Although I’ve been a registered yoga teacher for over a decade and an instructor for group fitness classes for the past few years—as well as a certified personal trainer—I still get a little insecure whenever I step into an unfamiliar studio as a participant and join a new fitness class for the first time.
Everyone knows what they’re doing except me. I don’t know where to sit or stand—am I taking someone’s regular spot? People are grabbing hand weights, but I don’t even know what we’re doing yet, so should I go light, or will that make me wish I’d challenged myself more?
I love group classes for exercise—friendly competition definitely makes me work harder—but I hate being the new person. And I can tell you from my experience in front of the class and sweating alongside the other participants that I am not alone. When I see a new student come into one of my classes, I can tell those same questions are running through their minds.
I want to tell them that though the newness of the class feels weird now, comfort will come quickly, and they’ll soon be able to focus on making the most of their class—not on new-kid-in-school jitters. As I learned through my years leading the classes and getting acclimated to them on the other side, there really are some easy tactics that can help scuttle those first-timer feelings and fears. Try these strategies the next time you’re considering a group fitness class so you can make the most of it.
1. No, pain is not weakness leaving the body. Take breaks when you need them.
There’s a phenomenon I often see with newer participants, where they feel like they must bang out every last rep even if their bodies are pleading otherwise. Maybe they feel like it’s what instructors expect of them?
Here’s some insider info: When your group trainer looks at you and says, “Take a break when you need it,” that means I think you need a break, but I want you to be the one to choose it. Recognizing the necessity of dialing it down is an important skill to build: There’s a thin line between challenging yourself in a way that’s healthy and fuels progress and not listening to your body and pushing yourself too far. You have to tap into your mind-body connection to figure out when to take a break, and that’s a skill that comes with time.
I think a common misconception is that group fitness instructors want you to just push, push, push as hard as possible, all the time. But we definitely don’t want you working so hard you are literally sick to your stomach. Because for us, this is about getting healthy and learning to read your body properly, and honestly, seeing exercise as fun.
Challenge yourself, do one more rep than you think you can, try that combo of strength and cardio that scares you a little—hello, squat jumps—but when you feel like you need a break, go for it.
2. Even if you love an instructor, limit your hard workouts to a couple times a week.
Usually, I lead about seven to 10 classes a week. When I need to sub for other instructors, that might go up to 15. But I want to see you in my class for no more than three of those classes.
That’s because I teach relatively high intensity classes and, much like the take-no-breaks perception, there’s a prevailing belief that more is…well, more. You get more strength, more endurance, more weight loss, more badass bragging rights.