When it’s not just you: is Crossfit the new step aerobics?

Crossfit with kettlebells / Image credit: crossfitthebridge.com

When it's not just you: is CrossFit the new step aerobics?

Maybe you’re like me and remember when gyms boasted Step Aerobics classes by the dozens. Or maybe you can still do a grapevine. But it’s also possible that you are young enough not to even know what a grapevine is. In the 90s, Step and low-impact cardio aerobics were everywhere. These classes had one intention: get your heart rate up.

Cardio was the key to weight loss. And that was it. It’s funny to think of this now because we wouldn’t imagine a cardio-only option in group classes. Even spinning has incorporated short weights sets.

There are trends we hope to never see again. If you talk to someone who was an avid stepper, they probably have knee problems. Slamming your leg on a plastic step in time with the music will undoubtedly leave you with physical scars. Of course, at the time, we didn’t really know any different.

But if we look at the history of group fitness, we can see a direct evolution between our past and our future. While we can laugh about classes of women all hooked up to vibrating belts, we can actually see a correlation between this and current EMS training. Sure, the equipment of today is much more sophisticated but the intention remains the same. Those 1970s leggings of Jazzercize have become the 2018 leggings of Barre. As we learn more about the body and what works (and what doesn’t), exercise trends edit themselves.

And no matter what the exercise was, one thing remains consistent. Community has been a large part of most group exercise classes. Whether it’s a friendly face at the door or recognizing your best fitness friend or that nemesis in the front row who performs every exercise with too much energy, exercising in groups has always been part of the equation.

For many people, being part of a class provides them with more than motivation. If you look at the rise of CrossFit boxes, the emphasis is on working out together. A recent F45 studio that opened in my neighbourhood has asked everyone attending classes to pose for photos to promote a more communal feeling. Knowing people by name reduces barriers between the instructors and class attendees. It also makes it easier to call you for a simple correction.

Humans are social creatures. Getting a friendly smile from someone who is also trying to wrestle with a kettlebell or cheering on those who cross the finish line last in a running club provides us with a dopamine rush of success and belonging. If you’ve ever wondered what happens in a mysterious exercise class, you’re more likely to enlist a friend to join you. There is strength in numbers and shared motivation through friendship. And it’s more difficult to cancel on a friend than cancelling a class.

As exercise trends will continue to develop in weird and wonderful ways (mermaid class anyone?), class fitness isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s becoming more and more segregated with studios popping up for very specific purposes. So whether you prefer to attend anonymously or are looking forward to joining your crossfit friends for a full fat latte to celebrate how you’ve crushed the W.O.D., trying a class can shake up your routine.

Image sources: crossfitthebridge.com, crossfithavoc.com, beautyheaven.au.com

Electronic Muscle Stimulation: a high-intensity workout, but you need to be prepared

Electronic muscle stimulation provides an intense and high-energy workout. Image source: Ebenezer Samuel / Men's Health

Electronic Muscle Stimulation: a high-intensity workout, but you need to be prepared

If you love to learn about new exercise and fitness trends, The Future of Fitness explains it to you in a way you can understand and separate the hype cycle from actual results.

Electronic Muscle Stimulation (EMS) is muscle contraction using electric impulses. When you EMS train, the impulses are generated through electrodes placed near the muscles being stimulated. A number of studios have sprung up touting EMS Training as more efficient than traditional workouts. But what’s it like to be strapped into a bodysuit that makes you look like you should be fighting zombies instead of doing squats?

The first thing to know about EMS training is that your studio will provide you with the high-tech undergarments that you see on their site. These are meant to be worn without underwear (no sports bras!). They are tight. Really tight. Then, the studio trainer will spray you with water. The suit you wear will also be sprayed with water. This allows for increased conductivity. Each electrode will be adjusted to your specification, and you’ll feel a tingling sensation, a vibration, that focuses on a specific muscle group.

You’ll be led through a High Intensity Interval Training routine (6 seconds on, 4 seconds off) through a number of exercises like squats, mountain climber, side planks, and bicep curls. Working with a trainer who will adjust the pulses in the electrodes throughout the 20-minute workout, you will sweat your way through the circuit. You’ll also burn a number of calories.

The next day, you’ll feel sore but nothing unusual after a good workout. Also, depending on your shoulder strength, you might feel the pressure of the suit.

There’s no doubt that EMS training burns calories, but is it a good workout? I would recommend that if you want to try EMS, you should already be familiar with basic exercise moves and intensity. You should already know how to  perform a proper squat confidently, because the workout moves fast. While the trainers will adjust the activities, you need to be secure in your own abilities and understand your limits. Asking for alternatives to replace exercises you already know are not good for your body is essential. Like most training situations, you need to speak up and let people know when you are uncomfortable or in pain (and not a good pain).

