In the past couple of months I've gone to three fitness classes—all different kinds of workouts, at a variety of places—that have been simply awful.
By that, I mean mostly that they were just unbelievably hard. So hard that I could do only a percentage of what the teacher asked us to do, even when I modified the moves to make them easier. Two of the classes were not for advanced students, though the third was (so I did expect that one would be tougher, but not I-really-hope-there's-a-defibrillator-nearby tough).
I am no fitness nut, and I'm definitely not in perfect shape, but I can usually handle a new workout, even a fairly demanding one. So this experience of three bad workouts got me to thinking. Specifically, I was thinking about beginners—people like the ones who come to this site who don't even want to work out in the first place, but want to want to like exercise. What do you do when you find yourself in a class like this, wondering why the clock has seemingly stopped and you're trying to survive the longest hour of your life? I was just there and the hell is still fresh in my mind.
This scenarios must happen countless times every day. I know because I've lived it myself multiple times: You walk out of a class you absolutely hated and say, "Never again." And while you may mean, "I'm never taking that class again," there's also be a little part of you that crumbles. It's the part that wants to feel energetic, enthusiastic, confident and good at exercise.
The danger is that with a really sucky class, it may shrink that part of you that wants to love working out. And let's face it, for most of us, that part is really, really small to begin with.
So I'm going to say the obvious: Please don't give up.
Don't let classes like these have an impact on your optimism, even if you're just faking-it-'til-you-make-it, optimism-wise. Try to walk out, let it go, and do what every incredibly earnest yoga teacher has ever advised her students: Be grateful to yourself that you even showed up to the class and did what you could. (Corny, but you may find it helpful. Give it a try.)
And don't put it on yourself—that you suck, that you should have done better. Just chalk it up much like you would a bad date; this class just wasn't The One. There are other classes in the sea. There's a workout for everyone. You will meet your soul-activity.
All you can do is show up, do your best, and try not to get hurt. What else is there? You are paying someone who should be a professional to teach you, after all.
Here are some signs you're in a bad exercise class:
1. The music is so loud you can't hear anything the teacher is saying, and she doesn't seem to care that you can't follow what she's doing. (This just happened to me.)
2. The instructor turns up the heat so high you're pretty sure you're in Calcutta, but it's hard to tell because you're hallucinating. (Ditto.)
3. The teacher is basically doing his own workout and just letting you watch. (This also recently happened to me; the instructor didn't even face the students throughout the class or seem to care that none of her students were able to keep up.)
4. The instructor's mouth says "good job!" but his vibe says "you're not working hard enough." (This is typically said by anyone with a perfect body under the age of 35. It is a teacher's job to push you, but the good ones know how to motivate students at the same time. They also understand that body types, age, illness, injury and simply having a crappy day can all influence what we can and can't do. Trust your instinct; it will tell you whether a teacher has your best interests at heart.)
We've all been in bad classes, and even the best instructors have off-days. So of course you could be unlucky enough to hit a great teacher at the wrong time. It happens. But the important thing is to brush off bad workouts--whether they're in the gym, in a class, at the park, or with a trainer--and move on. Try your best not to be discouraged. Don't let that part of you that wants to like exercise get even smaller. Find something, somewhere that will make it grow.