Maybe you have wanted to try a few new fitness classes but are too intimidated because you have no idea what it is about. It can be scary to go to a class for the first time when you feel like everyone else knows what they are doing and you are going to stick out like a sore thumb. The truth is though that most exercise instructors and classes are very welcoming. If you are the kind of person who likes to feel prepared, here is a breakdown of 5 fitness classes so you know what to expect and can go into your first class feeling ready and confident instead of skipping out because you are too scared.
Yoga is one of the fastest-growing wellness practices in the world. It is regularly practiced by approximately 300 million people worldwide and one in three Americans have given yoga a try. If you have thought about going to a yoga class but are worried that you will look silly going in without any experience and you are not really sure what it is all about, here is what you need to know about trying one of these popular fitness classes.
Yoga is an ancient practice that combines physical poses and movement with breathing techniques to promote physical and mental well-being. It can help with flexibility and strength, and make you feel more relaxed and centered. There are a bunch of different types of yoga fitness classes available. These are some of the most popular and the ones you are most likely to find at your local gym or yoga studio so you know what you are signing up for before you go.
Vinyasa Yoga fitness classes are one of the most common. They are sometimes referred to as Yoga Flow classes. This is a pretty standard yoga practice that connects a series of yoga poses together. During one of these fitness classes, you will link or “flow” from one pose into the next. You are not likely to hold any single pose for a terribly long amount of time. The specific poses and the pace of the flow (how long you hold each pose) varies from one teacher to the next. However, you can expect many of the more common poses that you may have heard of like warrior, downward-facing dog, and forward fold.
During a yoga flow fitness class, you are likely to find yourself flowing through a series of poses that are often referred to as chaturanga. Do not worry. They are simple poses and you can flow through as slowly or as quickly as you would like. First, it starts with a plank pose. Next, you slowly lower yourself down so your stomach touches the ground before flowing into upward-facing dog where you straighten your arms so that they are perpendicular to the floor to lift your chest off the ground and arch your back so that your chest is open and your shoulders are drawn back. Next, you flow into downward-facing dog, which looks like an upside-down V.
Vinyasa classes are good for people with any level of yoga experience and instructors often provide modifications, offering the basic pose along with more advanced options that you can choose to try that make the pose deeper or require more skill and balance.
Another type of yoga class you might see on the schedule is Hatha Yoga. This is a fairly generic term for any type of yoga that teaches physical poses. These fitness classes are usually a nice easy introduction to the basic poses of yoga. More about balance than Vinyasa classes, Hatha yoga fitness classes are typically more slowly paced and have you holding poses for longer than a Vinyasa flow class. You will practice many of the same poses in these fitness classes as in Vinyasa classes but you will stay in each pose for a little longer period of time, focusing on your breath and maintaining your balance.
Ashtanga yoga is not as common as the first two fitness classes but is not completely uncommon to see. When you go to an Ashtanga yoga class, you will flow through the exact same pose sequence. It is a set flow that happens the same way in every class, so regulars to an Ashtanga class will be able to flow through the class without necessarily listening to the teacher.
Do not feel bad the first time you go if it seems like you are the only one who looks lost. Everyone else has just had time to memorize the order of the poses. This is the class for you if you like to know what to expect and want to attend fitness classes with a set routine. If you get bored when things are the same, then you will want to only mix this class in every once in a while.
Bikram yoga is another popular yoga class. These are commonly referred to as hot yoga. When you go to Bikram yoga fitness classes, you will be in a heated room that is kept both hot and humid. True Bikram yoga fitness classes consist of 26 yoga poses and two breathing exercises that are done in a specific sequence that is performed twice in a room that is heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit with 40% humidity.
Other times, hot yoga classes are simply Vinyasa flow classes done in a hot room. The poses and the temperature of these classes vary based on the yoga studio and the poses that the teacher has prepared to teach that day. If you are planning to try out one of these classes, bring plenty of water and a towel or two to wipe yourself off!
