I love the concept of all-you-can-eat restaurants. Not because I literally want to ingest as much food as possible in one sitting, but I’m always happy to have the decision-making requirement removed from my dining experience. When I’m faced with a menu of options I have a hard time picking just one thing!
Maybe I’m just indecisive by nature, but I’ve had the same problem trying to decide on fitness and physical activity commitments. Especially in a big city like Toronto, there are too many options and too little time to do them all. While it’s a nice problem to have, too many choices can lead to inaction, and that’s the last thing we want when trying to get fit and healthy!
So to help with my persistent dithering, I came up with a process to narrow down my options and lead me to activities that are going to be the best bang for my buck.
Logistics: As dull as it sounds, there are some practicalities to consider when choosing a class and this can often be an easy way to narrow down the contenders. I start by looking at the three most important factors: Location, price and suitability.
Location: is it more than 20 minutes away from my work or home? The farther your class is the less likely you’re going to attend regularly. Whether I want to squeeze in a quick sweat-session on my lunch break or stop in for yoga on my way home from work, choosing classes that are in my vicinity takes away any excuse to slack off.
Price: I may try anything once but if the entry fee is beyond my comfort level, I’m unlikely to make it a long-term habit. Decide how much you’re willing to budget for your fitness investment with and find a class that’s affordable for you. A good parameter can be no more than your hourly wage per session. Some companies offer unlimited memberships or discounts for bulk purchases, but if you’re not ready to commit, these deal aren’t going to work in your favour.
Suitability: can I actually do this class? Ambition is great but if you’re afraid of heights, that rock-climbing membership is probably going to get rather dusty. People with knee and back pain will probably struggle with the endless box jumps and bar squats in a Crossfit class. Most fitness instructors will be happy to chat with you about the demands of their activity, so if you have any physical limitations, let them know up front to see if the class will work for you.
Running through this checklist will quickly eliminate the options that are most likely to waste your time and money. From there you can move onto finding something that fits your goals.
This brings me to my second point: what do you want this class to do for you? Your answer may be, well I just want to move. But consider your fitness goals a little further.
Do you want to lose weight? If weight loss is your primary goal, fast moving, challenging classes like bootcamp and crossfit are excellent ways to keep your heart pumping while whittling away your mid sections.
Do you want to move but also learn a skill? Kickboxing, ballet and yoga are all deeply rooted in tradition and can take years to master. This can be very motivating for you if you love learning and have the patience to work towards something difficult but rewarding.
Is the whole point of a fitness class for you to socialize and enjoy motivation from others? Team sports are an ideal way to interact with your neighbours and fellow fitness fanatics. As an added bonus, many have the habit of going out for post-game beers where you can really get acquainted with your teammates. Many traditional fitness classes and boot camps also employ partner and small group exercises, which lead to interaction with class members and is an easy way to form friendships.
Maybe you just want to have fun while getting your heart rate up a little. Luckily fitness classes have gotten really creative over the years and there are lots of opportunities to try something completely unusual that will put a smile on your face. Surfset, a workout that mimics real surfing moves, gives you a full body workout without the risks of shark attacks or sunburns. Aerial yoga can (quite literally) give you a whole new perspective of the gym! Even for those who are working towards serious fitness goals, adding in some light hearted fitness can remind you how fun it is to just move.
Once you’ve narrowed down classes that fit your life and fitness goals, you need to decide if the choices on your shortlist are actually any good. These days we all turn to Yelp to find out the dirt on any business, but sadly most people tend to complain rather than compliment, so you can often find reviews that are more skewed towards the negative aspects. Asking a friend for their recommendation will get you a more accurate picture.
Really the best way to know if you’ll enjoy a class is to try it out. Look for business that offer free trials or discounted passes for new members. While you’re there, talk to other participants, see who’s been there a while and get a sense of how much repeat business they get. If you can, introduce yourself to the instructor and ask how long they have been teaching the class too. It’s not a bad thing if they’re new, but they should give you a sense of their experience in the business, plus it’s an easy way to get a feel for their personality. If you can make a friendly connection with the instructor you’ll not only look forward to the class more but you’ll also get more value out if it.
One word of caution on free/cheap passes: remember that business understand you may not sign up, but coasting on free passes as a way to get your workout on the cheap is not going to be appreciated. There’s no obligation to join if you really don’t like a class but going in with the intention of being a regular will show respect for the staff who’d love to see you again.
Chains vs independent studios
Another choice you’ll face is whether to invest in a big-name brand or a local fitness shop. In most cases you’ll pay more for the corporate chains like Soul Cycle or Orange Theory but there are added benefits to justify the higher fees. First they tend to have multiple locations so you can visit the studio closer to work Monday evenings and perhaps have one close to home for weekend visits. Second, you know exactly what your getting: just like a Big Mac is the same in Toronto as it is in Beijing, these chains ensure consistent quality for each day of the week and in every gym. Also, with more money to spend, you’ll probably enjoy a well-designed atmosphere, top-of-the-line equipment and maybe even a fresh towel after your workout! If your friend was raving about Pure Barre in Vancouver, you can be certain you’ll enjoy the same experience in your city.
Conversely, local classes can provide a personal touch to make up for their smaller budgets. Community classes run by small business, individuals or non-profits, don’t have to follow a corporate template and have the freedom to tailor classes to their clients. You’ll have more opportunity to get to know your instructor and provide feedback on the class. Plus an instructor who owns her own studio is more invested in her clients and willing to go the extra mile to ensure you’re happy.
When you’re hungry for fitness there’s no need to feel overwhelmed by a menu full of choices! Start with the buffet approach and sample a few before deciding on a main dish. If you sign up for something and it doesn’t work out, well, no harm done. We need to try different things ourselves before we can discover what we really love. If you can narrow down your options and find something you love and want to keep doing for the long-term, that’s great! But there’s also nothing wrong with shopping around and sampling all the options out there. After all, the number one goal is to keep active. If you’re the non-committal type, you have the freedom to keep discovering new skills, new movements and–if you really challenge yourself–new muscles!
by Christina Friend-Johnston