Trying a group exercise class for the first time can feel a little like that reoccurring nightmare where you forget to wear pants to school and it's your day to give a speech detailing how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. (Please tell me I'm not the only one who has that dream on occasion.)
The point is that walking into a class full of people who save mat space for their friends or seem to be best buddies with the instructor can be very intimidating. Feeling like all eyes are on you is enough pressure, so it helps to be aware of common newbie mistakes so you can come prepared and feel as comfortable as possible. That way, if you accidentally do a lunge instead of a squat, it will be easier to shake it off and just keep going.
No matter if you're hitting boxing or barre, group exercise instructors and other fitness professionals say they see a lot of the same mistakes over and over again. Familiarize yourself with these nine common errors now, before you set foot in your first group class, and you'll be able to focus on your killer workout instead of worrying you have "newbie" stamped on your forehead for all to see.
1. Not letting the instructor know it's your first time.
Yoga instructor Lauren Larry says your instructor can be a valuable resource, so take advantage. "A quick introduction to your instructor is an easy way to get what you need during class. Instructors are trained to look for new students, but they are human and don’t always see everything. Walk up, tell [them] your name and say 'hey.' Check in after class, [too]. Was something confusing? Ask a question! You'll look smart and aware, not like a newbie."
Larry also suggests connecting with instructors via social media. "Ask if they have a public profile you can follow. Most will willingly offer up that information. From there, you'll find their schedules, tips and tricks for exercise classes, and be able to peak in on their daily lives. It can add a lot of quality to your experience," she says.
2. Standing in the wrong place.
When you're new to a class, it's tempting to stand in the back because you want to blend in as much as possible. Personal trainer Laura Brown suggests you resist that urge and, instead, stand in the front of the room. "In the front you will have a better view of the instructor," she explains. "Since this is your first time taking the class, most of the moves will be completely new to you. If you can clearly see the instructor, you will be better able to follow along and learn the new movements." Brown goes on to say that being in the front helps the instructor, too. "A good instructor keeps his or her eyes on her participants at all times. If they can see you, they can provide you with feedback on your movement, which will make your workout more effective and safer. If you hide in the back, you may get away with doing a move incorrectly, which could leave you injured and in pain."
3. Arriving late or leaving early.
Jonathan Tylicki, the director of education for AKT, suggests you make the most of the time available for each class. "Come early and come prepared! Call and find out if the studio offers towel service, water or if there is anything additional that you'll need to bring for the workout. Getting there early ensures you aren't rushed into class, and can get the proper equipment and setup," Tylicki explains.
When the class is coming to an end, don't be so quick to rush out the door. "Many classes end with a dedicated stretch, and it's an important component that many people ignore. Staying to stretch will help prevent soreness, relax the nervous system, promote mobility and flexibility, and can even improve your next workout."
4. Dressing inappropriately.
Wearing a fleece to hot yoga or baggy pants to spin class can make you uncomfortable and create unnecessary distraction. Do your homework ahead of time to be sure you're wearing the proper clothing. RunRepeat training and fitness director Nick Rizzo shares a mistake he hopes to never repeat: "I tried a 60-minute class that involved sprinting every five minutes. I was wearing Chuck Taylors, which was painful to say the least."
5. Bringing too much into class.
A water bottle and sweat towel are standard for most group exercise classes, but keep the additional items to a minimum. Rizzo points out that there isn't typically a lot of space in the rooms where classes take place. "The less clutter the better for everyone," he advises. '[There would be no room for class] if everyone brought in their gym bags, change of clothes, extra shoes, their phone, et cetera." If you need a gym bag or carry anything valuable, bring a lock and store your extra items securely in the locker room.
6. Trying to keep up with those around you.
When you're the new person in class, it can feel like all eyes are on you. Even though they probably aren't, you might feel pressure to keep pace with the rest of the group. Tylicki provides a good reminder that most group classes are designed for people of varying fitness levels. "You know your limits better than anyone, and you shouldn't go as hard as possible if you're not ready," he says. "Go slower if you need to, and focus on the cues and corrections that the instructor is giving." A good instructor will teach to all levels in the class, adjusting their routine and offering modifications so that everyone has options.
7. Giving up after the first class.
Just because the first class was slightly different than your expectations, felt a little awkward or left you unsure about whether or not it was a good fit for you, don't give up too quickly. "If you didn’t thoroughly enjoy the class after the first attempt, don't let that steer you away from trying again," advises physical therapist and health coach Michael Henri. "Often times, it takes a couple tries to really get into the groove of starting a new class. As you get familiar with the routine, your confidence will increase and your overall enjoyment will improve."
8. Skipping the beginner class.
Don't assume that just because it's labeled "beginner" that the class is going to be easy. Beginner could mean that the choreography is simpler or the instructor gives more explanation for how to do the moves properly. Without knowledge of the basics, higher level classes could end up being more confusing than they need to be. Henri recognizes that it can be tempting to skip the beginner class when you're eager to get going. "When trying out a new class, always look for beginner levels first to know what you’re getting yourself into." If you find you're prepared after that first introduction, you'll go into the higher-level class with the confidence that you're ready.
9. Not letting the instructor take the lead.
Just because you've done a similar class before doesn't mean this one will go exactly the same way. Your instructor is the expert, so be respectful and follow their cues. Be open to learning something new and it will likely be a better experience overall. No one appreciates the know-it-all in class.
Group classes are nothing to be afraid of and they can be an asset in your journey to health. Do your homework ahead of time so you know what to expect, come in with an open mind and consider your first class to be a learning experience. You never know what new fitness passion you might discover!
What mistakes have you made or seen in group exercise classes?