Nine Reminders For Group Fitness Classes

Like every January, group fitness classes at your gym will be packed. Here are some tips to help you stay safe, get stronger, and get the most out of your workouts.

1.) Be on time. Early is on time and on time is late. If the class begins at 8:00AM, don’t walk into the gym at 8. By the time you put your belongings in a locker, check-in at the front desk, and fill your water bottle the class has already started. You still have to get your equipment (if any) that you’ll need for the class. I understand that things happen and sometimes life will make us late. If that happens, perform a warm-up instead of trying to jump right into the workout. Prep your body!
Instructors: Start your classes on time. Don’t get in the habit of starting a few minutes late because the room is 50% full. This sends a message to the late-comers that it’s okay to disregard the time of those that were on time.

2.) Bring a lock, use a locker. Remember that liability waiver that you signed? There’s a bit in there about the gym not being responsible for your lost/stolen items. Please don’t bring your gym bag and work bag into the group exercise room just because you were running late (see above). People can trip over your things. People can also walk out with your bag. That’s actually happened to me. The instructor that taught the class before me had an identical bag. He accidentally grabbed my bag and didn’t make it far before we realized what happened and switched. Please put your things away.
Instructors: Please tell them to put their things away. Keep the members safe and the room free from dangerous clutter.

3.) No phones. Put down your goddamned phone. You don’t need a phone to workout. “But, Jet, my HR monitor app is on my phone! I keep track of my workouts on my phone. I’m paying the parking meter with my phone.” Okay, set that app, shut off your screen and come workout. If I see you looking at your phone in a group exercise environment, you’re sending a clear message that fitness isn’t your primary concern. That’s fine, but it begs the question, why are you here? What do you hope to accomplish while staring into your phone? It amuses me when people try to explain their reasons for texting/talking on their phones during a class. The excuse always has to do with their profession. “I’m a secret agent. I’m a nanny. I’m an engineer. I’m Jack Bauer and I have 23 hours left to save America. I’m the only person in town with water and there’s a fire.” I don’t give a shit what you’re talking about or to whom you’re talking. Take it outside. In this moment, your profession is not more important than the fitness goals of 30 other people! Someone challenged me on this and asked, “So, wait, if I have to be on call for work, then my choice is to get fired or take your class?” Look, if being off your phone for an hour means you’ll get fired from your job, you should either get a new job or do your own workout.
Instructors: Before you take any job make sure that your manager/director will back you up on a zero tolerance policy for phones in class. Enforce that policy by asking the person to leave, even if it means turning down the music and making a scene. Kick them out! Also, if you are using your phone to play music or to use a timer app for your class, set the airplane mode. No one wants to hear you receiving text messages while they’re doing Burpees.

4.) Wear the right shoes. There are weightlifting shoes, minimalist running shoes, cycling shoes, basketball shoes, etc. Don’t try to wear one pair of shoes for different workouts. Someone came into cycling class with Vibram Five Finger shoes. She was late (see above), it was dark, and I didn’t see her shoes in time to send her away. She left the class limping. I wouldn’t be surprised if her foot was bleeding by the end. Nike Free running shoes are popular. That doesn’t mean that they’re right for you. If I had a penny for every time someone told me that their knees/ankles/shins hurt after going on a hike or during a cycling class while wearing Nike Free shoes, I’d have about 43 cents. Wear the right shoes, not the cute shoes.
Instructors: Be the shoe police. The wrong shoe shouldn’t always exclude that person from a class, only in extreme cases (like the Vibram cycling case above). You should be able to suggest the right shoes at the end of the class.

5.) Bring a proper water bottle. Invest in a water bottle that has, at least, a 24 ounce capacity. Hydrate! In one day, you should drink a certain number of ounces of water. You can do your own research as to how much you should drink based on your body. Just know that listening to what makes sense for your body is more important than what the internet says is a one size fits all solution. I often remind class members to fill up their water bottles before class begins. They don’t or they have small water bottles. They end up rushing to the water fountain during a break.
Instructors: Remind everyone to hydrate! This is only suitable in some classes. Certain workouts don’t call for constant hydration. But, based on the format, give them gentle reminders.

