How we design classes at Core

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What makes a good exercise class

One of the most rewarding aspects of being a trainer is actually designing the workout routines members will follow, so I was excited one of our members, Kate, suggested we write this blog. When you teach a class you get to orchestrate the workout. What you thought up last night can be practiced today. By changing the emphasis of the class you are determining how everyone is going feel the next day—or the next two or three days in some cases!

Here’s how the trainers at Core Essentials build their classes.

Ben Costigan:
So what makes a good class in the first place? Well, Kate actually alluded to this when she asked her question. First and foremost I believe a class should be balanced across muscle groups. Our clients are not on set schedules. One week they could drop into 2 classes and the next week it might be 5 classes. Regardless of their schedule they should not be overworking one muscle group or missing another. The class has to be balanced to ensure you are not completely wrecked at the end of the week from overworking one area. If you do end up coming 5 times a week you may feel sore but there is a big difference between being sore all over and an overuse injury from too many repeated motions. We prefer that you are just sore all over :)

To ensure my classes are balanced I follow a fairly simple template. I break down all of the exercises I would use in a class into 8 different categories. My goal for each class is to include some exercises from each of the categories. By doing this I know that I will cover all of the muscle groups in the body every day regardless of how long or what kind of class I am running. I listed off the categories below and included some examples of exercises.

Push vertical: Overhead press, dip, handstand or muscle up

Pull vertical: elbow drops, Y, front raise, barre bat, monkey bars and muscle up

Push horizontal: Push up (w/ mods), TRX chest fly and triceps extension

Pull horizontal: row, barre fly, T and curl

Push legs: Lunges (all mods), plies, squats, step ups, jump squats and bunny hops

Pull (hamstring) legs: Deadlifts, donkey kicks, kettlebell swing, leg lifts, cancan, hamstring curl and straight leg walks

Core/Mobility: Hydrants, mountain climbers, bridge, pike crunch, bird-dog, superman, kettlebell ribbon, farmer’s walk, wood chopper, plank, lying leg lift and barre stag

Cardio: Rower, skipping, stairs, touchdowns, slams

You will see that not every exercise is a perfect fit. The burpee, for example, could fit into push horizontal because it has a push up but also looks very similar to a squat so could fit into legs push, but of course the burpee is also going to get the cardio going. I think of my categories as more of a guide.

Then there is the format of the classes. Are we counting reps or going for time? Or maybe a combination of both? Will the class increase reps as it goes on? changing the rep scheme per exercise, just high reps, just low reps. Or maybe all the exercises are being done for time. We could start off with doing exercises for 1 minute then do it all again for 30 seconds. Or maybe the entire class is Tabata (20 seconds on, 10 seconds rest, then repeat). We could even be using time and reps together doing mini circuits throughout the class. For example 5 push ups, 5 TRX rows and 10 squats then repeat those as many times as you can in 5 minutes. Ordering the exercises will also change the feel of a class. Doing only legs at the start is going to feel a lot different than balancing legs throughout the class. If we finish with 15 minutes of abs how is the core going to feel the next day?

When we factor in the type of exercise, their order and the time or rep interval used, there is a seemingly endless variety of classes. I have been making new fitness classes almost every day for the last 5 years and am not going to run out anytime soon. I still am finding new combinations and I am testing them out on everyone in class!

Monique Andrea:
When I design a workout for a personal training client I take their personal needs, abilities, injuries, sports and goals into account and try to design something that works for them. Some clients like to do the same workout for a period of time where others want something different every time they work out. I always keep track of clients workouts so we can look back at their workouts and see where gains have been made or where we need to do more work.

When designing class workouts I typically do 6-10 different moves that alternate cardio, power, and strength. Classes are meant for any ability so I always have alternative exercises available for the various needs of those who attend class. I like to make sure there are at least three sets of the exercises to ensure strength and endurance gains can be made. There are many ways to create classes that meet my criteria for a well-designed class.

With both types of workout designs, the way to create lasting improvement is for participants to keep coming to workout. For me, that means trying to ensure everyone has fun while doing things they wouldn’t normally call fun (think burpees) in a safe way and giving everyone the opportunity to push themselves at their own level.

Olivia Schneider:
I want my classes to be balanced across the major muscle groups. For every class, I choose a few different exercises that target different areas, so maybe a donkey kick to target the glutes and a Superman for the back. I try to mix things up to keep it interesting, but there’s also a few exercises I almost always do, like pliés and heel raises. This is in part because they’re great all-purpose barre exercises that are excellent at targeting specific muscles. Also, I like to give regular members a few benchmarks as opportunities to look for improvement.

After I’ve decided on my exercises, I order them so there’s not too many in a row that target the same muscles. Going from pliés to donkey kicks gives your thighs a little break while you work your glutes. The rest time means that when you go back to the thighs, they’ve recovered slightly and can work more to gain more strength. When I choose my exercise order I also think about the flow of the class. Throughout a class, we’ll move between the barre, the floor mats and using hand-weights. I don’t want too much back and forth between those, so I’ll often put a few exercises that use the same equipment together.

In a typical barre class, I might see regulars and first-timers, so I like to have alterations for exercises. I definitely encourage people to pay attention to their bodies when thinking about alterations and that goes for making something easier or harder. Having the proper form in a modified exercise is better than not modifying something and using poor form. On the flip side, if you’re breezing through pliés, maybe it’s time to try letting go of the barre and challenging your balance or using a heavier set of weights for the arms. I think everyone should occasionally try the harder alteration, especially once they’re comfortable with the exercise itself. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you’re able to do!

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