Fitness Articles

Learn the Fitness Class Lingo

Read Up Before You Workout

When you think about “fitness classes,” what images come to mind? Do you picture skinny people (leg warmers included) jumping around and kicking their legs to loud music? Although that might have been the case 10 or 20 years ago, the latest trends in classes focus on the mind-body experience, and helping people of all ability levels. 

If you considered taking fitness classes at your gym, you probably picked up the schedule, only to find a list of unfamiliar and confusing classes. Spinning? BOSU? What does it all mean and how do you decide which class is right for you? Here’s a guide to some of the most popular classes and how you might benefit from them. 

Spinning/Group Cycling 
Spinning is an group cardio workout that takes place on specially designed stationary bikes. A certified instructor leads the class, indicating when to adjust your speed and resistance level (making it easier or harder to pedal). Spinning classes are typically set to music and use visualization techniques to enhance the experience.

This class allows you go at your own pace, and set your own resistance level. There are no complicated moves to learn, so regardless of how fit, flexible, or coordinated you are, you can get a great workout. Cycling is also a low-impact exercise, which is much easier on your joints than other activities such as step aerobics or running.  

BOSU Balance Training
The BOSU looks like a Swiss ball cut in half. It is an inflated rubber dome on a flat, round platform. BOSU actually stands for “BOth Sides Up,” meaning that the dome itself can be placed on the ground with either the flat or rounded side up.A BOSU class can include aerobic and strength training routines, flexibility exercises, and balance training. Familiar exercises like leg raises, crunches, and push-ups are performed on the BOSU—a surface that is constantly changing, forcing you to maintain your center of gravity. This makes the exercises more difficult.

BOSU training helps establish and reinforce balance, stability, and core strength, and can be used for a wide variety of exercises. It is safer than a Swiss ball in that you are less likely to roll off, but it also makes workouts more challenging. It can add variety to your workout, mixing things up your traditional routine.

Circuit Training
This class takes the participant through a series of exercise stations (which could also include strength training), with relatively brief rest intervals between each station. The purpose is to keep the heart rate elevated near the aerobic level without dropping off.

Circuit training is a complete workout—both cardio and strength training—which saves time. Since the program is fast-paced and offers variety, it can be more interesting than a typical class that focuses on only one aspect (cardio or strength). Exercisers of all fitness levels can enjoy this class, because you can work at your own pace and resistance level.

Functional Fitness
Although it’s important to have a strong heart and muscles, many people are more concerned with being able to complete activities of daily living (transporting groceries to and from the car or lifting a heavy bag off of the top shelf, for example). Functional fitness focuses on core training (abs, hips, lower back), balance exercises, and strength work. It involves a lot of stretching, twisting, and bending motions to mimic everyday activities. 

This class has very practical applications in daily life. For example, suppose you’ve been doing squats at the gym and feel like you’re getting stronger. Then one day you squat down to pick up a heavy garbage can and throw your back out for the next week. What happened? Although your squatting muscles might be strong, the other muscles used to pick up the can might not be. Functional fitness teaches isolated muscles to work together. It can also help someone remain independent and injury-free.

Mind-Body Classes
Classes like yoga, Pilates and tai chi are now the norm instead of the exception. The great thing about these classes is that participants vary widely in age, fitness level, and body type. These classes improve flexibility and strength, while also helping to relieve stress and promote relaxation.  Articles about yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi can be found in the Fitness Resource Center. 

Don’t be afraid to try something different! There are a wide variety of classes out there to cater to your needs. You could end up finding an enjoyable activity that helps you reach your goals at the same time!

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Member Comments

  • Thanks for sharing the information about exercise class lingo - very helpful!
  • thank you for the help on this
  • Thanks Coach Jen. Great article...

  • I hope all these classes can be adapted to your older members. We have outdoor water aerobics in the Summer, but the Winter Classes have parking so far away. Coming home one evening I had heart problems and had to have a pace maker!
  • Thanks for sharing.
    I definitely need some of that functional fitness ( ) right now. After being sick for so long I'm having a hard time getting back up to where I was health wise just to be able to do the little everyday things. Has anyone tried it that can tell me what it's like?

    It's always a good idea to try a class before making any commitment -- not only the type of class but the class taught by a specific instructor. I signed up for a series of step aerobic classes once, knowing that it was something I've always enjoyed. What I didn't know was that this particular instructor had a voice like a rusty hinge. After a couple of classes listening to her, amplified to about 90 decibels and backed up with screeching rock music, I went home with a pounding headache and never returned.
  • 2 more words: Tabata, Piloxing
    I've been going to spinning classes for over a year at our YMCA. Around Christmas, they got a new set of bikes, and it has made a BIG difference! These ones have digital readouts for the gear settings and your RPMs, so it's much easier to keep track of my effort. I'm told that using the spinning shoes that clip on make a big difference, too (in terms of how your effort translates into muscles exercises), but I haven't bought any yet.

    What makes a spinning class different from riding a standard stationary bike is that you have the instructor who has designed a workout - one day it might be a focus on hill climbing (increasing the resistance), another day it might focus on sprint intervals (pedaling fast at lower resistance levels), etc.

    I actually take a "bike and tone" class, so after the 55-60 minute spinning section we spend about 15-20 minutes doing strength and toning exercises with weights, stability ball, etc.
    The article begins by stating that fitness classes aren't what they used to be, "skinny people jumping around to music". but when I look at the picture on the page, there they are, the skinny granted, they aren't jumping to the music, but they are all thin!! New picture needed, please!
  • Gosh I wish my "academia" in Brazil offered these. I think I will print this off (?) and see if we can adapt some to personal training (which my gym excels at) and see if I can make some work for me. Thanks!
  • This is very informative, I had not heard about BOSU or spinning ! I go for Jazz frequently, and have heard circuit training and core strengthening exercises !
  • There was a cruise commercial a little while back that talked about "spinning classes," which for a country boy like me meant "learning how to turn wool into yarn."
    Thanks for the helpful information! I had heard of "spinning" and didn't know what it is.

    I have a stationary bike, and only a few minutes of fast peddling makes my thighs ache.
    Guess I need to slow it down for longer duration. . .

    A funny note: My three year old grandson saw my bike, and said, "Grandma, you're missing a wheel!" lol

About The Author

Jen Mueller Jen Mueller
Jen received her master's degree in health promotion and education from the University of Cincinnati. A mom and avid marathon runner, she is an ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, medical exercise specialist and behavior change specialist. See all of Jen's articles.

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