The 8 main types of fitness classes explained

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Women at a fitness class

A lot of people prefer going to the gym, working out for 30 minutes, and leaving.

Others want more of a communal experience.

That’s where group fitness classes come in. There’s a strong community vibe there, expert instruction, high intensity, and friendly competition — all of the ingredients for a fantastic workout.

But with so many different kinds of group classes and studios to choose from, it can be tough to know where to start.

The main types of fitness classes are:

  1. Yoga
  2. Spin
  3. Boot camp
  4. Hybrid classes
  5. Barre
  6. Pilates
  7. Orangetheory
  8. CrossFit

There are dozens of different classes available, and some of them get pretty niche.

Below, I’ll explain the most common types of fitness classes you can find in most cities, what kind of workout you can expect there, and who it might be a good fit for.

Let’s go!


Yoga

Women in a yoga class doing downward facing dog

Yoga classes are great for strengthening both your body and mind.

A basic yoga session will consist of an instructor going over various stretches and poses with you while you focus on breath and mindfulness.

Common yoga poses you’ll see in most classes include:

  • Downward facing dog
  • Upward facing dog
  • Tree pose
  • Mountain pose
  • Warrior 1 & 2
  • And more

At your first session, don’t be worried if you can’t stretch into every single pose. You’ll adapt over time and become more flexible.

You should start off with a basic yoga course. There are other variations available, such as hot yoga, but these are much more intense.

(In fact, you should stay away from hot yoga classes if you have a history of heart disease or heat intolerance.)

Before going to your first yoga class, make sure you have the right gear. You typically need to bring your own yoga mat, but most studios have basic loaners available.

You’ll also want to make sure you’re dressed appropriately. A loose shirt and some comfortable yoga pants will help you get into every pose.

Yoga is great for people trying to get into a new fitness regimen. It comes with numerous health benefits, including:

  • Improved muscle tone and strength
  • Boosted flexibility and mobility
  • Stress reduction and breath control
  • Better circulatory health

If you’re a total beginner:

Start with a basic beginner’s yoga class — something slow and restorative like Yin.

When you’re ready to really get your butt kicked, move into power yoga or hot yoga for an absolutely killer workout.

Further reading:

The pros and cons of taking yoga

What results can you expect from yoga class?


Spin

You may have heard of spin classes in the past, but what exactly are they?

Basically, spin classes consist of a group of people on stationary bikes who pedal together with the aid of an instructor at the front of the class.

Most basic spin classes will begin with a slow introduction. You pedal gently for about five to 10 minutes to warm up.

As the class continues, you’ll increase the intensity, either pedaling at a fast speed, increasing the resistance on the bike, or both.

Some instructors may even ask you to “hover” over your bike. This is when you lift yourself off of the seat and position yourself over the handlebars.

A lot of spin studios like CycleBar and FlyWheel incorporate weighted bars to challenge your upper body as you pedal.

At the end of the class, you’ll bring it back down and gently pedal for another five minutes or so.

Spin classes are great for anyone who wants to get in an amazing cardio workout. While you can throttle down the intensity if you need to, or if you’re a beginner, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be exhausted and wobbly-legged by the end of spin class.

You work up a major sweat, but since you’re on a bike, it’s lower impact than jogging.

I’d highly recommend these classes for anyone wanting to build great endurance and burn calories.

If you’re a total beginner:

Check out one of the major spin studio chains like SoulCycle, CycleBar, or FlyWheel.

Don’t go too hard, too fast, but aim to slowly increase your intensity and beat your own personal best over the next couple of classes.

Further reading:

What kind of results can you expect from spin class?


Boot camp

Joining the military means you have to go through intense drills and workouts.

To benefit from the same kind of regimens, consider a boot camp class at your local gym or studio!

(Examples include Burn Boot Camp or Barry’s Bootcamp)

Boot camp workouts can vary significantly from one location to the next. But overall, they consist of a combination of calisthenics, plyometrics, and aerobics.

These classes are essentially high-intensity interval workouts because you go from pull-ups one minute to lunges the next. Generally, no special equipment is necessary outside of maybe some basic props that the studio provides.

Due to their intensity, high-impact boot camp classes are not recommended for everyone. If you are pregnant, over the age of 40, or haven’t exercised in a long time, then you should check with your doctor first to make sure these classes are all right for you.

However, if you’re fairly healthy, then boot camp classes are great for getting in intense workouts.

You work out your entire body with every muscle group getting a chance to shine. Plus, it keeps you on your toes with a different workout every time you go.

If you’re a total beginner:

Try a class at somewhere like Burn Boot Camp and remember not to push yourself too hard.

These classes are long and VERY intense — if you need to take a knee and catch your breath, do it. Being sore for the next week won’t help you stick with the program!

Further reading:

Burn Boot Camp class review


Hybrid

Most fitness classes focus on one main type of exercise like yoga or cycling, but you can also take hybrid classes to keep things fresh.

Hybrid classes incorporate different elements of fitness to work out several different areas of the body.

Spenga is one of the most popular hybrid workout regimens to appear in recent years. This class is focused on enhancing your strength and endurance through a combination of yoga, HIIT training, and spin.

Places like The Row House (rowing and floor exercises) can also be considered hybrids.

Hybrid classes vary wildly from one gym to the next. Make sure you look into what each specific class has to offer before signing up, so you know what you’re getting into.

Hybrid classes are great for anyone who thinks they may get bored of the same routine day in and day out. You may not always feel like doing yoga or riding on a bike. With these classes, you get a chance to taste a little bit of everything.

It’s great for trying out different workouts to see what you like best. Once you know what you like, you can sign up for other classes within that discipline to get even better at it.

