Eight tips for taking your first group fitness class

Tips for taking your first group fitness class coming your way! This post was originally published in 2017, and this is an updated version with the latest and greatest!

Group fitness is life changing, and I’m speaking from experience. If you’re thinking about taking your first group fitness class, I think you should do it.

Group fitness truly transformed my life many years ago, and since that time, I’ve become an instructor of multiple programs and a big proponent of getting more people into group fitness classes. My favorite way to exercise is in the group fitness studio, and I’ve seen so many success stories of people who have improved their lives, their fitness and their entire well-being by finding a good group fitness routine. There’s a reason why people become obsessed with classes. Classes are fun. Classes help you to do more. And classes can keep you consistent with a routine, as well as give you a chance to become a part of a community. 

But, I totally get it that it can be nerve-wracking to go to your first group fitness class. I’ve got you covered today with this one.

Eight tips for taking your first group fitness class

If you know someone who wants to get into group fitness, but is a little nervous to take that first step, please pass this post along to them.

Let’s get to those tips for taking your first group fitness class …

Eight tips for taking your first group fitness class by A Lady Goes West
1. Research the class you plan to take online and look for YouTube videos of what to expect.

The internet can be a very useful tool. Oftentimes, you can look up the class that you want to take and watch a preview online. And I highly recommend doing so. While being inside an actual group fitness studio with a real instructor and real participants is an entirely different experience, it’s absolutely beneficial to watch a preview before you go. This preview can give you an idea of some of the moves you may see in a real class and the essence of the workout. 

You may also be able to find an article online detailing the breakdown of the movements and sections, especially if it’s a branded class from a national studio or a pre-choreographed program found at many studios. I’ve written a ton of these posts myself on various classes, and you can find my class reviews here.

By the way, if you’re totally turned off by what you find online about a class, remember that the added in-person element of having a real-life instructor and participants in front of you will be a major benefit, so don’t write it off.

Reading an article or watching a video will give you a chance to see at least a taste of what you may be in for and then know better what to expect. You can even try to go through some of the moves on your own to get the feel for them, preparing yourself for your big debut.

2. Go to the studio where you want to take a class and watch the class from the window, if possible.

Some group fitness studios have big windows for you to see into. And when I used to teach at a gym with big windows on the studio, I would often have people ask if they could stand outside and watch. I always said yes. It’s a very good idea to see a class from the outside, just to get a better idea of what to expect.

It’s important to note that a workout may look harder or easier than it really is if you aren’t trying the moves on your own body. But checking out the format of the class, the set-up and the scene from afar may ease you into being comfortable.

You will notice that nearly every class has people of varying fitness abilities, and that there will be plenty of options for you. You’ll also see that standing in the very back corner may not be ideal for a new attendee when it comes to watching the instructor, so hopefully when it comes time for your first class, you set yourself up in the middle of the room for better visibility.

3. Once it’s time for your first class, arrive at least five minutes before the class starts and tell the instructor that you are new.

If you’re new, don’t show up late and shuffle to find a spot and equipment once the workout has already started. It’s not a good way to kick things off. Instead, go early. Going early gives you a chance to talk to the instructor ahead of time, which is really helpful.

Also, you don’t need to be embarrassed to be a new person in a class. It’s absolutely essential that you tell the instructor that you are a first-timer, because they’ll not only tell you if there is any set-up information for class, but they’ll also keep an eye on you during class and give you some cues. If they’re a good instructor, they won’t single you out and call you out for being new, they’ll merely assist you and help you get more out of your workout. 

When you speak to the instructor before class, let them know if you have any injuries or limitations so they can suggest alternatives and options to you before the rush of the class starts. And by the way, it doesn’t hurt to tell the folks around you that you’re new too. Hopefully you’ll be in a class with kind people who offer to help you out.

4. Do your best to be an incredibly active listener. Absorb the verbal instructions, while also checking out your form in the mirror.

One of the biggest mistakes I see new people making in the group fitness room is to stare at themselves in the mirror so intently during class that they neglect to take cues from the instructor — they go into some strange non-listening zone. This isn’t good. Part of the reason you go to a group fitness class is to have the guidance and coaching of a professional, so you really should listen to that professional when they’re talking.

