Every month a new crop of fitness classes pops up—each one more intimidating than the next. Sure, intimidation is a state of mind. But it’s easy to feel like an outsider when you’re a newcomer and everyone in class is toned, wearing the right outfit and looking like they were born to perform those perfectly synchronized moves. Even the most fit of us can feel utterly out of place.
Magen Banwart, a fitness instructor and health and lifestyle coach still remembers her first barre class in Manhattan more than 12 years ago. “I wore navy blue nylon running pants—imagine my embarrassment when I loudly swished into a packed room of students waiting to take the class,” Banwart says. “Someone quickly and abruptly pointed out, "No shoes!" As I hurriedly removed my sacrilegious treads I noticed everyone in the room had on the barre class uniform: Lycra (quiet) pants and a fitted, exercise top with non-slip socks that had the name of the studio on the bottom.”
Sound familiar? Her story has a happy ending. Banwart went from struggling through shaky plié legs to teaching that class three months later. Here, she shares steps that will help you ease into a brand new class (and who knows, maybe teach it some day).
1. Do some homework ahead of time.
To take the pressure off come class time, Banwart suggests calling the studio to get recommendations of what to wear. “This does not mean you need to go out and buy a new outfit,” she says. “But you may be more comfortable in your workout shorts or your leggings for a spin or barre class than your oversized sweat pants or worse—loud nylon pants that don't breathe.”
Banwart also recommends checking out RateYourBurn.com for fitness instructor reviews or asking the studio or gym which instructor they recommend for a first-timer. Look for beginner or open level classes—and don’t hesitate to ask which ones they are since some 101 classes are disguised with fancy names. If you’d like to give yoga a try, Yin Yoga, a Level 1 Iyengar or restorative yoga are friendly places to start, according to Banwart.
2. Ask a friend to join you.
Using a friend or family member as a security blanket can ease your nerves and make trying a new class fun. “I went to my first Zumba class recently with my Dad, and we were the only two who couldn't remember the sequences so we were constantly out of step,” Banwart says. “I laughed so hard it made me forget how silly I looked next to all of those coordinated veteran Zumbans.”
The first time YouBeauty reader Frances Kim tried a yoga class at Equinox, she had another newbie join her. “I think it’s assuring to go with a friend,” she says. “After a couple of sessions with a friend, you feel comfortable enough to go alone.” Before coming up with the buddy trick, Kim would purposefully go to the first class offered at the crack of dawn to avoid a crowded class. No more!
3. Arrive 15 minutes early to “warm up.”
Show up at the class early so you have time to talk to the instructor and even the class participants near you. “Let them know that you are new and a little intimidated,” suggests Banwart. Also, let the instructor know if you have any injuries or other medical conditions that are relevant. You’ll get some more TLC in return.
Chatting up and being friendly with your classmates will also help create a warmer workout environment. “There probably will be cliques and some might even initially resent new people that disrupt the established, comfortable social order,” says YouBeauty Happiness Expert Matthew Della Porta, Ph.D. “But if you don't come off as a loner and make an effort to fit in, chances are people will be nice.”
4. Avoid looking at the other students and comparing yourself.
You can breathe easy here: Your fellow classmates won’t be watching or caring about how you’re holding up once class starts. Social psychology researchers have long studied the spotlight effect, whereby people think they are the focus of social situations a lot more often than they really are. “We tend to overestimate the extent to which other people notice and judge what we are doing,” Della Porta says.
“So when you're in a class and you feel self-conscious, remember that first and foremost, other people are focusing on themselves: how they look, how they are doing the moves,” he says.
When you feel yourself slipping into negative self-talk territory, Banwart suggests using the mantra: “Every day, in every way I am getting better and better.” It clearly worked for her!
5. Do the best you can.
When trying to get a new fitness routine down and keep up with the class, it’s easy to forgo form for fitting in. But if you want to get better and make the most of your workout, remember that working on the correct form is more important than number of repetitions or keeping pace with the class.
“Do a move until your form starts to fail, then either pause, take a deep breath or hold the form and then jump back into the repetitions when you can,” suggests Banwart. If you’re struggling, any instructor worth his or her salt should offer a beginner modification of a move. For example, after doing one “real” push-up, do nine modified push-ups with your knees bent and touching the floor.
Just don’t buy into the “no pain, no gain” mantra. “If something hurts in a joint—your knees or your back, for instance—you should never struggle through,” notes Banwart.
Above all, don’t take yourself or the class too seriously. Both Banwart and Della Porta suggest keeping a smile on your face to ward off insecurities and laugh it off when you feel silly or mess up. Before you know it, you’ll finally get that form down—and go from embarrassed to empowered.