To Beat Gym Intimidation, I Decided To Try As Many Classes As I Could In A Few Weeks, Including Pilates, Nia and Old-School Step

I'm still an overweight girl with confidence issues who questions how I fit in among people who look more like they belong in fitness classes.
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Anna Lee Beyer
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I'm still an overweight girl with confidence issues who questions how I fit in among people who look more like they belong in fitness classes.
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I have been going through this personal transformation into a person who loves exercise, but I am still an overweight girl with confidence issues who questions how I fit in among people who look more like they belong in fitness classes. When I look at the list of classes offered by my gym, I feel a mix of excitement about how fun they could be and trepidation at venturing into the unfamiliar. Since I have adopted a philosophy of never avoiding something just because I’m afraid I’ll look stupid, I can’t let fear of embarrassment keep me on the sidelines at the gym any longer.

When I see a fitness class from the outside, it's easy to think the cool kids all know what they're doing, and I'm not about to crash that party. 

To get over my fear, I launched into a gym rat sampler pack, trying as many new classes as I could in a few weeks. I found out I had very little to lose by committing an hour to a new experience, and each class helped me to smash through a road block by adding to the list of things I've proven I can handle. I joined each of these classes based only on their descriptions in the gym calendar, no questions asked.

I started this experiment by marking off what classes coincide with the gym daycare's hours.

I started this experiment by marking off what classes coincide with the gym daycare's hours.

MUSCLES IN MOTION

Description: Weight training class using dumbbells, flexibility balls, and tubes.

Fear Factor: 7/10

What I Expected: Intense weight lifting with a pack of bulging body builders.

What Really Happened: The instructor welcomed me right away, a small gesture that put me at ease. Feeling like an outsider in a new group can set a negative tone and color the whole experience. I am not terribly outgoing, but I am drawn to extroverted people who make me feel like I have a social connection to the rest of the group. 

Right away, the woman next to me, A., started chatting, telling me about the class and its regular attendees, mostly seniors. A. is 72 years old and “addicted to exercise,” — magic words to me as I’m am a burgeoning addict myself. She was so encouraging, giving me tips, praising my form, sharing her motivation for coming to the gym. 

The class was made up of low impact cardio, high repetition strength moves with light dumbbells, and balance and ab exercises. It was a total body workout that was challenging but do-able, exactly the combo I’m looking for in a class. The social vibe was fun, welcoming, nonjudgemental, and not at all awkward.

Will I Do It Again? Absolutely.

NIA

Description: Body and mind class combines dance, martial arts, and yoga.

Fear Factor: 6/10 (for potential embarrassment more than physical intensity)

What I Expected: I've seen old photos of 1920s-era young women frolicking and swaying through the campus lawns of a university where I used to work. The women were practicing an early form of modern dance known as eurythmics, choreographed movements set to music. That's what I expected — frolicking.

What Really Happened: My expectations were not too far off the mark. NIA is about expressing music with your body, guided by the teacher's instructions and modified to your preferred intensity level. Movements were flowy, bouncy, strong, and complex. It was a small class with students representing a wide range of age and ability. The instructor was warm, open, and wore the most awesome tie-dyed outfit. 

I told her I had zero dance experience and the class was firmly outside my comfort zone, but she made sure I got the message that the class is a safe, nonjudgemental place to express yourself and get a good workout. It was a good workout, challenging my stamina, rhythm, and balance.

Will I Do It Again? I want to say yes and push myself past the discomfort of feeling silly about it. Realistically, there's a 50/50 chance.

STEP INTERVAL

Description: This class blends old school step with new school fitness training. Utilizing the step, routines are designed to incorporate traditional step movements interlaced with Tabata-style intensity blasts.

Fear Factor: 8/10

What I Expected: Before class, I told my friend, "I think this might kill me."

What Really Happened: This was an hour of intensely complicated step sequences set to pop music (think "Blurred Lines" and "Moves Like Jagger"), interspersed with light resistance training. 

About halfway through the class, the instructor took my weights and gave me heavier ones. When I protested, she said, "You just spoke a full sentence, so I know you can handle it." I appreciated that the instructor called me out, because now I have to think about how hard I push myself and whether low expectations are curbing my effort. While I did feel like I had stamina to spare, I couldn't begin to keep up with the choreography. I was doing the same steps as the rest of the class only about 5 percent of the time, and even then it was by accident. 

I didn't feel like my muscles were overworked, but I limped for two days afterward. My calves were like knotted rubber bands that pulled tighter instead of stretching.

Will I Do It Again? Odds are pretty low. I hate to say that, because I feel like I should do it again, and try to exercise the part of my brain that processes those complicated sequences. What I might do instead is try a few step videos at home to see if my skill improves or if I'm hopelessly uncoordinated. If I could get the hang of it, this would be a fun and challenging occasional supplement to my other activities. OK, no, I'm not going back to step class.

PILATES MAT

Description: Pilates is a series of movements requiring focus, breath and attention to alignment. This mat class works on core strength and flexibility.

Fear Factor: The Hundred 

What I Expected: Core exercises (my weakness), stretching, and maybe some feel-good body awareness?

What Really Happened: I was running late, had to drop my daughter off in the daycare and literally run down the hall to an auditorium that was already packed with supine students on mats. The last empty space for me? At the very front next to the teacher. I didn't even have a chance to apologize for being late or for having no idea what I was doing. I flopped on the mat and stuck my legs in the air like everyone else. 

Fortunately, the wisp of a teacher gave good instructions and corrections. She had a calming tone, rich with reminders to do what your own body is capable of while maintaining control and alignment. At one point she patted my hand and thanked me for smiling. These tiny, weird, unfamiliar movements were tough but enjoyable. Now I want to get a book and find out what the heck Pilates really is.

Will I Do It Again? Yes, totally. I might actually love this.

I'm starting to notice a common attitude among the fitness community I belong to — the regulars recognize a newbie and offer tips and encouragement freely. I know from experience, this is not true in all gyms or fitness classes. It also helps to boost my courage with that old reminder, “No one is looking at you!” 

I had big plans to do Zumba, BodyPump, and Aquafit, but during this fitness blitz my daughter caught pink eye at the gym daycare and my husband brought a nasty cold home from the office. While we wait for these bugs to cycle through the whole family and vacate our house, I'm left to look forward to those new experiences. And I want to take tennis lessons! And this summer, mommy-and-me swim classes!

Now I know there's virtually no barrier to trying any of these things once.