A lot of people are intimidated by group fitness classes, and I can understand why. The idea of trying to keep up with complicated routines and unfamiliar moves in front of a bunch of strangers isn’t exactly appealing, especially to a beginner.
But group fitness classes are so much more than that. They not only improve your health, they also teach you new skills, give you a group of exercise buddies, and make you feel good about yourself.
Attending group fitness classes got me through some of the toughest periods of my life, and they totally transformed my relationship with exercise. Here are my 8 best reasons to give them a try.
1. They Give You A Sense of Community
I was a university student when I first tried group fitness. My friends and I would attend aerobics classes two or three times a week, as a way to become more healthy and to relieve stress. (The classes were also an excuse to spend more time together instead of studying.)
When I came back from my year abroad, my friends had graduated, but I decided to start going again by myself. I made more of an effort to talk to the other regulars, and I looked forward to catching up with them each week. I didn’t become close friends with any of them—I can’t even remember most of their names—and yet the weekly conversation made me feel less alone during a particularly isolating time. I’ve moved a lot as an adult, and group fitness classes fill a void while I’m still making friends and getting used to the area.
TIP: Ask friends to go to a class with you instead of getting dinner and drinks. Or hit the gym beforehand! Alternatively, use the fitness class as “me time.”
2. They Help You Appreciate the Diversity of Bodies
My mind often wanders while I’m doing a grapevine or jumping jacks, and I start thinking about the other bodies in the room: I love that girl’s hair color, I want those sneakers, that man is so flexible, etc.
It occurred to me recently how wonderful it is to be surrounded by a group of active people who look so different to each other, compared to the homogenous image we’re fed in advertising and television. Being part of the group makes me appreciate what is special about my own body.
TIP: Most studios have mirrors. Figure out if you prefer to watch yourself while you work out or not. Some people feel that it helps them to get the moves right. My current place doesn’t use mirrors, which I’ve found makes me spend considerably less time thinking about how I look, and more time laughing.
3. You’ll Get a More Intense Workout
I don’t know about you, but I rarely work out for an hour non-stop unless someone is forcing me to. Which is the perk of having an instructor! If, like me, you hate slogging it out on the treadmill, group fitness classes may be a better fit for you. Fitness classes are excellent for beginners, or those who are bored of their usual routine.
I personally like to go to classes that are just cardio, as I do a separate weight training program. Some classes are one or the other, or a mix of both. Zumba and aerobics tends to be more cardio, whereas classes named something like “body conditioning” or “body pump” tend to include weights.
TIP: Try out different instructors. You will figure out whether or not you prefer the angry, aggressive type or the smiley, sweet ones. Also, you will probably develop some preferences based on music taste. A good fitness instructor will demonstrate proper form, especially if weights are involved.
4. You’ll Learn A New Skill
Exercise is often relegated to being a hobby, an outlet, an obsession, or a chore. Certainly, it can be any and all of these things. But it’s also an activity that gets more satisfying with knowledge and practice, without any need to be competitive or critical.
We typically talk about skills as something to benefit you as a professional, but they don’t have to be. I will never be a professional (Zumba) dancer, but each week that I go to class, I become more informed, more coordinated, and more confident. I feel proud of myself every time that I lead with the correct leg, turn the right way, or realize that the move works better if my foot is in a different position. Do I need this skill? No, but the fact that it boosts my self-esteem can’t be bad.
TIP: If you are a beginner, stand in the middle of the room. Ideally, you want to be able to see the instructor and also the row in front of you. Sometimes it’s easier to copy a less-polished regular than a professional. I don’t recommend standing at the back no matter how shy you are: you won’t be able to see as well, and some instructors like to make people turn and face the back as part of a routine, so you will be in full view anyway. Also, if you’re really not getting the moves, don’t bother with arms and just try to get the footwork right.
