Until a few years ago, I had never, ever exercised with any intention. I played basketball and volleyball in middle school, but those practices were largely spent hiding from the ball, avoiding drills, and I rode the bench a lot during games.
In college, I would occasionally use the elliptical, and I took a pilates class to fulfill my physical fitness requirement.
That was it.
I do remember setting out to “go on a run” on campus at some point, maybe my junior year. I couldn’t even run for one straight minute.
It wasn’t until a few years later, when I was in grad school, that something snapped. I don’t remember what the catalyst was, but I do know that I downloaded the Couch 2 5K app on my iPhone 4, and I taught myself how to run 3.2 miles on sidewalks around my shitty apartment in midtown Kansas City. It was the first time that I had stuck to an exercise regimen, and I got so much stronger. I had calf muscles! I had cardiovascular endurance!
But, the truth is that I never really liked running. It’s just fine. It’s basically free, you can do it anywhere, and it doesn’t take long to get a solid, fat-burning workout in. It’s just so boring. So I didn’t stick to it. I’d go through phases of running 10-or-so miles each week and phases of barely getting my ass off the couch.
So, between 2014-2016, I exercised off and on. I ran on the treadmill, I went to occasional church rec room zumba classes (can’t beat a $3 class, even if you don’t attend the church), and I did some yoga and pilates.
It wasn’t until the start of 2017 that I really figured out how to stick to exercise. Turns out that I love group fitness. I love the accountability and the community, I love watching my classmates get stronger and slimmer over time, and the classes are FUN. Beyond getting a genuine runner’s high once or twice, I’m not sure I’d ever had fun before with routine, weekly exercise.
Each week, I take four classes: two zumba and two spin. Those four hours are some of my favorites of the week. I show up, give it my all, and then coast on the endorphins that you only get from dripping sweat.
Keep reading for my top three tips for liking, loving, and looking forward to a fitness class.
Note: I’m lucky enough to take zumba at my company’s gym for free, and I take spin at my very cheap suburban community gym (only $25/mo, all classes included). I found those spin classes through Google! If you’re interested in taking a class, and don’t know where to start, Google is your BFF. If your city has a gym that you’re already subsidizing through taxes, take advantage of it! I’m kicking myself for not using this resource earlier.
- When you show up to class, get in the front row!
This tip is the most important of the three, and the next two depend on this one to really work.
If you’re new to the class, it may be your impulse to hide in the back. Don’t do it! Getting in the front row means that you’ll have fewer distractions, you’ll be able to see the instructor better, and she’ll be able to see you! In a class like zumba, where you need to be able to see the instructor’s whole body, you’re doing yourself a huge favor by getting to class early and claiming one of those front row spots. You’ll be able to see exactly how the instructor moves her feet, which means you won’t have to guess.
When the instructor can see you, she’ll be able to correct your form, which means your workout will only be better. There’s no sense in doing an hour-long workout incorrectly, especially since you could hurt yourself that way.
Being in the front has always helped me to learn the moves more quickly. There’s no trying to see around the woman in front of you, or finding your view blocked during songs with lots of jumping (I’m pretty short). And learning the moves means that you can get that much more sweat out of the class. Once you learn all the moves to a zumba routine (the BEST feeling), you can power through the song at your maximum level, instead of pausing to watch the instructor.
- Even once you’re in the front, please remember that no one is watching you. No one looking at your resistance level on your spin bike, and no one’s making a mental note when you miss an arm press rep. Everyone is focused on their personal workout. Especially in a studio with mirrors, they’re looking at themselves or at the instructor. Seriously.
No one cares that you’re sweating like a cold beer, no one cares that you’re tomato-faced, and no one cares that you’re not performing at the same level as the instructor.
If someone has time to stare at your workout, they’re not working hard enough.
Deciding that you won’t take a class because you’ll feel embarrassed or because you’re unsure that you’ll be able to keep up is just an excuse. No one is perfect in these classes. People modify the moves all the time, instructors lose count of reps, and no one cares. We’re all there with the same goal, so perfection isn’t expected.
When it comes to zumba, for example, I may know the moves, but I’m not executing them with any style or grace. And moves when the arms and legs move in opposite directions? Forget about it. I am literally incapable. But you know what I do instead? I just move my body in the best approximation of the choreography that I can. Because the only thing that really matters is that I keep moving. So what that my left hand is in the air when my right hand should be? No one cares!!!!!!
Making this realization was the biggest turning point for me. Once you get in the mindset that no one is watching, it’s so much easier to go all-in. If your instructor says to sing along, sing along! If a zumba routine ends with you slapping your own butt, slap your butt! What is the point in showing up if you’re not going to give it your all?
- I love classes because they’re a combination of solo exercise and camaraderie, but that camaraderie only comes it you make buddies. It’s the best to have someone to high five after getting through a particularly hard set of reps or someone to roll your eyes with when an annoying song comes on. Chat with other women in the locker room, commiserate about how sore you are from Monday’s class, and encourage them if they seem down. Knowing that I have friends in the class that will miss me if I skip makes it that much more important to get my booty to the gym.
Exercise classes have changed my life. Seems melodramatic, but it’s true. I am more fit, more confident, and more energetic. And I look forward to classes, even the one at 5:15 a.m. And, that, my friends, must be some kind of magic.
What classes do you love? What are your best workout tips? Are there roadblocks preventing you from taking a class?
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