“I tried Zumba once but I didn’t like it because I couldn’t do any of the moves.”

“I tried to take spinning but it was too hard so I left.”

“I tried to run once but I was so slow I gave up.  I’m not made to run.”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone make one of those statements… heck, if I had a dollar for every time I made one of those statements… I wouldn’t be rich, but I could probably buy a nice pair of shoes. 🙂

As we approach a New Year, some of us need to get back to our lean and mean fitness level.  Some of us may never have been at that lean and mean level, but 2011 is the year we’re gonna DO IT.  Great! Let’s do it together!

But first, I have bad news. You are going to have to be willing to be uncomfortable. Maybe even embarrassed. You might have to be willing to look like a big dork who doesn’t know how to put a step together or what those purple yoga blocks are used for. You are going to have to step outside your comfort zone.

Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward

and uncomfortable when you try something new. ~Brian Tracy~

No one wants to be embarrassed. No one wants that feeling they had on the first day of junior high when they couldn’t find their locker and they went into the wrong room for English and were sitting there for 15 minutes before they realized they were in an Algebra class.  You survived junior high. You will survive being uncomfortable in a fitness class. I swear.

I say this having done my share of dumb things in a gym setting.  The time I lifted my shirt to wipe my sweaty face and remembered afterwards that I wasn’t wearing my usual sports bra underneath because they were all in the hamper so I just showed the entire gym my regular bra (I started bringing face towels after that).  Or, more recently, I was rushing to use the restroom before I taught class at a club.  It was my first or second time teaching there and I was frazzled and nervous and in a hurry… it wasn’t until I was washing my hands that I noticed my restroom had urinals in it.  Yep, I had used the men’s room. Thankfully, no other occupants were present.

I lived. It was a great story to share with my class before we got down to business.  Laughter is a good warm up.  It’s okay to look silly every once in awhile.  No one likes perfection anyway.

A top complaint I hear from people when they find out the formats I teach is that they tried a class (once) and it was so confusing that they never went back. This makes me sad because they may be missing out on the fun and camaraderie that comes with group exercise.  My students notice when a “regular” is missing. They find out if there has been a death in the family or someone is expecting a new baby.  There is support and community in these classes. You just have to stick around long enough to find it.  Studies show that having a supportive network of friends is as vital to health as a good diet and regular exercise.

It’s also sad because people who expect to be masters of anything after one class are being way too hard on themselves.  I don’t think Michelle Kwan was born doing triple lutzes (and you’ll note even as one of the best skaters in the world she still regularly fell on her bum in front of God, video cameras and everyone). It takes practice to learn new rhythms and ways of moving your body.

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.

~Seneca~

Anything that is going to produce noticeable change in your body will take some getting used to.  I know there are exercise programs based on squeezing your butt muscles 1,000 times a day or breathing or jumping on a trampoline but I have never, ever met anyone in tip top shape that got that way using those methods.  So I encourage you to be open to trying new exercises and to absolutely SUCKING at them. It’s okay! I joke with my students that Broadway auditions will be after the next Zumba class.  In other words, our current class is just for grins and giggles so don’t worry about how high you’re kicking or if you’re going left when everyone else is going right.  The idea is to get fit and have fun, not to be transformed into Dancing with the Stars material.  The best part is, if you give yourself up to the experience, you will be surprised how well you perform the moves after a few months of classes.

Because I’m a “tips” person and I like to share my trial-and-error knowledge with people, here are some ways to make your entry into fitness classes a little easier:

1. Find out from the instructor or a person who regularly attends class the pace of the class and what footwear and attire is appropriate.  If you’re a beginner and a class is incredibly intense, it might not be the ideal class to start.  Also, you don’t want to wear sneakers that will get you injured (see my Zumba and knee pain post) or dress in clothes that will leave you uncomfortably hot as the class picks up the pace.

2.  Find out if the studio or club has an intro class.  I’ve noticed many dance studios have a Zumba Basics class where the moves are broken down for beginners.  So if you wander into an intermediate class where less breakdowns are given, you may find yourself hating Zumba simply because you were in the wrong class.

3.  If no intro class is available, try to catch the instructor or someone who takes the class regularly and find out some basic moves. You can also do research online and check out You Tube for sample classes!

4.  Show up early for class.  In clubs where group ex classes can have 50 people, you don’t want to get the last spot available (which is typically right next to a pile of yoga mats and steps).  Also, the instructor will typically give instructions before class begins about modifications and safety that you don’t want to miss.  If your instructor is there early enough, introduce yourself (we like saying hi! Fitness instructors are not introverts!) and tell him or her that you’re new. Sometimes instructors will ask if there are new people in the group, but that can make the new people feel put on the spot so it’s not a given that your instructor will do this.

5.  Don’t hide in the back row.  I know this goes against every fiber of your soul and being.  But don’t do it.  First, when you hide in the back, you’re hard to see. So if you’re doing something that could lead to injury, your instructor may not notice. Conversely, when you’re in the back, it’s hard for YOU to see.  Stand as close to your instructor as you can without stepping on her shoes (just kidding. But the front or second row directly behind her is a good place).  This also minimizes the confusion of watching other people around you.  If you look around a class, you will see people adding their own style to the moves. Sometimes they will do something completely opposite of what the instructor is saying.  This is fine, but it can be very confusing for you as a new student.

6. Don’t quit because it’s hard. You can move on to a new fitness plan when your old one becomes too easy. But no quitting when the going gets tough. That’s the point of fitness — you challenge your body, it adapts and your fitness improves. Then you find a new challenge or you make your movements more intense and your fitness level improves again.  If you try a class and it’s challenging, that’s a sign that you need to work on some aspect of your fitness.

7.  Check with your doctor before you start a fitness program.  That’s not just the lawyer in me talking.  If you have some physical ailment that makes it dangerous for you to jump or kick or wiggle around like a maniac, it is important to find out before you get injured.  Injuries mean you can’t work out, which means your fitness level goes down, which means you have an even more difficult time ahead of you when you’re finally ready to try to get fit again.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you: Check with your doctor first.

8. Find out where the bathrooms are and use the one that is appropriate for your gender. I’m just sayin’. 😉

‎That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do. Not that the nature of the thing itself has changed but our power to do it is increased. — Ralph Waldo Emerson