Fitness class can be a scary place. Let's face it, even watching one of those classes can be intimidating. Whether you walk past a boutique studio or find yourself staring through the glass at an aerobics class at your gym, the jumping, body contortions or the crazy amount of sweat can be enough to send you running the other direction.
Even if you've always wanted to try one of those classes, it's common to find yourself being held back by negative thoughts. "What if it's too confusing for me to follow along?" "What if I look stupid?" "What if I'm too overweight/shy/out of shape/inflexible/sweaty to join?"
I'm here to tell you once and for all that you're not too much of any of those things. After having taught spinning for 14 years, I've seen it all. I've seen people fall off their bikes, crank up the resistance so hard I thought their kneecaps would pop right out of their joints, accumulate sweat puddles underneath them and those who just plain give up and walk out. Classes are for everyone—yes, even you.
So, how can you make the leap from anxious voyeur to willing participant? One option is to learn what instructors think so you can free yourself from feeling like you're being judged. By knowing all eyes aren't on you, that instructors are just happy you're there and that you'll get better with time, hopefully you can learn how to drop the excuses and pick up the dumbbells.
14 Things to Know Before Your First Fitness Class
- We are not only looking at you. Sure, we see you, but instructors are looking at the entire class, and if you're in a dark cycling class, well then, we don't see much of anyone's faces at all. That being said, I will note that personally, I do notice people in the back of the class more than the ones in the front. My eyes have to land somewhere, after all. Mostly I was scanning the room to make sure no one seemed to be having difficulty riding, that everyone was on the same page, class-wise, and to check for adjustments that might be needed on anyone's bike.
- You should arrive early to set up the bike/get out your equipment/ask the instructor any questions if you're new. I always started a class by asking who was new and almost no one raised their hands. Five minutes into class, I could clearly tell who was new by the way their knees were bending at an odd angle from their seat being too low, or because they had zero resistance on and were bouncing up and down like they were riding a jack hammer.
Instructors are supposed to arrive early to class to help set up new riders or help anyone with questions—not to put you on the spot, but to make sure you're having the most comfortable, pain-free ride possible and to avoid having to fix your seat or teach you proper position by interrupting class. Use that 15 minutes where the instructor is available before class to get set up appropriately and ask questions about proper form or the class format.
- You shouldn't push yourself to the point of pain. Sometimes workouts feel uncomfortable, but they shouldn't be painful. If you start to feel pain, unbearable discomfort, lightheadedness or anything out of the ordinary, don't push through it. If you aren't exercising proper technique, are doing too much too soon or skip out on the warm-ups and cool downs, you could be setting yourself up for injury. You know yourself best. If you need to take the bike resistance down, take a break or grab more water, go for it. Instructors would rather see you take care of yourself in the moment than see you get injured or develop a more serious problem.
- You should follow along with the instructor. Instructors are trained to teach specific classes by certified professionals in that particular activity. They learn how to warm up and cool down your heartrate, how to balance standing cycling activities with sitting ones, proper form and how long you are working at certain heartrates, among other things. For that class, they do know what's best for you. Furthermore, it's distracting to have an entire class following along except for one or two people that prefer to do their own workouts. If you don't like the class format, teacher or music, try a different class time, or do your own workout on equipment that is outside of the group fitness rooms.
- You should drink water because you're going to sweat. Trying to "suck it up" and not drink the entire time isn't smart. There are no medals handed out at the end of class for being the toughest. Make sure you're drinking enough water before, during and after your workouts to achieve proper hydration.
- You can sit or stand anywhere you like. If you're new, you don't automatically have to hide in the back of the room. There are generally no reserved seats, and if your gym does reserve seats, you'll know about it ahead of time. In fact, sitting closer to the front can be beneficial for beginners, allowing them to hear and follow along better, rather than trying to decipher the movements from behind a bunch of other people.
- You shouldn't apologize for being new. Everyone was new at some point. Don't apologize for being new, out of shape or without proper cycling shoes—we're just glad you're here! Instructors teach classes because they enjoy helping others stay fit. Even if you're at the beginning of your journey, we are proud of your bravery and hope we can help you be successful so you'll come back.
- You don't need to bring a pre- and post-workout snack to class. I had one member who would walk into class with a protein shake in hand, making a big deal out of shaking that darn bottle over and over again, not getting on the bike until he'd finished it. That's not only annoying to the instructor and other riders, but most likely completely unnecessary. For a 45- to 60-minute workout, what you had for your last meal is probably enough to fuel you. Unless you're really sensitive to changes in your blood sugar, you likely don't need that protein shake or pre-workout bar. If you do have to have it, be courteous and finish your snack before class.
- Do not talk to your neighbor. Even though the buddy system is a great method for keeping yourself accountable and to help motivate you to work out in the first place, please don't take your discussion about your weekend plans into class. Sitting next to each other is great but talking during class is not. I often would make the ride harder to make it more difficult for people to talk or crank up the music for the same reason. We don't want to scold you for talking but it is distracting others from enjoying their workout so please, save the conversation for after class.
What have you learned in any fitness classes you've taken?
- You should wipe down the equipment, not just after your workout, but also before. I had conjunctivitis three times in two years and I'm certain it was from dirty gym equipment. Even though you'll be instructed to wipe off your bike or other gear after class, we can't be certain everyone heeded the request. It's best to be sure by wiping off equipment before use and saving yourself the hassle of catching a cold, eye infection or worse.
- Make recommendations if you're asked. Instructors are teaching for you. We enjoy it, but we also want to make sure you enjoy your workout. I can't tell you how many times I've asked for music recommendations, only to get nothing, then later hear how someone left my class because they didn't like the music. Similarly, if an instructor wants to know what muscles you want to focus on that day, why not speak up? If you get a chance to influence a class, go for it.
- You should do the modifications. Especially if you're new to the class or just starting out on an exercise journey, modifications are key. Pick the smaller weights, do the floor exercises off the step or put on low resistance or sit when cycling knowing that you're still getting a quality workout. There is no reason to burn yourself out. Ultimately, you will not enjoy the class and you'll set yourself up for injury. Instead, start small, slowly progress and build strength over time.
- Don't worry about the person next to you. Is the person next to you pedaling like a fiend while you seem to be strolling along at a leisurely pace? Don't worry about it. I would always say something like, "Maybe you ran a marathon yesterday, I don't know so do what works best for you." That's the truth: No one knows what you did yesterday or what you have to do tomorrow. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses, on days and off days, so don't be so quick to judge yourself based on what kind of day someone else is having. Do your best for where you are right now, and pat yourself on the back for going to a class in the first place.
- You should try it again. Nothing is more disheartening than finally getting up the courage to go to a class you've always wanted to attend only to find out you hate it. Ask yourself, did you really hate the workout, or was it the music, the instructor or the person next to you? Give it another go. Chances are the class is offered more than once a week and will be taught by someone else with different music or with a different crowd. You might be surprised and love it the second (or third) time around. Like anything else unfamiliar, sometimes it takes a while to fall in love with a new routine.