Have you noticed Orangetheory Fitness™, SoulCycle, Barry’s Bootcamp, Reformed Pilates, or CycleBar® studios where you live? These brands and dozens more are popping up everywhere. What are they?

They are group exercise gyms that pump fast beats while you work-out to the music and away from the distraction of your cell phone.

Sometimes the workouts are even in the dark. Group exercise classes are the hottest trend in socialization and exercise, and it is one of the best investments you can make for your health.

So this week, when a coworker or a friend suggests meeting for happy hour, find your local exercise class instead, sweat it out together, and toast over a post-workout protein shake – you won’t be upset you skipped the half-off beers and fried appetizers. 

Here are some exercise and nutrition tips so you and your happy hour crew will have the best workout experience.

Before you go

Check to see if the studio offers a free intro class for first-timers. Call ahead and ask what to wear and what to bring. Sign up for ClassPass or check Groupon for a deal on a class you have never taken before. Reserve your spot by registering online.

Choose a class that is best for you and your friends: weights, running, spinning, Pilates – there's something for everyone.

Class times, prices per class, and locations will vary but remind yourself you would have spent this time and money at a happy hour instead.

Pro nutrition tip: Don’t eat too much or too little before the class. You will need quick energy for lifting weights or sprint intervals, but also the endurance to last the entire class. Eating and supplementing correctly throughout the day, including planning the timing of your meals, total macro- and micronutrients, and portion sizes that work for you is the best way to get the most out of your exercise.

Make a diet plan that supports your energy level, focus, and mental clarity throughout a class, and don’t forget to initiate muscle building through recovery.

Consider taking a Thorne supplement pre-workout. 

At class

Don’t be intimidated or anxious anticipating your first class; show up early, introduce yourself, and tell the instructor you are new. Expect to sweat. Bring a water bottle and a towel, although some studios provide both. Classes usually last 45-60 minutes, and the experienced instructors will choreograph your workout (moves, intensity, muscle groups) to the rhythm of the music.

The instructor will progress you through a structured workout, starting with a warmup and then hitting multiple muscle groups. The instructor will know when you need motivation, when to ramp up the intensity, and when to cool down. Each instructor has his or her style and song choice, so don’t judge a gym by one instructor.

Most workouts will elevate your heart rate to a level that will have you burning calories long after you leave.

Typically, these classes will log your workout stats – things like calories, heart rate, watts, miles, etc. – so you can track your progress. If not, wear a heart-rate monitor for a more accurate record of your calorie burn and workload.

Depending on your body weight and effort level, a yoga or Pilates class could burn 200-plus calories each session, while a spinning class or running with weights can burn upward of 500-plus calories. Therefore, a group exercise class could give you a 700-plus calorie swing for the day: burning more than 500 calories at class and skipping more than 150 calories in beers, nachos, and wings at happy hour.

Pro nutrition tip: Arrive hydrated and drink regularly throughout the class. While water is sufficient for a lower intensity or shorter duration class, consider other options in your bottle for the tougher sessions. 

After Class

Wipe down the equipment you used and regroup with your friends. Don’t skip the cooldown, stretching, or post-workout nutrition – your muscles need all three to properly recover. If your workout was moderately intense or harder, or lasted 30 minutes or longer, then refuel with a protein source within 30-60 minutes after class.

Pro nutrition tip: If you skip the $10 studio protein shake or find it might be too many calories, then refuel with a Thorne supplement or a blend using your own recipe. 

Review your sweat session. Some studios will send your metrics from the session; but if not, upload yours to a heart rate monitor. Compare your results with your friends and use this data as a gauge for next time – can you do the same amount of work or more maintaining the same or lower heart rate?

Could you have benefited from a different nutrition strategy before or during your workout? Did you recover and can you do it again tomorrow? Challenge yourself and your friends to another happy hour in the gym.