Mark was nervous about when and where to start exercising. He knew he had to do something to improve his balance and feel stronger. However, he had not exercised regularly for years, and he hadn’t ever done balance exercises.
He was wondering whether to join an exercise class and asked me if classes were a good idea for someone like him. He knew that the right class could help him get fitter, but he was most concerned about his balance. Could he improve his balance in a group exercise class?
There are many good reasons to go to an exercise class. Having a class booked means you are much less likely to find other important jobs to do and put the exercise off till later (i.e. never!).
An experienced instructor will ensure that the exercises you do are safe and appropriate. The support of the other class members can help keep you going and make it more enjoyable.
Group classes cost less than one-to-one sessions. Therefore, you will be able to attend more often and make the class a regular part of your lifestyle.
So, there are many reasons why exercise classes can help you to maintain your fitness. There are, however, some specific things to think about if you are hoping to improve your balance. I discussed these with Mark, and they may also be helpful for you.
What type of class is it?
There are classes available for everyone – whatever your health and fitness goals may be. However, many classes won’t include a balance component (or, if they do, it might not be at the right level). Read the descriptions and talk to the instructor to understand who a class is for, and if it includes balance exercises.
You need to be doing standing exercises (albeit with support, see below) to improve your balance. In some classes, you may spend a lot of time on the floor (mat-based) or seated (chair-based). Neither of these will help you significantly with your balance.
Classes that work on strength or other elements of fitness may indirectly improve your ability to maintain your balance. For example, a class that helps you get stronger in your leg muscles could have some effect on your balance. However, to improve your balance significantly, you also need to be doing specific balance training exercises.
How many people are in the class?
If the class is too large, you might feel lost. It will be harder to see and hear the instructor. In a large class, it’s much harder for the instructor to see how well everyone is doing the exercises.
Of course, in any group setting, they can’t be watching any one person all the time. In a smaller group, however, they will be able to scan the participants quickly and identify anyone who needs specific help. They will be able to walk around the group, encourage you and correct your technique as needed.
Do they play music?
Loud music can be distracting, especially when you are trying to concentrate. Some halls or exercise studios don’t have very good acoustics, so even without background music it can be hard to hear exactly what an instructor is telling you to do.
For balance exercises, your instructor should be giving regular instructions. They will tell you how to adapt the exercise if you are feeling unsteady (make it a bit easier) or increase the challenge if need. You have to be able to hear all their instructions as clearly as possible.
Is the instructor right for you?
Your instructor should be experienced and qualified to help people improve their balance. They should have training in balance programming and in working with people with medical conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis.
When they lead the class, you will notice a good instructor is watching all the participants. They will give specific advice to individual class members and will move around the group to help correct technique. They will advise people to work at their own pace and provide positive encouragement.
Where do you do the balance exercises?
You do not want to find yourself standing in the middle of a large exercise studio trying to balance on one leg with nowhere to reach out to if you feel unsteady.
To perform balance exercises successfully in a class, you need to have something to hold onto if you feel unsteady. Chairs are most commonly used (a ‘ballet’ barre is good too). Being able to hold on gives you more confidence to do the exercises, so standing by a wall is not as helpful.
You may not need the support, but having it there gives you the confidence to challenge yourself a bit more in the exercises. In our classes and videos, we start each new balance exercise with full support (holding on), and then reduce the support gradually. That means going from holding on with two hands, to holding on with one hand to just touching the chair with your fingers, and then lifting your fingers off the chair but keeping them close. This way you test your balance gradually at each level and can easily hold on again if you need to.
Without any support, you could feel unsteady and nervous when performing balance exercises. You also risk taking a tumble if you can’t maintain your balance.
Do you feel welcome in the group?
Our class members tell us that the support and encouragement from other class members is vital to their success. They feel like they are all working together and know that everyone is trying their best. The sense of camaraderie keeps them going.
Look for a class with a positive, sociable atmosphere. If a class feels welcoming, with no pressure to compete, you will be comfortable (and keep coming back).
Should you be exercising in a group?
Regardless of the type of class, it will only work if you are stable enough to perform exercises independently. The instructor can’t be by your side the whole time in a class. So, if you need more support, you should consider a one-to-one session (either at a gym, a studio or your home).
How can you find out if a class is right for you?
- Read the class descriptions (look at leaflets, posters or on the website)
- Email or call in advance to ask questions
- Ask to watch the class (or peek through a door/window if that’s not possible!)
- Most classes will offer a free trial or allow you to pay for just one class to see if it’s right for you.
The right exercise class can be a great place to do exercises to improve your balance. An experienced instructor, appropriate exercises and a supportive group can all combine for successful balance training.
I would love to know if going to a class has helped you to improve your balance. What do you most enjoy about the class? Let me know in the comments below or send a message through the contact us page.
Do you want to improve your balance and feel stronger?
If you can't get to a class, or would like to exercise more often than a class allows, why don't you try our home exercise videos?
Our members use these to improve their balance, feel stronger and more confident. You can now enjoy doing these easy to follow exercises at home too.