6.) Communicate your body’s unique challenges. Another benefit to arriving early (see above) is that you can tell the instructor about any injuries/challenges you may have. Not everything is an injury, so when I use the word “challenges”, I’m referencing issues like fused vertebrae or anatomical anomalies that limit your range of motion in any way. I have one leg shorter than the other. Because I wear a heel lift, my range of motion isn’t limited. If I were to forget my heel lift, I would tell the coach that I won’t be doing any jumping during class. As an Instructor for a room filled with 30 people I have seconds to come to a conclusion about everyone’s ability level. When I’m not given enough information, I’m left with my own assumptions. If I see you deviate from the exercise I just described, I’m left with three assumptions. 1.) The person didn’t understand the exercise mechanics. 2.) The person feels too challenged with this particular exercise and opted not to try. 3.) There is an injury. Once you step into the group fitness room, you become our responsibility. That’s why you sign those liability waivers and that’s why instructors have liability insurance. Keeping you safe is more important than putting you through a “killer” workout. Help us to help you. Tell us about your injuries/challenges and let us modify the exercises for you. That brings me to my next point (#7).
Instructors: The attendees should tell you about their bodies, but sometimes they’ll be afraid or self-conscious. Get in the habit of inviting the class to tell you about their injuries (do this before class begins). You’re not there to rehab their injuries, especially not in a group setting. But, we can keep things from getting worse.

7.) Don’t do your own thing. This is a group class. This is the place for the hive mind. We’re all here to do the same exercises, even if some have to perform a regressed version while others perform a progressed version. FFS, don’t do your own thing. I’ve had people tell me, in a class, “I prefer to do it this way.” I would try to explain that “this way” was poor form and that they could hurt themselves, they disagreed. This isn’t the place for a debate. Check your ego at the door. If your hubris is such that you don’t want to be told what to do, do your own workout, on your own. No one will force you into a group environment. You become the Instructor’s responsibility once you set foot in their class. If you do your own thing, you’re tasking them with monitoring the form of your exercises that are drastically different from the rest of the hive
Instructors: This isn’t the place for a debate. Ignore the rebel until the class is over or until there’s a break. Pull them to the side, off the mic and explain that if they want to do their own workout, they should do it elsewhere. Again, make sure that you have the support of management before such a confrontation. Also, as an Instructor, don’t do your own thing and make up unsafe exercises. There’s no reason for anyone to be pedaling on a stationary bike, out of their seat, without both hands on the handle bars. This would never happen on a real bike and puts unnecessary pressure on the pedal axles. I’ve seen those pedals come off, no matter how new or well-maintained the bikes may be. Coach them to keep their hands on the handle bars. Keeping the members safe is our first priority.

8.) Deliver criticism to the source. In the event that you were unhappy with a class, check-in with yourself. Was it the class or the instructor? Try the same class with a different instructor. If it was the instructor, choose your delivery of criticism carefully. Try speaking directly to the instructor. Seek to understand before attempting to be understood. Approaching anyone with, “you know what I hate about you” while waving your finger in their face will just put them on the defensive. “Why did you make us do burpees for 45 minutes if this is a pilates class?”, would be a better approach. There’s always a danger of miscommunication when complaining to someone’s manager. Inevitably, something will get lost in translation and your message will be perceived as harsher than intended. Just speak to the instructor.
Instructors: Without sounding like a lecturer, explain the why behind the routine. “We’re doing core first to warm up instead of doing it at the end when your arms are fatigued and you can’t hold plank.” Also, invite criticism. Ask them, “how was class today?” “Are there any questions, comments, or concerns? I’d love to hear them.” Be affable.

9.) Relax, Breathe Deeply, Smile, Repeat. Relax, no group exercise routine will cure cancer the world over. Leave your problems at the door and escape through the sweat. Breathing is important to any workout. The type of breathing is going to be different based on the workout, but find a rhythm to your breathing and give your body the oxygen it needs. Smiling helps your workout. That’s not scientifically proven. But, follow my train of thought. Smiling creates a positive association with whatever you’re doing at the time. Don’t believe me? What were you doing the last time you laughed really hard? Laughing is the original ab workout. So, smiling and laughing should be a part of any workout. You should have fun while exercising. No matter what your fitness goals, you’re not going to accomplish them in one hour. Repeat, try a class twice. Try other classes, try all of the classes (remembering to rest in between). Find the classes that your body enjoys. Burpees aren’t for everybody, neither is cycling. Try, try, try, repeat.
Instructors: Remind them how to breathe and remind them often. Whether you want to be or not, you’re on stage. Make this a fun and memorable experience. Do some call & response, laugh with them (not at them), laugh at yourself (if you demonstrate an exercise and stumble), have fun as you teach and they’ll have fun doing it.