If you’re new, you need to try to listen to every single tip the instructor gives you and make those changes to your body. People seem to have a deafness to certain cues in the group fitness room at times, and then they develop bad habits with their form. Do yourself a favor, and learn the right way to move from the beginning. The instructor’s form, the instructor’s voice, and the instructor’s cues are more important than watching your own guns flex in the mirror. 

And if you’re having trouble understanding a movement, feel free to chat with the instructor about it (probably after class is over) so you can get some personal help. More people should really take advantage of this personal help available. 

5. Choose lighter weights and minimal equipment so you can focus on the quality of your movements.

When someone is brand new in one of my classes, I encourage them to start with lighter weights. Not because they won’t eventually be able to handle more, but because with so much going on in your first group fitness class, you should be more focused on getting into the right positions and learning the moves than lifting heavy weights.

In a one-hour group fitness class, there will be dozens of different exercises, and many of them could be totally new to you. That alone is a shock to the system, if you’ve been working out alone. So you should get a hang of the moves, the form and the flow, before choosing to go super heavy with your weights. When you talk to the instructor before class, you can chat about what weights may be ideal for your first time. Once again, go light. And don’t be afraid to put your weights down during the workout at any time, just to focus on the movement and your own bodyweight.

6. Don’t compare the beginning of your group fitness journey to the middle of someone else’s. Be okay with being a beginner and embrace it.

Perhaps the most important tip that I can give someone new to group fitness is to not go too hard, too soon. Even the most fit superstars in the front of the group fitness room were one day beginners. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with being a beginner. It means you have an open mind, a clean slate and have so much growth and progress in front of you.

Instead of looking around at everyone else’s bodies, abilities and confidence when you enter a group fitness class, spend time congratulating yourself for taking the first step into getting into group fitness and stand tall and happy to be trying something new. If you feel pain, stop the movement. If you’re unable to perform a move, don’t do it. While I don’t recommend quitting, by any means, I do recommend listening to your body. When given the option to jump into the sky or stay grounded, do what seems smart for your body at that moment. Only you can be in charge of your own body, so treat it kindly and take your time building up your fitness level.

7. Appreciate the community aspect of taking a group fitness class and become a part of it.

While you don’t have to talk to anyone in a class, if you do decide to open up and introduce yourself to someone, you’re statistically more likely to stick with that class and feel like you’re part of something bigger than you.

And guess what, most of the time, if you tell a “regular” that you’re new, they will look after you, because they’ve been there. That’s what is so awesome about doing a group workout rather than a solo workout in your own home or at the gym — those other people will motivate you to be better, stronger and more accountable. Soak it up!

8. Book your next class before you leave the first one.

If you want to get the benefits of group fitness, you need to be consistent. While you don’t need (nor shouldn’t want) to work out in group fitness every single day, you do want to shoot for maybe two to five classes a week, depending on the format and intensity of the class. Your excitement will be highest right after you get that rush of endorphins from the first workout, so make sure you book your next class before you leave the first one.

And if you didn’t love the class you took, try it again. Sometimes the first time can be so overwhelming you may need a second experience to decide if that particular format is for you. If it’s not on that second (or third) time, find another class and start there. Life is too short to do workouts you don’t enjoy!

And those are my tips for taking your first group fitness class. Have an amazing day! And if you’re ever in Charlotte, come see me in one of my classes at Life Time! 

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Questions of the day

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  1. I started taking group fitness classes about a year and a half ago but really got into it last year when I switched to a gym that offers more class options, including Les Mills. My favorite class is probably Body Pump because it’s so different from most other group fitness classes and was really my first experience with strength training.

    I’ve been wanting to try Pure Barre and Orangetheory. I think they both offer one trial class for free, but I would sort of feel bad doing that knowing that I have no intention to join since they are both very pricey.

    1. Hi Julie! YAY for you and for BODYPUMP (it’s my favorite too!). And how much better does your body feel now that you do strength training? As far as the first free class for Pure Barre or Orangetheory — DO NOT feel bad about going to the free trial with no intentions to buy. Because if you like the workout, then when you are in the position to pay for it, you will go back. You’ll also be able to tell other people if you liked it — and all of that is good for the studio. Give them a try. πŸ™‚

  2. Love this post! I am a massive fan of Les Mills group classes, especially Body Pump. In fact, I originally found your blog around 2 years ago when I was doing research before my first class πŸ™‚ I loved your release reviews, will you be doing one of the new Body Pump 100?

