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An analysis of Body Pump! Good or bad?

Body Pump is a popular group fitness class that strengthens the whole body. This 45/60 minute workout challenges the muscles with the likes of squats, presses, lifts and curls. Taught to music and with new routines introduced every three months to challenge and motivate the individual, pump has managed to pack classes across the UK.

Body Pump, the good points!

Body Pump is a motivator for the unmotivated. For those of you who are bored in the gym working out and can't afford a personal trainer, this is the program for you. Saying that, it's not just for the unmotivated. I've seen many a keen 'pump bunny' at the front singing along to every beat of the music to then later download the songs they've just been listening too. Usually an hour class, these classes tend to be packed full of participants eager to achieve results, enlarge their muscles (and egos) or for those who don't want to be there but know they have to go for the goodness of their health, fitness and expanding waistlines (due to the love of cake).

Pump is a set program that works the whole body and has given many people fantastic results - toned and honed frames. You're driven through each track targeting different muscle groups by a motivational and enthusiastic instructor leading and guiding you. The program is structured in such a way that it works large muscle groups i.e. back, chest and thighs first, followed by the smaller ones i.e. arms and shoulders. To finish the session, attention focuses on belly muscles then to 'add icing to the cake' stretches to loosen off those pumped muscles. The volume of participants add a touch of competition to the competitive nature of some of us and even pushes the ego of others as to how much one can lift. The instructor of course is trained to do the whole class with you so you don't feel that you're alone and in addition uses motivational cues to inspire, lead and guide you to the end.

Body Pump, the bad points!

Body Pump can give a great workout and claims to be a class for everyone. The question is should everyone be doing pump? First of all if we consider the size of a class in relation to one instructor teaching. Can one person observe and correct 20 individuals during a track? The simple answer is no. During the few classes I have taken part in, there are many levels of fitness capabilities from the pregnant lady, the athlete, to the complete beginner. I believe there should be either a separate class for the beginners, smaller classes or 'compulsory' introductory classes before the start of a class so that more individual tuition can occur to improve technique. Even when instructed beforehand to do alternative moves to avoid further injuries, some people just don't listen. The auto pilot button switches on and they get lost in the moment to the detriment of themselves.

I personally find when I have participated in these classes, the rapid pace of single squats uncomfortable for the lower back if I put additional weight on 'as recommended' by the instructor. Slower, controlled movements work for me and trust me from my fitness knowledge, experience and body awareness I have tried positioning my feet wider, turned the feet out more to enhance a more solid base of support, tried to be more upright, aim to use my core to control and support my back, but still I have to fall out of beat with the instructor in order for it to work personally for me. In some classes, the instructor has made remarks to those male individuals for not lifting heavy enough, placing a sense of pressure to lift heavier unbeknown what injury or condition lies beneath.

There are pump instructors who are better than others as I'm sure if you are a regular will understand what I'm saying here. The instruction they give, the pre-cuing into the next move is vital to avoid jerky, uncontrolled moves. Some classes that I've gone to, the choreography has not been rehearsed and as a result the movements are more erratic, trying to keep up with the instructor. I see some people pressing the bar above the head when everybody else is rowing the bar down towards the knees. This can cause confusion within a group environment and lead to an unsynchronised, ineffective workout.

One issue I've always had is the grip of the bar. Some may find the grip a little challenging due to the thickness of the bar. It can help to strengthen up the wrists but I ask myself, if using a long flat bar, how does this work with a large proportion of the population who are office bound. Many office workers can have rounded postures (kyphosis) due to the slumped nature of their habitual working patterns. How can they then be asked to position their hands on a bar which forces their shoulders not only to open in their non habitual pattern but also straining into their wrists? For those of you who are not familiar with types of weight bars, there is a bar known as an 'EZ bar,' these kind of bars are either shaped like an 'E' or 'Z' hence the term. These designs can work better for the majority of the population, as it does not force the body into an unnatural position. Pump may be great for the enthusiastic fitness goer but caution should be taken for the first timer who is now faced with squatting for around 5 minutes.. From an office job, sitting most of the day and lifting nothing heavier than a laptop, pump can be a step to far, too soon, for some. If this is the first class you venture into with the additional pressure of lifting the same weight as others around you, you may be needing more than time off work to recover..

Be in the know!

Body Pump instructors need to have a gym qualification of some form before doing the pump qualification. This is a pre-requisite, a general understanding of how to lift weights safely and effectively. This may be where the similarities stop for many instructors. What will set an awesome instructor form an 'ok' instructor is obviously experience but also continued learning of how the body functions. Some trainers may only teach pump, others are trained in many disciplines giving them a wider understanding of body mechanics. For example in the article 'Pilates versus weight training' I mentioned how a weakness in one side of the body can result in different movement patterns on one side in comparison to the other therefore leading to an imbalance of the body. If you have a pump instructor who is clued up in postural awareness i.e. neutral spine and pelvis, engagement of Transversus Abdominis Muscle (belly muscle), shoulder stabilisation to name a few then this will add a different dimension to your pump experience.

An Evaluation!

Through my own research, analysis and of course participation I can evaluate that Body Pump should be approached with an understanding that it uses weights and this in itself can be beneficial but also potentially very damaging. Before attempting a pump class, get a chance to speak to someone, ideally the class instructor of course who should know what they are talking about. Ask them to go over the moves with you. All too often the moves within a classroom setting can be executed wrongly and even for the more experienced, after two thirds into a track, fatigue sets in and then creeps in bad form. A good instructor should guide you through the class recommending adding weight for bigger muscle groups and fewer weights for smaller muscles. If for example you are performing an arm curl and you start to rock forwards and backwards, reduce the weight, as this is an indicator that you're lifting too heavy and other parts of the body are doing the work rather than the proposed muscle in question. If working safely and effectively pump can give a fantastic workout. I do find however that the stretching at the end of the class tends to be quite rushed and not long enough just in order to keep to the synchronicity of the music. I would recommend doing additional stretching after the session as this will further alleviate muscular fatigue. If it's your first time, keep it light. Keeping light weights help you to perfect form and also minimises injury. The problem with using heavy weights with no body alignment awareness is that an injury can occur and last for weeks or perhaps months, knocking your fitness regime back.

Always remember, it's called training for a reason. TRAIN DON'T STRAIN and do not go for the 'no pain, no gain' gamble.

Happy Pumping!

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