If you've ever felt out of place in a workout class, you're not alone. Find out why some of the most popular fitness trends aren't for everyone—and why that's totally OK.
Many people love the high energy of Zumba. Others crave the intensity of a Spinning class in a dark room with the music blaring. But for some, well, they don't enjoy any of it—Dance cardio? Nah. Spinning on a bike for an hour? No way. HIIT in a room full of ripped bodies? Ha. If you're one of those people, you're not alone. But what is it about group fitness classes that can make you feel uncomfortable, on edge, or maybe even bored?
First, the obvious: People who are extroverts tend to prefer exercising in group environments. On the other hand, the opposite seems to be true of introverts, who would rather exercise in the comfort of their own home.
While not mutually exclusive to being outgoing or more reserved, confidence and body image can often play into your feelings about group classes as well. People who are unhappy with their bodies may find that the group environment increases their anxiety, pointing out that even fitness instructors, who you assume will be fit and trim, can be intimidating to students. So, no, it's not just the girl with the six-pack in the sports bra.
So while it's obvious what these negative thoughts can do to your self-esteem, forcing yourself to take these classes because they're trendy, or because you think you're supposed to be working out this way, is not just messing with your head. It's messing with your workout results as well.
Find yourself hiding in the back of the room? You bet that can hurt your workout. Participating in these classes when you're not excited or confident can cause a decrease in your motivation. If you look at motivation as intensity, then a lack of motivation means you're less likely to really work hard and give the class all you've got. In other words, you are really looking forward to the class being over.
Research regarding exercise and motivation has found that although your fellow classmates do motivate you to work harder, it doesn't necessarily mean you're happier. Authors of a paper published in Perspectives on Psychological Science reported that "people tend to compare themselves with others who are most similar to them," which increases competitive behaviour, and even sparks rivalry. (So is competition a legit workout motivation?) But what happens if you consistently feel like the odds are stacked against you either because you feel like you're losing the competition (you can't box jump that high or rrun that quick) or there are too many "similar" athletes in the room (look at all those women doing so much "better" in class)? This research suggests that you'll perceive the task at hand (whatever workout class you're taking) as being less relevant (a lost cause) and lose interest (work less hard).
With all that said, if you really want to enjoy group fitness classes and get the most of out them, you can change how you feel. It all comes down to perception. Many people have the mindset that everyone else in the room is watching you, when in reality, that isn't the case at all. I have taught group aerobic classes such as Zumba, as well as one-on-one training sessions, and have seen the energy in the room firsthand. Let me put your mind at rest, most people are focused on how they are personally doing and watching the me (instructor) If you do feel someone peering over at you, it's probably because you look great and they are trying to mimic your form/moves.
Taking a deeper look at why you're working out in the first place can also be helpful to increase your motivation and therefore your results, whether it's in a group class, working out alone at the gym, or getting sweaty at home.
One 2002 study published in the Journal of Sport Behaviour found that women in dance aerobic classes who focused on developing their own skills—meaning their objective was to be a better version of themselves, not the best in the class or better than the person next to them—were more engaged in the workout. They enjoyed class more than if they were too busy comparing themselves to everyone else in the room.
It's this kind of intrinsic motivation that allows you to have fun, work hard, and see results whether you're in a room filled with 20 models and athletes or on a yoga mat in your living room.
One more very important thing to remember: You don't have to like group fitness classes. If you've tried changing your attitude and your internal voice and motivators, and you still don't enjoy group classes, then don't force it. There are so many other ways to work out. Despite the soaring popularity of group fitness classes (and the potential to motivate through competition) results can be achieved much faster and more significantly through personal training. Having someone who can not only customise workouts for you but also hold you accountable for showing up and progressing to reach your goals. If personal training isn't doable for you (financially) you can get results from solo exercising as well. (with correct advise)
I love the excitement and camaraderie of group exercise classes even as an instructor, but I also know that for my personal goals, I need to spend time in the gym working on my customised fitness plan and enjoying taking part in a class as a member.
When it comes down to it, there is not a "one exercise fits all" formula. Most people find that they're happiest when they're doing what they enjoy. So, go ahead and try all 20 fitness classes at your gym, or never go back to one again—just get moving!