Self-isolation, working from home and remote learning have not been great for allowing primary caregivers (read: mums) to maintain a fitness regime of any sort.

While you may have made it outside, kids in tow, for your daily “iso walk”, or your may have even done a home workout each day, you haven’t been able to step foot inside a gym. And that’s a long time to have off! Things will have changed—some out of necessity and some because your instructors have taken the opportunity to reinvigorate their business.

Your post-iso return to the gym or your favourite group fitness class is going to be just like being a beginner all over again. It’s going to be great to see everyone again, but you may be feeling nervous about what it will all be like. Or maybe you’re a beginner? Maybe you’d like to start attending the gym once their doors fly back open. Either way, these tips are designed to help you have a great time at your first session back.

1. Check in with your GP

This is especially important if you’re pregnant or have just given birth. Check with your GP to see if there are any health concerns that you may be unaware of that need to be taken into consideration before you start or start back.

2. Book in

There are usually a couple of ways to do this—your best bet is to check out their website. Some services will have a booking system while others may just have a “call ahead” policy. Either way, it’s better to let the service know they are expecting a new member as it allows the instructor to be aware of this. For the near future, numbers will be restricted and contact tracing is required, so you will have to book to even get into a class or gym.

3. Go with a friend

Having a familiar face to smile or grimace at can be reassuring in such an unfamiliar situation. You can both fumble through together and be as unsure as each other about what to do. Or maybe your friend has already done the class a few times? Great! She can show you what to do, where to set up, introduce you (quietly) to the instructor and even to a few friendly class members. Remember, everyone in that room—and I mean everyone—was new at one stage, even the instructor! Yep, even the instructor had to walk through those doors for the first time once upon a time. So everyone in that room should be able to empathise with your nerves and a couple of friendly ones will help you out with your first class.

4. Go in with an open mind

Don’t set any expectations of yourself or of the class. Be open to trying new things and be curious about how many new ways you can move your body. While some moves may feel uncomfortable or unusual, nothing should actually physically hurt you during the class.

5. Take your time

I want to look at this from two different perspectives, the first one being a practical point of view (actually getting yourself to the class) and the second being the expectations of yourself in the class.

First of all, you definitely want to arrive at least 10 minutes before the class starts, if not a tad bit more. You need time to get a lay of the land, to go to the toilet, to fill out any paperwork (such as a health form) that may not have already been done, to set up and to have a chat to the instructor. To do this, you need to know how long it’s going to take you to get to the class. It may also pay to check out what the car parking is like.

Secondly, taking your time once you’re in the class is important. Every single instruction and cue is going to be new for you, or you need to remind yourself what it is. It’s much better to do five great squats while everyone else in the class is doing 20 than to hurt yourself doing those 20 poorly. You are going to be asking your body to move in ways that it may not be used to, so be gentle on yourself. A good instructor should definitely allow for this and will have some great modifications up their sleeves if you really do find something too tricky.

6. You don’t have to be fit to start

This follows on nicely from my last point. Just like you wouldn’t get your hair trimmed before you go to the hairdresser, you don’t have to be fit to start in a group fitness class (as long as the class is suitable for all fitness levels). While it might seem like everyone else in the room are fitness experts, the truth of the matter is, they’re not! Everyone has their own reason for being there, everyone has their own perspective on fitness and everyone in the class was a beginner once. You’ll soon see that the instructor will give individual feedback to class participants—no-one gets it right all of the time. A good instructor will be able to help you at whatever fitness level you are coming into the class with.

7. Wear comfy clothes and shoes

The clothing you choose to wear is not really the important point here. You just need to be able to move well in them, so a pair of tracksuit pants or leggings on the bottom, and a comfy t-shirt or activewear top is best. Something to consider for comfort will also be the ways you may have to move in these clothes, so check to see how comfortable you are:

  • Bending over (reach towards your toes)
  • Squatting (a sitting position without the chair)
  • Reaching above your head
  • Lying on your back
  • Getting up and down off the ground.

Your shoes should ideally be laced-up runners (not slip-on) and this is simply because you will need the extra support. You need to be comfortable and supported enough to move forwards, backwards and side-to-side. They should have good grip to keep you safe.

Another clothing consideration is your bra. Again, you will be moving in many different ways to what you are used to, so it is wise to check that your bra can support you as you reach your arms above your head, as you lean forward, as you lie on your back and as you get up and down off the ground.

Layers are key! Often times, especially during winter and if outdoors, you can start a class wearing a jumper. You may soon take that off for the long-sleeved t-shirt underneath as you warm up. Then, as the class really gets into the swing of things, you may want to take the long-sleeved off for a short-sleeved t-shirt. As you cool down at the end, you may then put your jumper back on.

8. Some other things to bring

Some gyms or group fitness businesses will require you to bring your own mat and maybe even your own weights at the start, so do check ahead about this. While COVID-19 is still hanging around, you should also check to see if you’ll be required to wear a mask. Other things to bring include:

  • Water bottle (fill it before you leave home)
  • Towel (just a hand one will do) to wipe your face through the class and also for any floor work you may do
  • Small bag (to keep your phone, keys, wallet, drink bottle and towel all in the one place)
  • Small bottle of hand sanitiser, although this should be supplied
  • Small spray deodorant 
  • Spare hair tie and bobby pins
  • Spare pad/tampon

I am so aware of how long this list is. Please don’t think that the length of this list is indicative of how complicated participating in a group fitness class is. It’s not. This is simply an overview of all the little things I wish I had when I first started, and also the little things that I remind participants of.

9. Let’s do this

The most important thing to remember is to simply just start! You’ll never actually find out what a group fitness class is like unless you try it for yourself.

So go on, grab a friend, pop your comfy clothes and runners on and give it a go!

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