This is not a question you can quickly answer without knowing "what" is considered to be safe. What you think is safe, many times is NOT. There is a lot to cover and we don't want to leave out any pertinent information so this is going to be a LONG post!
When looking to join a group fitness class, so many of us simply look for something, or someone, that is fun and as cheap as possible. However, there is SO much more that you should be looking for in order to find the BEST program for YOU! Not only is it important in obtaining desired results, but you can also incur serious injuries when exercising improperly or in an improper environment. Therefore you want to find a safe environment AND a safe instructor!
ENSURE YOUR TRAINING FACILITY OR AREA IS SAFE
Yes, it's true that you can pretty much workout anywhere. But come on, that doesn't mean you actually should. Would you play football in a pool? Would you swim laps in the grass? So why in world would you participate in a group fitness program that wasn't in a proper fitness facility? Do you really think that a parking lot is a SAFE place to participate in a fitness class? If it was, than than gyms, fitness facilities, recreation centers, sports centers, studios, arenas, etc. would not exist in the first place. These facilities have invested time and money in providing specific elements to ensure that participants have a safe environment to prevent acute and chronic injuries. So what should you look for when determining if the area is safe for your desired training?
One of the first and foremost things you should consider is the type of floor or surface that you will be exercising on. This may vary slightly depending on the desired type of activity. However, there should be some type of surface that was professionally constructed specifically for your desired activity. For example, a sports track is designed for track runners and the surface is very different than a regular paved street. I mean have you ever seen a treadmill made of concrete? Most group fitness classes incorporate a variety of aerobic and anaerobic exercises and require something a little more supportive and versatile. Most facilities have had some type of wood floor professionally installed. However, just because it looks like wood or looks pretty doesn't mean it's a "GOOD" fitness floor. Simply laying a wood or laminate floor directly on top of concrete does not mean it has adequate support for exercise.
SUB-FLOOR OR SUPPORT
A "GOOD" floor to be used for ongoing exercise should have a "sub-floor". This means it has more than one layer of "flooring" to allow for shock absorption. Although you may feel like you can perform movements properly on concrete, tile, or even carpet, etc.; does not mean that you aren't causing unseen damage to your body's knees and other joints. However, you CAN easily test the floor's support by jumping up and down on it. You should feel light on your feet and there should be some give in the floor upon impact. In other words, you should feel the floor MOVE! Try this out for yourself and see if "your facility" has invested in an appropriate, safe, and quality floor. Your results will shock you!
In addition to shock absorption, your training surface should provide the appropriate traction for the desired activity. For example, a basket ball court although very appropriate for the game, does not have a slick enough surface needed for dance fitness. Your feet should be able to easily slide across the floor but not to the point that you slip and fall. Too much, or too little, traction and you can quickly do irreparable damage to your knees.
You should be able to move freely without obstruction by others, any present equipment, or the room itself. A safe amount of space is 25 square feet per person. Which means, you should have 2.5 feet of unobstructed space all around you. Many facilities over book their classes and this can be dangerous. Someone goes left instead of right and you have a collision!
ENSURE THE PERSON TRAINING YOU IS SAFE
The above are only a few major things that you should look for in a facility. However, your research should not end there. Even more important is the person guiding you in your exercise routine. You have to be VERY careful as there are A LOT of people providing unsafe services. There are way too many unqualified people out there conducting fitness classes, fitness camps, and personal training. You wouldn't let someone perform heart surgery on you just because they have recovered from their own would you? So can someone please tell me why so many people follow fitness advice from people just because they have had their own personal success? Just because someone refers to themselves as a Coach, Trainer, or an Instructor, does not mean they are actually qualified to do so. Who gave them that authority? What training have they received? Watching YOUTube is not Training!!! Would you trust that for anything else in your life? So why with your fitness and nutrition? (Two of the MOST important things in your life I would like to add!!!!)
Most of the popular formats that you see in gyms are trademarked brands and have some sort of accreditation or at least follow the guidelines of the Athletics & Fitness Association of America, the American Council on Exercise, or a combination of both. Most programs provide their own individualized training programs to "license" individuals to teach their program. However, this training is ONLY for the particular program they are licensed to teach. And instructors are only qualified to teach within their scope of practice per the brand. Additionally, becoming a "Coach" for a brand that provides "other" wellness services, does not make them qualified to teach fitness specifically. If you are attending a branded class, you should know what to look and ask for from a trainer or instructor, and you should NOT be scared or hesitate to do so! Licensed instructors will have some sort of proof and most can be verified through the format's website. In order to teach any other program, they will have to obtain a license from that organization. General non-branded group fitness and personal training does not require a "trademarked license" if they are not using a brand name. But ALL should have current First Aid and CPR certifications!