Yin yoga or restorative yoga fitness classes are slow-paced. They focus on holding poses for long periods of time to target deep tissues, ligaments, and joints. These types of yoga are meant to help you relax and are more meditative than other styles of yoga. Most of the poses are simple and centered on the ground. You could find yourself holding one pose for up to five minutes in Yin yoga and restorative yoga fitness classes.
Often, restorative yoga classes use props like blankets and cushions to help you sink into deep relaxation without exerting too much effort while holding certain poses. These classes are super slow-paced so they are great for a beginner who is intimidated by fast flow classes. They are also amazing for releasing tension in your body.
Zumba is one of those fitness classes that feels more like fun than exercise. Zumba involves cardio and Latin-inspired dance. Zumba classes involve choreographed exercises to music that combines the dance styles of cumbia, salsa, merengue, mambo, flamenco, chachacha, reggaeton, soca, samba, hip hop music, axé music, and tango. Classes mix low-intensity and high-intensity moves for an interval-style, calorie-burning workout.
Classes are taught by licensed Zumba instructors, so no matter where you take a Zumba class or who the instructor is you will have a similar experience. There are a number of different types of Zumba classes besides the namesake Zumba class.
- Zumba Step combines the toning and strengthening power of step aerobics with the fun fitness party of Zumba.
- Zumba Toning adds resistance to your workout by using Zumba Toning Sticks (or light weights) to focus on specific muscle groups, so your muscles stay engaged.
- Aqua Zumba is a low-impact, high-energy aquatic fitness class.
- Zumba Sentao combines strength and resistance training with innovative dance moves, using a chair as your dance partner. It offers a high-intensity workout that focuses on defining your muscles, improving overall cardiovascular health, and burning calories in the process.
- Finally, Zumba Gold and Zumba Gold Toning are for active older adults who are looking for a modified Zumba class that recreates the original Zumba moves at a lower intensity.
There are also Zumba Kids classes that feature kid-friendly routines based on original Zumba choreography that break down the steps and add games, activities, and cultural exploration elements into class.
READ MORE: Why Moms Need To Dance
Your first time at a Zumba class can make you feel like you are out of your element. While classes do not always use the same songs, some routines are favorites of instructors and class participants, so they can be second nature to class regulars. The steps are fairly easy to pick up but because songs are fast-paced you have to pick it up as you go and can feel like you just got the hang of it by the time the song is over.
Stick with it though. Zumba is a fun and effective workout. Once you go a few times, especially to classes taught by the same instructor you will get used to their way of teaching and will start to quickly pick up on the choreography, even when it is a new song and routine.
Spin or Cycle Classes
Spin classes are another name for indoor cycle fitness classes. It is a wildly popular way to exercise (who has not seen a Peloton ad?). If you do not have the money for an indoor exercise bike of your own, give one of these fitness classes at your local gym a try. If you have ever looked in the cycle studio at the gym, they can seem intimidating. The truth is that you should not be any more scared of these fitness classes than any other class.
Spin classes seem intimidating because of the equipment. How do you set up and use the bike? Am I going to look stupid if I cannot figure it out? Cycle instructors are there to help, so do not hesitate to tell them you are new and ask them if they can help you get your bike set up correctly. They often specifically ask before class starts if anyone needs help getting their bike set up. So if you are heading to a cycle class for the first time, get there at least 15 minutes early to give yourself time to get your bike set up.
Indoor cycle bikes have a few places that need to be adjusted so that the bike works for your height. The seat height adjusts up and down and should be set so that when you are standing next to it, the seat is about the same height as your hip bone. The seat itself can also be adjusted and should line up so that your leg is nearly straight (but your knee is not locked) when the pedal is at the bottom-most position. The height of the handlebars also adjusts and should be at a comfortable height.
Once you are all set up and class starts, all you have to do is follow the instructor’s directions. You will likely do a mix of fast sprints, climbs, and a mixture of seated and standing rides throughout the class. The tension of the bike can be adjusted using a knob or lever and the instructor will tell you to make the tension heavier or lighter depending on what you are doing.
