Jumping into a new type of group exercise class takes guts. Thankfully, there are a few basic best practices — showing up early to let the instructor know you’re new, taking breaks as needed and easing into it — that apply across the board.
We spoke to instructors of 12 different fitness classes and their general advice was to not compare yourself to others, listen to your instructor and — most of all — listen to yourself. We also asked them what one specific thing students new to their classes need to know.
For example, in HIIT and CrossFit, every movement can be modified, so ask for options if they’re not offered. Whether you are injured, a movement doesn’t feel right or you’re not a box-jump pro (yet), speak up. “It is our job as trainers to customize the movements to fit your skill level,” says Lindsey Mikulecky, a CrossFit coach at BRICK Chicago. “That way everyone in class gets moving and gets closer to their individual goals.”
If you’re doing a TRX class, simply move your feet to make an exercise less or more intense. “To make the movements easier, move your feet away from the TRX anchor point,” explains Artemis Scantalides, co-owner of Boston’s Iron Body Studios. “That way you’re lifting less of your body weight. To make the movements harder, move your feet toward the anchor point, which means you’re lifting more of your body weight.”
Don’t let inflexibility keep you away from the barre. “Many are fearful of barre classes because they assume flexibility is a must,” says Kiesha Ramey-Presner, master instructor and vice president of teacher development at The Bar Method. “But a good barre class will offer tools and modifications for less-flexible students to benefit from the exercises and stretches just as much as their more-flexible counterparts.”
In indoor cycling classes, you get permission to go at your own speed. “Listen carefully for key information about three things: cadence, resistance and effort level, but go at your own pace,” says Christine D’Ercole, master instructor for Peloton, an indoor cycling studio that also offers streaming classes online.
“Then give yourself permission to stay in the saddle for your first ride,” she adds. Oftentimes instructors will tell you to get out of the saddle for hill climbs, but you don’t need to do those if you’re not up for it yet.
You should go at your own pace in yoga, too. No matter what type you choose to practice, the adage that it’s your practice is true. So make it yours. “Whenever you need to, take rest, drink water — do whatever best serves you,” says Jessica Matthews, a professor of yoga studies MiraCosta College in San Diego. “And try to alleviate any expectations you have. You will gain so many more benefits that way.”
By heeding advice from the instructors, you’ll walk out of class satisfied and confident to come back for more.