For me, the thing that has been a bit scary about venturing into the world of group fitness has been how often I use things I know, simply because I'm a personal trainer, to keep myself safe. It happens a lot. And I know it's happened to Nikki too.
It's really difficult to design a workout that's effective and safe for the wide variety of fitness levels an instructor sees represented in a class. And it's even more difficult to give the kind of personal attention and correction they'd like to each student, especially in classes the sizes of the ones you find in big gyms. An instructor can only be in so many places at once, right? This isn't a knock on small group fitness instructors at all. It's a difficult job and I have such admiration for the instructors who do it well. It's a specialized skill, that's for sure.
Small group classes are a great workout option for many people. It's less expensive than personal training. You get to experience a wide variety of exercise and you have the opportunity, when classes are managed well, to develop a strong support system among your classmates. So, I totally understand the draw.
I've given some advice on this blog about how to approach group fitness classes--tips for getting the most out of them and for feeling less intimidated. But as Nikki and I have been talking about the topic lately, there's really one thing we can't emphasize enough. One thing that will serve you well, whatever shape your workouts take now or in the future. One thing we thought we needed to write a post about.
And that is: to know yourself and know your body before joining a group class. You must know when to slow things down; when and how to modify an exercise; and when to stop doing a particular exercise or workout. If you don't know these things, you run the risk of getting hurt. It is very, very difficult for a group instructor to know those things about you. No matter how good they are; you are the expert on you. You have to know what's good and safe for your body, and be empowered to act on those things in a group setting.
That knowledge can come from practice; from experience. You can read-up on the mechanics of the body; you can research how to modify specific movements; you can try different things and notice what ranges of motion do and do not cause you pain. All are valid. But all take time.
The other thing you can do though is leverage the expertise of a personal trainer to speed up the process. Personal training on a regular basis is sometimes more than someone's budget will allow. But did you know that one or two sessions with a trainer can be enough to prepare you to thrive in your small group classes? You can literally tell a trainer the kinds of classes you're interested in taking and then ask them to help you learn how to stay safe.
Ask them how and when to modify something. Ask them what it should feel like when you're doing an exercise correctly, versus what feelings are signs that you're doing something that's going to lead to injury. Ask them how to know when to stop doing something altogether. Ask them how to know when it's okay to push through discomfort. They have knowledge to share and they want you to love exercise. You aren't going to love it if you hurt yourself or don't see any benefit from it.
So that's our one, overarching piece of advice when it comes to group fitness. It applies to at-home workouts too. If you're doing a workout DVD, the instructor can't see you and can't help you stay safe. You can do the same thing with workout DVDs as I suggest above--take it to a personal trainer and ask them to prepare you to do it effectively.
Any questions, leave them below!