How to conquer your fitness fears
Overcome your anxiety when it comes to trying spinning, yoga, boxing and more.
Fri, Jul 01, 2011 at 07:37 PM
If you're too afraid to try spinning due to its high-intensity reputation, or your lack of flexibility has made you steer clear of yoga, you could be missing out on a workout that's not only great for you, but something you might really enjoy. Read on to learn the truth about a few of the most seemingly-intimidating exercises around, and learn our tips for how to overcome your fears and get started on one of these fitness routines.
Many gym-goers think spinning—an instructor-led cardio workout done on a stationary bike—is simply “too hard,” says Nadia Zaki, certified spinning instructor at Equinox gyms. But don't be intimidated! While it is in a group setting, spinning is actually a very individualized workout. “Everyone controls his or her own bike’s resistance,” says Zaki. “So you can work as hard as you want.” Instead of feeling pressured to keep up with the class, take what the instructor says as a guideline and go at your own pace. Though the (often spirited) teachers are there to motivate you, they rarely single out class attendees or tweak anyone’s resistance without permission. Plus, the class is a lot of fun. “It has to be, otherwise nobody would do it, since it’s demanding,” says Zaki. “It’s more like a dance party than anything else." Plus, like outdoor cycling, spinning is arranged in short intervals (reminiscent of riding up and down hills), which breaks up the time and makes the class fly by.
If you’re thinking about trying it: To ensure a good first experience, tell your instructor you're a beginner. Oftentimes they'll even ask at the start of class who's new, so that they can give you a few pointers and help you properly adjust your bike. “If your seat is too far back or your handlebars are too low, it can add the wrong kind of strain to your workout,” says Zaki. “In fact, if you’ve had a bad experience in the past, that may be why." And make sure you wear long, form-fitting shorts to prevent chafing on your inner thighs from seat friction; padded bike shorts are also an option if you find the seat uncomfortable.
Running is a popular cardiovascular exercise because it's so effective, and so easy to pick up. “If you can walk, you can turn that into a light jog and then you can run,” says Marybeth Moore, certified personal trainer. So why is it so tough to stick with? “When it comes to running, people set themselves up for failure,” Moore says. “They think they should be able to get out there and run a mile off the bat.” But just because you’re capable of running a mile doesn’t mean you’re ready to—or that it’s not going to hurt. “Most of us end up working our body too hard the first time and inevitably hate it,” she adds. The key is easing into a routine. “The walk-run method (alternating between walking and jogging until your stamina is built up) is an extremely effective starter method,” Moore says.
If you’re thinking about trying it: Running can be pretty hard on the body. It's just you and the pavement—there's nothing to lessen the impact—so make sure you have supportive sneakers designed for running. With the right shoes, you’ll put less strain on your muscles and tendons, which contributes to a more comfortable run and faster recovery period, Moore says. Then, start by following a structured plan written by a professional. Moore recommends picking up a book for beginner runners, like Galloway’s Book on Running by Jeff Galloway. “He writes effective training programs that work and keep you injury-free,” Moore says. And be sure to check out WD's"Beginner's Guide to Running" for other beginner tips.
Though many people think they need to be flexible to reap the benefits of yoga—a workout that improves strength, flexibility and relaxation by having you hold various poses—that’s not necessarily true. One of the most important factors of the process is actually breathing, because it brings oxygen—a vital element for our bodies—to the blood and brain. Thus, if you can breathe, you can enjoy yoga, according to Zaki, also a certified yoga instructor. The poses simply help promote blood flow to certain body parts, bringing oxygen to them in order to remove toxins as well as rejuvenate them. As for being flexible: “Since most people are beginners, there’s an easier modification for almost every move,” Zaki says.
If you’re thinking about trying it: First and foremost, choose a beginner's class. “Anything with the word ‘basic’ in its title is a safe bet,” says Zaki. But if you take a regular class, just be sure to do the beginner's modification of each pose. “If you hurt yourself by overstretching, you (understandably) won’t want to come back,” she adds. And don't worry about not knowing the poses. Instructors usually have you practice each of them at least twice during class. “Because of your muscle memory, the poses get easier every time,” says Zaki. And repetition is key! So the more classes you attend per month, the more you'll progress, and eventually your flexibility will improve until you can perform the regular and eventually the advanced variations of the poses. To find the right yoga discipline for you, check out "WD's Guide to Yoga."
