Group Fitness Classes: The Good, the Bad, and the Utterly Humiliating

Group Fitness Classes: The Good, the Bad, and the Utterly Humiliating

The thing about those ploys to claw you into the grips of boutique fitness is that they generally set most people up for failure. I got you.

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I can hear the Peloton instructor screeching already: “ARE YOU READY TO GRAB THIS YEAR’S FITNESS GOALS BY THE BALLS?”

I am ready to do no such thing, of course, but I am excited for the reminder to treat my body like a little cottage on the countryside I will inhabit for the rest of my life. My singular wish is for everyone to enjoy the capabilities of their own bodies, whatever those may be. But this month, above all other times of the year, the marketing stunts to seize on our insecurities are only set to grow louder and more obnoxious until we escape to the latter half of January.

The thing about those ploys to claw you into the grips of boutique fitness is that they generally set most people up for failure. You’re likely to be abducted by an aspiring cult leader masquerading as a fitness instructor (looking at you, SoulCycle), sucked into a group of moms using My Fitness Pal to count their calories, or bullied into believing that your body is only worthy of praise if it dips and rises in exactly the right places. So I’ve collected 10 of the most popular (or weird!) workouts, from most cringe/douchiest to my personal happiest place on earth for anyone who took a month—or maybe a year—off of exercise for any reason under the sun and wants to feel strong again.

This is a ranking based on vibes and openness to beginners, with extra (metaphorical) points given for patience, slowing things down, and explaining proper form. I want to get physical with you, baby! And I also don’t want you to get hurt or psychologically scarred.

To the mats we go!

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CrossFit

CrossFit

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Photo: Serhii Hudak/ Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images (Getty Images)

Crossfit is the worst possible exercise for you to jump into after returning from hibernation. Do not recommend. Even my former athlete friends have gotten injured at CrossFit, which claims on its homepage that it can “reverse chronic disease.” While it’s tantalizing to believe a boutique fitness studio for people who look like they’re getting daily steroid shots can also give you the frog-to-prince treatment in six months, it’s not worth it. You’re dealing with an emphasis on going heavy at all costs (even your safety), men who put egg yolks into their smoothies, and the grindset pressure to Always Be Progressing.

I’m an average horny person who likes to exercise, and even for me, the intimidation factor always trumps the desire to sweat it out with hot people. Besides, you’re not a frog, you are perfect the way you are. And if you’re looking for a trendy workout to jumpstart your fitness goals (if you have them) (you really don’t need them) (fitness should be pursued for health and a sense of community, not vanity purposes), keep on looking.

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Barry’s Bootcamp

Barry’s Bootcamp

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Photo: Anna Webber/Getty Images for CMT (Getty Images)

Jezebel Dot Com has been home to its fair share of Barry’s junkies (RIP Jenna, hi Rich), and even I buy into the hype from time to time. In this mixture of treadmill sprints and on-the-floor cross training, you’re bound to work up a satisfying sweat shower and have difficulty walking up stairs for at least three days. But Barry’s typically feels good when you’re at least marginally in shape, rather than coming off a two-month holiday cocktail party bender. If you’re craving a challenge or enjoy sadistically staring death in the face, have at it. Just know that while you’re free to “take things at your own pace,” as the instructors will scream at you, the lady next to you will also be taking things at her own pace, which is 10 miles per hour (and she’s only going easy). But you do you!

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Climbing Gym

Climbing Gym

This photo of a Greenpoint climbing hall is literally titled “Gentrification in New York.”
This photo of a Greenpoint climbing hall is literally titled “Gentrification in New York.”
Photo: Benno Schwinghammer/picture alliance via Getty Images (Getty Images)

I have a feeling y’all are going to fight me on this one. I know plenty of avid and casual climbers absolutely drunk on climbing gyms, but you clearly did not belay (hold up) another climber and then drop them in your first-ever climbing class like I did. (Don’t worry, everyone in this story survived, though I suffered severe bruising to my ego.) Maybe that was one bad experience, but still—being surrounded by Brooklynite adrenaline junkies who wear baby beanies as you attempt to climb two feet off the ground is not a pressure-free workout environment. Yeah, yeah, yeah, metaphorically reaching new heights and all that jazz...but you expect me to trust a stranger, a few ropes, and the laws of physics to keep me from falling to my demise face-first on the mat? Hard-to-medium pass. (For the record, I do plan to conquer the climbing wall, just, like, not in January.)