UNBRANDED FORMATS & TRAINERS
Although there is no license to teach "general group fitness" or "personal training" that is not tied to a brand name, these services should still ONLY be provided by qualified individuals. Creating a catchy "name" for a class, service, camp, or program does not mean the person is knowledgeable enough to lead individuals in proper fitness. Do they have a general certification through an accredited organization? Have they received on the job training from an individual that does? Don't be scared to ask the question, "How did you become a Coach/Trainer?" The answer will tell you if this person is going to provide you with a SAFE quality service! You can also tell during their presentation if they are knowledgeable and skilled enough to provide these services.
3 KEY PARTS OF A FITNESS SESSION
Qualified Coaches, Trainers, and Instructors are very well trained in the importance of "SAFETY FIRST!" You should be given a PROPER warm-up prior to any exercise. Your warm-up should be approximately 8 - 12 minutes (or more depending on local weather) and should NOT include high impact movements or static (holding or prolonged) stretching. In other words, if you are jumping within the first 5 minutes, this instructor is NOT following a proper warm-up!!! The point of a warm-up is to slowly increase your heart rate while providing EACH muscle group individual movements to warm-up the muscles and loosen the joints PRIOR to increasing intensity. MOST formats and qualified instructors will properly follow the "interval training" model. This means that they should be raising your heart rate up AND down in intervals which can be timed or un-timed. The mentality of raising a participants heart rate and keeping it up for 45 minutes is an "old school" method that has been proven to be less effective for weight loss and cardiovascular health. Your trainer should also provide you with a complete cool down. This includes movements to allow your heart rate to return to "rest" and properly stretch the muscles.
PRESENTATION OF MATERIAL
Although the above 3 key parts of a class are crucially important to safety, they do not replace the proper presentation of the class material. Your trainer or instructor should ensure that you are exhibiting proper form in performing each exercise, movement, or lift. If your instructor or trainer is not giving you feedback, it is probably because they are unaware themselves of how to perform these correctly.
WARNING!!!! - An instructor who seems to be all about having fun and hyping you up, exhibits unclean "flailing" movements, and is compensating by being high energy, fun, loud, or "crazy", more than likely is HIGHLY UNQUALIFIED to teach and is not giving you safe and proper instruction!
Side Note - Don't be fooled by a trainer's physical appearance! This is in no way a reflection of their ability to provide PROPER fitness instruction. Just because someone appears to be physically fit, doesn't mean they "know how" to "properly" teach what they have themselves achieved. And vice-versa!!! I leave you with this fun fact: Superbowl winning Coaches don't physically get out there and play the game nor could most of them if they tried; but they provide the PROPER training to achieve the desired results from their players. Same is true for any other sport... and same is true for any fitness professional!
ENSURE YOUR TRAINER & FACILITY ARE LEGIT
An instructor or facility that does not care enough to ensure that they are providing a SAFE environment or a QUALIFIED instructor, probably doesn't care enough to exercise proper liability and legal business practices. Is this person or place even licensed to conduct business transactions? Do they have a certificate or business license to perform these services? Are they insured? Are they operating on personal, business, city, or county property illegally? I highly doubt any activity you might be doing FOR FREE or "for donations" are legal as there are expenses involved in maintaining these ethical business practices. I also highly doubt any program you might be participating in at a public park is even legal, unless advertised by the governing organizations, as the parks generally don't allow this due to liability issues. However, properly licensed and insured individuals should have coverage to teach anywhere so you should never hesitate to ask. With that said, I know of no insurance company that would extend this coverage to parking lots or other inappropriate locations for exercise. Why does this matter to you? Well, if you get hurt you will wish you were in a facility that had proper liability insurance and in the presence of someone who knows how to respond. The instructor will wish you had too when they lose their home due to a law suit.
Ensure that you know what to look for in a fitness facility;
Ensure you have proper flooring;
Ensure that your "facility" has First Aid & emergency response protocols;
Ensure that you know what to look for in a fitness Coach, Trainer or Instructor;
Ensure that you are being led by a QUALIFIED Fitness Professional;
Ensure that your Coach, Trainer, or Instructor is certified in First Aid & CPR;
Ensure that you know what to look for in a fitness program, format, or regimen;
Avoid places that were NOT built or designed for fitness services that are just looking to make side revenue at your expense;
Avoid people and places that have unethical business practices or lack liability insurance;
Don't hesitate to challenge someone's credentials, training, title, experience, etc.;
Remember, like anything else in life, "you get what you pay for";
Don't get caught up with the "hype" of the fitness "party" or popularity contests - real work is not just about fun!;
Do your research;
Pay attention; and
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