Group class or personal training? Find your best fit

Soul Cycle and Barry's Bootcamp may be super motivating classes, but are all group classes great for everyone?

Back in November, a group of Medcan employees ventured to Barry’s Bootcamp to try out the trademarked “best workout in the world”. The group of +25 people, including CEO and Chair Shaun Francis, was diverse in age, athletic ability, and fitness levels. By all accounts, the hour of high-intensity interval training to confidence-boosting music and instruction was an exhilarating session, and many of my colleagues experienced the mood-boosting effects of a challenging workout.  But are all group fitness classes great for everyone? When is personal training the better choice? I asked four Medcan trainers, each with their own unique perspective, for insights into some of the personal and group fitness options out there.

Main takeaway:  If it gets you moving regularly, and doesn’t hurt you, go for it.

Any type of personal training or fitness class that motivates you to move/sweat five or six days a week is to your benefit. It’s not an either-or situation.

Medcan Personal Training

(i.e. one-on-one personal fitness coaching)

Expert Matt Daher, Registered Kinesiologist, expert in orthopaedic rehabilitation.
In addition to his responsibilities at Medcan, Matt is the Sport science consultant to Ontario Soccer where he has been developing Ontario provincial and Canadian national level soccer players for over 10 years.
Benefits  This is the Gold standard: You have the opportunity to work with an expert who understands how your body functions and how it responds to exercise with a tailored, well-structured plan.
Risks As with all physical activity, there are inherent risks of injury. However, with the one-on-one attention you receive, these risks are significantly mitigated.
Takeaway There is no magic pill to exercise, even when it’s paired with a personal trainer. Regular physical activity must be a lifelong commitment. One-on-one training helps you navigate through an industry full of readily available information and misinformation, and does it in a safe and personalized manner. And you should ask questions. By understanding why you are doing certain exercises and how your body responds to those exercises, you will gain knowledge that will help protect you from injury and progress your health and fitness levels for years to come.

Indoor Obstacle Course

(i.e. Pursuit OCR)

Expert Evan Wallman, Personal Trainer, B.A Human Kinetics
Evan loves to compete in 24 hour obstacle course races, finished the 2016 Hamilton’s Around The Bay 30K in 2:12.30 with an average kilometer pace of 4:24
Benefits Develops great endurance. Requires excellent grip strength.
Risks As is the case with the outdoor trails, if your ankle, knees, or hips don’t have enough stability they may get injured.
Takeaway A bit more risk involved than most activities. So when starting out, find a shorter distance with fewer intense obstacles.


(i.e. like at this wellness retreat)

Expert Evan Wallman
Benefits Helps with flexibility. Teaches a mind-body connection.
Risks For those who need more strength, this is sometimes not the best method to achieve it. Trying to keep up with the rest of the class when you should go at your own pace.
Takeaway Think about stretching to 70% of your max, not 100%. Mindfulness and meditation require flexing and strengthening different muscles than we are used to. It takes time to adopt these new practices.

Treadmill, Strength or Specialized Classes

(i.e. Medcan Pilates Fusion + Total Body Blitz + Beginner Boxing, Barry’s Bootcamp, Orange Theory)

Expert Francesca McKenzie, Registered Kinesiologist + instructor for Medcan Group Fitness Classes
Almost ten years ago, Francesca weighed 192 lbs – now she is 50 lbs lighter, a competitive bodybuilder, and currently training for her second half marathon
Benefits The group atmosphere is extremely motivating. You are pushed beyond your comfort zone and there is a collective work ethic to complete the tough workout. There is great potential to burn a lot calories while building overall strength.  Exercise modifications are generally provided when necessary (in the Medcan classes). You can also learn a new skill and the perceived challenge can be the reason you keep coming back.
Risks If there’s lack of attention to individual form due to group setting, it could increase likelihood of injuries. In certain classes, if you don’t like running, you can opt in for floor-only exercises, but you’ll be missing out on the cardio component. Not as much personal attention as one-on-one training.
Takeaway Some classes are designed to be high intensity, so check with your physician to see that you are medically safe to participate.  Many classes are designed to feel impossible, so do the best you can.  Recognize that some of these types of group classes are geared toward at least moderate fitness levels. Pilates Fusion and Beginner Boxing at Medcan are examples of classes that cater to all skill levels. If you’re doing a high intensity class, ensure you are hydrated or start hydrating the night before.

Indoor Group Cycle

(i.e. Soul Cycle, Psycle, Quad, Torq, Rocket Cycle)

Expert Chris Campbell, Manager, Fitness
Benefits: High caloric expenditure, high average heart-rate intensity and high peak heart-rate intensity. You don’t have to worry about pushing yourself – the class and instructor will do it for you. High state of accomplishment followed post-workout.
Risks: Improper set up and positioning. Don’t be shy to ask the instructor for proper set up, then be cautious of prolonged positions as well as aware of additional movements that may exacerbate past, dormant or current injuries.  Avoid and thus prevent the knees from either caving in or veering out. These are often compensatory movements to help make the revolutions easier. Consistently focus on hip, knee and ankle alignment to the best of your ability. This will take care of unwanted torque and shear forces on the knees (note, some riders will not be able to achieve this due to structural anomalies and that’s fine).
Takeaway: Be sure to differentiate your purpose and goals with each class. Are you trying to obtain increased performance or weight-loss? If it’s weight loss, be conscious of your food intake before and after. The mind often thinks the body needs more food than it really does. Drink lots of water before, during and after to avoid fatigue/dehydration. Bracing your abdominals during sprints of higher intensity can strengthen your core and save you lower back trouble short term and long term.


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