Today, group fitness classes come in an overwhelming number of varieties, each with a tempting title. But before you invest an hour of your valuable day on an exercise whim, it pays to take a moment to assess your goals, reality-check your expectations, and gather a bit of valuable group fitness “intel” before getting trapped in a class that isn’t all you had hoped it would be. Follow these five easy steps to up your chances of getting the most out of the next group fitness class you try.
1. Do a background check.
If you see a class on the schedule that interests you, track down the instructor and ask for information about how the class was developed and the exercise principles upon which it is based. Ask if there is independent research that supports the claims of the class and what special qualifications instructors have who teach this workout. Another important question to ask: “Are people like me seeing results?” And if you are concerned about hurting yourself: “Have there been any injuries during this type of workout?” followed by: “What is the best way to avoid them?”
2. Manage your expectations.
What is it about this class that caught your attention? Is the class advertised as a way to help you meet one of your specific fitness goals? Perhaps the class simply looks unique and exciting, or it’s something that you’ve always imagined you’d like to try. Both goal-focused and enjoyment-focused reasons are valid for taking up any new group fitness class. Longtime exercisers will tell you that to stay consistent with your workouts you need a mix of focused, measureable training and movement activities that are purely fun and inspiring. Being clear about why you are taking a particular class will help ensure you are satisfied with the outcome. Many students have been disenchanted with a class format simply because they didn’t take the time to think through whether or not their expectations of the class were realistic or not.
3. Connect with other students.
Much can be learned from casually loitering just outside the entrance to the room right before or after class time. Eavesdrop on the chitchat and you are bound to hear uncensored opinions about the workout. Strike up a conversation with folks who have taken the class before and ask them about their personal reasons for being there. How often have they attended the class? What were their challenges when they first started? Do they have any negative comments or cautions? And, most importantly, what tips can they give you as you are just getting started?
4. Be prepared.
Many classes today use a wide range of specialized equipment. If the facility doesn’t provide the needed equipment, make sure you buy or borrow what you need in advance. Don’t assume that you can “substitute” something you have at home, and it is best to get the specific requirements from the instructor personally. Also, ask the instructor or the front desk personnel if there is any special pre-class set up that warrants arriving early and asking for help. Attending a class without the proper equipment or coming in just as the class begins only to learn you don’t know how to adjust the equipment is sure to put a damper on your experience. With a little preparation, this scenario is easy to avoid.
5. Seek out other students at your ability level.
There is nothing that will thwart your progress quicker than lining yourself up with students who are at different levels than you. By going step for step and pound for pound with students who are “experts” in the class, you risk doing too much too soon and getting injured, frustrated or just plain discouraged. Conversely, following students who are less fit or less skilled than you and the result can pose too little of a challenge, resulting in less than the full benefits of the class. Before jumping into class for the first time, observe the workout in action and look for exercisers with similar fitness and skill levels to yours. Then, when you are ready to join in, position yourself next to one or more of these individuals, smile widely and get ready to get sweaty!