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Become A Better Runner Through Exercise Classes

Adding a new challenge to your routine could make you a stronger runner. And it's fun too!

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exercise classes

After three ultramarathons in 2013, I was feeling pretty great about my running. However, in early 2014, I wound up with a series of injuries. 2015 marked my return to running, but I also traveled and moved multiple times for job opportunities. As a result, I was burned out on running and treating it more like a chore than an enjoyable activity.

In the middle of these 2015 moves, I discovered group exercise classes as a way to potentially reignite my love for running. I’m happy to report that after months of travel and bitter cold, I’m finally able to run outside again (so long as the roads aren’t icy) with joy! In celebration of that, here’s five ways taking group exercise classes have helped my running funk and could help yours as well. I’ll focus on cardio kickboxing and Zumba, but will touch on a few other options at the end.

Mix Up Your Cross-Training

Are you bored of the same old cross-training? Do you live somewhere that is impeding your preferred method of cross-training? This Michigan winter has been rough (at least for this native east coaster), so my usual cross-training of long bike rides have been impossible. Group exercise classes allowed me to try different cross-training at different times of the week without worrying about weather or road conditions. Zumba, for example, makes it easy to find a class where you live using their website. Trying group exercise classes doesn’t require a large financial commitment. You can test out classes on a drop-in basis or through offers on gym/instructor Facebook pages or websites.

Related: 4 Unconventional Cross Training Options

Improve Strength

These classes have helped me identify my weaknesses and strengthen these areas. The education from instructors and the work I have put into the classes has lead to faster turns on corners, cleaner jumps over obstacles and better balance on ice here in the frosty Michigan winter.

Group exercise classes, specifically cardio kickboxing, have taught me exercises I can practice at home or while I am traveling in order to continue building my strength. Got five minutes? Do some squats or triceps dips or a set of pushups or crunches. I can also supplement classes with YouTube cardio kickboxing or Zumba choreography videos when I’m on the go.

Pump Up The Playlist

Zumba and cardio-kickboxing are great places to hear new music you may not be using during your runs. Part of the inspiration for Zumba comes from creator Beto Pérez forgetting his usual class music and instead teaching a class with Latin music. Are your marathon or 5K playlists worn out? Mix in some of the new music you hear in class! My new playlists include reggaeton selections, guilty-pleasure pop songs, and some hardcore covers of Taylor Swift songs. These songs can also remind you of fun routines or times you felt strong and sexy, giving you an extra energy boost!

If you intellectualize your music like I tend to do, these new songs can lead to new podcasts (Song Exploder) to listen to on your run and/or new NPR think pieces to read post-run; for example, one on Pitbull’s use of “dale.”

Related: The Best Treadmill Survival Playlist

Socializing/Stress Relief

While this may not be a problem for some of us at work, or for those who enjoy running with others, group exercise can offer a way to get social and relieve stress at same time. I love running with friends, but sometimes those times don’t match up or I’m in a new location. Enough group exercise classes exist that no matter where I am for work, I can go find an hour-long support system with shared looks of horror at squat challenges and high-fives over some technical salsa choreo.

Group exercise classes can be an opportunity supplement running to meet your needs for that day and practice self-care. It’s your choice. Do you want to be social? Do you want to do your own thing and relieve stress? On the days that I run and go to group exercise classes, it’s exciting to set my intentions for the day during the run and to have an opportunity to relieve stress after the workday. 

Increased Self-Confidence

After my running burnout, my self-confidence also took a hit. When that happens, group exercise classes can seem intimidating at first. We convince ourselves that we’ll be the largest/shortest/oldest/youngest/most uncoordinated person in the room. I’ve been to two community Zumba events in the Lansing, MI and each event was brimming with ladies of all sizes, shapes, colors and abilities who were having a great time. There are compliments, camaraderie and sharing—in these events and in classes, I always leave feeling better than when I started.

During group exercise classes, I am doing strong, sexy moves for myself. Even after running for a few years, group exercise classes allowed me to feel both strong and sexy without external judgment or confirmation. I take the new mottos and affirmations from classes and use them as new mantras to channel those feelings while out on runs.

Related: 4 Ways To Build Running Confidence

A Final Note On Group Exercise Classes

While we may start as newcomers in group exercise classes, that’s where we began in running as well. Classmates and instructors can be more than willing to help out new members.   I was so intimidated by my first Zumba class that I didn’t go back to one for two months! But like many things, it takes patience. We all can’t run an 8 minute miles the first time we run, and we’re all not amazing salsa dancers at our first Zumba class. Sticking with it. Learning the routines and steps can require discipline, just like increasing distances or speeds while running.

While I’ve only mentioned Zumba and cardio kickboxing here, there are a myriad of other classes for other interests, including aqua Zumba, SoulCycle, aerial yoga, pole fitness and Pure Barre, just to mention a few. Researching instructors, programs and locations will help you choose the right class for you.