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How to Find the Perfect Group Fitness Class or Studio — for You!

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

By Kristi Willbanks

I’m a group fitness gal: I love the energy of exercising with a group of like-minded people all moving toward similar goals. My love of group fitness began when I started taking step aerobics classes as a college freshman back in 1992. Such was my love that I auditioned to become one of the university’s Group Exercise Instructors. I’ve now taught a wide variety of group classes for more than 25 years: Step, Cycle, Bootcamp, Kickbox, Aqua, Jazzercise, and, more recently, Yoga and Pilates. Over the years I’ve taught in big box gyms, local community centers, church basements, fitness studios, exclusive country clubs, my home yoga studio, and corporate fitness centers.

In my many years of teaching, I’m often asked “What is the best exercise to do?” The answer, of course, is always: “It depends.” What are you most motivated to do? What feels good to you? If you think you need to do bootcamp or kickbox to burn calories but hate those classes, you won’t stick with it. Where are you motivated to go for your movement? Your friend may love a local yoga studio, but you won’t want to go very often if you feel uncomfortable there. What might work for someone else doesn’t mean it’s right for you.

I recently decided to visit all of the fitness and yoga studios in my city. Which type of class format would I find most enjoyable? What environment would make me feel most welcome and likely to return? What deal-breakers would leave me vowing to never return, no matter how much I enjoyed the workout? It was fun and enlightening to visit a wide range of group classes with a fresh set of eyes (and legs!).

What is most important, most fun, and most inviting for me will be different from the classes, teachers, and environments that are best for others. If you’re fortunate to have multiple options to choose from where you live, you can use the list I’ve compiled to help pick the studio, class, or gym that is the right “fit” for you.

What are you most motivated to do? What feels good to you? Where are you motivated to go for your movement?


Let’s be honest, price is one of the most important factors to consider when deciding which class or studio to join. Many boutique studios are quite expensive and won’t fit in the budget. There’s often, though not always, a premium to pay for a smaller studio environment with more experienced, highly trained teachers. If you like the feel of a smaller studio space but need a budget-friendly option, look for Jazzercise or Zumba studios (they often choose locations with lower rent to keep their costs down), or check out the classes offered at your local community center.


Convenience is likely just as important as price when looking for a place you’ll want to visit on a regular basis. If your favorite yoga studio is a 30-minute drive from your home or workplace, how motivated will you be to make that drive three to five times each week? If you commute to work and like to squeeze your exercise time in before or after work, an ideal location would be in between your home and worksite. If you want to fit your movement in after dropping kids off at school in the morning, look for a place near the school. The more convenient it is to get there, the higher the likelihood that you’ll easily fit your workout into your schedule.


Along with a convenient location, class times have to work with your schedule. If the Pilates studio right next to your kids’ school doesn’t offer a class that you can take after morning drop off, the convenient location no longer matters. If the gym you pass on your way home from work is super crowded in the evenings, you might not feel comfortable going there after work.

Class Format

What type of movement do you enjoy? Your friend may love leaving her hard-core, high-impact CrossFit class drenched in sweat, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right type of exercise for you and your body. Conversely, another friend might swear by how great she feels leaving her super relaxing, slow flow yoga class (I’m that friend!), but that same quiet movement may leave you feeling anxious. What you enjoy is what you’ll be motivated to do on a regular basis. If you love dance, join a Jazzercise or Zumba studio. If you like the idea of taking your stress and frustration out by hitting and kicking things, join a kickboxing class. If you like variety in your workouts, join a studio that offers a mix of classes or incorporates more than one type of exercise into each class, like Orangetheory Fitness.


Do you want to be a part of a family-like community? Or do you want a place to get in, get your movement on, and get out? Do you thrive on competition? Some studios provide real-time feedback on your workout from wearable technology or the equipment you’re using, like cycle studios and Row House, so you can compete with yourself to set a “PR” (personal record) or compete with others in the class. On the opposite end of the spectrum, many yoga classes encourage letting go of competition and listening to what your body needs in the moment, without judgment or expectations. Which environment appeals to you?


The dealbreaker I previously mentioned involved the staff at a kickboxing studio. Even though the kickboxing class I attended was my favorite workout from all of the studios I visited, I had a horrible experience with the staff. First, the staff at the front desk wasn’t welcoming and didn’t seem interested in helping me. But, the true dealbreaker was the salesperson telling me how many pounds I needed to lose, even though I completed a goal sheet when I arrived at the studio and didn’t include anything about weight loss. In fact, the salesperson didn’t even look at the goals I had written down.

If the staff is rude or judgmental on your first visit, I doubt they’ll treat you better on subsequent visits. That’s a hard pass for me. Another consideration regarding staff is the teachers’ training and experience. Another kickboxing class I tried was taught by someone who was clearly not trained as a Group Fitness Instructor. She provided little instruction on techniques, minimal motivation, and the little bit of guidance she did offer left us repeating the same kickboxing sequence for fifteen minutes at a time. It was one of the most boring, repetitive classes I’ve ever attended. That said, if a studio has a full schedule of classes taught by multiple instructors, I would try some of the other teachers’ classes before crossing the studio off my list.


Music might not always be a dealbreaker, but it can often significantly enhance or detract from the class experience. A few studios I visited played music that motivated me to challenge myself to keep pushing through a tough workout. I also had the opposite experience at a studio that played what I consider to be highly offensive music—and I’m not one to clutch my pearls at a few expletives. I hated the music so much that I left with no desire to return for another workout.

In summary, find a place that fits within your budget and is convenient to visit several times a week. Choose a place that offers classes you enjoy and make you feel comfortable and excited about going back!

Let me know what you try, and what you like and don’t like! You can reach me @kristiwillbanks on Instagram and at www.kristiwillbanks.com.


Kristi Willbanks is the founder of Kristi Willbanks Wellness. She is a 200-hour Registered Yoga Teacher, certified Health Coach, and certified Group Exercise Instructor. She has over 25 years of experience teaching group fitness, and has been teaching yoga for the past ten years. She has a Master’s degree in Psychology, and has worked in the corporate world in Human Resources, Organizational Development & Training, and Employee Wellness. She is mom to two teenagers and two rescue pups, is an avid reader, and lives near Dallas, Texas.