Sometimes during heavy climbs when you have the tension adjusted so it is harder to pedal, the instructor will tell the class to ride while standing on the pedals. Give it a try and do what you can. If standing is too hard, ride standing for as long as you can and finish seated. Standing and riding is harder than you think. There is nothing wrong with sitting the whole time if you need to.
A few other things to know about cycle classes: many regulars to cycle class wear special shoes that clip into the bike pedals, but they are not in any way necessary for a good workout. Just as many regulars wear regular sneakers. Another important note is that cycle classes can be brutal. These typically hour-long fitness classes can wear you out and will certainly make your legs sore later in the day or the next morning, but they are a great workout. Bring water and a towel to wipe yourself off during class. Believe that regulars to class will have both!
HIIT stands for High-Intensity Interval Training. These classes offer a major calorie burn and are great for weight loss. HIIT fitness classes consist of periods of exercise that last anywhere from 10 to 60 seconds followed by a period of active recovery of the same length or longer. This cycle of hard work and active recovery is repeated anywhere from 3 to 10 times, depending on the particular class. Typically, cardio and strength training are combined in these fitness classes.
Each class will be a little different and involve different exercises. The intense exercise portion of the class could involve exercises like burpees, squat jumps, mountain climbers, jumping rope, or running a lap followed by push-ups, sit-ups, bicep curls, or other low-intensity strength training exercises. The idea is to get your pulse up and then let it slowly come back down while still working but in a less intense way.
HIIT fitness classes are great classes to try out because they are always different, so you do not need to feel like you are walking in a class where everyone else knows what is going on but you. Teachers will typically demonstrate each exercise so all you have to do is follow their lead.
The class is also usually either set up in one of two formats. Often class is self-paced, so you do a certain number of each exercise before moving to the next one and you keep cycling through the exercises in a certain order until class is up. The nice thing about this is that everyone is on a different exercise at any given time and no one is paying much attention to what other people are doing, so you do not have to feel self-conscious about being slow at completing 10 burpees or doing 15 pushups.
The other way these classes are often structured is that each exercise is done for a set amount of time so, for example, you do as many jumping jacks as you can in a minute before doing as many bicep curls in a minute with the instructor keeping time and announcing the next exercise. This is nice because everyone is doing the same thing, but there is no amount you are trying to reach so you just do what you can.
Sometimes you will see Bootcamp fitness classes offered at your gym. These are basically HIIT classes. They are usually intense, have you working really hard, and can involve light weights for the strength training exercises. It sounds intimidating, but these classes are an awesome workout. The first class may have you thinking you made a mistake but if you stick with it you will be amazed at the results.
Strength Training Fitness Classes
Another great workout is strength training. While you can do strength training on your own, many gyms offer strength training fitness classes. Strength training is simply a method of exercise that helps you increase muscle strength and build muscle mass. It is made up of many different types of exercises.
Strength training classes are often high-rep weight training workouts that combine weights with moves like squats, lunges, and presses. While the goal of traditional strength training is to isolate muscles and work them to their limit, strength training classes often use compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups at once to help you build the strength needed to move towards isolating and fatiguing muscles. Think of them as more of beginner’s level strength training.
These fitness classes are great if you are interested in lifting weights but are not sure where to start or do not feel comfortable jumping right to the weight racks and barbells on the main floor at the gym. They provide a nice entry to strength training. They also typically allow you to choose and adjust the weight you are lifting or the resistance band strength you are using, so you can continue to build your strength and get a great workout even if you become a regular to this fitness class.
Fitness classes are nothing to be intimidated by. Whether you have just joined a gym or are a long-time member looking to mix up your workout routine, do not hesitate to sign up for something new. More than likely you will find that your anxiety about trying a new class was all for nothing. Or if you just were unsure what certain fitness classes were all about, hopefully, you know now. If your gym and the teachers there are worth the price you are paying for a membership, they will welcome you with open arms.
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Sources: 50 Blissful Yoga Statistics for 2022