class or using their equipment to work out on your own for a day, per the Blast Fitness website under their FAQs section, a day guest pass is currently $20 (which is applied to your membership cost if you decide to join thereafter on that same day, and they have many locations nationwide); hopefully, there will be a free guest pass promotion going on at a location you visit just like I fortunately was able to experience!

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My dear friend, Rachel, brought me as her guest to her favorite fitness studio, The Dailey Method, in Wheaton, Illinois, for a Barre class on Labor Day weekend. This was my second experience ever taking a Barre class. This particular style of Barre incorporated a ballet barre, floor work, free weights, yoga, Pilates, and more to stretch and strengthen; the class we took consisted of some upper body, but primarily focused on the core and lower body. The instructor had been practicing the format for years but was new to teaching, and this was Rachel’s first time taking the class from her. Personally, my hips and hamstrings are tight, I experience mild, low back pain/discomfort when performing certain core exercises and need to modify, and I believe I am less flexible, generally, than before we started our travels, as we had been spending many hours sitting in the car every day around this time, so some movements were even more of a challenge for me and even mildly accessible to me.

This instructor was able to be more hands-on with us because there were only 3 students total in class that morning, which made for an enhanced experience. However, I got the feeling she didn’t know what to do with me when I wasn’t able to perform a particular core movement the way she had illustrated and cued and was trying to get me to do based on what she likely learned was proper form and alignment in her training. I felt frustrated that I couldn’t just do it because of my lower back starting to bother me as I tried, and I wanted her to give me some kind of modification to be gentle to my low back, but she instead proceeded to tell me that my low back was bothering me because I wasn’t setting up the exercise properly and continued trying to get me to do so, but I just couldn’t without feeling discomfort. I soon stopped altogether, and I think it was then that she gave me something else to do. She also instructed us to perform a v-sit exercise with a rounded back, which I’ve been taught to maintain a flat back and engage the core muscles (because rounding the back is a sign of breaking proper form and alignment). Besides these couple of incidents toward the beginning of the class, I thought she led an effective workout, provided options for other movements in class, and cued well for the most part. Overall, I appreciated how different it was from the types of exercise I primarily engage in and teach, though with some similar elements and movements. Incorporating more Barre into my fitness life could help me become more flexible and target my tighter areas, as could engaging in a regular yoga and/or stretching practice, to compliment everything else I’m doing. Mainly from this experience, I was interested in getting a taste of the type of workout and studio environment my friend is involved in and loves, and I was happy we could take a class together while I was visiting! If you’re in the Wheaton area and would like to check out a Barre or Cycle class at this studio, an individual class is currently $22 per the Pricing & Packages section of their websiteTip: Rachel tells me that her favorite instructor is the studio owner, Michelle! The Dailey Method also has many locations nationwide: You can search for them here.

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I had a blast taking my first ever POUND group fitness class at Pocono Z Fitness in Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania, with Danielle, the owner and primary instructor of the studio! I had searched for Zumba® classes in the area initially and found some at her studio, but her POUND class worked better for my available time to work out (spending time with Aaron’s side of the family was of primary importance for the week, of course), and I was excited to try something new after seeing it promoted and hearing about it in my nationwide fitness instructor online community somewhat recently. I would describe the class as a mostly cardio-based fitness class, with some focused toning exercises, to a variety of popular music, such as rap, hip-hop, pop, and rock, while pounding Ripstix® on the ground and in the air against one another to the beat of the music to simulate playing the drums while performing fitness movements. Her studio is much like what I hope my own will be like someday! It appeared and felt very clean, organized, and informational, and the vibe exuded was personable and comfortable, offering fitness classes to a more intimate-sized group. The party lights made the environment even that much more fun to be a part of! She and her students were friendly, welcoming, and helpful in getting me set up for the first time before the class started. The music was pumping and I ROCKED OUT (so much that I created a blister for myself on one of my fingers that I didn’t even notice until later in the class, LOL)! Danielle’s cueing was great and it was wonderful to experience her glances over at me while smiling for encouragement and positive reinforcement throughout the class. It was lovely to chat with her after class and get to know her a little bit more: She’s a mom of young twin boys and opened her studio a few years ago, after taking Zumba® classes herself, believing she could do this, too, and getting her Zumba® Instructor License to teach her own classes! I highly recommend taking a class from Danielle, or a class from her studio, if you’re ever in The Poconos! A drop-in class is $15 per the pricing section of her website, but she’s currently offering the first class for FREE on her Facebook page. You can search for a POUND class near you through the Find A Class page on their website. Thank you for the AWESOME (and unexpectedly complimentary) class, Danielle!

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My first Zumba® class of our travels was wonderful thanks to Naomi and one of her students, Madeline, at the Lake Naomi Club Fitness Center in Poconos Pines, Pennsylvania! I had reached out to Naomi upon finding her class and contact information on the Find Classes & Events section of the Zumba® website, which has been an invaluable, primary resource for me in searching for classes near me while traveling. While classes at Lake Naomi Club Fitness Center are only open to members and their guests, she assured me I would be considered a guest since I had explained that the vacation home we were staying in belongs to a member; I just needed to pay a $10 guest fee. I had attempted to find her first class of the week at the Lake Naomi Club nearby within walking distance from where we were staying and had even mapped it out and planned the timing of my arrival perfectly! However, despite my efforts walking and jogging around the lake, stopping at the official Lake Naomi Club (which was closed) and then navigating my way to the Administration Office, where I obtained a map of the lake and surrounding area, a class schedule, and was given directions (which I soon thereafter discovered were incorrect, as NB was the instructor’s initials listed next to the class on the schedule, not North Beach as the well-intentioned employee advised as the location), it didn’t work out (but I positively looked on the bright side that at least I’d gotten my workout for the day, over 5 miles and an hour-and-a-half later)! 😀 I got more specific instructions from Naomi about the location and navigating to it and attended what was going to be her Wednesday morning Cardio Kickboxing class, but since it was just the two of us and one other student of hers was on her way whom she said likes Zumba® more (and I think it’s safe to say, she does as well!), she led a wonderful Zumba® class (which is what I had originally intended to take from her anyhow, so no complaints here)! I loved Naomi’s style, smile, choreography, and effective, non-verbal cueing! We enjoyed conversation before class about well-known public figures in the Zumba® world, and I learned that her husband is also a Zumba® instructor, so they share this passion together! Thank you, Naomi, for the fun, sweaty Zumba® class!

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Unfortunately, when I returned for another, recommended Zumba® class that Friday morning, my experience wasn’t as positive upon my arrival. The front desk staff was perplexed that I didn’t have a member number (apparently they’d used Naomi’s on Wednesday and the employee had assumed I was Naomi’s guest, which I suppose, I was, too)! It appeared there was a manager among them, and she was clearly not happy I was there and made me feel very unwelcome, despite verbally pointing out in her contradicting speech that she didn’t mean to make it seem like I was. I was not dishonest, as I explained what I had upon entry to the club earlier in the week; that I was staying at a member’s house, didn’t have a member number, and wanted to pay the guest fee to take a class (I mean, it’s not like I was trying to get in free here, as I still had to pay $10, LOL)! Perhaps I had said I was there to take Naomi’s class upon my initial arrival and that’s where the confusion occurred? Anyway, the potential manager ultimately said that because I was already there I could take the class, and she gave an employee at the front desk her member number to enter on my behalf before I paid, so they apparently made an exception for me at the end of this uncomfortable ordeal. Sadly, unless you can get in touch with Naomi (which I would recommend you do to take her class!), I wouldn’t recommend trying to navigate this unpleasant process at their facility, as it was made clear to me that if you’re not a member or don’t have the member’s number, or perhaps aren’t a guest of the instructor, you aren’t welcome. (Again, Naomi will encourage you to go and make you feel super welcome, so reach out to her, and perhaps she can help you navigate this entry process if she won’t physically be there to teach her class).

After this experience, I learned the instructor for that morning’s class was actually among those at the front desk, which perhaps was why she wasn’t exactly warm and welcoming towards me in the class. Nonetheless, I approached her afterwards to introduce myself as a fellow Zumba® instructor and thanked her for the class; I enjoyed experiencing her choreography, music, and style. On a more positive note, Madeline, the regular student in class with me in Naomi’s class, was in class; it was so nice to see a familiar, friendly face! She warmly greeted me and introduced me to her friends/the other students as a Zumba® instructor from California; they were all smiles. After class talking about my travels with mostly Madeline, one of them had shared with me that she had taken time off of work to travel for a period of time earlier in her life and hadn’t met anyone else who had; she’s a retired teacher now and said that she has never regretted doing it, which was encouraging to hear! She shared some travel location-specific information with me, followed by Madeline, who had prepared a detailed, hand-written list of recommendations for Mexico, Guatemala, and a couple of other places she’d been to personally years ago (she had mentioned after our Wednesday class together that she’d email me, and I wasn’t for sure coming to this Friday class, but I’m so glad I did since she had prepared all of this for me)! Madeline and I sat together for close to an hour after the class had ended, as she opted to not take the fitness class after the Zumba® class, but the one after that. I felt so grateful for the kindness and her desire to share and have looked into many of her recommendations so far in our travels in Mexico!

A highlight, solo experience of mine in Miami Beach, Florida, was taking a Zumba® class at Beach Body Health Club, which was about a mile walking distance from the studio apartment we stayed at in North Beach. There was energetic club music pumping from the speakers throughout the gym, which I loved! A drop-in was $15, the most I paid to take a fitness class in my U.S. travels, but it was a great class! I walked through the gym to a covered area outside of the group fitness room. A larger group of ladies gradually trickled in, speaking Spanish to one another, as we waited for the instructor to arrive. It was a packed class! The instructor, Jarhy, connected with her students well, her cueing was on point, and she is a great dancer with fun choreo and music! I sweated so much and got a great workout! It was scheduled as a Zumba® Gold class, so if it actually was, her regular Zumba® class must be crazy!  This was my first of many experiences thereafter taking a Zumba® class in a primarily Latin-based community, and also the first of those around me being pleasantly surprised that this white girl can dance! Hahaha! Besides the light-hearted, comical aspect of this, it’s often my “in” to shared smiles, conversation, and feeling like a part of the group, participating in our shared interest together. I approached Jarhy after the class to thank her for the class, in Spanish, and tell her that I enjoyed it and that she’s a great instructor. I wish we had taken a photo or that I’d at least taken one of the group fitness room or gym, but I didn’t, so here’s a pic of the beach (this will have to do)!

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Overall, I’ve fully embraced all of these experiences and appreciated them for multiple reasons. Among them are giving me a taste of what local group fitness classes have to offer in their respective geographic areas, providing me with a workout to physically exert myself within, meeting some locals in a comfortable, familiar environment, giving me something to seek out and look forward to doing that I enjoy in my “regular” life back at home, and being open-minded to try new class formats and different instructors and leave with takeaways for myself and my students in my future classes. I hope you’ll walk away from reading this with ideas for new group fitness class formats to try out in your local area, if not in the exact locations I recommended, and consider what you’d like from your ideal instructors to get the most out of the class(es) you choose to take!

I’m looking forward to sharing the next chapter of my group fitness journey with you in Mexico!

Until next time,
Elena 🙂

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