As a former competitive powerlifter and avid strength coach, I understand the principles and scientific strategy behind building strength. As a former track runner, I know that it’s possible to get faster; speed is a skill. But, how do you make progress when you’re in the gym every day at places like Barry’s Bootcamp? Is progress possible without a program tailored to you?

Chicago instructor Spencer does lunges with 100+ pounds on his shoulders!

Years ago I would have said that group classes are great for general physical preparedness, perfect for people who are healthy and want to be pushed and convenient for people who want to get in and get out of them gym, with an instructor they love. But in order to get stronger?

I would have said you *must* be on a strategic powerlifting program. I didn’t believe that building strength was possible or as easily feasible, due to the unpredictable programming by various trainers. Without lots of rest between sets in class and familiar programming week to week, it would be hard to lift heavier, and increase muscle size or strength in using the principle of progressive overload to build strength.

Instructor Matt Dye in Chicago has the best music…. like, EVER!

I also thought that you could only get strong from the shorter rep ranges of 3-6, sometimes 8, and at Barry’s Bootcamp, for example, we are often in an exercise for 1 to 2 minutes, logging many more than 8 reps.

The recent research now says that lighter loads in great volumes (more reps) will in fact increase muscular endurance. Muscular endurance is *not* maximal strength but it is proven to have a continuum of progress like progressive overload with maximal strength, over time, wherein the client achieves gains in repetition strength; So long as you are feeling muscular stress and working hard to progressively push yourself week after week, you will get stronger in your reps. I stand corrected.

Instructor Alice and after class! #twinning

Today I am here to talk to you about what it takes to not only get stronger when you only have access to a studio for group fitness (en lieu of a strength training gym) like Barry’s, but also how to prevent injury when you are in the gym 5 to 6 times a week, in a group atmosphere when you don’t know what exercises will be programmed. How do you make the workout your own? How do you know when to take rest days? How do you actually get stronger? Faster? Let’s get started!

Boston instructors after arms & abs day August 2017!


For starters let’s talk about speed because let’s be honest, if you’re in a packed class running next to someone, it’s gonna get competitive!

And even if you aren’t logging top speeds, I think it’s safe to say that everyone wants to be conditioned enough to feel confident while running for short periods of time. So how do you get faster?

Don’t try to get faster every day.

Many of my #Daretoeat clients do Barry’s Bootcamp, Orange theory, Studio III or Road X Strength classes at Everybody Fights. My best advice is start with fresh legs. Whether it’s Monday or Wednesday, call it your “Day One” when you do a moderate day for running–  just get your legs moving! If you are a confident jogger or runner, hold yourself accountable to your jogging speed, and running speeds weekly, and try to build your jog or run pace over time.

For example, last January I started taking Barry’s more often. I began with a jog of 5.0. Every class of the week wherein I ran, I made sure to keep my jog at the five and every other week I increased my jog pace until I got to a 6.0 jog. Then I attacked my running pace. Every week on my Day One, I was keeping my jog at a 6.0 and trying to increase my run by .1 to .2 and doing that all week.

Barry’s Bootcamp Boston Trainers Fall 2016.

I try to run no more than 3 times a week. On “Day One” I push my jogs, runs, and push paces (a fast run, working on this now). “Day Two” is a moderate jog I either do on my own outside or a class when I just keep my jog consistent, runs at a moderate pace, and sprint underneath what I know to be my top speed.

Then, on “Day Three,” my main goal is working on my sprint. When you only sprint once a week, you can remember what you did the week prior, and try to beat that pace. Make sure you don’t make your Day Three after a  day of lifting legs, or running or spinning. Day Three is best done after a rest day.

Keep in mind I am not a natural runner, I am not trying to become a long distance runner, I am simply trying to increase my speed, and in my perfect world, I only do “Day One” and “Day Three.” Often I’ll alternate between a week “a” when I do three days of running at Barry’s and then a week “b” with only two days. The two-day weeks are when I perform my best. It’s cool to watch the progress happen over time.

On my 26th birthday all my girlfriends and I visited the new Chicago Barry’s Bootcamp studio and did a workout we could all enjoy!


As a competitive powerlifter, I used to thrive with four days of heavy lifting: an upper (bench), lower-squat, lower-deadlift + mixed day of front squats and push-presses and some bicep/tricep work. Without a gym to train at consistently the past four months, I’ve traded my barbell lifting largely for Barry’s Bootcamp. However, when I do get the chance to lift a barbell (once a week if I’m lucky) my strength is still present.

Chicago Instructor Andrew Key post-total body beat down!

The biggest criticism of group fitness classes in the strength world is that the workouts are “random” and untailored to the individual. In example, Bob might take Instructor Ryan on Chest Back and Abs day the first week of November and do a lot of chest presses (regular form) with heavy weights, and then the next two weeks take another instructor who does alternating hammer presses for chest, push-ups and plans for more back exercises… how does Bob make progress?

In my opinion as a student/client and a coach, progress is 100% possible, sometime it just happens at a slower rate in group fitness. It requires a few things, too.

