When it comes to fat loss, group fitness are not ideal for body composition changes. The body needs a reason to keep muscle around during a calorie deficit.
For women over 35, they are already experiencing sarcopenia (muscle loss due to the aging process). Couple this with years of chronic dieting which also results in muscle loss, this sets women up for poor body compositions.
Just losing scale weight does not result in an ideal body composition without definition, tone and muscle mass.
When a woman over 35 begins weight loss coaching with me, they tell me they want to lose weight but generally that means they want to lose fat.
They want their pant size to go down. They want to look leaner, toned, fit and athletic.
They complain they have been doing cardio and group fitness classes for years, but they do not have the body composition they want.
They don't look fit or like they workout is what they tell me.
Many of these women I've coached have been approaching fat loss by eating very little and doing a lot of cardio and group fitness classes. Classes like Orange Theory, CrossFit, F45, BodyPump and other classes at their local gym.
If your goal is to lose weight in the form of muscle and to have zero definition, then cardio and group fitness classes are absolutely effective for that.
However, I'm assuming you want to lose fat, build muscle, get leaner, look toned and more fit.
Not only is cardio ineffective for accomplishing that look... it can actually make it more difficult. Why? Because of how your body and metabolism adapt to cardio.
Yes, cardio burns calories. However, it's a very manual process.
Either your body compensates by making you move less throughout the day, subconsciously. Or, it increases your hunger signals so you accommodate for the calories you burned during your cardio session.
The other thing that happens is that you become very efficient with calories. In other words, when you do cardio, you burn fewer and fewer calories doing the same amount of cardio over time.
Same is true with group fitness classes like Bodypump, Orange Theory, F45, bootcamp style workouts etc.
These classes are effectively cardio with weights. You move at a quick pace with little ability to recover in between sets.
The lack of recovery and structure of these classes makes it impossible for you to train to failure.
When you lift weights, you burn fewer calories during the same amount of time as cardio, however, you keep a higher calorie burn after your workout is over.
When you break down muscle tissue as you do during progressive resistance training, your body goes into repair mode.
Your metabolism stays elevated and you burn more calories at rest.
Some research shows this can last up to 72 hours, although it's likely more like 24 hours for most.
With strength training, you become more inefficient with calories. The exact opposite as cardio.
Plus, when you lift weights and eat enough protein, your body holds on to muscle mass.
So when you lose weight, it comes in the form of body fat which is what I'm assuming you want.
Don't get me wrong. Cardio has a time and place. It's quite effective if your goal is to get better at cardio and to gain the health benefits.
Group fitness classes are effective if your goal is to have a community, accountability and just want to stay active.
Just understand that it may be inhibiting your body composition goals.
It's not necessary and sometimes can make things more difficult in the fat loss area.
Remember, the basics of walking, lifting weights, eating enough protein, eating the right amount of calories based on your goals, and managing stress and sleeping.
These will always be the main drivers for your fat loss goals.
Cardio is kind of like the toppings you put on ice cream. Some people love the toppings, some people don't. But the ice cream is just fine without it.
I go into way more detail on this topic in this podcast episode!
In this Dish on Ditching Diets Podcast Episode, You Will Hear:
- Difference Between Scale Loss and Fat Loss
- Different Between Cardio, Group Fitness Classes and Strength Training
- Why Group Fitness Classes Are Not Ideal For Body Composition Changes
- Why You May Lose Weight But Look Skinny Fat
- What Lifting To Failure Means
- Why You Need To Give Your Body A Reason To Retain Muscle
- How To Look Lean, Toned and Athletic
Related Dish On Ditching Diets Podcast Episodes
Why Group Fitness Classes Are Not Ideal For Body Composition Transcript
When women say they want to lose weight, they usually mean they want to lose fat. They want their pant size to go down.
They want to look leaner, more toned and fit. Losing fat and losing weight are two different things.
Losing fat is mostly dictated by your nutrition. Looking more toned and fit, looking more athletic is mostly dictated by how you train.
If your goal is to look leaner, toned and fit, a group fitness class is unlikely to get you that.
If you want to get more toned, get stronger, get leaner, lose body fat, your group fitness classes will not cut it. If you simply want to lose scale weight, be healthy or increase your cardio capacity, then group fitness classes can do that.
Group classes are great for accountability, like-minded people, socializing and community. Hear me clearly, I am not bashing group classes.
But if that is the only thing you are doing, the likelihood of you getting the body composition results that you want is unlikely. You still need to do resistance training.
Now I’m not bashing group fitness. I teach group fitness. I love it. I love the community; I love the social aspect.
I teach cycle and have been doing that for 8 years now. I broke my foot in 2014 and started cycling because I couldn’t do any other cardio and I fell in love with it.
This is coming from someone who hated biking before that. A true testament that you can grow in your fitness journey and learn to enjoy something you thought you would never enjoy.
I love it. Love teaching. Love my classes. They are amazing, but I do not rely on my cycle class to tone my body. It something I do for cardio and because I love it.
