Beginners too can join a fitness activity group, but they need to build strength and flexibility first
After much deliberation, Kelsey Erin, 28, a jewellery buyer with an Indian firm, decided to join CrossFit classes. Erin, an American citizen, had just settled into her Gurgaon house after taking up a job in India and wanted to be part of a community, preferably one that would help her lead a healthy lifestyle. As someone who had never been into any kind of sports or physical activity, she was initially hesitant about joining a group fitness class—“What if I get injured?”, “What if I fall behind in a group?”, “What if I do something wrong and nobody notices in the class?”
For a beginner, joining group activity classes—from Pilates and zumba to Acroyoga and CrossFit—can be a daunting task. And it comes with its share of risks.
“The problem with any group class is that anyone who joins just gets included in the ongoing class. Everyone gets the same process,” says Heath Matthews, a Mint columnist, consultant sports physiotherapist and founder of the online rehabilitation platform Jiofit.com. Matthews says a novice needs to build strength and flexibility before s/he can be on a par with anyone else in the group.
Rajat Chauhan, sports medicine specialist and chief executive officer of Back 2 Fitness, a chain of clinics specializing in injury rehabilitation and performance enhancement, agrees: “Most of us stopped being sufficiently active after our school years. Though it is completely fine to pick up something new, you will notice even a simple jog becomes awkward if you are not physically active.”
Of course, group activity has its pluses—there is less chance of people getting bored with a programme, and it is a good way to bond with people. “Human beings are intrinsically a competitive lot and, therefore, when in a group, they try to outdo each other. As a result, group exercise usually tends to make people perform at a more intense and higher level than individually,” says Niraj L. Vora, joint replacement and trauma surgeon at the Sunridges Specialty Hospital in Mumbai.
But is it really as simple for couch potatoes to get up and join, say, a Tabata class? Are there factors to be considered before joining a group activity? We spoke to a few experts to find out.
People practising CrossFit at the Tribe Fitness Club in Bengaluru. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
This group exercise, started by Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai in 2000, is a mix of cardio and functional movements and involves intense movements in a short duration. A typical CrossFit class WOD (Workout of the Day) lasts 12-16 minutes. There are challenges to test your stamina, strength, even speed. No two WODs are the same. Most boxes, as CrossFit gyms are called, have a wide group of CrossFitters—from teenagers to people in their 70s. CrossFit recommends one rest day for every two workout days to help recover from the workout.
“It is suitable for anyone. In the box, the coach can always scale down your WOD if you are not used to it, or if you have never worked out. In fact, even people who have regularly worked out in a gym might find CrossFit challenging because it uses a whole range of muscles (and movements that are not generally practised in a gym),” says Sudeep Kulkarni, a CrossFit instructor and co-founder of The Tribe Fitness Club in Bengaluru.
If you have suffered an injury, Kulkarni suggests consulting a doctor before joining CrossFit classes. These high-intensity classes can also be tough for people with blood pressure or heart ailments, since you are likely to reach your maximum heart rate in each class. “People with such conditions should still try CrossFit but consult a doctor before they take on a high-intensity regime. Informing the coach about (health) conditions and using wearable technology to maintain the heartbeat below the doctor’s recommended level is the way forward for them,” says Kulkarni.
Dr Vora agrees. “Since these workouts help build cardiovascular fitness, they can be done by pretty much anyone as long as their medical problems are under control and they have consulted their doctor prior to starting off. In fact, in the long run, they will help you with your medical problems as your general fitness will improve, and invariably there is some degree of weight loss,” says Dr Vora, a CrossFit practitioner himself.
This form of yoga is a mix of acrobatics, yoga and Thai massage (a healing system combining acupressure, Indian Ayurvedic principles and assisted yoga postures). Though it is not a group class, it is by and large a partner workout—with the poses being done by a flyer, a base and a spotter: Every participant takes turns to play these roles. The base, as the name suggests, holds up the flyer in a specific yoga pose. The flyer performs a yoga pose balanced on the base’s hands or feet, while the spotter gives the other two support and corrects the posture if required, thereby minimizing the risk of injury.
“The first thing you learn in Acroyoga is to trust. If you don’t trust your partner, no matter what, the postures will not be possible. Next comes communication and then comes playfulness,” says Pradeep Mehta, a certified yoga practitioner and founder of Yoga Art in Bengaluru.
Mehta is confident that anyone—even the proverbial couch potato—can start off with Acroyoga. Since it is not high intensity, it is perfectly safe for everyone to try out. People with high blood pressure, however, should not perform any inverted poses.
While traditional yoga is done on the floor, Acroyoga is generally always done balanced on someone’s hands or legs. So it requires more practice and stability. For starters, suggests Mehta, it would be a good idea to try out the poses in water since it would minimize the chances of injury.
“I am a believer in the pure form of any exercise. Instead of Acroyoga, I feel, people should first do yoga or acrobatics. These new techniques might work to build a craze and get more people to work out, but if (they’re) not sufficiently careful, people can get injured,” says Chauhan. He adds that the responsibility lies with the instructor to make sure a new student is ready to join an Acroyoga class. “Maybe the student can start with a beginner’s course in yoga for 10 days before attempting Acroyoga postures.”
Tabata and GRIT
These high-intensity Interval Training routines are designed by retired New Zealand track and field athlete Les Mills. The Tabata workout routine alternates between 20 seconds of intense workout and 10 seconds of rest, performed to specially composed music. A typical Tabata class spans 45 minutes. GRIT is usually a 30-minute workout routine comprising aerobic and anaerobic challenges. It uses your body weight and focuses on cardio, strength training and plyometrics.
“These workouts are fun, but also very intense. Therefore, people with injury or heart diseases should not try them out. However, a novice can always do a scaled-down version,” says Prakash Jay, head instructor at Chisel, a chain of fitness centres in Bengaluru. He explains that if the actual exercise is jumping squats, a beginner can start with normal squats, or do fewer jumping squats in the same 30 minutes of workout time.
These can be a good way of increasing strength even for those who have been going to the gym. According to Prathap Addageethala, a chiropractic physician, you should rely on coaches when you take up a new exercise.
For absolute beginners, Addageethala suggests a TRX (total body resistance exercise) class, where you can decide the amount of weight you wish to pull.
“The most important part of any high-intensity class remains the warm-up. Generally, people stretch at the beginning of the class. But stretching a cold muscle can actually lead to injuries. I suggest a dynamic warm-up (one where you move around) before a class, followed by a static stretching session after the class to get the full benefit of the workout,” says Addageethala.
Keep it simple
The instructor needs to teach beginners the basics of any exercise before the class begins, says Addageethala. It might help to prepare for the classes a few days in advance.
“A range of motion exercises for each body part is required before you join any workout. Keep it simple, like ankle and shoulder rotations, knee stretches, arm raises, etc. At the end of the day, everyone requires at least basic knowledge to get fitter,” says Addageethala.
This article first appeared in Mint. You can read the original here.