Why Gyms Are Offering Strength Training in a Group Setting
By Andy Berg
Free weight areas in most gyms have historically been loner zones. Beyond the occasional request for a spotter or instruction being delivered during a private coaching session, the primary soundtrack at the lifting platform and dumbbell station has been the clank of iron and the occasional grunt. However, with the advent of CrossFit and other such functional training regimens, strength training is suddenly in the spotlight, and an increasing number of people are learning to use free weights the right way within the context of a group exercise setting.
Breaking it down
The courses Anderson teaches usually max out at 10 students per class. On occasion, there may be 16 students but four instructors present. The classes start by breaking down the fundamental weightlifting movements into basic positions, and the students will start this process without weights, usually using a PVC pipe or training bar. Most of the classes span a variety of ages and skill levels, but the methodology itself seems to pay dividends.
"It's amazing what happens when you break the complex movements into manageable pieces and you feed it to them one bite at a time," says Anderson.
"We had an athlete who had never touched a barbell in his life and by the end of the weekend, he was looking really good. He was moving proficiently."
The classes typically follow a progression so that by the second day, students are using a regular Olympic bar without a load, and halfway through the second day, they're trying out the movements with weights. "You still need a manageable ratio of coaches to students, of course," Anderson says, "but it's a very proficient way of teaching from the power positions to the full snatch, in the sense that we generally will teach power cleans, power snatches, push jerks first. Then as they progress and have the ability to do weightlifting from the power positions, we'll work into full cleans, full snatches, if the mobility and the restrictions that each student has will allow it."
Anderson says participants learn even more in a group setting when they're asked to demonstrate a movement for other students. "Having a class of many different levels reinforces the learning curve," he says. "You find that as the environment opens up and people loosen up, they're giving each other pointers and helping each other out. It just reinforces the student learning the movement."
Beyond the business of learning weightlifting skills, Takano says that the group training environment can instill an overall sense of commitment in the athletes. "The aspect of culture is an important one," he says. "There has to be a certain mindset that athletes have, and if they have not been athletes before, a lot of newcomers don't have that mindset. They don't know how to prioritize things in their life so they can have that lifestyle of an athlete. They're going to learn lifestyle most effectively from other athletes rather than me as the coach telling them how they should live their lives."
It's no secret that a large majority of gym memberships go unused, primarily due to lack of motivation. Regardless of how one feels about CrossFit's philosophy, it's hard to argue that its adherents, as well as the gyms that offer the programming, benefit from the motivation and support inherent in a group setting. "I think they take an identity away from CrossFit. They feel like they belong to a group," Takano says. "Humans are social, and they're tribal, and because of that, if they find a group that they feel they belong to, they're more apt to continue on a regular basis. If somebody has a gym membership, they can show up any time, but being part of group is probably going to make them more diligent about showing up."
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