It’s totally normal to be intimidated by exercise--especially group exercise. I say that as a personal trainer, but also as someone who has taken a variety of classes over the years. I thought it would be a good idea to write a bit about strategies for confronting potentially intimidating exercise scenarios, starting with group classes.
Meet the Instructor
Before signing up, ask to come by the studio or gym and meet the instructor. Ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable. Let he or she know about any concerns you have. This is not an inconvenience. Any good trainer or teacher will want to meet you in advance too. Their job is to create a safe and effective experience for everyone and they cannot do that if they don’t take the time to get to know you. If they don’t ask you about your exercise history, any injuries or illnesses in your past or present, or about any limitations your physician has placed on your physical activity, do not sign up to work with them. If they seem uninterested or annoyed that you want to meet, find a different instructor.
Show Up Early
Arrive 5-10 minutes early and re-introduce yourself to the instructor. Remind him or her that you are new and ask them where they’d like you to station yourself for class. Often, instructors want you up front when you’re new so that they can keep an eye on you, check-in with you periodically and assist you with form or modifications if necessary.
Scope Out Your Surroundings and Make an Exit Plan
Another reason to show up early is so that you can get comfortable in your new environment.
Find the water fountain so that you can get water when you need to. Identify the exit nearest you so that if you need to take a bathroom break or if you need to leave during class, you know the route.
And know that it is okay to leave. No one knows your body better than you do. No one. Not a personal trainer. Not a group fitness instructor. Not the person next to you in class. If you are in pain. If you are physically or emotionally uncomfortable. Leave.
You don’t need to explain yourself. You don’t need to feel guilty. If a class or an exercise feels wrong to you, it’s wrong for you. It doesn’t mean that you failed or that exercise isn’t for you. It just means you need to find something that’s a better fit. That’s all.
A good instructor will work breaks into the class. But you are the boss of you, so you can take breaks whenever you want, as often as you want. No matter how long you’ve been taking the class, no matter your level of fitness, you decide when you need to stop, rest or have some water.
No responsible instructor will be upset with you for taking a break. They will be relieved that you are listening to your body and will empower you to continue to do so. They want you to have the best possible experience in their class so that you come back again and again.
Bring a Buddy
Having a friend with you can be a great way to dial down the fear of doing something new, with a bunch of strangers, in a new place.
Most People Are Focused on Themselves. Really.
One of the things that causes anxiety around exercise, whether it’s joining a gym or signing up for a class, is the idea that other people will be watching and judging you. But here’s the thing: most people are so focused on what they’re doing that they aren’t paying any attention to you. Truly. No matter how long they’ve been taking the class, everyone is probably learning something new and worried about doing it right. If you find that someone is looking at you, chances are they aren’t sure whether they are doing the movement correctly and are looking to you for guidance. I know I’ve done that!
Group classes can be a great source of community—lots of people take them for that very reason. We all need a support system, especially when it comes to healthy behaviors. If you have the support of your family and friends, your classmates can add to your cheering section. But many people don’t get the encouragement they need from the people closest to them, so classmates become a vital source of encouragement.
One Last Thing...
One day, probably much sooner than you think, you won't be the “new” person anymore. You’ll walk into class and see an unfamiliar, maybe slightly apprehensive-looking, face in the room. Please introduce yourself. Offer some tips or practical advice based on your experience. Tell them something you love about the class. Be one of the reasons why they have a great first day.
You’ve been that person. You’ve been new. You’ve been intimidated. You can relate. It’s a powerful thing and something you can use to help others.