Group classes are a fundamental part of today's fitness culture. For some, they provide a welcome relief to the sometimes lonely grind of the weight room. For others, they're the main course. After all, what could be motivating than a group of like-minded people coming together to do something difficult and rewarding together?
With a number of different types of classes available, there's no shortage of options to choose from, and they come in all different styles to cater to different goals. That said, there are certain unspoken rules that you must know about attending a group fitness class. We'll save you the obvious ones, like "wear deodorant."
If you've ever had a negative experience with a class, one of these reasons may be why. Pay attention to the following tips recommended by Alex Silver-Fagan, Cellucor sponsored athlete, Nike trainer, and group fitness instructor at CityRow in New York City, and get the most out of every hour!
Do Always Arrive Early
A good rule of thumb is to tell yourself that a class actually starts 5-10 minutes sooner than it does. Arriving late not only makes you look bad, it also disrupts the focus and attention of others in the class. You may not want to be one of those people sitting and waiting for the previous class to end, but if the other option is coming in late, the choice is easy.
This is especially true if you're just starting a new class. "If it's your first time, introduce yourself to the instructor prior to the class and let them know it's your first session," says Silver-Fagan. This way, the trainer will know that you may need a little more attention than the more seasoned members of the class.
If you really want to see optimal results, arrive 15 minutes early so you can mentally prepare and do a light warm-up before the class. Sure, the instructor may lead an additional warm-up, but this pre-warm-up will help get your head in the zone and can be easily customized to your body and its precise needs.
"Another reason it's important to arrive early is because the instructor goes over a lot of form and instruction at the beginning of the class, especially when using a machine, like we use at CityRow," explains Silver-Fagan.
Don't Text or Talk During the Class
This should go without saying, but some people just don't get it. "Talking—or worse, texting—during the class disrespects both the teacher and the other students," says Silver-Fagan. As faux pas go, it's every bit as bad as coming late, because it interrupts the flow of the class and may ruin it for other participants. Remember, you paid to be here, and so did everyone else.
But more than that, this is your hour. You're here to do just one thing, and that's work hard. If you need to speak to someone in the class, save it until the class is over.
Do Choose Your Clothing Wisely
In any given class, it seems like there's always that one girl or guy decked out in the latest workout fashion trends. It's easy to roll your eyes at that person, but meanwhile, you're trying to survive spin class in jeans and boots. Who's better prepared?
That may be an extreme example, but the lesson is that if you aren't comfortable in it for the activity you've chosen, don't wear it. "You need to wear appropriate clothing so that you can move easily without restriction," advises Silver-Fagan. "That said, clothing that's too loose isn't ideal, either."
For example, those baggy basketball shorts are great for shooting hoops, but in yoga class, all that flowing fabric will just get in the way—or just as bad, ride up your legs to the point that you end up feeling uncomfortably exposed.
Don't leave it up to chance. Show up prepared to class wearing clothes that are designed to move with your body. The same goes for your footwear. If you aren't wearing the proper shoes designed for the corresponding workout, you aren't prepared for the class.
"Injuries can happen more easily when you don't have the right footwear in place," Silver-Fagan notes. You wouldn't go for a run in Crocs or sandals, and you shouldn't take a class in them, either.
Don't Let Your Ego Make Decisions
One big mistake that Silver-Fagan sees time and time again is people attempting to be the most badass guy or girl in the class. "If I tell you to use medium weight, don't grab the heaviest dumbbells you can handle," she says. "And likewise, if I tell you we aren't doing anything that requires very light weight, don't bring in the three-pounders."
Keep in mind that your instructor knows his or her class far better than you do. They've devised the program to be the most beneficial, and when they offer up guidance, it's probably worth listening to.
Going too heavy or too light will detract both from the experience and from the results you should be seeing. This is especially true the first time you take a class. Once you know the routine and how your body responds to it, you can start to tinker.
"Of course you have to push yourself, right? That's one reason why you're here," Silver-Fagan says. "You want to get out of your comfort zone in order to see maximum results."
Do Talk to Your Instructor About Relevant Injuries
In a group setting, it's almost impossible to accommodate everyone. It's up to you to talk to your instructor beforehand about any limitations you have, so that he or she can help you determine what's appropriate in your situation.
"If you don't tell me, I don't know—and I need to know to advise you of any changes you should be making to the activities we're doing," says Silver-Fagan.
Of course nobody wants to hear, "Maybe this class isn't for you right now," but if that's the truth, wouldn't you rather find out beforehand rather than learn it the hard way?
Don't Do Your Own Moves
Unless you have specifically discussed modifications or substitutions with your instructor, don't decide to add in your own moves. Free-styling is great for your living room or the nightclub, but not so great for a group class. "Instructors design their classes for a reason, so please follow along," explains Silver-Fagan. "If everyone starts adding in their own exercises, it is no longer a group fitness class."
Just as with texting or talking, remember that you paid—in time, if not always in money—to be a member of this select community. If you really need to add your own moves in order to make the class more challenging or applicable to your goals, it's a good sign you're not in the right class to begin with.
Don't Bail During the Cool-down
Some teachers keep cooking with gas right up until the clock runs out. Others save a few minutes for stretching. Yoga classes in particular almost always have a solid 3-5 minutes or more of "savasana," where you lie on the floor like a corpse and focus on breathing. Or at least that's what you're supposed to do! It seems that as soon as the instructor says the S-word, at least one person inevitably bolts for the door like their mat is on fire.
If that person is you, it's time to rethink your approach. "Never leave before finishing the stretching, cool-down, or savasana," says Silver-Fagan. "It's rude, but more than that, it doesn't benefit you at all. Are you really in such a hurry, or are you just trying to avoid the part you're not good at? Be honest."
Teachers who include stretching or cool-downs in their class don't do it willy-nilly. Flexibility, mental focus, breathing recovery—these things all matter, and they can improve your performance during future sessions. Make the most of every minute of your time in the class, not just the sweaty ones.