By Josie Rubio

I never fare well when the restroom designations stray from the usual stick figures. That’s how I almost ended up in the men’s bathroom my first time at a new yoga studio. At a few cycling classes, I’ve stayed helplessly clipped into my bike shoes while everyone else hopped off and stretched. I’ve been going to a lot of unfamiliar studios and new classes, and even though I often end up doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, I’ve been having a lot of fun.

Trying something new, however, can be intimidating. (There’s even a term for it when it comes to workouts: “Gymtimidation.”) But we all have to start somewhere. We asked some fitness pros for tips about how to make your first visit or first class a little less scary.

Don’t worry about how you look.

The one person who is focusing on you — the instructor or trainer — is there to help, and they know what it’s like to face physical (and mental) challenges. Jonathan Ross, founder of Aion Fitness, in Washington D.C., and master instructor for ACE, SPRI and Tabata Bootcamp, says, “Remember that everything in life — everything — is hard before it is easy. And also that everyone, even the instructor, had a first time taking that class or doing that workout.  We’ve all been uncoordinated, uninitiated and untalented at some point, while others around us were performing at a high level.”

Chances are, your classmates aren’t looking and judging. “Don’t worry about looking silly or ‘if it’s not your style,’ because we all have physical weaknesses that we are trying to overcome,” says Lisa Marie Kinder, star of the "10 Minute Solution: High Intensity Interval Training" DVD and a trainer at Equinox. “I explain that even though I’ve been in sports and exercising pretty much my whole entire life, there’s always something that we all need to definitely work on to get strong, better or learn.”

Before trying something new, simply taking a look at your mindset can help quiet fears, says yoga instructor Ashley Turner, star of the "Element: 5-Day Yoga" DVD. “The best part of the practice of yoga is learning that it's okay to fall out of a pose, or not know how to do something at first,” she says. “I try to reassure students when I hear this that everyone has been there, and that being a beginner is full of opportunities you'll never have again. It's not scary if you reframe it and start to think of it that way.”

In other words: Relax. And channel that nervous energy into your workout.

Prepare a little before you go.

If you’re nervous about working out at a new place, check it out first. “If it's a place where you can take a tour first, go in before you plan to use equipment or take a class and get the lay of the land,” Turner says.  If you can’t check out a place in person, go online. Many YMCA locations, for instance, have virtual tours online.

Before heading to class, do some research. “Check out the website and read through the FAQ page,” Turner says. “That definitely helps ease some of the stress the first time you try something new.”

Keep in mind that some places recommend arriving early, especially if it’s your first time. Make sure you have appropriate attire, and find out what you should bring, what’s provided and what you can purchase or rent there — from water to cycling shoes to yoga mats to locks. Also consider that some places might have credit card minimums, so you might want to have cash on hand for small purchases or rentals. (Check out this helpful checklist from ClassPass of what to consider before heading to a new studio.)

Once you arrive, ask the teacher or trainer questions, and don’t be afraid to ask your fellow classmates what to expect, too. “Ask the instructor if there is anything you need to know,” Ross says. “Ask current members or attendees what some of their experiences are like. Most people are happy to share information that will make your fitness experience a better one.”

Buddy up.

In addition to bringing water and a towel to class, Kinder says, “I would always suggest that they bring a friend with them.”

Having a friend in class or at the facility can help you feel more comfortable. Plus, research has shown that working out with a friend can help you stay motivated. In fact, one study suggests that the best thing a workout buddy can do is just be there for support.

Arrive with one very important thing.

Good news: This "thing" is free and doesn’t take up space in your gym bag. “Come with an open mind and to have fun!” Kinder says. “Fitness is about having fun and enjoying the experience.”

How have you overcome first-time student fears at a new workout or class?


Photo by Scott Griessel