This article is front of mind for me right now as I am currently immobile with two seperate foot injuries, one on each side. As you can imagine as someone who does not stop moving, it has given me a lot of time to think. This topic is a big beast and something I am extremely passionate about. The big question is, are a majority of injuries occurring in group exercise classrooms preventable?
To start off with I dived into some statistics surrounding injury rates in a group exercise setting. Finding any meaningful statistics around these parameters is extremely challenging and doesn’t give us any real detail. The way different fitness centres report injuries is the biggest underlying cause of the anomaly in statistical evidence. Anecdotally however, talking to personal trainers and allied health professionals all around the world, there is an underlying impression that there is a moderate to high incidence of injury when coupled with group exercise. So what is really happening?
Through my research however, I did discover that participants who engage in high intensity training are at highest risk of sustaining an injury particularly in group exercise. “These workouts are marketed as ‘one size fits all.’ However, many athletes, especially amateurs, do not have the flexibility, mobility, core strength and muscles to perform these exercises,” said Joseph Ippolito, a physician in the Department of Orthopaedics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.” In a study conducted by, Injury Epidemiology, participants in group exercise were likely to get injured by performing “overexertion/ strenuous/unnatural movements” or “awkward landing or twist during exercise“. It was commonly proven throughout the research that the two most common ‘injury causing’ exercises were squats and burpees.
What’s really happening here is a disconnect between load and intensity and how well people are capable of performing the required movements. Many group exercise classes cater for the fittest people in the room, usually a select 5-10 people (I am being generous here) and everyone else is told to either catch up and push, or ‘take it at their pace’ but left feeling isolated and singled out if they rest or take it slower. Movements performed at high load and/or intensity don’t discriminate between beginner and advanced when injuries occur; they happen to anyone. Injuries cost gyms and group exercise studios more money than they report due to membership holds or even cancellations. We must think of new strategies and innovations to create a safer space for all participants engaging in group exercise.
One strategy that I think many facilities, particularly group class facilities, completely overlook is a detailed induction of new members. Have your qualified senior trainers/coaches do an in depth movement screen with your members. Ask them about their goals, their pain, their capabilities and then suggest an appropriate amount of classes from there as well as intensity level within those classes. Educate members to avoid certain exercises, and/or give them exercises then and there to replicate in class rather than giving people a ‘regression’ or singling them out.
This strategy is not only great in ensuring that members risk of injury during a class will reduce but will aid your overall member retention. You have now made that member feel safe, heard and valued! You took the time to listen to their needs and address the best course of action. There is a reason it works for 1:1 coaches and I believe it needs to be employed across the group exercise sector.
Secondly develop an injury management strategy to follow for your facility because we know not all injuries are preventable and they will still occur. I am not referring to the first aid the member receives from staff if they injure themselves during a class; I am talking about the follow up. Give them an experience to show you care and want to help. My suggestions would be; send them a follow up text or email with some links to allied health professionals who the facility recommends. Schedule a phone call with the member to assess their injury to ascertain if they can still participate in classes with modification. Talk to the member about their struggles and the best approach for them to re-join classes. Then continue to schedule email or text check-ins with that member depending on the length of their injury.
People want to be heard and want to feel valued in any business. Injuries undermine those feelings as they can be very isolating and often have large emotional and psychological baggage. By showing your members that you care and by giving them a path to return this will create a much more positive experience. It will also dramatically increase their chances of becoming a long term member. They may even become a promoter to your business because they are impressed by the level of care they received.
For more information on how to reduce injury rates in your facility please have a read through our other articles or get in touch. We can help you facility grow with our instructor led education.
Written by Vanessa Leone.