You can find a group fitness class for just about every workout: cycling, barre, HIIT, even running. No matter which one you choose, group classes are a great way to torch calories and stay motivated, plus they’re more affordable than hiring a personal trainer.
That said, in a room of 50 people, it’s easy to feel a little lost or even cheat your reps a bit (no judgment!). So, how can you get the most out of a group exercise experience? Here, experts explain how to make your next fitness class feel more personalized, so you can score your best workout possible.
1. Bring a Positive Attitude
Check any bad vibes at the door, even if you’ve had a crappy day at the office. In a group setting, every person’s attitude matters. “Students feed off the energy of other students,” says Daphnie Yang, certified personal trainer and creator of HIIT IT!, a New York City-based workout program.
In fact, just working out in a group can lift your spirits: Rowers released more feel-good endorphins when they exercised together compared to when they sweat it out solo, according to a September 2009 Biology Letters study.
All the good energy might have something to do with the camaraderie you find in a group environment, says New York-based group fitness instructor Delia Marmol. “You’re all in it together, cheering each other on,” she says, adding that you’re likely to make buddies in class too.
Moral of the story? Show up smiling, root for your classmates and watch how that big group of strangers transforms into a close-knit, supportive community of friends.
2. Get to Know Your Instructor
You might feel awkward approaching your teacher on the first day of class, but if you’re new, it’s a smart idea. That’s because when you build a good rapport with your instructor, they’re more likely to give you personal attention, says Nedra Lopez, trainer and owner of the New York City-based fitness studio The P.E. Club.
Yang agrees: “When a teacher gets to know you, they can give you an occasional shout out by name, which can be immensely motivating.” She also recommends following your instructor on social media to see what they’re like outside of the studio. The better you get to know your teacher, the more connected and comfortable you’ll feel in the class.
Developing a relationship is extra important when it comes to reducing injuries, adds Marmol. When your instructor knows your weak spots, they can keep an eye on you and suggest a safe way to modify moves.
3. Pick a Good Spot
If you’re shy, it’s tempting to hide in the back of the room, but resist the urge! If possible, arrive early and scope out a space with a clear view of your instructor and the mirror. “The closer you get to the instructor or the front of the room, the more personalized experience you’re likely to get,” says Lopez.
It’s common sense: When you’re tucked away in the far corner, it’s harder for you to follow the moves and harder for the instructor to notice you if you need help or adjustments.
That said, if you land a spot in the back, don’t sweat it too much. “A good instructor should be watching all her students like a hawk the entire time,” says Yang, explaining it’s their job to keep every person in the room safe, engaged and happy.
4. Bring a Friend
A little anxious to try that new group aquatics class? Bring a pal. “If you’re feeling nervous, having a friend attend class with you can make you feel more at ease,” says Yang, adding that exercising is more fun when you have a friend at your side.
Gym buddies are also great for showing support when you’re feeling tired. “Friends can be motivating in a challenging class,” says Lopez. Read: They can cheer you on when you squeeze out that last set of painful burpees.
Ever notice that you push harder when you work out with a partner? It’s not just in your head. According to a 2012 study from Kansas State University, when people exercised with partners they thought were in better shape, they increased their workout time and intensity by a drastic 200 percent! No one wants to be the weakest link.
Workout partners also help keep you accountable, says Marmol. You’re more likely to show up to class if you’ve committed to meet your friend. That echoes a September 2014 study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health,which found that people who had social support were less likely to skip exercise.
5. Take the Same Class Often
One of the best ways to make a group class feel more personal is to go frequently: You’ll become more familiar with the instructor, the class structure and the group environment. And as your comfort level grows, so will your confidence. Matter of fact, confidence in your exercise ability is an important predictor of whether you’ll stick to a workout, according to a February 2009 study published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity.
Yang agrees that a consistent routine is key, especially when it comes to building a sense of community in a group class. The more often you go, the more likely you are to meet the same people and build friendships. Plus, as a regular, you might even be eligible for VIP perks like discounts on classes, adds Lopez.
6. Go During Off-Peak Hours
Classes scheduled during prime-time rush hours (think: early morning and after work) can get packed fast. “If you’re looking for a more intimate experience, some classes have smaller numbers during off-peak hours,” says Yang. “You may get more individualized, one-on-one attention.”
Marmol agrees: “With a smaller class, the instructor has more of an opportunity to focus on each individual student.” Plus, you won’t need to fight for a mat or a set of dumbbells.
So, when are off-peak hours? Lopez recommends any time between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., adding that you might even be able to find free group classes at community centers during these hours. Basically, if you can swing it, squeezing in a group class during your lunch break might be totally worth it.
7. Join a Smaller Gym or Boutique Studio
The type of gym you pick can make a huge difference in your group fitness experience. If you’re a fan of more personalized classes, you might prefer a smaller gym or a private boutique studio designed around a specific workout (think: cycling, yoga or barre). As opposed to big box gyms, which often feel impersonal and are intended for the masses, smaller facilities and boutique studios take pride in cultivating a sense of community and group culture, according to Lopez.
In part, this is because smaller gyms and boutique studios also care more about keeping their members happy and committed, unlike larger chain gyms that can afford to lose members here and there. That means they’re generally more accommodating to your needs and go out of their way to create a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. In other words, you’ll receive more individualized attention from the staff and the instructors.
It’s true that smaller gyms and boutique studios can be pricier than big-box chains, but working out in an environment where you feel your best might be worth the cost.