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Trying a Group Fitness Class

Try not to pigeonhole yourself as the type who doesn't like — or can't do — fitness classes. Not all classes require coordination. Sculpting, stretching, circuit, and martial arts-based classes usually contain simple moves like you used to do in P.E. (think of jumping jacks and jogging in place). Plus, a good instructor makes everyone in the class feel comfortable, by breaking down exercises and routines so that everyone can follow, by giving good technique tips so that you feel confident about the way you're doing a move, and by modifying moves that might not be right for everyone in the class. If you try a class and don't have a comfortable experience, chances are the instructor is not very good. Don't give up; try a few more classes with different teachers.

If the fear-of-humiliation factor is still putting a damper on your enthusiasm for trying a class, here are some guidelines that will help ease you in, stumble-free:

  • Do one component of a move at a time. For example, during an aerobic dance or kickboxing class, you might have a combination that incorporates a lower body move (a jump or a kick) with an upper body move (a biceps curl or a punch). Try the leg movement first. When you feel comfortable with the foot pattern, then, and only then, add the arm movement.
  • Skip the cartwheels and other tricky steps. Some fitness classes — especially step — are very complicated. (Here's an insider secret: In many cases, when a routine becomes highly complicated, in order to perform the moves, the intensity must come down. So a complex class doesn't always give you the best calorie-burning workout. A simple class that lets you focus on getting your heart rate up and working your muscles thoroughly instead of memorizing lots of complex moves is often the better workout.) But that doesn't mean you have to leave the class if you can't follow the routine exactly. Modify the moves. A good instructor should always show easier versions of her routine. For example, instead of doing a turn, kick, jump, and fancy arm pattern, you can alternate jogging and marching in place. Instead of flying around your step, you can stick to the basic steps where you step up and down repeatedly or alternate knee lifts.
  • Perform an easier version of an exercise if you feel out of breath or if your body hurts. Not every exercise or movement will be right for you, and on different days you may feel more or less energetic. Listen to your body and do what feels best for you; don't feel like you have to do everything the teacher does. A good teacher should encourage you to stop or modify your movements. If you get a dirty look because you're doing something different from the rest of the class, stay away from that teacher.
  • If you can't follow a complicated routine, don't take it out on yourself. One sign of a poor teacher is the inability to break down choreography and repeat it often enough so that students can follow. You shouldn't have to take a teacher's class for a month before you can follow the steps. You should be able to do it the first time. Keep taking different classes until you find an instructor that teaches in the style that you can follow.
  • If you move in the wrong direction, or do something different than the rest of the class, relax. The others are probably staring at themselves in the mirror, not you.

If you're choreography-phobic, stay away from step classes unless they are billed as being for beginners. (Step is the workout where you step up and down off an 8- to 12-inch bench. You can step on it in different directions and with different arm and foot patterns.) The problem is, some instructors have turned this great calorie-blasting workout into a Broadway dance class on a bench. That's fine if you're familiar with the step moves and want a brain challenge during your workout, but if you're just looking for a fun, simple way to sweat, you might want to try an easier-to-follow class.

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