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Aerobics classes, The Big Myth

Click here to listen to a 60 second summary of this article by Cris LaBossiere

Group exercise is a fine idea, when implemented properly, but individual coaching is more productive.

Top five mistakes made by aerobics instructors

  1. They play follow the leader instead of actually instructing individuals
  2. They have no idea what an individuals heart rate should be, yet they ask people to take their pulse
  3. They donít use heart rate monitors themselves. HRMs have been around since 1982 and all top level fitness professionals use them. So why not most aerobics instructors?
  4. Since most instructors donít observe all the participants in the class, many participants execute moves with bad technique and poor posture, and their mistakes go largely unchecked by the instructor
  5. Most classes are more about music and choreography than about addressing the individual fitness needs of class participants

When was the last time an aerobics instructor tested your fitness to determine if they were giving you the right exercise instruction? Never?

So how could they know the right instruction for YOU?

Aerobics instructors donít test your fitness, and rarely ask what the results of your fitness test were so they can make an informed decision on how to instruct you. Virtually all aerobics instructorsí instructions to a group are uninformed. (The instructor does not know the needs of each individual).

On the contrary, the majority of coaches offer individual assessment and technique correction to every student they work with. Coaches spend the majority of their time observing and supporting their students. It is true that there are good and bad coaches, however the model of instruction in coaching is to attend to the students individual needs, not to be a showboat at the front of a class.

While the aerobics instructor makes sure they take center stage, a coach would be side stage, observing and correcting. While demonstration of technique is needed, there is a difference between demonstrating, observing and correcting, and playing follow the leader. During class aerobics participants look at the aerobics instructor, and the instructor plays a lead roll in a dance sequence, but doesn't really do any instruction, other than the "follow the leader" method.

It is true that aerobics classes attract people to participate in regular physical activity, and this is positive. Sure you have fun in aerobics classes, thatís one of the great attractions. Good luck finding a class that is also truly addressing your individual fitness needs though.

Heart Rate Errors In Aerobics Classes

Did you know that the heart rate charts and formulas many aerobics instructor's use to calculate your target heart rate zone for exercise intensity are inaccurate? Click here to find out why. Even if you have had a proper fitness test done to discover your true target heart rate, following the aerobics instructors direction to feel the pulse on your neck or wrist then count your pulse for 10 seconds is useless. (Feeling a pulse with your fingers is called "manual palpation")

Three Reasons The Manual Palpation Method Of Counting Heart Rate Is Useless:

  1. Although you are prompted to keep your legs moving while counting your pulse rate, the fact is you slow down so much while counting that heart rate drops significantly. You are not measuring your heart rate during exercise, you are measuring your heart rate taking a break from exercise. The result is calculating a heart rate that is much lower than what it really is when you are exercising.
  2. The pulse check is extremely sparse, perhaps only two times during an entire 45 to 60 minute class. In fact heart rate requires consistent monitoring to observe increases and decreases in heart rate as they occur. The result of checking infrequently is using a heart rate that is not reflective of the vast majority of the workout.
  3. With loud music, your own body movements, and other distractions, it is nearly impossible to perceive every beat you are trying to count. You are bound to mistakenly add or miss a few beats in the 10 second measuring period. Because the total beats you count in 10 seconds are multiplied by 6 to calculate beats per minute, missing only 2 beats adds up to 12 beats per minute. A 12 beat difference in heart rate is significant.

The only way to accurately and reliably measure your heart rate during exercise is to wear a heart rate monitor. Heart rate monitors sell for $70.00 (CDN) $50.00 (US) and up, and consist of a strap worn comfortably against the skin (under a shirt) around the chest and special wrist watch that receives a wireless signal from the strap. The strap has special sensors (electrodes) that detect your heart rate. Heart rate is viewed on the watch along with time and other information. Wireless heart rate monitors have been available since 1982 and are widely used by novice to experienced exercisers and by athletes. Why do so many aerobics instructors talk about heart rate but not talk about the importance of heart rate monitors or even use heart rate monitors themselves? You can't teach what you don't know.

"Bread and Circuses"

A famous phrase that dates back to the Roman Empire. Itís a reference to how, to appease the population, circuses, free bread, and a party type atmosphere were used to divert peopleís attention away from real needs such as democracy, education, and health. Eventually the Roman Empire collapsed on its self. In my opinion, much of the fitness industry including aerobics classes create diversions with catch phrases like "Pump you up!" "Feel the Burn!" "Break a sweat!" and the infamous, "Just one more". Motivation is great, but there has to be something to back up those words. With loud music and almost religious like mantras, aerobics classes use the Bread and Circuses diversion. It feels like such great fun while you are there, but the scientifically proven fact is that these classes offer less than mediocre fitness gains over the long term when compared to individual training. Like a bilge pump pumping out raw sewage, many aerobics instructors chirp out "feel good" motivational clichés that donít add to up anything useful in the long run.

Try this; watch any aerobics class from the sideline. Observe whether or not the instructor spends even one second of their time with even half their class, making needed corrections.

The bottom line on aerobics classes:

  • Quality aerobics classes are very rare. Hopefully the quality classes will serve as an example and other instructors will follow suit.
  • Any exercise that does not hurt you should provide improvement to your fitness.
  • Exercise that you are motivated to do is usually the only exercise you will do.
  • Taking the above two variables into consideration, I can see a lowest common denominator benefit to the way most aerobics classes are run in that some exercise is often better than no exercise, accepting the lowest common denominator.

I donít go for the lowest common denominator myself. What are your standards?

  • I recommend thinking twice about attending aerobics classes run by instructors who donít know your individual needs, and I have reservations about "fitness professionals" who donít measure their own heart rate during exercise.
  • Athletes donít get their primary training from aerobics classes because the classes are too randomized making it impossible to maximize individual results.
  • Because a class is fun, does not mean it is providing the fitness results you want or deserve. Donít let the emotions you experience in the staged atmosphere of aerobics mislead you. If you canít find a class that is both fun and productive, think about finding another class, or have a professional fitness appraisal done and follow a program tailored to your needs.
  • An interesting observation; I've seen many aerobics instructors who have been teaching for more than three years, yet they look really out of shape.

If youíre going to exercise for 45 minutes to one hour, donít you want the best results possible?

© 2004 Rhino Fitness
Copyright © 2004 Rhino Fitness. All rights reserved.
For more information contact: clabossiere@rhinofitness.ca