Food & Fitness

Tips on joining a group exercise class

Earlier this week, I made the (excellent) decision to join the new Good Life Fitness gym that opened up several blocks away from my condo. Now that I’ve completed university, I will no longer have free access to the university gym. I thought about going back to the YMCA that I used to be a member of, but the group fitness classes are set up at inconvenient times compared to my work schedule, and it’s also pricier without my old student discount.

I took a tour through Good Life Fitness and fell in love with the fancy equipment (complete with a television and iPod dock for each machine), the large windows looking out onto downtown Winnipeg (this gym is on the 7th floor of an office building), the sparkling cleanliness, and the gigantic group fitness room. I signed my membership and climbed onto the Stairmaster for the first time. Total bliss (in a super-intense, really sweaty sort of way).

The following day I happily trotted off to the gym for a 7am Body Pump class. When we started the class, there was one other person there besides me and the instructor. Partway through the class, another woman joined us. Three students for an hour-long strength training class! I’ve never been to a fitness class with so few people, but considering that the gym only opened up a few weeks ago, it makes sense that it would be off to a slow start.

I adore group fitness classes. At the YMCA, I regularly attended step, kickboxing, and cardio-strength classes; I’ve also completed a Level One group course in belly dancing and I’ve attended several month-long sessions of group boot camps. Group fitness can be intimidating, but there are a few things that you can do to ensure that your group fitness experience is the best it can be:

1) Get to know the instructor. I wish I had done this at the YMCA. I adored my instructors but I never spoke to them. When I ended my membership because I was going travelling, I thought about saying goodbye to my instructors, but I didn’t. I regret not telling them how much I sincerely loved their classes. Many instructors operate on a volunteer basis; they are there for their passion for fitness. Let them know how much you appreciate their help in getting into shape. Besides that, getting to know the instructor could be useful because they might have some helpful tips for you in terms of improving technique.

2) Ask questions. The first time you attend a class, it pays if you arrive early and ask the instructor if there’s anything that you should know about ahead of time. Find out what kind of equipment you’ll be using. If it’s a cycling class, make sure you know how to use the bike machine. I once attended a cycling class at the YMCA on a whim, and I had no idea how to set up the bike. I was too shy to ask someone. Although it didn’t end in a total disaster, it very easily could have. Until yesterday I hadn’t been to a group cycling class since then because I didn’t like it, which I believe is primarily because I had no idea how to fit the bike to my height. In yesterday’s 50-minute RPM class, I learned the correct way of setting up my bike and although it was a grueling session, I really enjoyed getting a great workout before 7am and I will definitely be taking cycling classes a couple times a week! I’m very glad that I checked with the instructor about how to set up my bike. For the sake of safety and enjoyment, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

3) Practice appropriate etiquette. Wipe down your mat and other equipment when you’re finished using them- proper hygiene is really important in a gym full of sweaty people, especially when countless people may be using the same equipment as you throughout the day. Also, don’t take up more space than you need. If the class is full of people, try not to stand directly in front of someone else. Stand off to the side a bit so that everyone has space to move around and to see both the instructor and their form in the mirror. This is another important one for safety as well as personal enjoyment of the class. Besides, it’s nice to be on good terms with people. In all likelihood, you’ll be seeing many of the same people in the class if you start attending a fitness class regularly. You don’t have to become friends with them, but being friendly is a common courtesy.

4) If you fall behind, skip a couple moves. The music moves fast, and at some point, we’re all liable to fall slightly behind the instructor. Rather than speeding up through the moves to catch up, it’s a better idea to simply skip the move you stumbled on and just do whichever move the instructor has gone onto. The reason for this is that you could injure yourself from being sloppy with form (especially if you’re holding onto weights or if you’re tired), and you also might confuse someone else in the class who has been watching you. In big classes, not everyone can see the instructor, so the people at the back tend to look towards the people in front of them to see what moves are being done (I know, because I was often the person hiding at the back at the YMCA). You’ll likely have another chance later in the class to try the move again- skip it for now and that way you won’t get behind on any other parts of the exercise.