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Tracy Anderson Method

Tracy Anderson Method

Tracy Anderson.
Tracy Anderson.
Photo: Jun Sato/WireImage (Getty Images)

Three words: bougie Brentwood moms. I’ve tried my fair share of absurdist pelvic-thrusting workouts, but nothing makes me feel like I’m living in the dystopian upside down quite like the Tracy Anderson Method. Everything there is little: little weights, little hops, little squeezes, little dance routines, little bodies. Tracy’s expiring view on fitness is obsessed with “toning” the ass, the abs, and the arms through hyperactive dance routines, two-pound weights for pretty pretty princesses, and instructors that either inhaled too many servings of pre-workout powder or another similar powder before class. You might also run into Jennifer Garner there. Do not trust the smiling faces—they are there to abduct you and hook you up to a Don’t Worry Darling simulator. “Isn’t this FUN?” the tweaked out Stepford mommy next to you screams.

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Pure Barre

Pure Barre

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Photo: Lily Lawrence/Getty Images for Pure Barre (Getty Images)

I’ve never experienced a runner’s high, but I imagine the thrill you get when you finally make it through a Pure Barre class without collapsing is close to it. I strongly believe the fad of Pure Barre—or “little tuck, little squeeze” addicts—is at long last sunsetting amid the decline in trendy studios, but I’ve plopped this workout in the middle of the pack because...it works. And also because I like its feminist beginnings: According to Danielle Friedman, author of Let’s Get Physical, the barre method’s inventor was a free-love revolutionary named Lotte Berk, who intended the moves to be explicitly erotic so women felt more comfortable embracing their rabid libido post-sexual revolution. Yes, when you are at Pure Barre, you are technically supposed to look like you’re fornicating. I’ll give it a C for the current community of brides sweating for the wedding, and an A+ for the opportunity to make every single one of them uncomfortable by fully committing to the sexual performance bit.

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Pilates

Pilates

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Pilates is so good for your body in terms of strength, mobility, and flexibility. But reformer machines also invoke medieval torture devices! And, depending which studio you’re at and who’s teaching, you might feel like you are being tortured by a muscly wench.

No for real, pilates comes highly recommended by physical therapists for injury recovery and prevention and is an incredible, slow-paced way to work up strength WHILE LYING DOWN. Heaven. The exercise often gets a bad reputation because it’s not a high-intensity bootcamp rendezvous, but—I hate myself so much for this—pilates is working SMARTER NOT HARDER. Plus, your muscles will likely be shaking with such fervor you won’t have time to worry about the pilates-religious fanatics who haven’t skipped a day since the insurrection.

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Boxing/Kickboxing

Boxing/Kickboxing

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Photo: Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images (Getty Images)

Are you pissed off? I can’t think of a single reason why you wouldn’t be. Please, for me, go punch something. In fact, why don’t you go punch something in a safely monitored environment and get some newfound strength out of it? I will die on this hill: There is nothing more precious in life than an exercise that doubles as physical fitness and anger management. I know Rumble has its downsides, and boxing purists don’t consider it real boxing, but all the condescension in the world couldn’t keep me from earnestly loving a chance to throw punches in the dark. You’ll quickly learn proper form because classes are genuinely structured for all levels, and I love the idea of learning to fight for enjoyment or skill and not for self-defense (added bonus, but please, we don’t seriously need to be protected from everything).

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Gym/Weightlifting/Primal Movement

Gym/Weightlifting/Primal Movement

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Go to the gym. Yup, just the regular old gym. You do not need an Equinox. Any Crunch or 24 Hours will do. Or a home gym if you are so blessed! You can use a free app like Nike Training to help program a workout using the machines and weights available. Certainly, if you’ve never gone to the gym and ambled around before, everything feels intimidating. But I promise you, the machines are intuitive (you can also pull up quick YouTube videos as needed), and so is your body. Your body knows what you can and can’t handle, all you have to do is listen to it. You can even practice what Shape is calling one of the 2023 fitness trends of the year: “primal movement,” which is apparently deadlifts, squats, bear crawls, and anything else our ancient ancestors did to survive? And, not that it’s still subversive to simply lift heavy weights at the gym while existing in a femme body, but the look on gym rats’ faces around you will be priceless.

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Walking Group

Walking Group

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Yeah, literally, go take a walk in the park. Find a local walking group, and get moving together. Very Charlotte of you. You go, girl.

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Yoga

Yoga

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I am begging you to start your year with yoga. Your body will thank you because, shocker, you need to stretch! Your typical vinyasa flow classes recycle nearly the same general movements every time, so while the very first class might feel wonky in your body, you’ll be a pro by round two. Use yoga as your entree or foundation, and then build other strength or HIIT training classes on top of it as you build up stamina. If you’re totally new to the practice, avoid Corepower, which is generally full of annoyingly fit recent college grads who want to find themselves. Y7 is a personal favorite, especially if you like hip-hop.

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