I’ve also taken several group classes myself throughout the years.
I’ve done Orange Theory, F45, Cross Fit style workouts, I swim, yoga, Pilates, Les Miles classes like body pump. I’ve done it all.
When we talk about body weight or the number that shows up on the scale. It is a combination of muscle, water, bones, tissue, fat. A lot of things influence that scale number. Losing scale weight is different than losing body fat.
As I said previously, most women want to lose body fat. The problem I see a lot of women have keeping them stuck is they are forever focusing on dieting - eating less and doing a lot of exercise (usually group fitness type exercise) and they’re constantly spinning their wheels.
When you only come at this from the perspective of losing scale weight, what is likely to happen is you drop your calories, and you just constantly try to stay at the lower calorie number depriving your body the first thing your body is going to be inclined to get rid of is muscle tissue.
Muscle is the most expensive tissue to keep on the body, meaning that it takes a lot of calories to keep muscle tissue around. It’s not as expensive for the body to keep fat tissue around. It’s not as metabolically active as muscle tissue.
For a lot of women, I’ve coached throughout the years, they’re constantly eating so little food (constantly dieting) and the fact that they are constantly pursuing dieting is making it easier for them to just lose water and muscle aka scale weight.
Then they lose scale weight and still don’t have that, lean fit, toned look they wanted and are scratching their heads. Or they don’t lose weight at all and can’t understand why they’re stuck.
They’re stuck because they are dieting too much and working directly against their goal of losing body fat, getting more toned and are focusing too much on scale weight.
The other snag women over 35 is sarcopenia – the natural progressive loss of muscle mass as you age that comes with declining hormones.
This is why a lot of women notice they begin putting on weight after the age of 40.
They’re still eating the same way they did when they were 20 or 30, are losing muscle mass and not doing anything to retain or build muscle, not consuming enough protein and are also chronically dieting hence chipping away at more muscle.
When it comes to fat loss, your body needs a reason to keep muscle around or to build more muscle.
The way you send the signal to the body that hey, this muscle is important, we want to keep it and we want to build some more muscle is we eat enough protein, and we challenge our muscles with resistance training.
This is where group classes like Orange Theory, Body Pump style classes, etc. fall short. They are quick paced classes where you are doing cardio with some weights.
Orange Theory you are rowing, running or walking on a treadmill and then doing some weight exercises on the floor that are fairly light weight. It’s effectively cardio with some weights.
It’s a quick pace, with high intensity but it’s not enough to stimulate muscle maintenance or growth. You have to challenge your muscles if you want maintenance or growth.
And Orange Theory, at least when I was there, they would give you the calories you burn, and a lot of people are motivated by that number and how much they sweat.
But it is mostly a cardio focused activity so the more you do that activity the more efficient your body becomes at doing that training.
Over time, you burn fewer and fewer calories because the body adapts with cardio focused activity.
And the calorie burn number is largely irrelevant for changing your body composition.
When it comes to scale loss, it can help a little bit but it’s so easy to overconsume calories and cancel out the calories burned, and we know from research the body is smart and compensates by moving less throughout the day when you’ve had a really intense cardio workout.
As you continue doing that cardio based training, your body also becomes more efficient at it. You are barely resting typically in these classes, and you are using light weights at a fast pace.
That is not challenging your muscles enough to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. It is just not enough. You are doing a cardio workout with some weights. You are burning fewer and fewer calories over time.
Same with yoga. I’ve had people ask me before if yoga is enough to build muscles. No, it’s not.
It’s a different mechanism and it’s not enough resistance to challenge the muscles or to improve bone density.
If you love yoga, do yoga, but you still need to do your resistance training not only for muscle but bone density.
Now remember what I said about my cycle classes. My cycling I do for cardio and fun. I don’t do it for muscle building purposes and to burn a certain number of calories.
Yes, there is resistance in cycling, but I do not count that toward muscle building, and I never pay attention to my calories burned because it is largely irrelevant.
I’ve had so many lovely ladies come to me throughout the years telling me they do these type of workouts 6 or 7 days a week and they’re doing them for years and their body isn’t changing. This is why.
You’re not giving it a reason to change. You’re simply getting better at the bootcamp style workouts.
You’re getting more efficient with burning calories. You’re doing cardio with weights.
You’re not giving your body a reason to build muscle, get more toned and leaner.
And you’re not consuming adequate protein. 99% of the clients I see are super low on their protein intake.
Most individuals do not realize either that in order to stimulate the muscles – actually break down muscle tissue and get it to regrow – that they have to train close to failure.
I’m at the gym all the time and I see most women not training close to failure.
I also see many women doing burpees and other things in between their sets when they should be resting or just simply walking around before their next set.
You rest so you can work hard to get to failure. True failure is when you cannot do another rep without your form breaking down.
You do not need to go to true failure every time you train, but you should get close.
My last two reps are typically slower and I’m finishing my last one when I truly do not have another one in the tank.
Most people leave 4-5 reps in the tank and never get to true failure. I see that consistently watching people at the gym.