5) Come prepared. Arrive before the class starts so that you can get a “good” spot in the room: you want to be able to see the instructor and also a mirror so that you can ensure that your form is correct. If you can, situate yourself so that you can see a couple other classmates, too; sometimes it helps to be able to see the moves from someone right beside you rather than just the instructor. Set up all of your equipment and be ready for when the class starts; most classes begin with a warm-up, but you can also do a few of your own stretches to limber up. Bring a bottle of water, no matter how easy you might think the class will be. Chances are, you’ve underestimated the class and the instructor (again, I know this because I’ve been cocky in the past and thought that the class would be a breeze. It hasn’t ever been). You want to keep hydrated at all times. If you like wearing gloves while lifting weights, be sure to bring them. And, of course, always wear appropriate footwear and clothes that you can workout in.

Do you like group exercise? What are some of your tips for navigating through a group fitness class? What’s your favourite kind of group class? Share your tips and experiences from group fitness classes in the comments below!


  1. sophia

    I’ve never joined a group exercise before…I’m considering it for next semester…maybe hip hop. But I am intimidated, bc I am clumsy and I KNOW I’ll make a fool out of myself in a huge crowd!

  2. asithi

    At the old gym I was in, the group exercise is in front of the cardio machines. Sometimes I would watch a class while I am on the treadmill for a while before deciding whether or not I want to join them for the next class.

    I used to worry about making a fool of myself, but I can’t become a “regular” unless I show up regularly to the group class.

  3. charlotte

    Group fit has changed my life. Seriously! I recommend it to everyone. There’s just something about exercising in a community that makes you more accountable, work harder and have more fun!! Great post, Sagan!

  4. Sagan Morrow

    Sophia- I make a fool of myself all the time with natural clumsiness. But it’s FUN and worth it- everyone makes mistakes at some point! Hip hop would be awesome to try.

    Asithi- That’s a really neat set-up, to have the cardio machines facing the classes. It would probably be less intimidating for a lot of people if they can suss it out ahead of time.

    Charlotte- I know exactly what you mean- I feel just the same way!

  5. SeaBreeze

    Goodlife Fitness used to be Bala Fitness and the members transfered over from the previous gym for the most part. I am surprised that there were so few people, but that is likely to be the norm because the gym has been in that location for years. Just a thought. Also, I LOVE their change rooms with Sauna and Steam Room.

  6. Dr. J

    I joined a good fitness center many years ago. It took a little getting used to. Now it’s a GREAT fitness center and feels like my home away from home 🙂

    I agree with Charlotte that the communal energy of the group is a great underutilized energy previously only known to surfers and monks 🙂

    If you are ever in my town, I’ll take you to ours!

  7. clare

    nice post sagan! i love group “X” (as we dub it in writing here) but i dont participate too much because of my own physical restrictions. besides yoga, most of the cardio classes are too much jumping around for me, and the lower impact options dont give me enough of a workout. anyways, bla bla…i do love the energy that comes with group X. when i go to a yoga class or studio that im new to, i find it helps me to just smile at people a lot and try to open “conversation” with other students who look like “regulars” by asking about the facility or the class or something. this usually helps me feel more at ease in a new place.

  8. Cammy@TippyToeDiet

    Excellent tips, Sagan! I still haven’t joined a group class, but there are a couple I’ve got my eye on. (So many choices, so little time…) My one wish is that my gym’s classes weren’t in a glass-walled room. I’m not fond of being watched while I stumble around. 🙂

  9. Sagan Morrow

    She-Fit- SO much fun.

    Seabreeze- No problem! I have yet to try out the sauna at my location; looks like it would be a nice treat though.

    Dr. J- Done! I’ll take you up on that 🙂

    Clare- YES the energy is great. There’s such positive feelings at group exercise classes. That must be really frustrating about the cardio classes, though; it’s rough when physical limitations get in the way.

    Cammy- Something I love about glass walls in a group exercise class is that a) it makes you work harder when you think that people are watching you, and b) you just might be motivating someone outside those walls to try the class!

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