Your 10 Biggest Fitness Class Mistakes
Avoid these fitness faux pas to ensure you'll see results more quickly—and safely
You know the all-important fitness "rules": Be on time and no chitchatting during class. But there are other considerations to keep in mind too. Here, the country's top instructors share their tips.
Don't: Skimp on recovery
With high-intensity interval training all the buzz, many exercisers mistakenly believe that more is better, and that extra reps during the recovery portions of the workout will help you see better results, says Shannon Fable, award-winning group fitness instructor and director of exercise programming for Anytime Fitness Corporate in Boulder, CO. To get the most out of this fitness format, Fable recommends taking advantage of the designated recovery time and to really push yourself during the next interval, as that's where you'll get the extra calorie burn and the greatest benefits.
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Don't: Sport short shorts
While itty-bitty bottoms might happen to be your fitness apparel option of choice, this clothing may be better suited for Bikram than an indoor cycling class. "Wearing booty shorts during a cycling class can result in saddle sores and contact dermatitis from residual bacteria on the saddle," shares Shannan Lynch, Ph.D., and director of education for Mad Dogg Athletics, Inc., creators of the Spinning® program. In addition to limiting overall comfort and cleanliness, Lynch adds that short shorts are often prone to getting caught on the saddle nose when transitioning from seated to standing positions and can even rip, something she's seen happen during her years of teaching.
Don't: Mindlessly forward fold
From spending hours sitting in traffic to hours seated at our desks, the many muscular imbalances excessive sitting results in are often brought into the yoga studio with us given the great deal of forward folding done in class, notes Jane Bahneman, co-owner of Blue Nectar Yoga Studios in Falls Church, VA and director of fitness and wellness operations for CENTERS, LLC. "Excessive sitting serves to destabilize the core, tighten the chest muscles, overstretch the upper and mid-back muscles, weaken the abdominals, and tighten the hip flexors. It's important to approach each forward folding posture properly, so that the deep core muscles are recruited and the fold is performed at the hip joint as opposed to the waist." Bahneman recommends gently bending the knees in standing forward folds until properly warmed-up as well as elevating the hips-such as by sitting on a folded blanket-when performing seated forward folds for better alignment and eventually greater mobility.
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Don't: Forget to adjust
The beauty of the TRX is it's a piece of equipment that can be used for a variety of different exercises suitable for people of all fitness levels. However, the fact that you can easily make adjusts at any time should not be overlooked, as it's important to start and finish each exercise with integrity and quality movement, shares Dan McDonogh, group training and development manager for TRX. For example, if you're performing the TRX low row and find midway through the exercise that it is difficult to maintain good technique, McDonogh suggests simply decreasing the angle slightly and/or stepping the feet a little wider so you can continue the movement properly until the end of the set. On the flipside, if you find an exercise to be too easy once you are 10 to 15 seconds into a move, simply increase the angle and/or step the feet closer together.
Don't: Skip out on stretching
Just as strength, speed, and power are synonymous with CrossFit, so too should be mobility, notes Sarah Pearlstein, CrossFit level 1 certified trainer and creator of YogaMob. "The full range of motion we use in CrossFit requires a great amount of flexibility, and preparing your body for these movements will help to prevent injury and ultimately make you a better athlete." To get more out of each WOD, Pearlstein recommends warming up with movements such as holding the bottom of a squat, performing pass-throughs using a PVC pipe, and stretching the wrists thoroughly before tackling Olympic lifts. Following the WOD, be sure to leave time to stretch and to incorporate self-myofascial release using a tennis ball or foam roller to help relieve tension, improve mobility, increase blood flow and reduce stress.
Don't: Simply go through the motions
It's great if you've already mastered the merengue and have the salsa down pat, but the amount of effort that you put into each song and each step will have a direct effect on how efficient and effective each Zumba class experience is, shares Koh Herlong, certified group fitness instructor and international Zumba presenter. "Since you are already in class, don't just mindlessly go through the motion. Instead make the most of every minute and burn the most calories possible with each move while strengthening the muscles in the most efficient way by giving it your all every time." Herlong suggests students squat low when performing the cumbia machete, utilize the full range of motion with the arms during the merengue, and really emphasize the core when swiveling arms and legs during the salsa.
Don't: Use the wrong amount of weight
Both beginner and veteran group strength students are susceptible to either not using enough weight or too much weight, both of which can negatively impact the workout experience, says Kristen Livingston, certified personal trainer and owner of KLivFit. "In a barbell strength class, typically one movement is performed for several minutes. The successful participant is one who uses enough weight to be challenged through the full range of motion for the length of the movement pattern without compromising technique." While not using enough weight won't effectively challenge your muscles or produce the most optimal results, Livingston notes that for those who load the bar with more weight than they can properly move, over time they are likely to experience muscular imbalances and injuries.
Be open to choosing from one of the various progression or regression options that the instructor provides for each exercise, suggests Wendy Darius Dale, Group Rx coordinator for Power Music and program developer for Group Rx RIP. "Exploring different options allows you to pace yourself and guide your own intensity, and also to see the quality and effectiveness of the workout."
Don't: Fear the burn
Although barre classes typically don't consist of big moves, the smaller, more controlled movements can lead to some big time burn, and that's not necessarily a bad thing-or anything to be embarrassed about. Your body is simply responding to be challenged in a new way. "In Pure Barre, we say ‘embrace the shake,'" shares Christine Douglas, owner of Pure Barre Hillcrest in San Diego, CA. For those who are newer to barre, Douglas recommends setting a goal for yourself to stick with each movement just a little longer than the previous class to effectively challenge your body. For more seasoned barre goers, she suggests working deeper into each move, lowering the seat further or raising the heels higher.
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Don't: Forget about the powerhouse
Most people know that the core is uber-important in Pilates and that precision of each movement is key, however to truly get the most out of your class, you have to first understand-and effectively train-your powerhouse, shares Jodi Sussner, Pilates instructor and director of personal training and programming for Lift Brands. "Your powerhouse is your core plus your inner thighs, glutes, transverse abdominals, low back, ribcage, and diaphragm." To ensure you're getting the most out of each move and performing moves properly while simultaneously establishing a solid foundation, focus on pulling the belly button up and in as opposed to drawing it toward the spine or the mat. Also, engage the inner thighs toward the centerline and soften the ribcage down and in while exhaling.
Don't: Stay on pace with your neighbor
While there's something motivating about a little friendly competition, it's critical to work at your own level to maximize your results and ensure you stay safe, says Beth Jordan, certified personal trainer and owner of Beth's Boot Camp in Jacksonville Beach, FL. "Trying to keep up with the person next to you may either leave you not adequately challenged or may push you beyond a level where it's appropriate for you to be at the moment." Being that boot camp classes are designed with people of different ages, genders, and fitness levels in mind, Jordan notes that a qualified instructor should provide you with various options for each exercise in order to create an enjoyable and effective class experience that you'll want to stick with long-term.