So, if you are not lifting heavier over time (also referred to as progressive training) and if you’re not training close to failure with adequate rest in between sets, then you’re probably not doing enough to change your body composition and get more toned.
Just losing scale weight does not get you more toned.
And if you’re not adequately recovering in between your training sessions, your body will not adapt. The body will do the opposite – it will send the stress signal so over time then metabolic rate declines; you get more tired and hungry.
It’s a protective mechanism the body has.
So proper recovery is just as important as the actual training. One of the best ways to recover is to just go for a gentle walk.
I always walk after my training. I walk every day, but on the days, I train you will not see me on the stair climber, elliptical or cycling.
I just walk. I’m recovering and giving my body one of the tools it needs to recover and repair.
The bottom line is group fitness classes are not set up for this type of training. To work to failure, to do progressive overload, to stimulate the muscles.
Group fitness classes just don’t give you that. Now I’m not saying don’t do group classes. If you love them, do them.
But also do your strength training. If you are maybe new to the gym and it’s too intimidating to go on the floor and do strength training, group classes can be a great entrance point for individuals to get comfortable going to the gym. That’s a great place to start.
Just know overtime if you want to progress you will likely have to move away from that to get the results you want.
Again, if you’re not looking to lose fat, get leaner, more toned, etc. and you’re just looking to be healthier and active then just keep doing what you’re doing. Your exercise activity should always be paired with your goal.
If your goal is fat loss, strength training with cardio sprinkled in and fat loss phases with a slight calorie deficit. If your goal is to run a marathon, it’s cardio with strength training sprinkled in and with adequate fuel.
It never makes sense to me why individuals tell me they’re training for a marathon and trying to lose weight.
Those two goals are opposing goals. One requires less food, one requires a lot more.
You may also be wondering about Cross Fit and I will say it depends. I’ve seen Cross Fit programmed as resistance training where there is a high focus on strength, where you are progressive overloading over time, taking breaks etc.
But if the programming is very WOD based and it’s very high intensity with a fast tempo with little rest and if you notice you’re not really able to push to failure and lift heavier over time then it probably is fitting more so into that group fitness category I talked about.
It really depends on the programming.
The biggest things I see with Cross Fit are number one not getting injured and number two proper fuel. Cross Fit is a very glycolytic modality meaning you utilize a lot of muscle glycogen for that activity.
Same as running which means you need adequate calories plus adequate carbohydrates to restore glycogen storage.
Most people don’t realize it, but you need more calories and carbs to support those types of activities and to recover from it.
It never made sense to me why Cross Fit was paired with a low carb diet. It is a recipe for wrecking hormones and metabolism.
True story, I had a client the other day tell me she’s loving how her body is changing. She’s looking more toned; her inches are down.
She even had a fellow co-worker say to her – wow you’re looking great. What have you been doing? She said working with a nutrition coach and a personal trainer!
Her first fat loss phase she lost some weight. She lost a bunch of inches.
Now she’s in maintenance and she’s still seeing her body composition change in maintenance. Why?
Because she’s fueling properly and she’s lifting heavy weights with a personal trainer.
When we began working together, she was under fueling from her WW days and doing a lot of cardio with a bit of resistance training.
Was constantly tried, starving, and feeling like she was banging her head against the wall.
Not losing weight and not seeing her body change the way she wanted it to. Do you know how much this client currently weighs? 210 pounds.
She started around 225ish I believe. Yes, she is 210 pounds and while she has weight to lose still, she is loving how her body is looking.
This is the magic of proper fuel paired with the right type of training.
So, the message today isn’t that you shouldn’t do these exercises, or you should avoid all group fitness classes like the plague.
First and foremost, what is your goal? If your goal is to have a community, accountability, to do something you enjoy that’s fun, for cardiovascular health, to improve your cardio capacity then by all means keep doing what you are doing.
If your goal is to lose body fat, build muscle, look leaner, get more toned, all of that, then lift heavy close to failure with adequate rest in between sets and training days and progressively overload over time.
Eat in a slight calorie deficit is you want to lose body fat. Eat at maintenance or in a surplus to build muscle. Eat adequate protein.
Use the calculator on my website if you’re not sure where you should be with protein and don’t even worry about the calories right now.
Just work on the protein piece of the equation first if you’re just starting out. Walk for movement, recovery, low impact cardio, mental health and do other forms of cardio or exercise as you desire although it is not required.
All of what I just said is the formula for the goal of getting leaner, more toned and losing body fat.
The only cardio I do is my 3 days of cycling. The rest of my cardio is simply walking. For those of you, killing yourself on cardio machines and group fitness classes I want you to remember you are not going to get toned on the elliptical. It won’t happen.
I have the best body composition right now at 45 and I’m doing the least amount of cardio I’ve ever done. I used to be a cardio junkie and it was doing more damage for me than good.
Some individuals can get away with it, but most can’t and especially if the goal is fat loss. If you want fat loss, the formula that is the basic formula.
Focus your efforts where it’s really going to make a difference because group classes are not going to cut it.