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!