I hope you’ve found this helpful. Try these habits all through January and all of 2018. Here’s to your strength!

Love Your Sweat

There are many times that I’m certain my words will get me fired from my job as a fitness coach. Taken out of context, some of the things I say to my clients would certainly raise some eyebrows. Recently, I said eight letters, three words to a client that would certainly fall under the “outside of my scope as a trainer” umbrella. I told a client, “I love you.” *Cue the dramatic music as the audience gasps* It’s true, I love my clients. I don’t have a favorite, all of my clients are completely different from one another. But, I love them all for the same reasons. In each of my clients, I see a human being that has made a conscious decision to take control of their fitness level. We don’t lose our health with old age, instead we give it away throughout our lives with the unhealthy choices that we make.

There are times when my clients will scream, cuss, cry, call out for Jesus, or tell me that they hate me. I embrace the four agreements, so I don’t take (most) things personally. I get it. I recognize the catharsis behind their words and actions and it makes me love my clients even more. We all have a choice. We have a choice to step up to challenges and gain strength or we can accept what’s in front of us and choose not to take charge of our fitness level. We can choose to be any BODY that we want. Trust me, before you start listing the excuses, I’ve heard most of them and used the rest of them myself.

Love who you are and grow stronger from there. In daily interactions, I’d love to see more body faming and less body shaming. Shouldn’t it be easier to see the beauty in ourselves and others than it is to find reasons for critique and judgment? I love my clients for making the choice to not judge themselves (too harshly) and committing to a new challenge in their lives. “Jet, you don’t know your clients very well. We judge ourselves all of the time!” That may be true. But, perhaps it’s the raised serotonin levels from the workout. When I see my clients sweating and smiling, I see self love manifest. I see someone that doesn’t want to fall victim to hereditary diseases. I see someone that recognizes the relationship between body composition and life expectancy. (Quick note on BMI, ignore it. BMI is an outdated metric used by insurance companies to make denying coverage easier. BMI doesn’t take a lot of other deciding factors-BF% for one-into consideration. So, at 5’11”, 195 pounds and 10% body fat, BMI will list a person as overweight.) In my clients, I see a human being that is in a better mood by the end of the session (even if the only reason for the better mood is that the session has ended). Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep putting in the work. Love your sweat.

Pardon My Catharsis

I’m in the middle of a workout. To be more specific, I’m in the middle of my workout. As a member, client, class regular, friend, co-worker or otherwise, I hope that you won’t take it personally when I ignore you. I’m in this line of work because I want nothing more than to help people. Before becoming a fitness coach people started asking me about my workout plan because they watched me gain 40 pounds of muscle in about 8-10 months. I was happy to share my workout plan. (I have no recollection of what that, circa 1997, plan was.) I just wanted to help people. Years later, I was working out at the Gold’s Gym in Las Vegas (before becoming an employee) and I was giving unsolicited advice to people with poor form. I was trying to correct their form and warn them against injury. They would nod and smile only to go back to poor form after I walked away. So, I earned my certification and got the red shirt with “TRAINER” stamped on the back so that people wouldn’t think of me as some random knob that was posing as Nick Know-it-all. I just wanted to help people.

I’d like to think that I speak for all fitness coaches when I say that we want nothing more than to help every person that we coach. Fitness coaches also need time for our own self-care. We need the emotional space to practice what we preach. There will come a time when you see your coach wearing headphones and in the zone of their own workout. There may come a time when I’m about to lift something heavy and a familiar face approaches me for a chin wag. Pardon my catharsis, I’m practicing self-care and my hope is that you won’t take it personally as I ignore your attempt to chat. I need this time for me. I could write pages about the physical benefits of exercise. But, my hope is that you experience those, improved energy – better sleep habits – mental clarity, benefits already. I’m writing all of this to remind you of the emotional benefits to exercise. If you’ve ever began a workout while angry, you know exactly what I mean.