I also wouldn’t recommend EMS to people with claustrophobia. The pressure of the suit combined with the increased intensity of the pulses may trigger feelings of being trapped. The workout moves quickly, so your heart rate will increase. Combine these factors with a new studio and a trainer you don’t necessarily know and it may make for an uncomfortable environment.

However, if you are curious — and feel physically and mentally prepared for a fast moving workout in a heavy suit — you should give EMS a try.


Have you done EMS? How was it? Awesome? Traumatic? Meh? Let us know in the comments!

Spinning isn’t scary: a group workout that lets you forget about what you’re wearing

Spinning class / Image credit: Duvine.com

Spinning isn't scary: a group workout that lets you forget about what you're wearing

At its very core, spinning is a cardio workout on a stationary bicycle in a group exercise environment. Despite the rise in studios with their expensive merchandise and inspirational mantras, spinning is not an elite activity that should be only attempted by those looking for a transformational experience. It can be intimidating to set foot in these highly curated environments and feel out-of-place in your worn gym clothes.

But if you are curious about trying spinning, here’s what happens once you enter the darkened world of the studio.  It’s not scary. It’s fun, challenging, and highly individualized. And you are in control of the workout the entire time.

At your first class, make sure to get the instructor’s help setting up your bike. Every studio has slightly different equipment so it’s worth checking in with the staff about proper form. If you need to clip in with special spinning shoes, don’t worry if it takes you a while to get the hang of it. Even between studios, each bike may have their own particular quirk. It helps to step into the pedal and snap down as if you were in motion. Like any piece of equipment, the more you are familiar with it, the easier it gets. Again, don’t be afraid to ask the staff for help clipping in.

Most spin studios are incorporating one session of arm exercises as part of the 50-minute class. Make sure to check the weights on your bike and adjust as necessary. The arm workout is not long but it can be challenging. Choose a weight that you think you can work with and will accommodate biceps, triceps, and shoulder reps.

During the class, the instructor may turn up the music or their microphone very loudly to encourage an atmosphere of intensity. Some studios have earplugs available so don’t be shy about grabbing a pair (or bring your own!) if you are sensitive to noise. It’s better to be comfortable than in pain — some of the instructors are loud. Really loud.

Throughout the class, you’ll be guided through each song. The instructor will suggest how much tension to add to the bike. You can adjust as necessary. Because spin is an individual exercise in a group activity, it’s ideal for people who are just starting out or recovering from an injury. You can work at your own pace or even feel free to change up the activity. Studios are usually dark, even candle-lit, so it won’t be obvious if you are unable to keep pace with the pack. Do your own workout or follow the instructor. As long as you are challenging yourself, you’ll be fine.

In other blogs, we’ve discussed exercise types that are conducive to forming cults of personality. Lead by charismatic instructors or studio owners who believe their own hype, these people can cloud the true purpose of the activity. Spin has recently become one of those places where aesthetics appears to be more important than athletics. Don’t be dissuaded. By focusing on what is happening inside the studio, and ignoring the racks of t-shirts with inspirational sayings, you will be treated to a 50-minute workout that will push you and have you returning for another session.

The Choose Your Own Adventure Cardio Workout

Cardio workout: guys playing basketball. Image credit: Tim Mossholder / Pexels

The Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Cardio Workout

When you commit to strength training, you are building muscular endurance and strength while keeping your bones and joints healthy and strong. Fat loss is a side effect.

To balance out the good work of strength training, I recommend that my clients participate in some kind of cardio exercise. And cardio is not an exact science. There’s no X times of week + Y speed = Results. Cardio does burn calories but it also helps you keep your heart healthy and prevents disease.

Should I do cardio in the morning or in the evening?

Studies say that you should exercise first thing in the morning. They also say you should exercise in the evening. I say you should exercise when it’s most convenient for you. If this means going for a quick run on your lunch break or waking up at 5 AM — the most important part in finding a place for exercise in your day. Make it part of your schedule and find a time that works for you. You know when’s not a good time to exercise? Never.

What kind of cardio should I do?

The kind of cardio you should do is the kind that you like. Forget about keeping an eye on the calories burned square on the machine. Those numbers are estimates and often exaggerations. This means there’s no point looking for the machine that burns the most calories — instead find something that you enjoy. Some people love spending the focused 30 minutes on an elliptical, catching up or rewatching their favourite TV show. Others would describe this as one of the circles of hell. For others, hiking on the weekend or taking a dance class contribute to their cardio.

Like my advice when it comes to finding exercise time in your schedule, the same goes for cardio equipment and type of cardio. The most important thing about cardio is that you do it.

How Long Should I Spend on Cardio?

If you’re getting started, you should spend 20-60 minutes on cardio, three to five days a week. If you are new to training, three days a week is a good start. If you are more experienced, I would aim closer to the five days a week to increase your heart rate. And this doesn’t mean that you need to run five days a week. You can mix it up with a combination of classes, activities, and cardio machines.

Cardio is one of the few things in life that really is all about you. So be selfish and find that me time. It’s your adventure, so what will you choose?