Should You Really Make Group Fitness Classes ‘Your Own?’

Should You Really Make Group Fitness Classes ‘Your Own?’
Photo: Kzenon, Shutterstock

In a perfect world, fitness should come down to nothing more than building a habit and challenging your body. Unfortunately, a group fitness class is rarely a perfect world. Whether you signed up for pilates, Crossfit, or any other group workout experience, it’s easy to let your ego get in the way.

Inspiration for this post comes from this r/Yoga thread, where the original poster is annoyed when other people do their own poses and ignore the instruction during group yoga classes. Across the way in r/Crossfit, there’s a common complaint about watching others “cheat” their workouts. I sympathise with the frustration: Why should others get to record impressive numbers, while you’re the schmuck playing by the rules?

Here’s why you should reign in your judgment and learn to focus on yourself during any kind of group workout.

Yes, you should make the practice your own

Although you’re in a group setting, you’re still an individual who deserves to make your workout your own. More importantly: You probably paid money for this class.

In most fitness classes, the instructor or trainer encourages everyone to “make the practice their own” and listen to their bodies. Just like someone might make modifications to accommodate an injury, you’re entitled to make your exercise more intense in order to make the workout worth your time and money.

One person might tap out for certain movements, while another throws in a few extra reps. (Could you imagine a Zumba class moving in perfect unison? Terrifying.) Still, as much as I want to focus on myself, I let myself to get irritated — and to be honest, get competitive — with people who come to group fitness seemingly just to “show off.”

If you’re going to modify, be reasonable

Now that we’ve established that you have every right to make your practice your own, let’s be honest with ourselves. Why are you really making modifications?

Part of signing up for group fitness is the unofficial contract with everyone else in the group: You all are showing up today to motivate each other, hold each other accountable, and be a part of the community. Don’t be surprised if your individualistic streak is seen as a bit selfish.

If the rest of your class is taking five breaths in triangle pose, while you decide you’re in the mood for ten burpees, then it’s safe to say that you’re being disruptive.

However, in that same example, let’s say holding five breaths is too challenging or too boring for you. Do your best to make a fitting substitution, like holding an adjacent pose for that length of time.

In more intense, competitive settings like Crossfit, it’s all too common to see other people “cheat.” They’ll sacrifice form and then report a record-breaking number of reps. This person is only cheating themselves (assuming you’re not screwing over team members or actively being judged in a competition). So if this person is you: Ask yourself why you feel the need to focus on the numbers over the quality of workout. You’re hindering your own progress, physically and mentally.

If modifiers bother you: Focus on yourself

When someone’s free-styling is distracting you in a group setting, use that time as an extra challenge to practice mindfulness in your workout. Position yourself so that the offender is out of your line of vision. Let the rest of the room melt away and focus on your breath. If we’re talking #gains…You gain nothing from judging others for what they are or are not doing.

Unless it’s harming your workout, it won’t be worth speaking up. If it helps to feed into the judge-y part of yourself, think about it like this: When you notice someone cheating their workout or selfishly showing off, the rest of the group is likely noticing, too.

In general, though, annoying people are an excellent opportunity to practice being a more gracious person. One Reddit commenter who claims to be a yoga teacher, uidactinide, puts it like this:

“Maybe they need to modify to accommodate injury, as others have said. Maybe their shoulder hurts and they’re adding a bind or a twist to try and loosen it up. Maybe they realised partway through class that their hamstrings are really tight, and since they’re there to wind down before bed, they want to work that tension out. Maybe they live alone and work from home, and being in class is more about human connection for them than following the teacher’s guidance. Maybe they just learned how to do a handstand and they’re really proud of it and want to show it off a little to folks they think would understand their excitement. Maybe they really prefer strong flow classes, but they work two jobs and this is the only class time that works for them.”

If someone is bothering you, think twice about roping other people into it or confronting them in any way. You never know the full story behind why they’re doing their own thing.

The takeaway: This is about you

In most group fitness settings, the only person you should be competing with is yourself. Likewise, when you cheat, the person you’re really cheating is yourself. For your physical gains and mental wellbeing, all you can do is focus on yourself.

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