  1. Keep coming back. You should give yourself 4-8 weeks before you “check” your progress, as a newly recommitted athlete or a newbie lifter.
    1. Are you able to press heavier weights? Can you now do more reps in a row in the minute work-set than last month?
  2. Keep track of your weights. At Barry’s we often use terms like “medium” “light” or “heavy” weights. If you tend to grab 20 pound weights when instructed to grab “heavies,” try to see how many reps you can do. If you can do more than 10 in a row, it’s probably time to start grabbing heavier ones, even if you only get one set in with those ones. That is progress!
    1. The instructors will push you to do this, but you must also push yourself, since there will be a lot of other clients in the classroom. Make sure as you push the weights, you are doing so pain free.
    2. Remember, not everyday will feel amazing or your strongest. If you are keeping track. and feel like it’s time to lift more and you just can’t on a certain day, cut yourself some slack. There are a lot of variables at Barry’s, (tough treads! planks that can fatigue shoulders, etc) and one class format might fatigue you more before you get to chest-press (for exmaple) than another class did. Be patient.
    3. Try Double Floor
      1. This is a great way to get more volume in. A lot of studies show that women especially respond to more volume when building upper body strength. DF is a good way to focus on form and more strength, avoiding any pre-fatigue and giving your legs a break so you can come back faster

Recovery/Injury Prevention

You can’t sprint at a 12.5 every single day and make progress. You can’t run at a 9.0 everyday and have it feel good. Performing at that level takes time and if a 12.5 is your personal max, you don’t want to do it every day, mainly because if it’s your TRUE MAX, your body will need rest, in order to perform a max again.

Rest when it comes to sprinting:

If your instructor coaches a sprint with recovery afterward and you want to learn how to get faster, you WILL be able to run faster if you take the rest time instead of jogging. After legit rest, you can work true anaerobic alactic power (<8 seconds), anaerobic-lactic power (20-30 seconds) and anaerobic-lactic capacity (up to 90 seconds) and aerobic power (90 sec to 2 minutes).  I often see people jog to “keep their heart rate up” in-between sprints, which is great for aerobic capacity, but, if your goal is speed, walk in between each set of sprints. These different work-set ranges use different energy systems and all will benefit your general physical preparedness and athleticism.

Rest when it comes to lifting on the floor:

On the floor in group classes, you typically have one minute, two minutes, etc to perform a given exercise. Instead of doing a rep, wiggling around, shaking it out, or pausing, try to do a legit amount of reps first, before you rest. There’s nothing wrong with rest, but try to set mini-goals before you take it. Even if I’m lifting heavy weights I try to aim for at least 8 reps before I take a break.

Also, when it comes to the floor, if an exercises causes pain, flag the instructor down and we will give you a modification if we haven’t mentioned one already. If you have an exercise in your mind that you’d prefer to do because it feels better, do it! Don’t be embarrassed to take the modification that works for you.

Ali and I hanging out on DF.

Rest days– you need them!

If you do your best and fastest sprints on Monday and stress your muscles at the cellular level, do not expect to show up Tuesday and perform at the same level, it simply wont be possible if you truly made a new change/stressor to the muscle the day before. If you aren’t recovered, you wont be able to o anything new or more stressful to make more progress. Therefore you will get a good cardiovascular workout, but you won’t make progress. If your nutrition is in check, consider taking a rest day, or doing double floor. Expert Tip: Because Barry’s programs lower body training (“Butt and Legs”) programming on Tuesdays, try to make your Day One (chill, moderate pace running day) on Mondays so your legs aren’t taxed going into Tuesdays.

But this is the beauty of Barry’s and why I believe you can do it without getting injured: different muscle groups are specified each day of the week. Monday is arms and abs, Tuesday is butt ‘n legs, Wednesday is chest, back and abs, Thursday is core and the other days are total body. Expert tip: make one or two of the total body days your rest days, if you can make it to the body-specific days.

If you feel sore, stay home, stretch, and hydrate! Foam rollers are provided for before an after class, use them! If you have one at home, try to use it once or twice for 10 minutes on your rest days! It’s easy to get caught up in wanting to crush it daily, but you will crush it harder (and more effectively!) if you take rest.

Wrapping Up

If you didn’t know I am a Barry’s Bootcamp teacher. I have always loved the workout but spent a large part of my early twenties studying strength training for powerlifting. I achieved insane amounts of strength but also truly believe you can achieve the same strength (just over more time) in a Barry’s class. The key: be patient and listen to your body.

Victoria crushing DF using a 40 pound dumbbell.

If you are in the Boston area, I’d LOVE to have you take my class. Peep my schedule here! If you are a Barry’s Bootcamp client and have questions, shoot me an email! ( As an SFG kettlebell certified coach, NSCA-PT certified strength training coach, a CFSC (Certified Functional Strength Coach) and USAPL competitor I have great experience in lifting and would love to help you. As a Precision Nutrition Certified Fat Loss coach who’s worked with over 300 people to achieve fat loss and body recomposition, I’m also an expert in helping people find the balance in nutrition and their crazy active schedule. Let me know if you are interested becoming a client.

If you like this article, check out my other articles about group fitness:

Hope this helps!




  1. Beardsley, Chris. “Why is maximum strength increased most by heavy loads? (strength is specific)




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