Over the years, my anger has generated enough adrenaline for me to lift heavier, run faster/farther and to feel less pain during my workouts. By the end of those angry workouts, my serotonin levels had been boosted enough for me to find myself *insert OK Computer voice* “calmer/fitter/happier/more productive”. Wait, now what was I mad about? I’ve never been able to hold on to anger through an intense workout. Pardon my catharsis, I need to sweat this out. Let me be clear, lifting the heavy things doesn’t automagically make you happy and calm. It’s not that simple. If it were, we wouldn’t have such disdain for moving day! Deliberate physical activity (exercise and making sweet love) will boost serotonin levels. However, there is a second-step that I recommend. Ask yourself the tough questions during your workout. Why am I angry? Why am I sad? Why am I tense/anxious/annoyed? Ask those questions and let the answers come to you as you challenge yourself with your next exercise. “Jet, I’m not mad. I’ve got no drama in my life. Do I need anger in order to have a good workout?” No, silly goose, of course you don’t.

Evander Holyfield once said something I’ll never forget. When asked about his music selection for entering the ring (he chose Gospel music while his competitor chose Rap music with aggressive lyrics) he responded with this to say. “I’ll never understand why you have to get angry to do something that requires skill.” I’m paraphrasing this quote from memory. But, I’ve used this as a reminder that anger is not (and should not be) the only fuel for a workout. The music doesn’t always have to be aggressive. [
Challenge: Change your workout music selections. Try a completely different genre. Run to classical music. Lift weights to old soul (Ray Charles/James Brown/et al.). Perform Plyometrics to Ska or Swing music. Try something new with your music this week.] The workout will always act as a catharsis. Start your workout in a good mood and feel even better afterwards. There are no bad days, but any day can get better. So, excuse my headphones, pardon my catharsis, I need to work through this hour of my own self-care. I hope that you (fitness enthusiasts, fellow coaches, and clients) don’t take it personally if I ignore you on the workout floor. I’ll answer any questions you may have sooner than later. Until then, work hard until the work isn’t hard and then make it harder. #GetUp

Start Where You Are

My first dance with self-doubt happened when I had 11 years and my favorite rap group, the Fat Boys, had released their movie “Disorderlies” on VHS! I wanted to watch it. But, my brother’s room was the entire basement and he held control of the big screen TV and VCR. So, I had to ask for big brother’s permission. Staying true to the asshole big brother/jock stereotype, he wouldn’t allow me to watch the movie unless I did one push-up. Just one? No problem! I tried. I failed. Problem. I was convinced that this was an unreasonable request and that I’d never watch the movie. I struggled for what felt like an hour to do that one goddamned push-up. When I was done, he kept his word and we watched “Disorderlies” and it was ridiculous. He was sure to point out that the test wasn’t to prove to him that I could do the push-up. The test was to prove it to myself. I didn’t really know how to process that at such a young age. It wasn’t until I began to notice the direct correlation between people’s abilities and their use of positive language that I understood. Flash forward to a high school weight room with strong teenagers encouraging each other to lift more than the last set. All of the language was positive in that room. There was no “can’t” language spoken in that weight room. I learned to stop saying, “I can’t do [blank]!”, just because I was never given the building blocks or coaching techniques to do so. Instead, I learned to ask for help. Here’s my challenge to you. Don’t say that you can’t just so that you’ll have an excuse not to try. Here’s my challenge to you. Speak/Think about what you can do and use that positive momentum to build. “Yeah, but Jet, I haven’t been doing push-ups since I was 11!” So what, start today with no regrets of when you did/didn’t start. As long as ambition exists, don’t try to convince yourself that there’s no way something can be done. What would your average day feel like if you replaced every can’t with a can?

“To achieve greatness, start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.” -Arthur Ashe