5. You’ll Discover Your Own Strengths
One time in college, our usual aerobics class was cancelled, so my friends and I tried out a circuit class. This is how I found out that I am just completely incapable of using a hula-hoop, but one of my friends was so good that the instructor came over to compliment her. Similarly, in graduate school, I dragged a reluctant friend to Zumba and she was a natural: she had great rhythm and was able to pick up the moves with little effort while I huffed along next to her.
I will say that I never discovered an untapped ability to dance like Beyoncé, but thanks to group fitness I do know that I am more flexible than average, and great at things like jumping and high kicks. So much of the time that we talk about our bodies, we focus on how we look—“I hate my big thighs, I love my small waist”—but I’ve found that I’m much happier when I focus on what my body can do.
TIP: Try out different classes. There are so many classes out there that I cannot list all of them! My budget-friendly gym only offers basics like Zumba, yoga and spinning, but many gyms have classes as varied as aqua aerobics, barre and HIIT (high intensity interval training). Read the descriptions, watch an example on YouTube, or ask the gym front desk to advise you on the best classes for beginners.
6. They Help You Relieve Stress
Exercise has so many magical benefits that go beyond the moment and impact everyday life. It helps you sleep, puts you in a good mood, and builds physical and mental health. By working through physical discomfort, you are learning to challenge yourself and deal with stress in a healthy way. You can carry this ability with you when it comes to the pressures of work, relationships and future aspirations.
TIP: Most instructors will finish class with a cool down, featuring relaxing stretches and slow music. If you’re under stress, make a playlist of soothing music to listen to on your way home, or take some extra time to stretch by yourself. You could follow up your workout with meditation!
7. They Help To Build Your Confidence
I truly believe that going to group fitness classes, and pushing myself out of my comfort zone on a regular basis, has helped me when it comes to giving presentations, going to interviews, or teaching workshops.
Recently, I started a new class where the instructor insisted on a minute of freestyling. The first time I went through this, I spent the drive home swearing about how humiliated I was and how I was never going back. Once I’d cooled off, I reasoned that it was probably good for me to experience a loss of control sometimes. So I went back. And again, and again. Now, I can’t say I love doing my own thing, but I probably feel less silly than the people in the room who are so self-conscious that they completely freeze and do nothing.
My instructor always says: “Try out a dance move you saw online, or on MTV, wherever!” Unfortunately for me, I always picture Hanna Marin from “Pretty Little Liars.”
TIP: Wear an outfit that makes you feel good. Whether that is all black or neon, covered up or scantily clad (within reason!), showing school spirit or your whimsical side, do what makes you feel best. It’s your choice if you prefer to wear makeup and style your hair, or if you like to be super casual—and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I get strangely excited when I get to wear a llama tank top to the gym.
8. You’ll Just Have Fun!
Exercise should be enjoyable, and I have never gone to a fitness class and not laughed at least once. I’m serious about that. There’s something about being part of a room full of people who are hopping around, flapping their arms, and stepping in a sort-of unison, that makes me giggle every time.
And if you’re feeling self-conscious of what other people will think, I want to tell you that after attending many, many fitness classes and making a fool of myself 99% of the time, I’ve never felt judged by the instructor or other participants. If you are nervous, look for a class that is for beginners or ask to meet with the instructor first.
Personally, the only time I’ve noticed others in the room laughing at me was when I accidentally grabbed another woman’s butt when I was reaching for the door. Of course it was embarrassing, but it was also hilarious.
TIP: Go at different times of the day. I realized that I am more in the mood to laugh during evening classes than morning ones. If your schedule allows it, try classes in the mornings, afternoons and evenings, and see which time of day lifts your spirit the most!
Don’t Have a Gym Membership?
Check your community listings to see if there are any instructors teaching independent programs, or organizations offering classes. I know that my town has fitness classes hosted by a health nonprofit, a library, a brewery, and a downtown park. Some are even free! Alternatively, you could purchase a fitness DVD and host a group class for you and your friends.
I hope I’ve given you enough encouragement to try out some classes. It may not be easy at first, but I promise that you will keep getting better, and, if nothing else, you will have something to laugh about!
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