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Tips for Beginners at Exercise Classes


Updated February 15, 2014

woman at gym

Don't beat yourself up for getting out of step. In time you'll be an "old pro" and someone will be standing behind you to copy your steps!


Taking the plunge and signing up for exercise classes is a big step if you've been sedentary for a while. They can be intimidating and it can be tough to keep up. After several years of taking classes and being a "beginner" quite a few times (after several long-term lapses), I have learned a few things about getting started. These are my top tips for beginners at exercise classes:


If You're Not into Cutting a Rug

It can be intimidating to see aerobics classes that look like try-outs for a Broadway musical. The first time I ever went to the Y and sat in on a class, I honestly thought it was for dancers. But don't let yourself walk away before you've checked on the beginner's level classes. Almost any gym or health club that offers a decent variety of classes will include a newbie-friendly class in the regular schedule. While the beginning class will offer easier choreography, it should still be challenging enough to offer you a good workout for your time.

Buddy Up

Being slightly uncoordinated, one of my biggest fears about exercise classes is getting "out of step" with the other people in the class and trying (usually in vain) to catch back up. Then, I was invited to a class by a coworker who had been in the group for several months and knew the routines well. Instead of standing beside him, I decided to stand behind him and that made all the difference. I didn't get as overwhelmed by feeling like I needed to stay in line with the whole class and instead I would mimic exactly what he did. In time I knew the routines as well as him. Keep an eye out for someone who knows the routine well and nab a spot close behind to try the same trick.

Be Teacher's Pet

One week I decided to go in early and talk to my instructor, explaining that I was having a difficult time keeping up with the more complicated steps. Not only did she give me a little tutorial on how to do the moves I was having trouble with, but she also told me about her own weight-loss struggles (she had lost 30 pounds) and that she understood because it also took her a while to get the hang of new exercises. So, I got the moves down within a few classes and I was freshly-motivated to exercise knowing my enthusiastic, impressive teacher had been through the same thing as me. If you hit a tough spot during a class, don't hesitate to hang back and ask for help; most instructors will be glad to spare a few minutes to help you.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

When I was at my heaviest, I avoided mirrors even within my own house. (I even put towels over the one on my dresser!) So, imagine my surprise when upon walking into my first low-impact aerobics class, no matter where I turned, there I was ... mirrors surrounded me! Believe it or not, these mirrors had the opposite effect on me. Instead of avoiding them, I was constantly checking my own reflection to see if I was doing each exercise "right" (or at least as close to as possible); I firmly believe this did me more harm than good. Sometimes I would get so focused on checking up on myself that I would lose my balance. It's okay to check your form once in a while, but getting too "into" what you see can lead to further confusion (or in my case toppling over like a stack of building blocks).

Keep those Feet Moving

And my top tip for newbie exercise class attendees? Just. Keep. Moving. Even if the moves are so beyond your current abilities that you don't think you'll ever be able to do them, simply walk in place. By staying moving you will keep your motivation up, your heart rate going and it will show everyone else that you're not just going to stand still when the going gets tough! It's easy to get frustrated if you can't keep up, but don't let yourself get embarrassed. Remind yourself that everyone in the class was a beginner at some point. They didn't walk in the class knowing the routine either. So, keep the pace by moving your feet to the music and catch up when you can. It will make giving up altogether that much harder to do.
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