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We've all been the new person at some point in our lives. Being the new kid at school, the new employee at work, or maybe the new person in a fitness class. It conjures up feelings of anxiety, fear, and doubt. I was there once. I had NO idea what to expect the first time I ever took a group fitness class. I wore thick sweatpants (mistake), sweated my ass off, and literally almost passed out. Being the instructor now, I'm on the other side of that scenario, and I'd hate for you to not enjoy the FUN that is group fitness due to your fears or reservations. So, I'd like to share with you some tips to make your first class a successful, enjoyable experience and one I hope you return to time and time again.
1 | Wear Comfortable BREATHABLE Clothing
This is a pretty important tip. First off, if you're not comfortable in your clothes before class, you definitely won't be comfortable during class. The more breathable and stretchable the clothing is, the better. Sweat-wicking and 4-way-stretch fabrics are good bets. I'd stay away from cotton and go for spandex + polyester. Reason being that cotton fabrics soak up your sweat but don't dry quickly, making your shirt or pants actually wet, and therefore making it harder for sweat to evaporate and clothing to dry (a particular concern in the cold winter months).
2 | Get the Right Sneakers
Along the same lines as comfortable clothing, if your feet are in pain, you're going to be miserable. If you're taking a group exercise class, chances are you'll be doing a lot of movement in every plane, meaning you'll be working side-to-side, front-to-back, and up & down. Instead of going for your typical running sneaker, which is built specifically for the forward propulsion and hard impact of running, I'd recommend getting a pair of cross-trainers. Often times if you go to an athletic shoe store, the sales person will be happy to help you pick out the right shoe for your needs.
3 | Eat a Snack Beforehand
Remember when I said I almost passed out during the first group fitness class I'd ever taken? Well, the class was at 5:30pm and I hadn't eaten since lunch. Oops. Have a snack, even a small one, about an hour or two before you exercise. I recommend a carbohydrate and protein packed snack to fuel your workout. Some great combos are a slice of whole wheat bread with almond butter, a banana with peanut butter, or a small cup of oatmeal with a handful of nuts. For some great snack ideas, check out Greatist's list here.
4 | Arrive to Class Early
This might be a given, but allowing yourself ample time to find the facility, park your car, and get situated before class is a great way to reduce stress. Often times the facility will ask you to arrive 10-15 minutes early to fill out a liability waiver and health history form. Use that time to also chat with other members of the gym or class to get a sense of what the instructor is like, what the class format is like, etc. Don't be shy!
5 | Introduce Yourself
A good instructor will know who's new to a class and who's been there before. An even better instructor will take the time to give you a general sense of what you can expect during the class, and even introduce you to a few of the regulars. Still, make it a point to introduce yourself! I love meeting new people and learning their reasons for getting into (or back into) exercise. I'd love to be able to calm your nerves by explaining the class format and addressing any limitations you might have. The more prepared you are, the better the class will be. So seriously, come chat with me! I don't bite. :)
6 | Stand Toward the Middle of the Room
Most group classes will not only face the front of the room, but they'll move around and face the sides and the back, too. I think that's one thing that makes classes more interesting! Most new class members will go straight to the back row where they hope no one will see them. But what happens if I decide that now we're going to face the back of the room? All of a sudden you're at the front of the class! If you pick a spot in the middle, you'll always have someone in front of you to follow. Being in the middle also allows the instructor to keep a better eye on you throughout the class to make sure you're okay.
7 | Don't Push Yourself... Too Hard
We want you to push yourself a little bit. Actually, more than a little bit. We want you to work hard and feel like you're getting something out of the class. That said, you know best how your body operates, what feels comfortable and tolerable for you, and what doesn't. While we're knowledgable in recognizing signs of fatigue and over-exertion, instructors can't read your mind. If there's something that's too difficult for you, don't do it. Keep in mind, though, that there's always a modification or a different move that targets the same muscle group(s). Don't be afraid to speak up in class and ask me to demonstrate!
8 | Take Breaks When YOU Need To
In my classes, I try to give plenty of water breaks. This doesn't mean that you can't grab a drink, towel off, or just take a break whenever you need to, though! In fact, I highly encourage it! Same as with the point above, only you know how your body is feeling. If you're in need of a breather, take one! Please don't try to "push through" the moves if you're feeling like you need a rest.
9 | Talk to the Instructor After Class
More often than not, the instructor will approach you after class and ask how you liked it. But if they don't, approach them first! It's a time where you can say what you liked and didn't like about the class, ask follow up questions, and inquire about the other classes at the facility. Again, don't be shy! I really do love talking to all the people in my classes, especially the ones who are there for the first time. I want to make sure you enjoyed yourself and got something out of it, and I'd love to encourage you to come again.
10 | Let Inhibitions Go and Have Fun!
The bottom line of any group fitness class is to get you moving and having fun, not to prove how much weight you can lift, how many minutes you can jump rope, or how long you can hold a plank. Keep that in mind. You don't have to be the best in the class. If you find yourself having a hard time keeping up with a certain move, just do something to keep your body moving. It might be dropping down to a lighter weight, using no weight at all, or lightly jogging in place for a few minutes while you recover. Bottom line: enjoy yourself, meet new people, and have a good time! There's no need to worry about much else. :)
Readers: chat with me! If you're thinking of joining a fitness class, did these tips help you? What other concerns do you have? Fellow instructors, what are your tips for making fitness classes enjoyable? I'd love to hear from you!