I have always struggled with a fear of looking foolish. I’m terrified to ever let anyone know I don’t know what I’m doing, where I’m going, or how to do something.
I think so many of the students in my group exercise classes feel the same way. They walk in silently and hide in the back. If, for whatever reason, I don’t get to introduce myself before class, I may get halfway through class – or even months into teaching this client – before I find out they have an injury, or chronic pain, or have no idea what I’m talking about when I teach certain movements.
I’m sure there are many listicles out there of things to do before your first group exercise class (“Get a cute outfit! Eat a wholesome snack!”), but in this list, I – as a fitness professional – am going to tell you what your instructor wishes you would do the first time you show up.
1. Ask the front desk which classes are appropriate. I completely understand that sometimes people just end up in a class that’s not appropriate (due to injury, difficulty level, fitness goals, etc.) for them – and I don’t blame them at all. But as an instructor, it is challenging to try to make up alternative options on the fly and keep a client motivated who is not a good fit for your class. (I cannot emphasize enough: Being new isn’t “bad,” being weak or inflexible isn’t “bad.” But it does impact what you need in a class.) Tell the front desk at your gym or studio what your goals are and what experience you have. If you don’t feel confident with their answer, try to drop by 10-15 minutes before or just after a class you’re thinking about trying in the future and talk to the instructor.
2. Do your research. Particularly if you are nervous, do some research before your first class. For example, Google around for a description of the class you’re planning to take or look up the name of the most common beginner poses or exercises. Even if you don’t have time to do any of the exercises, just being familiar with the lingo will help assuage any concerns. (This isn’t totally imperative, but it’s great if you tend toward anxiety or are very nervous.)
3. Arrive early. I can’t say this enough. Arriving early allows you to feel calm and unrushed as you’re walking into a new environment. It gives you time to introduce yourself to the instructor. You get to have your choice of spots in the room – whether you want to be close to the front to hear or see better or at the back so you can follow other people. If you’re already scared to try something new, you don’t need to add stressing about finding a parking spot to the list of concerns.
4. Introduce yourself to the instructor. Time permitting, I walk up to every new client who takes my class and ask their name, their experience level, and whether or not they have any injuries. Not every instructor will do this, though. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to make your needs known (ahem, this is a life rule, not just a fitness rule). Tell your teacher if this is your first class ever/in a long time, first in this format, or if you are still a beginner. Let them know about any injuries, and any movements that the injury effects (e.g. “I have a knee replacement and it hurts me to lunge. Are there modifications I should be aware of?”). If you have any concerns or if you explicitly want or don’t want personal feedback or adjustments, you can absolutely tell them this as well. The more forthcoming you are, the better your experience will be.
5. Stay after. Technically, no, this isn’t something you do before your first class. But, after class, stay a few moments to ask the teacher any questions you have. If anything hurt, didn’t make sense, or you didn’t feel the work of the exercise, let him or her know. You could also ask how often they recommend taking their class format and any other classes that may be complementary.
So often I see people give up a fitness format without doing the things above. They rush in at the last minute with no opportunity to check in with the instructor, and then are discouraged when they don’t get anything out of the first class. If you’ve tried something in the past, but didn’t take the steps above, I encourage you to give it another shot. If you do all of this and still feel like something isn’t a fit, no sweat! At least you’ve given it a good try.
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