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Group Resistance Training: Guidelines and Safety Suggestions

By Leigh Crews

Group Resistance Training:
Guidelines and Safety Suggestions
Editor’s note: This article is the fifth of a five-part series on guidelines and safety suggestions for various group fitness modalities. The genesis for these articles is you, the IDEA member. In our most recent readership survey, 100 percent of respondents said they wanted to see more space in IDEA publications devoted to injury prevention. In addition to the five injury prevention articles appearing in IDEA Fitness Edge this year, the entire June 2000 issue of IDEA Health & Fitness Source was devoted to this topic.


esistance training classes are some of the most technically demanding group exercise classes taught by fitness professionals. We now have benefit

of a bigger-than-ever assortment of equipment and formats to aid in muscle strengthening in a group setting. With these

increased opportunities and programming options come greater responsibilities. Before improving our participants’ fitness levels, we must first do no harm.


The Health & Fitness Source

When we borrow equipment and exercises from personal training for group purposes, it is especially important that we have a broad and deep knowledge base. We must also be prepared to change teaching habits formed in the group setting–for example, adhering to the musical beat or allowing less than perfect form–and offer more individualized attention. Most fitness professionals are familiar with the many benefits and risks of resistance training for young and old alike. However, when it comes to teaching resistance training in group exercise classes, research has little to say about requirements, results or safety considerations. Until that changes, we must rely on anecdotal evidence and observations by today’s experts to develop guidelines for safe and effective group resistance training protocols. Fortunately, several industry leaders have agreed to share their insights on avoiding injury while increasing muscular endurance and strength. Common Injuries and Causes


he international panel of fitness leaders we polled listed shoulders, knees and ankles as the primary injury sites for group fitness participants. All the experts pointed to poor technique, overtraining and inappropriate exercise progression as the primary causes of injuries at those sites. Helen Vanderburg, owner of Heaven’s Fitness Club in Calgary, Alberta, and the 1996 IDEA Fitness Director of the Year, attributes injuries to “too much weight, too many repetitions and no rest.” Mark Cibrario, owner of The Trainer’s Club in Northbrook, Illinois, observes that “as an industry, we have become far too concerned with trying to build good-looking muscles without first creating a solid infrastructure.” Stephanie Morris of Seaside, Florida, who cocreated the Resist-A-Ball programs, says physical stress is also caused by biomechanical problems, such as using too narrow a grip on “closed-grip” equipment (a barbell, for instance). Lack of core strength and body awareness also affects alignment and execution. Those interviewed concur that body core and stabilizing structures need to be sound before participants attempt heavy loads or repetitions. “A weak and unstable core sets up a poor working foundation [on which to build strength],” says Cibrario. “Injuries can occur due to the loss of ideal posture when performing an exercise. If an exerciser has poor posture to start with, it only compounds the potential for injury.” An example of an exercise that requires postural integrity during execution is the squat. Participants tend to lower the body beyond 90 degrees of flexion, lean the upper body forward and lift the heels off the floor to increase range of motion. Exercisers should be able to perform a squat with the hips moving

back (as if sitting in a chair) and the body weight maintained directly over the heels or the mid-parts of the feet. If participants cannot maintain spinal alignment, they need to decrease the range of motion by lowering the body less than 90 degrees. Simply put, range of motion is determined by posture, not by prime mover–in this case, lowerbody–strength. Another important factor that increases the risk of injury is speed of movement. Before focusing on highrepetition sets or speed, instructors should ensure that participants have mastered the required technique. According to Mike Morris, RTS, cocreator of the Resist-A-Ball program, “Speed of movement is one of the last progressions of training.” This is important, because resistance classes no longer focus on simple, uncomplicated exercises; the emphasis now is on complex, compound movement patterns. The trend is toward using integrated movement patterns that are more functional–more attuned to the activities of daily life. Therefore, controlling speed is increasingly important to ensure participants focus on retaining good form.

Freestyle and Choreographed Strength Classes


wo styles of resistance training dominate exercise classes today: freestyle and choreographed. Freestyle resistance train ing borrows heavily from personal training with its emphasis on individualized, self-paced, slow, controlled movements unrelated to music. Choreographed resistance training, on the other hand, has its origins in cardio group exercise, which stresses

simultaneous, continuous movement set to music. “We are seeing overuse injuries [resulting from] multiple repetitions by the same muscle groups in choreographed classes,” says Fred Hoffman, MEd, Reebok master trainer and team manager for Reebok University in France. “Instructors, especially, are getting injured. Now they are not putting loads on their bars because they are teaching so many classes a week that they simply can’t lift the weight.” According to the 2000 IDEA Fitness Programs & Equipment Survey, published in the October 2000 issue of IDEA Fitness Manager, of the health clubs responding, 60 percent offer group strength training with background music, 32 percent offer group strength training choreographed to music, and 35 percent offer group strength training without music.

Instruction Technique


Music Use


ur experts were unanimous in their music speed recommendations: Use only what you can control. If working to a beat, choose music in the range of 110 to 126 beats per minute. Using only background music is another option. Vanderburg likes to train with music that doesn’t have a specific beat, “something motivational like New Age-type music.” Robert Sherman, a Reebok master trainer and owner of F.I.T. Inc. in Washington, DC, recommends greater use of half-time exercise execution to accommodate a faster, more motivating music tempo. Stephanie Morris goes further and favors using no music when teaching novice or introductory-type classes, and then progressing to using background or half-time music.

egardless of the approach– freestyle or choreographed– the success and safety of a resistance training class depends on how well the instructor sets up the movements, provides motivation and alignment cues, and helps each participant feel challenged without going beyond his or her ability level. Stephanie Morris takes an aggressive approach: “If I am seeing poor technique from my group, I assume responsibility. I need to analyze my cues, reassess the level of difficulty or interrupt the class and review.” She believes group resistance training classes should remain small and contain no more than 15 people. She also encourages instructors to “correct form and spot from the floor, not the stage.” “Instructors should always give a perfect visual example for each exercise before having participants perform it,” advises Cibrario. “Next they should have an arsenal of different cues to get their points across regarding technique.” Having a mental toolbox of technical cues is a strategy shared by many experienced instructors. For example, “Hip hinge,” “Fold forward from the hips” and “Bend from the hip joint, keeping the back neutral, the abdominals contracted and the chest lifting up and out” are all cues for the same move. Sherman adds: “Always give visual and verbal cues. Participants need to see an exercise, then feel it.” Above all, the key to avoiding injury is to teach quality of movement. Movement quality involves:


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Leigh Crews

Leigh Crews is the owner of Think-GPS™ Adventure Training and Dynalife, Inc. She is a licensed corporate WellCoach, a Yoga Alliance-registered yoga teacher, and a master trainer for Fitness Anywhere®, LeMond Academy and Gliding™. Leigh is also a spokesperson for ACE and ACSM, and is the group fitness director for Rome Athletic Club. An international presenter for several years, Leigh has starred in more than 10 videos and DVDs, including Reebok Final Cuts and The Flow Yoga series.
Certifications: ACE, ACSM, AFAA and Cooper Institute
Education provider for: ACE and AFAA

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