If you’ve peeked into a group exercise class and watched bodies moving seamlessly in time with the music, you may have shied away, thinking you would never have the grace or body coordination to fit in. You may be afraid of making a fool out of yourself or being overwhelmed as everyone else appears to have the techniques nailed down. But while they take time to learn and perfect, classes like Zumba, CrossFit, Boot Camp, and Barre are ideal for people who are trying to establish a workout routine and get serious results. This how-to guide will prepare you to join in on those exercise classes without the weight of expectations hanging around your neck.
“Taking a class is a commitment, so you’ll be more likely to stick with the routine,” says Laurel Reid, group exercise director at PEAC Health and Fitness in Ewing, N.J. “It’s like going to a hair appointment.”
Reid adds that most people who take classes at gyms also like seeing other “regulars” in their classes. “So many people make “fitness friends” this way,” Reid adds.
While everyone has their favorite classes and instructors, one workout isn’t better than another. “You have to enjoy what you are doing and make it a habit. It’s also important to change it up,” says Reid, who has been teaching fitness classes for 37 years. “Zumba one day, a weight class another day, add a little boot camp and spinning, and you have a great recipe for success.”
Still, it can be intimidating to walk into a new class cold, so here’s what you can expect from four of the most popular group exercise classes.
Why you need it: Each CrossFit workout is “short, intense, and covers a variety of skills,” explains Jane Helstrom, a certified level one CrossFit trainer in Cranbury, N.J. These high-intensity workouts, which might include running, rowing, Olympic lifts, and a variety of high-speed and high-weights strength moves, will get your heart pounding.
What you should wear: Form-fittting workout clothes are best, since the plyometric exercises will have you doing plenty of jumping and lifting. Shoe companies are making shoes specifically for Crossfit, but you can get away with cross trainers on the rubber mats.
How you will feel: “If there’s one thing Crossfitters love to do, it is talk about Crossfit, so don’t hesitate to ask questions. There is sense of community, Helstrom says. “Usually, the last person to finish the workout is getting cheered on by the other athletes in the gym.” So while you may not be the fastest or strongest when you start out, you will garner a lot of support.
Why you need it: To improve your posture and feel longer and leaner. The exercises strengthen and stretch your muscles, especially the core and smaller muscles in the legs and rear.
What you should wear: Form-fitting workout clothes; pants should be knee length or longer since you’ll be on a carpeted floor. You need socks, too; your sneakers will be off during class.
How you will feel: “When people leave class, they are on a natural high,” says Jenn Tigue, co-owner of The Bar Method Princeton. “Afterwards you are warm and energetic.” Your body will feel tighter, and your muscles will be engaged.
Why you need it: “Boot camp is effective because each class is different, so it’s muscle confusion at its finest,” says Vanessa Piepszak, C.S.C.S, a trainer who teaches four boot camp classes a week at PEAC. “I try to keep my boot campers surprised and engaged.” Tell an instructor about any limitations or injuries so they can accommodate you with modifications.
What should you wear: Sneakers that are comfortable but that aren’t too old, gym shorts or pants, and a breathable top. You’re going to sweat, so nothing too constricting.
How you will feel: Challenged, sweaty, and accomplished, says Pieszack. Each class will hit all the elements—cardio, abs, tabata, and weight training.
Why you need it: “Because it takes the “work” out of workout,” says Kacie Ripisi, a Zumba instructor from Ewing, N.J. “Zumba is all about dancing, and there is a class and level for everybody.” The moves are repeated a lot during each song, and all you have to do is watch the teacher. After a few verses, you’ll know how to do the dance. The moves are a mix of low- and high-intensity set to Latin and world rhythms, as well as some current pop hits.
What you should wear: Something comfortable that you want to dance in and sneakers.
How you will feel: Like you were dancing at a party for an hour—breathless and happy. Zumba is a total workout that combines cardio, muscle conditioning, balance, and flexibility. One of the benefits of Zumba is that it is a mood booster.