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Group X: The Evolution of Group Exercise


In this week’s blog, I address the trends in group fitness classes: past, present and future. In the early 80s, picture Jane Fonda in a high-waist leotard and leg warmers with an iconic headband across her forehead. Remember what exercises she was doing in her video series? She was all about High Impact Aerobics (HIA).

HIA reigned supreme for most of the 80s. I remember instructors teaching with a microphone in one hand and a two-pound weight in the other. The music was fast (about 165 to 180 beats per minute) and sounded like chipmunks running from a fire. By 1988, in order to keep it fresh, HIA evolved into a mixture of high and low impact, with intervals of weight training.

Move ahead to 1989 when Gin Miller created the next big trend after suffering a knee injury. Her doctor recommended she strengthen her knee by stepping up and down on a milk crate. Step aerobics was born. I remember seeing a step class for the first time — I saw a room full of people doing a controlled, sometimes intricate dance, up, over and around a step. Toward the mid to late 90s, basic step classes evolved and began morphing into combination classes with weight intervals.

Today, our basic palate of classes includes cycling, yoga, Pilates, sculpting, boot camp and dance classes such as Zumba®. In clubs today, I see a new trend forming in a hybrid of all these classes. A basic indoor cycling class becomes elevated with interval weight training. This adjustment creates freshness and keeps the group fitness program engaging.

Additional hybrids like Piloxing (a mixture of Pilates and boxing) or Yogalates (a mixture of yoga and Pilates) are increasing in popularity. While I don’t know what the next revolutionary idea in group fitness will be, I do know that there is room for the current crop of classes to evolve.


Joseph Duffy has been in the fitness industry since 1990. He has taught group fitness classes at multiple clubs, and currently is the director of group fitness at Boom Fitness. Duffy has his own consulting business that assists owners with building group fitness programs from the ground up, as well as providing scheduling and staffing input. He can be reached at jdny1@me.com.


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1 Comment

  1. M.Cook October 10, 2013

    Thanks Joseph! One thing we can count on through all the evolution of programming is that group exercise itself will never go out of style. The delivery methods and training certainly will, but our innate attraction to socialization and FUN is universal.

    One of the things that our Fitness On Request customers love is that we find these trends early on and have one of the quickest delivery methods to turn those trends in to programming that they can start using right away in their facility.

    Your mention of trends like yoga/Pilates fusion, cycling and interval weight training are affirmation of the programs we’re delivering!


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