The concept of group exercise classes has evolved considerably since the days of classic aerobics classes. First introduced in 1968 by Dr. Kenneth Cooper, aerobics was initially an exercise routine meant to hit all elements of fitness. Instead of just being a cardiovascular workout, just a flexibility booster, or just an exercise for muscular strength, Cooper's idea of aerobic combined cardiovascular exercise, stretching, and strength training, and exercises to hit all three. It was only later that aerobics were paired with colorful dance styles to become something that we now look back on as grounded in 1970s and 1980s culture.

The Evolution of Aerobics

For many years, most group exercise classes included enough resemblance to Dr. Cooper's original idea to be referred to as "aerobics." That word was just a blanket term used to describe all group fitness classes. There was some variation, but not a ton. Over the past few decades?and especially the last decade?the word "aerobics" has gradually been phased out as a blanket term. Now, you are more likely to hear exercise courses described generally as "group exercise"?a more apt blanket term that encompasses a huge range of different exercise class types. As traditional aerobics did, all of these classes bring together people with shared drive and shared interests and allow them to exercise alongside one another. However, over the years, the format of the classes, the overall fitness goals of the exercise, and the target audiences have shifted quite a bit.

Fitness Course in 2016

That evolution brings us to 2016, where individuals looking for ways to get fit have more options than ever before. If you don't want your fitness to be based on solo running and private yoga sessions, it really doesn't have to be. Exercise courses are available everywhere, and they come in so many variations that there probably is something for everybody. But what are the trends in fitness courses that we are going to see?

Which exercise classes should you look for if you want to be ahead of the curve? Which already popular styles of group fitness are only going to become more popular in the current calendar year? Read on to learn the answers to these questions and others, as we explore what group fitness looks like 48 years after Dr. Kenneth Cooper coined the term "aerobics."

Evergreen Courses

Many types of fitness courses that have been popular for years aren't going to go out of style in 2016?or any year in the near future, for that matter. Here are a few of these "evergreen courses" that you can't go wrong with signing up for in 2016.

  • Yoga: Classic yoga courses remain a go-to group exercise option for toned muscles, improved flexibility, and intense relaxation?even if they lack any of the cardiovascular approach of early aerobics. Of course, you can get the benefits of yoga outside of a class, by using videos to guide your workout, but it's not a bad idea to at least learn the basics in a class environment.
  • Zumba: Zumba has been a popular group exercise option for the 1990s, and it's not tough to see why. This type of exercise is inspired by Latin American dance. Experts and beginners alike widely cite Zumba as "exercise disguised as fun." Dancing with friends or fellow exercise class attendees in the Zumba style is such an enjoyable experience that the class sessions tend to fly by. It's also a full body work great for burning calories, cutting fat, and toning your muscles. Think of Zumba as the Latin American update on the dance-fueled aerobics crazes of the '70s and '80s.
  • Pilates: Those looking for a cardio-fueled exercise class should look elsewhere. For everyone else, though, the mat-based workouts that define Pilates are great for boosting the strength and power of the muscles at the body's core. Pilates has been around since the first half of the 20th century and is practiced by millions of people worldwide, so you should have no problem finding an exercise class in this category.
  • Spinning: Spinning classes, or indoor cycling classes, use stationary bikes with weighted flywheels to better mimic the feel of outdoor cycling. These classes are great for cardio buffs building your strength and endurance by pushing you to slowly and steadily increase your rate of pedaling. Spinning courses use standing and seated positions to work and tone different muscle groups.
  • Kickboxing: Kickboxing courses use an innovative blend of kicks, dance moves, and martial arts for an invigorating, full-body workout.

As you can see, there are a good number of exercise classes that qualify as "evergreen." These types of courses often form the backbone or foundation of the gyms or fitness clubs where group exercise courses are offered. However, while these courses are likely the most popular types of group exercise currently available, they are just the beginning of what group exercise has to offer in 2016. If you are enrolling in your first group exercise class, one of these options is probably the best place to start. However, you could find that joining a Pilates or kickboxing course is just your gateway into the wide (and widening) world of group exercise.

New or Growing Trends 

As group exercise continues to evolve far beyond its traditional aerobics roots, new course types?or twists on familiar varieties?are continuing to crop up and grow in popularity. Here are a few exercise course trends that you can expect to see picking up steam in 2016.

  • Competitive courses: For a long time, group exercise has been something collaborative and communal. Recently, though, we have seen a growing trend toward more competitive group exercise classes. The most obvious examples are spinning classes that challenge cyclists to compete with one another. Who can push their RPMs the highest? Who can "spin" with the most resistance? Who can go the fastest?  Some spinning classes are answering these questions by actually putting their attendees' stats up on a digital display at the front of the class. This videogame-like scoreboard model allows class members to measure themselves against fellow athletes and push themselves toward loftier goals. Don't be surprised if this model makes its way to other types of fitness courses as well?particularly cardio classes that use treadmills, rowing machines, and other similar exercise equipment. However, with fitness trackers becoming commonplace, it would be feasible for almost any type of exercise course to use the competitive scoreboard model.
  • Aerial Yoga: Traditional yoga courses is one of the most popular types of group fitness. Expect aerial yoga to be on the shortlist within the next few years. This type of group fitness is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a style of yoga that suspends its participants in mid-air for a unique and invigorating exercise experience. Using fabric slings or hammocks to hang class members upside down, aerial yoga provides an almost circus-like workout. Like traditional yoga, aerial yoga is great for enhancing mental relaxation and releasing body tension. Some participants would even tell you that the upside down position is better for increasing flexibility and range of motion. In any case, this fun and experimental type of exercise course is worth looking out for this year.
  • Hybrid courses: Most fitness experts agree that the next big thing in group exercise might not be an entirely new type of fitness program, but hybrids of old models. For every person who can attend and enjoy a Zumba or spinning class every day, there are probably another 10 or 20 who gradually grow bored with the same dance moves or tired of sitting on a stationary bike for long periods of time. As such, hybrid exercise courses that combine elements of different models could be the next big thing. Who knows what those hybrids could look like, but keep an eye out for courses that offer multiple different workouts in a single session.


The world of group fitness has come a long way since the earliest days of aerobics. While Dr. Kenneth Cooper envisioned aerobics as a chance to work on flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, and muscle strength at the same time, most of today's group exercise classes have found success by focusing on one or two of those elements at the same time. The result of the evolution has been a broader and more innovative selection of fitness classes than the world has ever seen. Best of all, the group fitness model is only just getting started. We can expect much more growth to come in this sector?both in 2016 and beyond.