Back to Fitness: The Benefits of Group Exercise

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By John Andersen

Melissa Miller (Photo: Dominique Attaway)
Melissa Miller (Photo: Dominique Attaway)

This month, I spent some time with Melissa Miller, Crozet’s personal trainer extraordinaire who owns M2 Personal Training and puts on the popular Boot Camp for REAL People exercise class at Crozet Park. I wanted to contrast a group exercise class like Boot Camp with exercise like running or cycling that is often solitary.

“I didn’t really have the opportunity to play sports growing up,” Miller explained. “When I was 13, I asked my mom if I could join a gym because I wanted to take control over my weight, feel better, and get in physical shape to play on a basketball team. She agreed and we went regularly, two or three times a week. I exercised at that gym through high school and when I was home from college. Over the years, I saw a physical and mental transformation due to my hard work in the gym. Not only did I get stronger and in better shape, but my body composition changed and, most importantly, my confidence and mood improved. Exercising was a way I could deal with my stress. I also formed a strong relationship with my gym family, which is why I encourage a positive community environment in my classes.

“I decided to take a Sports Medicine class in high school. This led to an exercise science degree at Ohio University. I strongly believe that regular exercise is a way to prevent many of the chronic and acute diseases that lead to death.

I worked at a medical fitness facility in Charlottesville for two years, then was at the Boar’s Head Sports Club for seven years and then started M2 Personal Training eight years ago. Boot Camp for REAL People is an outdoor exercise class for all ages and abilities. It is a safe and encouraging environment for participants to get a full body workout including cardiovascular exercise, strength training, core work, flexibility, and have fun doing it. We use agility ladders, cones, sand bells, bands, monkey bars, picnic benches, and of course your own bodyweight.

“I called it Boot Camp for REAL People because I wanted to create a class that felt like you had the attention of a personal trainer but in a group setting. Most boot camp-style classes are known for being very challenging, where an instructor is yelling at you! My style of motivation and exercise programming is very different. I consider myself a very relatable personal trainer and person. I cater my class to the REAL people we are. REAL people are moms, dads, kids, grandparents, stay-at-home parents, traveling business executives, teens, etc. REAL people have aches and pains that an experienced and knowledgeable personal trainer can provide a safe and effective workout for without causing further injury.

“Boot Camp class aims to get your heart rate up and fatigue your muscles. I try to mix it up but some examples are circuits, intervals, partner workouts, team workouts, no equipment, burpees, etc. I always say the hardest part is getting to class. Once you are there, the energy of the class and instructor take it from there. We do a lot of body weight exercises; however, I always keep a basket of resistance bands if someone needs an alternative exercise. I don’t want people to stop their exercise habit because they broke their arm or have other issues going on. We can work around it, in a safe manner.

“Bonds absolutely form between the participants. Actually, I wouldn’t call it just a bond; it is more like they are your boot camp family. For the regular crew, we all watch out for one another in and out of class. When someone is going through a rough patch and can’t get up to make it to class, we all encourage via email and Facebook. I make a personal investment in each person who works with me. I encourage participants to get acquainted and there is ‘friendly neighbor’ component.

“However, when you come to class, everyone is in the same playing field. No matter age, sex, gender, race, level of fitness, where you live, if you work or not, have kids or not, etc. One of the things that people say when they come is, first, they can’t believe how many people are in the class at 5:50 a.m., and second, they can’t believe the wide variety of people in the class. They range in age from the late 20s to late 60s. People who are motivated to see changes and who like being outside are regulars.

“The benefits of a group exercise program are accountability, social interaction, and the extra challenge. I find that even runners like my class because it encourages them to do something other than running that they are not motivated to do. Also, they like the group camaraderie and challenges. If you are exercising by yourself, you can easily talk yourself out of doing it. Having the instructor walking around to motivate, correct form, and challenge participants is crucial to the group class. You don’t have that by yourself.”

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