Strength training—resistance and weight-bearing exercises that strengthen and tone your muscles—tends to scare off women. While men want bigger muscles, women are often afraid of bulking up. “It isn't going to happen!” Vasquez says. “The female body just doesn't have the genetic and hormonal makeup to get super-jacked unless you start going to extremes (consuming extra calories, bodybuilding, etc.).” Instead of bulking you up, strength training gives women the slim/toned look of a dancer, not to mention that it reduces your risk of osteoporosis by preventing bone loss, and improves metabolism, since muscle burns more calories than fat.
If you’re thinking about trying it: Hit the gym when it’s less crowded (early in the morning or late at night) if you’re nervous about looking inexperienced. “Finding the right venue will help keep you motivated,” says Monica Vasquez, personal trainer at New York Sports Club. “Though you must take the time to learn, with proper instruction and care for injury prevention, anyone can do strength training,” she explains. When you weight-train for the first time, use the weight machines, Vazquez recommends. “Start with longer sets of lighter weights, as this will help strengthen your stabilization muscles and connective tissues, which will need to be strong when you graduate to dumbbells,” she says. And don't be shy about asking the gym staff for help: That's what they're there for. If you don't have a gym membership, a cost-effective way to get strength-training into your routine is to simply buy a set of dumbbells and a DVD.
Hooping—a combination of hula-hooping and other exercise moves, like squats and lunges—is a relatively new fitness sensation that has left some skeptical. “The most common fear we encounter is, 'I was never really that good at hula-hooping when I was young, so I probably wouldn’t be any good at it now,'" says Jacqui Becker, Hoopnotica-certified instructor. “But more often than not, adults have only previously tried hula-hooping using a child’s toy hoop." Exercise hoops are larger and heavier, which helps create centrifugal force and keeps the hoop up, making it much easier to use. Some also shy away from hooping because they feel the workout is too dance-inspired, but there are different class styles to choose from. “In addition to dance classes, during which the instructor often teaches a routine, there are also fitness-based classes, in which the hula-hoop is used as more of a weight or prop,” says Becker. Plus, “hooping is low-impact, so it's easy on the joints,” making it a good option for all fitness levels.
If you’re thinking of trying it: Check out Hoopnotica.com, the largest distributor of fitness hoops in the world. Through the site, you can find classes near you or order a DVD and hoop. “We also offer Skype lessons, so you can learn in the privacy of your own home with the support of a Hoopnotica-certified instructor,” says Becker.
Fitness boxing—a workout consisting of short bursts of high-intensity sequences during which you train like a boxer but don’t spar—is typically tough, says Christy Nacinovich, instructor at Crunch NYC. But don't worry: The boxing classes offered at gyms (as opposed to martial arts studios) are designed for beginners. At the start of most classes, instructors go over the basic moves—sometimes without gloves and always without impact—for anyone new. And the practice doesn’t necessarily require you to be in top physical condition. “Much of boxing’s intensity is mental,” she says, as there is a big emphasis on form. “It takes focus to carry out each move smoothly and precisely."
If you’re thinking about trying it: Aside from letting your instructor know you’re a beginner so that you're paired with the right partner, make sure you wear the right gear. “Dress to sweat,” says Nacinovich. You’ll be working in short intervals, so your body is constantly sweating to deal with the shift in heart rate and body temperature. Wear a tank top or loose T-shirt—anything that doesn’t impede arm movement—made with a cotton-spandex blend, which allows for “breathing."
The many reasons people avoid Pilates—they’re not flexible enough, they have weak abdominal and back (or core) muscles—are the very reasons they should be practicing, explains James Darling, certified Pilates and dance instructor at Equinox gyms. “Pilates is effective in that it focuses on alignment and core strength. When these two things are in line, moving through your day—from walking to dancing—becomes much easier,” he says. And whether they know it or not, many people have already done some Pilates moves before. “The basis of the practice has been used in physical therapy and dance for decades,” says Darling. Finally, Pilates is an incredibly calming workout, involving short repetitions of gentle movements.
If you’re thinking about trying it: Let someone at your gym know you’re a beginner, and ask which Pilates teacher they think would be best for you. And all experts agree: At least for the first few times you try Pilates, you should take a class—not use a DVD. “Pilates is so alignment-based, it’s difficult to understand each move without someone there to instruct you,” says Darling. Give your teacher a full rundown on your current physical state—for instance, if you have any injuries—and he or she will cater to your level and abilities. “There are modifications for almost everything that ails you,” Darling says.
This article originally appeared on WomansDay.com and is republished here with permission.
Related links on Woman's Day: