A couple of posts ago, I mentioned the subject of exercise classes as a change-up in my regular routine. I'd been using heavier weights and higher intensity cardio for a few months and it left me feeling a little "overcooked" with a need to balance it all out a bit.
At this point, I've tried 4 different exercise classes--Pilates, high-intensity aerobics class, Zumba, and Les Mills Body Pump. Each of these classes hits a different fitness target, so it's a pretty good mix. Of course, the particular teacher of each of these classes would determine exactly how it's taught and that could make a huge difference, but I'll give you my take on my experience at my gym.
The Pilates class is such a pleasure. The emphasis here is on controlling, lengthening, and strengthening the body, much in the way that a ballet dancer would. It's got some similarities to yoga in that controlled, synchronized breathing is an important factor. The stretching is probably safer in Pilates than in some yoga classes I've attended because there seems to be a lot less emphasis on gymnastics and super-flexibility in Pilates. I love yoga, but I think Pilates leaves me feeling even better, and without as much soreness the next day.
The high-intensity aerobics class is actually called "Butts 'N' Guts". The teacher kicks so much ass--I have truly serious admiration for that woman. There wasn't much of a surprise here in terms of content, but I really didn't know my lungs and heart could go that kind of distance. It was awesome. I was surprised, though, that I really liked having someone push me to keep the intensity up for the whole hour (rather than slowing down the way I might if I was just by myself). I'm someone who hates being told what to do, but I'll definitely be back for more Butts 'N' Guts.
Zumba was also an amazing cardio experience with the added benefit of insane fun. It's a mixture of dancing and cardio--lots of emphasis on Salsa type stuff. I'm not AT ALL familiar with how to do this kind of dancing, so I looked REALLY BAD at it, but I had to notice that everybody else in the room was kind of bad too, except the teacher (who was fantastic), so I felt okay about it. In fact, I was SO BAD, that I was laughing out loud at myself the entire class, which added to the cardio effect and left me feeling intensely happy the rest of the day. This class would be wonderful for someone who needs to perk up their mood.
Les Mills was more interesting than actual fun, but I'll definitely do it again. It's based on traditional weight training exercises with barbells and dumbbells (very light) and high repetitions of each exercise. To do that many reps, you do need someone pushing you through it. This is a great class if you have been lifting too heavy (like I was) and find yourself a little overtrained--since you're doing the same movements you normally do in the weight room, you'll keep your muscles stimulated, but with the lighter weights, you'll be hitting different muscle fibers and heal up faster. Also, if you're not familiar with weight training and would like to learn lots of good exercises, this class teaches you the basic moves. You probably won't put on any serious muscle doing this type of work (like a bodybuilder would want), but it's terrific for overall fitness and general strength (like most people would want!). Also, you're doing the movements to the beat of music and the pace is fast, so this gives a good cardio benefit and increases the fun factor.