Think Ahead, Use Your Head, Get Ahead, Stay Ahead

Looking ahead to what’s next is how we keep moving forward. I’d never suggest that you live in the future tense. We all do that too much as it is. We wonder about tomorrow, we lament on last week. We wander around distracted with no focus on today. No, I’m suggesting that you look ahead to your more immediate next step. When riding a bike, you look *through* the turn. When running, you judge the obstacles in the distance. Will you need to test your agility to make it past that couple holding hands on the narrow path? Will you run right through them and treat their arms like finish line tape? When performing any coordinated exercise, your brain stays engaged, thinking of foot/hand placement. Embrace that ideal of looking ahead to the next moment while staying present in this one. If that sounds contradictory, recognize that it takes some time to master this technique. (I am not an expert. However, I’ve watched people that are far better at this practice than myself.) Consider a juggler’s process. The hand is ready for the catch before the ball/knife/chainsaw falls to the ground. That happens by looking ahead to the next moment while staying present in *this* moment enough to toss the third/fourth/fifth item into the air. Please remember, thinking ahead is very different from multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is a myth. Multi-tasking is just doing many things, poorly, at once, instead of doing one thing well. Instead, I try to use the same logic as my cousin, the Navy S.E.A.L. “Think ahead, use your head, get ahead, stay ahead.”, he would say. I’m suggesting that you do the same in an effort to help your training. Think about your meals for the day so that you won’t have to *scavenge* for fast food. Think about your training attire and check the weather to see if they match. Think about the duration of the workout and give your best effort, without emptying your reserve tank in the first 15 minutes. (Be patient and your reserve tank will grow as your level of fitness improves.)

“So What” – A Mantra for Strength

You’ve come to me, your Fitness Coach, with some big goals in mind. I’m happy to help you accomplish those goals. But, it’s important that you don’t stand in your own way. You have the potential to be your own worst enemy. Your harshest criticism will come from the mirror, not your friends. We emotionally abuse ourselves. If you don’t believe me, how often have you said something to/about yourself that you’d never want to hear from a lover or friend? When I broke my foot on a run, I replayed alternate outcomes of the scenario on a non-stop loop in my head. “If I only I had…” “But, what if I turned right…” In times like that, I’m forced to remember that I don’t use the words “should have”. When spoken in that order, those words are dangerous. How many times have you become upset with yourself and used those words? “I should have worked out today!” “I should have performed better in that race.” Using those words leads down a rabbit hole of regret. Those regrets lead to bad decisions. “I should have worked out today. That’s ok, I’ll just workout twice as hard and twice as long tomorrow!” Please don’t do that. Choosing to double-up your workouts to compensate for unplanned off days will only lead to fatigue and a potential injury. The other danger of ‘should have’ comes when life places an obstacle in the way of your training. If you are ever forced to take a break from the sport that you love the most, you will survive. When you get back into that sport, avoid the ‘should have’ state of mind. “I should have kept at it.”

Be, especially, careful to avoid the ‘used tos’. “I used to be able to do this faster, better, stronger.” Sometimes, you will feel like your training hits a plateau. Sometimes, you’ll feel like your training has taken several steps back or that you’ve lost momentum. If any of the aforementioned challenges swing your way, I’d like to introduce the two most important words in the mental game of your training. So what. Clients often tell me what they were able to lift in high school. So what. Friends often talk about how active they were a few years ago. So what. Regulars often tell me that they’ve lost a step. So what. “Jet! You’re being insensitive. I just want to tell you about how awesome the past was. I just want to share some ‘remember when’ monologue, baby!” So what. Be here. Be aware. Do the work. Embrace the moment. You’ll miss what’s happening now if you continue to remember when. So, the next time that your training partner wants to tell you about how awesome their climbing skills were last year or how much they will be able to lift next year, remind them that work must be done today, before anything else matters. Are you going to let any PR from your past degrade your present efforts? Are you going to be your own source of emotional abuse by lamenting about getting slower or weaker? I hope not. I hope that when you think about your high school long jump record that you follow the thought with the phrase, so what.

When we use our past experiences for reference notes on what not to do, that’s wise. When we use our past experiences as an excuse to doubt our abilities today, that’s detrimental to our success. “Jet! I used to be the man on the court!” So what. We are here now in the present. Pleasant memories of your past physical strengths won’t serve you. Here’s what will serve you. During that next mirror conversation, as you appreciate your body beautiful make a statement. “I am here. This is now. I know that work needs to be done in order to reach my fitness goals. Part of that work is letting go of the past and choosing not to live in the future.” We are here. This is now. Work must be done, in this moment. The results will come.

I want to be clear, I’m not saying that setting goals and visualizing that future accomplishment is a bad thing. What I am saying is that getting lost in those days of future past can be another form of criticism that will not serve you or your efforts to grow stronger. Focus on the present. File the rest under SO WHAT and Giddyup!