Thinking of trying a new fitness class this year? The bright lights, crazy music, and enviably fit instructors can make stepping out of your sweaty comfort zone scarier than it should be. But it doesn’t have to be this way, said celebrity trainer Astrid Swan, a fan-favorite Barry’s Bootcamp instructor in Los Angeles. “Your attitude is everything.”
And of course, you know that. But still, those negative, self-conscious thoughts we all have can make you less likely to give a new class a fair try, and they may even lead to a crap workout, complete with poor form or even injuries.
We tapped Swan and Amanda Freeman, founder of the Pilates-meets-cardio studio SLT, for a little advice on easing these common first-timer fears.
“I’ll just hide here in the back of the room.”
You may think going incognito in the corner is a genius way to calm your nerves. The reality is, you’re doing yourself a disservice by distancing yourself from the instructor. Take a deep breath and position yourself right in the thick of it, suggested Freeman. Go for a spot closer to the center of the room where you have both a clear view of the instructor and the mirror to check your form.
Trying a new class with a friend? You may want to space yourselves out.
“We make sure that newbies aren’t right next to each other,” Freeman added. “It helps to have experienced folks on either side for when you are confused and need to look at someone to know what should be going on.”
“Great, a super-toned clique congregating in the front.”
It’s true, lots of fitness fads attract a cult following of sorts. (SoulCycle, we’re lookin’ at you.) Don’t let that discourage you from signing up or make you settle for the last row. It’s helpful to remember that they, too, were once in your newbie shoes and wondering how one musters up the bravery to cozy up close to the mirrors.
Go ahead and chat up your neighbor, who may be a great additional resource, Swan recommended.
“In my experience, the cult followers will take you under their wing. They will tell you how crazy the trainer is but how awesome it is too,” Swan said. “They’ll take you in, show you where things are located, even cheer you on during the workout.”
“I don’t have the right gear. God, I must look like an idiot.”
Although there are times when you need special gear, most classes and studios are up front about items you’ll need to bring with you. Just do your homework ahead of time: Check the FAQ section of the website or find a review online that can give you an idea of whether, say, grippy-bottom socks or hand wraps are required.
“If it’s still not clear, call the studio and ask, or check out the studio’s social media to see what the typical gear is,” Freeman said. (Many classes allow first-timers to borrow supplies.)
Then, there’s the special gear you don’t need to dwell on. Case in point: (overpriced) studio merchandise that’s not necessary for the actual class. Some may feel “cool” wearing it, but unless their promotional tanks and Spandex are made of some secret calorie-torching fabric we’ve never heard of, it’s not worth sweating over—pun intended.
Wear what makes you feel strong and confident in a gym setting; psychologists believe this idea of dressing the part—dubbed “enclothed cognition”—may actually improve your workout performance.
“This instructor is terrifying.”
Trainers often boast big muscles and a big attitude—but those are job requirements, not scare tactics. With a quick introduction, you’ll realize they don’t bite. Swan urges, “Don’t be afraid to talk to us.”
And building that rapport benefits your actual workout, explained Freeman.
“Creating a relationship with the instructor will also make it more likely that they pay extra attention to you throughout class,” Freeman said.
Top-notch instructors will usually ask if anyone is a first-timer and introduce him or herself first and inquire about whether you have any injuries or limitations, Swan added. “We want to get to know you!”
“WTF is this machine?”
Equipment like rowing machines, Pilates reformers and boxing bags may feel foreign if it’s your first time trying them out, but you don’t let that keep you from class. The easy fix: Get there early and ask for a quick tutorial (if the staff doesn’t beat you to it!).
“I suggest arriving at class at least 10 to 15 minutes before it is scheduled to start,” Freeman advised. Plus, you can often get a peek at the class right before yours for a little preview of what you’re in for.
“Did that girl just grab 20-lb. weights?!”
Relax, you’re not at the CrossFit Games. In other words, it’s not a competition. Comparing your abilities to the gal beside you can also set you up for injury, Freeman cautioned.
“Never do anything you aren’t comfortable with, and don’t give into peer pressure. Everyone is different and everyone’s bodies respond differently to different weight loads,” she said. “Screw the 20-pounders and grab the 5-pounders if that’s what you’re feeling. Even I won’t pick up a weight bigger than 8 pounds—ever!”
Instructors are also there to help you with your equipment needs. “We can usually gauge your level. Don’t be ashamed either if you have to grab something lighter. Form is way more important,” Swan said. “If you are not sure, you can grab two different set of weights, just be mindful of your space.”
“I’m the only one sweating—and it’s only the warm up. I hate this.”
Don’t let the first 10 to 15 minutes make you fear the rest of the session or feel out of shape. If you’ve never tried that type of workout, you’re likely putting to work different muscles, and your body will need to adjust to the challenge.
Think about it, “Did you fall a few times as baby when you started to walk?” Swan asked. “I don’t expect anyone to come into my class and not struggle a little. Some of my clients used to hate my class, but then they realized that I really do have your best interest in mind.”
“I am so uncoordinated I should just leave this class.”
Not trying to be harsh, but news flash: No one is looking at you. So just do your best! What matters is that you’re moving, not that you’re moving in perfect sync with your entire class.
“It’s over, and I survived.”
Whether you hated your sweat session or totally drank the Kool-Aid, you did it, so congrats! After class, Swan said, you should regroup with the instructor: “Talk to us again! The first class is overwhelming, and we understand that—we also want you to come back. We are here for you.”
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Keep in mind that there are some workouts you may not fall in love with right away or they take a few tries to get the hang of, explained Freeman. “That said, you will likely know the first time that it’s something you could see yourself getting into. For those classes, give them a round two for sure.”
If at any point you felt unsafe or just didn’t like how the class made you feel, there’s no shame in checking it off your list for good. “Move on and try something else,” Freeman said. “There are lots of options out there.”