You've been going to the gym regularly for at least a year and you love group exercise workouts; they're social and you can tick the exercise box on your list. The instructor is good, you know the moves and most of the time the music is ok. But while it's fun, you just don't seem to be getting results.
Over my thirty years of teaching, this is one of the most common complaints from group exercise participants. Regardless of how many times a week they go, the results just don't seem to happen. For most though, there is one very simple reason.
Photo courtesy TRAINFITNESS
One of the most basic principles of training, which all group exercise instructors learn if they complete an exercise to music qualification is progressive overload. This theory was originally proposed by Thomas Delorme, MD around the time of World War II and is now recognised as one of the fundamentals of training (including that for strength and cardiovascular fitness), and is a foundation of many physical therapy programmes. In short, the theory states that in order to get results you have to continually change/progress the workload/intensity you put on the body. So when we look at many group exercise programmes, it's obvious there's very little in the way of progressive overload included in them. What I'm about to say might upset some people. That's certainly not the intention. This article should be read with one thing in mind - does the group exercise class I attend provide ongoing progressive overload? This is not a piece about what class is the most fun, or most popular, or newest, or anything else. There are of course positive attributes to a class being fun, popular or new, but they're stories for another day. Today is solely about progressive overload.
Zumba is a great programme for those who love dance or those new to exercise who want to start out with something simple. The social interaction and party atmosphere created in the best Zumba classes is infectious, but if your aim is to lose body fat you'll likely see very little improvement after the first couple of months. The moves are always of a low to moderate intensity, and the movement patterns are the same, every release. There is little, if any, progressive overload.
Les Mills programmes are one of the most popular in studios around the country. These programmes have been around for over 20 years and in that time very little has changed. The exercises are largely the same and the order of the exercises is generally the same. In fact, apart from the music, very little has changed in 20 years. If you have attended these classes regularly, when new releases come out some people are quite successful at predicting what moves come next without having seen them. Again, the opportunity for ongoing progressive overload is limited.
Over the last few years, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has greatly increased in popularity. HIIT classes have challenged us in ways we had not been challenged before and we achieved some great results. Even though HIIT workouts do challenge us, the body does adapt. When the exercises remain the same it becomes more and more difficult to reach the training zone we need in order to continue to get results. Even HIIT workouts need to incorporate progressive overload and include different exercises each release in order for us to continue to get results.
Workout programmes that use the principle of progressive overload change regularly. The exercises from release to release should be different. The amount of resistance or weight should be varied and the movement patterns need to change. This kind of variety results in the body being worked in different ways, thus challenging it which in turn encourages it to improve and get results.
If you have hit a training plateau and want to start getting results again, look at varying your workout by attending different classes and doing programmes which constantly change. Always looking for efficiency, our bodies like to do the same thing over and over. It's easier. But progress requires change and variety. Being aware of the progressive overload principle will give you more insight into your training, and making sure this principle is included in your workouts can help you achieve the results you want faster.