Group Fitness

By Jack Newcombe

December 23, 2013 5 min read

Cher. Seal. Madonna. Prince. Sting. Elvis. Adele.

Mononymous entertainers permeate pop culture and have done so for decades. But there is a new one-named craze in town. In fact, there are a few.

Pilates. Barre. Yoga. Spin. CrossFit.

Even combining crazes does not produce the need for a second word: YAS (yoga and spinning); Spinoga (spinning and yoga); Yogalates (yoga and pilates).

Group fitness has taken the U.S. by storm -- just like many one-named singers have in the past.

All of these exercise trends are rooted in traditions. Relative newcomer, CrossFit promotes "the Caveman or Paleolithic model for nutrition." Yoga has most likely been around since the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. And the very basic movements of running, squatting and pushing your body up from a ground position are entwined in the fabric of human evolution.

Despite being around for a while, the popularity of group fitness continues to gain steam. As technology allows us to be more connected, we are becoming disconnected from human interaction. Group fitness fills that void.

Furthermore, people long to feel as though they are part of a group. Sixty years ago that group was the local church. People would go to church, see people they knew and have a shared experience. That's not happening as much anymore.

According to the Washington Post, the number of people who identify themselves with no religious affiliation is growing. "In the 1950s, this [group] was about 2 percent of the population. In the 1970s, it was about 7 percent. Today, it is close to 20 percent." And it is not just the big cities that are causing the atheism of America.

"These gains can be found in all regions of the country, including the South. The trend is particularly pronounced among whites, among the young and among men."

Why more people are becoming less religious is irrelevant for the purposes of this story. However, what is relevant is that people used to have a community and now they do not (or it has lessened). Moreover, people are finding that community in spin classes, yoga studios and group fitness classes.

There are a lot of different ways to get involved.

Most gyms offer a variety of fitness classes as part of one's membership. Luxury gym Equinox has extensive, proprietary classes like Stacked (two circuits that contain six different exercises) and Shockwave (rowing machine combined with other exercises).

Yoga studios can be found on every street corner from Venice Beach to Louisville, Ky., to SoHo in Manhattan. The company Yogaworks has 28 locations, the majority of which are in Southern California. Yoga can be a spiritual experience with Sanskrit, incense and chanting or it can be more similar to a nightclub with fogged windows and classic Tupac Shakur blasting through the room -- such as the classes found in Steve Ross's class at Maha Yoga in Brentwood, Calif.

Barre method has taken off more recently. This exercise is based on the warm-up and drills that ballerinas and other dancers do in their training. It is popular because it is low impact and works non-traditional parts of the body.

CrossFit is the mixed martial arts of group fitness: meteoric rise in popularity with many critics. Those who love CrossFit swear by it. They love the competition and high intensity of the workout. The CrossFit naysayers say that it might be a good way to get injured. Most notable of the injured CrossFiters was Makimba Mimms. Injured in 2005, Mimms sued CrossFit and was awarded $300,000 in damages.

Soul Cycle has reinvented spinning. Class participants pay about $35 per class for 45 minutes on a stationary bike. Soul Cycle has figured out a way to tap into that need to be part of something bigger than one's self. Soul Cycle encourages their riders to, "Take your journey. Change your body. Find your soul." Of all the group fitness crazes, this sounds the most similar to a religion and that is why people love it.

Even before Elvis and way before spin, there was Jesus, Muhammad, Moses, Buddha and Krishna. Being known by one-name appears to be a theme in our society, whether you are a religious prophet, a singer-songwriter or a fitness trend. Most likely this is coincidental. Most likely. What is not coincidental is the fact that people yearn to belong to a group and enjoy a shared experience with other people. This can take place at a Prince concert, a spin class or a mosque. That's about where the similarities between those three things end.

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