How to burn the most calories in group fitness classes

While it's true getting to the gym and into that group fitness class may the hardest part of a workout, you're not doing yourself any favors if you zone out and mail it in from the back of the room. Here are smart strategies that boost your motivation and, more importantly, your calorie burn, helping you make the most of every minute.

Snag a spot by someone inspiring
There's one in every class: For example, the Spin queen who's constantly cranking up her resistance or the guy in the strength class who always grabs extra-heavy dumbbells. Get on the bike or set up next to those people. Exercising with someone you perceive as more of a jock than you can push you to work out harder and longer, according to research from Kansas State University. "When we see someone else pushing themselves, it gives us an implicit goal to shoot for," says Brandon Irwin, Ph.D., assistant professor of kinesiology and the study's author.

Mix it up
Changing routines allows you to hit different muscles and challenge yourself in different ways. "People who love Spinning will benefit from strength-building classes and boot-camp cardio lovers will be surprised at how difficult it is to hold a tiptoe squat during a barre class," says Mandy Yuille, group fitness instructor at Lincoln Park Athletic Club. Variety also keeps you interested — and burning. "Getting too comfortable with a workout is usually a sign it's time to change things up," she says.

Find the beat
There's a reason your instructor works so hard crafting workout playlists: People tend to increase or decrease effort and speed to match the tempo of the music, according to research from Liverpool John Moores University. If, during solo workouts, you find yourself picking up the pace or going harder during certain songs, find instructors whose musical tastes match yours, says Yuille.

Sit front and center
"Don't tuck yourself in back where you aren't in the spotlight," says Yuille. "Front row students go in with the expectation that they are going to do every exercise and every rep and that energy is contagious."

Connect with your instructor
All instructors have different strengths and styles so find one who speaks to you. "Maybe you're inspired by an instructor who uses their sense of humor to create a fun atmosphere or you want someone who will adjust your form to perfection," says Yuille. "Find the right match and they will get you to come back each week and make you want to keep pushing when the going gets tough."

Snack smarter
Eating low-glycemic carbohydrates such as whole grains or fruit with low-fat yogurt can help you burn 55 percent more fat during exercise than eating high-glycemic carbs like white toast, according to a study in the Journal of Nutrition. Unlike high GI foods, which slow metabolism and suppress your ability to break down fat, low GI snacks don't trigger a spike in insulin, so you burn more fat as fuel.

Get competitive
More gyms are starting to encourage friendly competition by installing MyZone monitors, which display live stats for those wearing MyZone heart rate monitors and who link up through the app. The monitors, which you’ll soon find in all Chicago Athletic Clubs, let you see how your effort stacks up against classmates. "This is great for people who know they will push harder and further just to see their name on the leader board," says Yuille.

Next time your instructor suggests ways to push yourself to your max effort, accept the challenge. Just five 30-second bouts of high-intensity exercise — 2 1/2 minutes total — interspersed throughout a longer, moderate-intensity workout can help you burn an extra 200 calories a day thanks to the afterburn effect, shows research from Colorado State University.

Become a regular
"A huge body of research has shown that the relationships we form in group fitness classes can be incredibly motivating," says Irwin. "You find people you jibe with, you can set goals together and form somewhat of a team or group identity that holds you accountable, makes exercising more enjoyable and gets you coming back.

Kelly Rowe for Chicago Athletic Clubs

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