What are the benefits of a physiotherapist-led fitness class?
Updated: Apr 11, 2021
Dr Luke Perraton physiotherapist and physiotherapy educator/researcher
Zuzana and I love working hard in a fitness class. With a good instructor and fun classmates there is an energy that is hard to replicate on your own. Training with other people and paying for classes also makes you accountable and more likely to turn up each week.
Don't get me wrong, I love a long run or ride on my own, but fitness classes are a really efficient way to develop fitness, commit to regular moderate to high intensity exercise and make some friends along the way.
There are mental health benefits to exercising as well. Zuzana and I published a systematic review some years ago now on exercise as a treatment for clinical depression. We found that exercising at 60–80% of maximum heart rate for 30 minutes three times per week for eight weeks was effective for reducing symptoms of depression and that both supervised and unsupervised exercise were beneficial.
Now, its time to admit something as I write this. Explaining to you that it is important to engage in regular physical activity does feel a little bit like writing a press release from the Department of the Painfully Obvious. Nonetheless, if you have read this far it is a safe assumption that you already recognise the importance of increasing weekly physical activity and reducing sedentary behaviour.
But, do you know what the current #PhysicalActivity guidelines are?
The new World Health Organisation #WHO guidelines for physical activity and sedentary behaviour state that:
''All adults should undertake 150–300 min of moderate-intensity, or 75–150 min of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or some equivalent combination of moderate-intensity and vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, per week. Among children and adolescents, an average of 60 min/day of moderate-to-vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity across the week provides health benefits.
The guidelines recommend regular muscle-strengthening activity for all age groups. Additionally, reducing sedentary behaviours is recommended across all age groups and abilities..."
A regular fitness class will put a significant dent in your weekly minutes of moderate or high-intensity exercise and for this reason fitness classes are increasingly popular.
These days there are a lot of fitness class options available, both online and face-to-face. Most programs do some form of health screening before you commence and then work hard to maintain your motivation and keep you signed up with challenges, apps and engagement in social media groups. Personally, we love our Karate-focused fitness classes at Blackburn Karate Club. We get to work hard with instructor feedback and there is always an opportunity to modify exercises if needed.
As physiotherapists who participate in, and run, fitness classes, Zuzana and I know many people who have had excellent results with unsupervised online fitness programs or generic face-to-face classes or bootcamps. Some people love them and get great results. However, they don't suit everyone and we have also met our fair share of people who have experienced injuries, pain or discomfort from these classes. They generally work well if the person is already fit, uninjured and knows how to perform the exercises safely.
However, when something goes wrong you are on your own.
Physiotherapists are experts in diagnosing and managing injuries. Many physiotherapist-led exercise classes focus on rehabilitation of injuries; for example, clinical Pilates classes. These rehab exercises classes aim to help people improve their pain, function and quality of life and help people return to work or sport. However I would argue that it is equally important to develop physical fitness and functional capacity in non-injured people, in order to be healthy, fit and reduce the risk of getting injured in the first place.
Over the last few months Zuzana and I have started our own online fitness classes with the goal of helping people that we know develop their fitness and self-manage injuries. Our classes started during Melbourne Australia's infamous COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 and with gyms and fitness centres closed all sessions had to be done from our home. When the lockdowns lifted we realised that there were advantages to running the classes from our own home rather than a gym. We focused on developing fitness classes that could be done with minimal equipment, at home.
During the classes Zuzana and I work together to provide real-time demonstration and coaching for a range of body weight exercises targeting movement control, muscular endurance and aerobic capacity. One of us performs all of the exercises, provides instructions on proper technique and explains the relevance of the exercise to fitness and injury-prevention. The other one monitors the participants and provides coaching and motivation. Our goal is to help people develop their fitness and knowledge so they can train independently and avoid having to see us in the future!
Behind the scenes of one of our CORE & FITNESS online home exercise classes, mess and all! We will develop a more sophisticated set up over time but for now we are focusing on having fun and providing high quality classes.
So, when could a physiotherapist-led fitness class be helpful to you? Ultimately, this is an individual choice. If you have tried an unsupervised online type of fitness class and experienced injuries you may find that you benefit from supervision and coaching of your exercise technique. If you are managing an injury and need both rehabilitation and fitness, a physiotherapy-led class may be for you.
Good luck with your health and fitness journey!
Try one of our physiotherapy-led home exercise 10-minute home workouts and let us know what you think in the comments - below or on YouTube.
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Luke is a physiotherapy educator and researcher from Monash University, Australia. He teaches into the first year of the Bachelor of Physiotherapy course in the Department of Physiotherapy and is the co-director of the Monash Musculoskeletal Research unit. Luke is the co-founder of Perraton.Physio and he runs online CORE & FITNESS classes with Zuzana twice a week. Connect with Luke @LukePerraton.