    1. Hi Iona! I know, I haven’t done release reviews in forever! BODYPUMP 100 is so monumental, I will probably write something about it. Thank you for reading! πŸ™‚ Are you excited to take the class? Going on Saturday?? πŸ™‚

      1. Yes I am excited, but bad timing as I am away this Saturday so I won’t get to try it until next Thursday! Look forward to your review πŸ™‚

  3. Hey Ashley! I’ve been following your blog for awhile but I have never commented because I don’t have a blog myself and I almost feel weird commenting without one haha. I just wanted to say that I tried BODYPUMP solely because of what I’ve read on your blog and I love it. Thank you so much!! πŸ™‚

    1. Hi Caroline! Oh my goodness, I LOVE that you have commented. And of course you can if you don’t have a blog hahah. And you have MADE my day that you tried BODYPUMP because of what you read here. Don’t you love the workout? I hope you are going to do BODYPUMP 100 this weekend! I am!! πŸ™‚ Reach out any time lady, and thanks again for saying hi!

      1. YES!! Absolutely doing BODYPUMP 100 this weekend and I’m bringing my friend to show her how awesome it is πŸ™‚ I owe it all to you!

  4. Great tips! I’ve done pilates, yoga, and boot camp workouts in a group setting. Although I do my workouts at home, it’s always amazing to do a group class every once in a while. I find it so motivating and I can often push myself harder in the group setting.
    I’m hoping to try a bodypump class sometime–Ive heard great things!

    1. Hi Heather! Yes, you’ve got to try BODYPUMP one day. And I know not everyone can get to a group class all the time, but it’s nice to pop in when you have the chance. Keep up the good routine, lady! πŸ™‚

  5. Great tips! I always get a little nervous my first time trying a class or at a new studio. Having a friend with me always helps a bit, but I’ve done plenty of classes alone. I’m taking a reformer class this weekend and have only done it once before so I def feel like a newbie. Have a great weekend!

  6. I LOVE these tips! Coming to class early is so important. I love being able to meet new participants before class starts and welcome them. Comparison and listening to the words is key too! Especially if the participant is new to working out – they might not be at the same fitness level as others. Sharing this!!

    1. Yes, totally need to get there early. I hate it when a new person comes in late, goes to the back of the room, then ends up feeling lost and unsuccessful!

  7. Love this! Being an introvert, I always dread going to something for the first time, especially alone. I have participated in several group fitness classes, but haven’t in a while. Maybe after baby comes I’ll be able to find something.

    1. Hi Jenn! Totally understand that you may be nervous to be in the group setting – but the good thing is that you don’t HAVE to talk to anyone if you don’t want to. πŸ™‚ And the benefits of having others around you is awesome!

  8. Hi Ashley, These tips are really great ! …. I was looking forward to join a fitness group & this really help me in choosing the One. I am glad to find your thoughts on this πŸ™‚ Thank you so much !!

  9. I think one of the biggest thing that has kept me from participating in group fitness classes is the “comparison game” you mentioned. It’s a good idea to focus on myself and to listen to my body. I can also relate to your point about focusing on the mirror more than the instructor. Thanks for all of the useful tips!

  10. Thank you, Ashley, for this very inspirational post. I want to start my fitness class. Before starting class, this post gives me some great ideas. I should follow these tips. Cheers:)

  11. I like that you mention that it’s important to focus on yourself and your own journey when it comes to taking a fitness class because it doesn’t do you any good to compare yourself with others. You’re there to better your health, so it’s good to remember to just worry about yourself because everyone else is probably doing the same and worrying about what other people think when they don’t need to worry. I just moved to a new city and I’ve been looking for a fitness studio that I can feel comfortable in that will push me to be better.

    1. Hi Cameron! Exactly — even though group fitness means you take a class with others, it doesn’t mean you have to worry about those others — everyone is worrying about themselves!

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