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By incorporating functional and multi-planar movements into your tummy, hip and thigh class you can rejuvenate the format and enhance its effectiveness.

Tummy, hip and thigh classes are the second-to-longest running group exercise modality, after ‘aerobics’, which was conceived by Dr Kenneth Cooper in the late 1960s. This group exercise format has outlived most other programs due to its popularity with female members of the general public, many of whom believe that it will burn fat in ‘those problem areas’. It is well known within the fitness industry that this is not a possibility, yet the classes maintain a strong attendance and frequently make a ‘comeback’ to timetables that may have previously discarded them in favour of more challenging and current programming.

Effective or not?

The humble tummy, hip and thigh class has had to defend itself against several issues other than perceived ineffectiveness. Lack of variety, lower heart rates and minimal upper body conditioning are the main concerns. Traditionally, the class format started with a low impact warm up, followed by stationary standing exercises, before progressing, eventually, to exercises on the floor that culminated with a stretch. It would also include exercises that would require several repetitions before the specific muscle group would feel fatigue. This obviously held little appeal to those who wanted to get ‘sweaty’ during a class.

It is interesting to note that a lot of ‘traditional’ tummy, hip and thigh exercises appear in Pilates classes. Did they originate in Pilates or is it a blending of exercise styles which is now becoming more and more popular? The answer will depend on the focus of the instructor, and how the exercises are taught and ‘sold’ to the participants.

So, how is it possible to elevate heart rate, include core exercises and upper body movement and effectively work the tummy, hip and thigh areas with the current educated methodology of the importance of muscle fatigue within an appropriate repetition range?


The key factor is movement. The more the body moves, the more muscle groups are involved and thus heart rate and core temperature will also increase. Movement in more than one plane – saggital, frontal and transverse – will increase the functionality of the exercises. Combining upper body movement with conventional tummy, hip and thigh exercises will challenge the core muscles. Rotational (transverse) movement has increased in popularity, reflecting a greater appreciation of the importance of this range of movement in everyday life. Tasks such as picking up a bag, moving shopping out of a car, and even the apparently simple act of walking, require a degree of rotation in order to be carried out efficiently. Lunges to the front and side can incorporate rotation to increase intensity, and also reflect the functionality required for daily activities.


Balance it out

The tummy, hip and thigh class can also provide an opportunity to include balance and stability training to participants. This is most effectively performed when the body is in an upright position and the feet are either close together or one foot is off the floor. A good example of this is the lunge. It is usually recommended to position the feet so that they are shoulder-width apart in order to assist with maintaining balance and the body’s upright position. A simple, safe and effective way to challenge balance is to bring the feet closer together, for example by placing one foot directly in front of the other, as if balancing on a beam. This will encourage the muscles of the feet and ankle to work much harder to keep the body in this position. Often these muscles are neglected, but they are the foundation support for the rest of the body and thus play a very important role in maintaining balance in the upright position.

Add a little weight…

Have you ever wondered if there are any exercises that can use a light weight effectively? When performing exercises that use multi-planar movement, a light weight can add an appropriate amount of resistance to challenge the upper body while adding a controlled level of momentum to encourage core muscle activation. This is, of course, dependent on the number of repetitions and on which muscle groups are required to move the weight.

Upper body exercises, such as figure 8’s, are excellent for exploring a range of movement that is more functional than conventional single plane movements, as they incorporate the rotator cuff and intrinsic muscles that assist with joint stability and mobility. This will also assist in developing awareness of proprioception and coordination, two aspects that are often forgotten when performing resistance-based exercises.

…and a little bit of brain

Predictable exercise leads to predictable movement patterns. An instructor has a window of opportunity to make a point, clarify a technique, and inspire mindful movement when teaching an exercise that is new or unfamiliar. At such times, participants are more focused on what we are saying and showing them, and are also more responsive to correction. Put another way, their brains are more active.

If you teach ‘classic’ classes like tummy, hip and thigh, it can be easy to get stuck in a rut, teaching the same format and the same exercises under the misguided belief that the comfort of familiar routines is more important to participants than the benefits they could achieve by experiencing greater variety. While this may be the case for some, it becomes evident in their performance that it is not a rational justification for most. The old adage that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is true. As instructors, not only should we preach this to our participants and clients, but also to ourselves.

For an extensive range of tummy, hip and thigh exercise suggestions click here.

Marietta Mehanni is an award-winning presenter, a highly respected instructor mentor and an Australian Fitness Network Ambassador with over 20 years’ experience teaching and presenting group exercise.


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