Group fitness studios are popping up all over the place for a reason. Not only do we want a great workout in a top-notch environment, but we humans crave community and connection above all else. That’s why we’re willing to drop hundreds of dollars for studios like SoulCycle, Orangetheory, and even CrossFit.
But don’t be fooled by the great lighting and banging playlist. There’s a lot of work and practice that goes into creating the best experience for every individual in a group fitness setting. Top instructors connect and engage with every individual in the room, offer modifications when appropriate, and ensure people move safely, all while executing a seamless, fun, and energizing class you can’t wait to go to.
But what really takes a group fitness class to the next level is YOU, the attendee. Your energy is contagious; it fuels the instructor and the other participants, and depending on how you show up, it can make or break the experience for you and everyone else.
If you love attending group fitness classes, here are 5 simple but powerful rules to live by.
Rule #1 Disclose your current injuries and physical limitations before class
Recently, I was teaching an intermediate-level Pilates class with an unfamiliar group when I noticed one woman was visibly frustrated by the exercise we were doing. Several times throughout the class I noticed that she’d opt to do her own thing, and her facial expressions indicated she was not enjoying herself one bit.
Sensing her frustration, I walked over and asked if she was feeling okay and would like to try a modified version of the exercise.
“No. I’ve been doing Pilates for years. I just have a lot of injuries,” she said.
I nodded my head and let her know I was here to help if she needed me, and continued cuing the rest of the room.
Now here is where I want you to pay close attention, because this applies to everyone.
Instructors are expected to screen for injuries before a class begins, but it is still your job to disclose that vital piece of information. Even if you know how to modify yourself, your instructor cannot provide a fun, safe, and effective experience for you if you refuse to tell him or her you’re hurt beforehand.
The interaction above was extremely frustrating for me because not only did this individual not tell me she was injured when I asked the class beforehand (I asked 4x), but she was clearly not enjoying the class and there was nothing I could do about it.
It’s understandable if you don’t want to share the details of your limitations, but instructors aren’t mind readers and we’re responsible for your wellbeing throughout those 60 minutes. If you refuse to disclose crucial pieces of information (I’m talking about a pregnancy, a recent surgery, a fusion in your back, a muscle strain, a sprain…anything!) then we can’t guarantee your safety, and that puts us in a serious bind.
So often people disclose their limitations or injuries after class that I have to reiterate this point: Always disclose your specific injury or limitation to an instructor beforehand, even if you know how to modify.
Rule #2 If you’re new, arrive early. If you’re an ol’ G, be on time.
Ask any instructor what their biggest pet peeve is and they’ll tell you it’s tardiness.
Yes, we understand that there is traffic, parking issues, your kid threw a tantrum just as you were walking out the door and made you late. We’re humans and sometimes we’re late for things.
However, being late for a group fitness class puts everyone, including you, in a tough spot. I’ve had people show up 15 even 30 minutes late to a 50-minute class and put up a fight because I told them they couldn’t participate. This is never okay. Stop trying to “sneak” into the back; we’re not blind.
Rant aside, there is so much more that happens in the first 10 minutes of a class than just a warm-up. There is screening for injuries (see #1), warm-up details, the overview of the workout, specific instructions, and so on. Those first 10 minutes can set the tone for the entire workout!
If you’ve never taken this class before, are unfamiliar with the class structure and/or instructor, please do yourself a favor and show up early to your first class. That way you can get individualized attention, get set-up with ease, discuss your injuries, and ask your questions beforehand. If you’re a regular, do your best to be on time so you don’t disrupt the flow of the class trying to get your equipment together and find a good spot.
Rule #3 Show up for each other
What I love about group fitness is the comarardie that comes from a shared, sweaty experience. When a workout is tough and you’re all groaning together or high-fiving each other after a tough set, the energy in the room is contagious.
You, the attendee, are at the core of a group fitness experience, and you make it 10x better simply by showing up for each other throughout the class. A motivating instructor might bring out the kick-ass version of you, but it helps the entire class when you’re actively engaging with the instructor and the people around you.
Here are some ways to show up for each other in a class setting:
- If you see a newbie looking lost, confused, or struggling with her equipment, jump in to help. The instructor may be in the middle of helping someone else, and it’s always nice to give a peer a hand. I love it when my regulars help others out.
- When you see someone crushing their burpees, give them a high-five and motivate each other.
- Get to know one another. Laugh with each other, crack jokes. I’ve seen amazing friendships (and romances) come out of group fitness classes, and it’s all because someone showed up for another person in the room.
Rule #4 Take a little risk
Let’s say that you’ve been crushing your indoor cycling classes week after week, on the same bike for months. You choose the same bike every time. The same people ride next to you again and again. You’re far enough away from the fan, but close enough where you can still feel a breeze. This is the perfect environment for you to ride at your best.
This is where I challenge you to take some risks. Instead of using the same equipment, in the exact same spot, next to the exact same people you do every week, why not change your environment a bit?
What would happen if you rode closer to the front of the room on a different bike? What if you rode next to someone who is a top outdoor cyclist instead of your friend Sally? What if the conditions weren’t perfect (i.e you feel too hot, too cold, etc.) and you were actually uncomfortable for once?
All too often I see group fitness attendees stick to the same spot or equipment for months, even years, on end. Sure it might not seem like moving close to the front of the room or sitting next to that hardcore rider might make a difference, but that tiny little risk out of your comfort zone might be exactly what you need to push yourself more, change your experience, and get you better results.
Rule #5 Give shoutouts!
Giving an instructor direct positive feedback is always encouraged, but those shoutouts are even more valuable outside the studio. The more you share how much you love a class or an instructor – to other gym members, the gym manager, your friends, your social network – the more likely that this particular instructor is likely to stay on the schedule and continue giving you the workout you love.
By nature, we’re quick to criticize a company when things aren’t perfect, but slow to share praise when all is well (consider every friend who’s dissed an airline on Facebook because of one negative experience).
I wish it was the opposite because there is power in that positive feedback loop: More people show up for that instructor’s class, more people for you to interact and build community with, and the more likely that class/instructor will stay on.
Positive feedback is the lifeline of an instructor’s business. We may not make money off five-star Yelp reviews, but when attendees enthusiastically share how much fun they’re having, how enjoyable the class is, or how they love an instructor, people listen and show up. So if you love an instructor, say it loud and proud! To the owner, to the Internet, to your babysitter…tell everyone!
Group Fitness is About You!
Th group fitness experience is a collective effort and energy shared between everyone in the room. Sure, the instructor is in charge of leading the way, but when members show up at 100%, it helps everyone have the best experience possible.
You wouldn’t go to a concert and sit quietly in your seat the whole time, would you? So why hide out in the back of a class, avoiding eye contact and never interacting with people in your group fitness class?
When the instructor asks a question to the entire room, don’t whisper your reply; scream it. When you’re sprinting as fast as you can on the last verse of a song feeling like you want to die, let out the heavy sigh of relief when it’s over, clap your hands, holler…make some freaking noise.
Be present in your class. Speak up. This is a fitness class not Sunday mass.