If you’re a total beginner:

If you’re just starting to get in shape, you might want to try a more focused group class like spin or yoga first to see how you like it.

When you’re ready to mix things up and really challenge your body in a new way, try a hybrid like Spenga.


Barre

Barre classes combine disciplines with ballet, Pilates, and yoga.

They incorporate a barre, which you typically see in dance studios, for you to use as a prop while you focus on isometric strength training.

Some barre classes (at studios like Pure Barre) even incorporate light free weights into the regimen to help you burn more calories. Some of the other benefits you can expect from these classes include:

  • Increased flexibility
  • Improved muscle definition
  • Enhanced posture

A standard class will begin with a warm up. From there, you transition into a sequence of upper-body exercises, which may include planks and push-ups.

From there, you use your own body weight as a form of resistance to focus on training your seat and thigh muscles. Through all of this, you keep your core engaged the entirety of the class.

These classes are great for anyone looking for low-intensity (but challenging) workouts in a fun group setting. If you hope to transition into taking dance classes, then it can be a great idea to start with barre and see where it takes you.

If you’re a total beginner:

Barre isn’t known as an intense cardio workout, but that doesn’t mean it’s not tough.

Don’t go in overconfident and end up getting yourself injured!

Further reading:

The pros and cons of barre workouts


Pilates

Woman on pilates reformer
Photo by Runway Pilates

Pilates consists of about 500 separate exercises designed to strengthen and lengthen all major muscle groups.

It’s similar to yoga, but pilates is focused on relaxing tense muscles. Meanwhile, yoga focuses on improving the overall flexibility of your body.

There are two kinds of pilates classes you may find at your gym: mat and reformer.

Mat-based pilates requires you to have a mat to cushion pressure points. Other classes use a machine known as a reformer, which provides resistance to your body as you stretch. Know which one your gym offers before signing up.

For a typical session, you’ll begin by lying down on the floor.

From there, the instructor will tell you when to move certain parts of the body. You’ll follow along as you listen to calming music.

Pilates classes are highly recommended for people who are just starting to focus on their health. It’s low impact and a great option for older individuals or those with pre-existing health problems who may not be able to sign up for more intense courses.

If you’re a total beginner:

Try an introductory class somewhere like Club Pilates.

Pay close attention to form and follow the instructor closely. Pilates isn’t meant to be done sloppily!

Further reading:

What results can you expect from taking pilates?

The pros and cons of pilates


Orangetheory

In 2010, a new boutique gym opened up that really made waves across the country.

OrangeTheory classes are now popular nationwide, but are they right for you?

Orangetheory consists of a one-hour, full-body workout routine that focuses on power, strength, and endurance.

Classes utilize heart rate-based interval training, which allows you to burn more calories than traditional exercise. You wear a heart rate monitor, and you can see real-time results on large screens located across the gym.

These workouts are suitable for people from all fitness levels because intensity is based on your unique heart rate zone. Fitness coaches monitor this throughout the workout to ensure you don’t over- or under-train.

Throughout any given session, you can expect to work out on treadmills, rowing machines, free weights, and so much more.

It could technically be considered a hybrid but it’s so popular and unique that it deserves its own section here.

It’s truly a great option for people who want variety in their regimens. You rotate through different stations for about 25 to 30 minutes each. Expect to stay for about 90 minutes in total to really get in a good workout.

People from all experience levels are welcome at Orangetheory boutiques. If you get bored easily, then OrangeTheory may keep you invested in your fitness routine.

If you’re a total beginner:

Give Orangetheory a try, but see if you can get a free introductory class before locking yourself in to a monthly commitment.

The intensity and vibe at OTF are great, but it’s not for everyone.

Further reading:

What’s the difference between Orangetheory and Burn Boot Camp?


CrossFit

CrossFit is a form of high-intensity interval training.

It borrow from disciplines like gymnastics, plyometrics, and Olympic weightlifting in order to create a well-rounded, athletic workout.

Expect to rotate through lots of exercises during a typical class.

You may only do each variation for one minute at a time. For example, some classes have you do a minute of lunges and then transition into a minute of crunches. This is to keep your body constantly guessing what’s going to happen next.

Most classes are divided into three or four sections. You start with a dynamic warm-up, which may consist of squats or jump rope.

From there, you go into strength work where you may do something along the lines of deadlifts or squats to help build muscle.

Next, it’s on to the “Workout of the Day.” You have to do a specific number of reps with a certain exercise as quickly as you possibly can.

At the end of the class, you get a cooldown where you generally get to stretch out on your own.

CrossFit is intense, so it may not be good for people who haven’t worked out in a while. You may want to build up toward these classes by lifting weights and doing calisthenics on your own time.

However, you’re always competing against others in your group and your own lifetime personal bests — so it’s great at keeping people engaged over the long haul.

If you’re a total beginner:

CrossFit might not be the best choice if you’re totally out of shape.

Work your way back into good health and fitness with basic cardio or strength work before trying something as challenging and dynamic as CrossFit.

Further reading:

What’s the difference between CrossFit and Orangetheory?


Wrapping up

The best class for you ultimately depends on what you hope to achieve.

For better flexibility, mobility, and pain relief — try yoga or barre.

For low-intensity strength training, try pilates.

To get in better overall conditioning, you’ll do great with spin, Orangetheory, or boot camp classes.

For the highest intensity possible, join a CrossFit box and get ready to never stop chasing new personal bests.

You can’t go wrong with any of these fitness classes. They’re all fun and highly effective in their own way!

What’s your favorite fitness class to take, and why?

And before you go, don’t miss my guide to the different types of gyms if you’re looking for a place to do your own workouts at your own pace.

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