A Guy's Guide To Surviving Aerobics Classes
© Joan Price. May not be reprinted without permission.
You know you need cardiovascular exercise for your heart, your weight, your stamina, and your total fitness, and you'd like to improve your coordination and flexibility. But what kind of real man takes aerobics classes?
All kinds. Mainly independent, knowledgeable, fitness-minded types who see what aerobics does for the body and the mind, like the challenge of learning a new sport--and who enjoy being in a roomful of lively women! Working out to music is invigorating, especially when the instructor is motivating. Face it, 30 minutes on an exercise bike can get boring, but an aerobics class will stimulate your mind as well as your heart rate. It may also stimulate your social life, since you'll do your sweating surrounded by fit-conscious women.
If you opened the door to an aerobics class two decades ago, you saw a Flashdance boot camp with lots of high kicks, hip swings, and jazzy hand accents. These days, you're more likely to find aerobic conditioning classes emphasizing endurance, coordination, flexibility, and muscle toning. You'll also see classes using the step platform or a slide board, adding an athletic component. You'll see incredible differences in your weight, stamina, and flexibility if you stick with it. And you'll find that many more men attend these classes, often standing at the front of the room!
So how do you go about choosing a guy-friendly class and coping with new skills, unfamiliar movements, and an alien environment?
There are dozens of types of aerobics classes, so look for one that matches your preferences and personality. If you don't like dance, look for a class that offers strength, flexibility, and athletic endurance work. You might like the classes inspired by boxing or martial arts, which are quite popular now. Choose a class that starts with simple, easy-to-follow movements, at least at first. If the steps get more complicated, find those one or two movements you can do easily and stick to them until you feel ready for more challenges.
Though you might feel more comfortable with a male teacher at first, quality of instruction is more important than gender. A good teacher is consistent and caring and makes sure students know what they're doing and why. Look for a knowledgeable, safety-conscious instructor who makes you feel welcome and inspires you to come back.
If coordination is a problem for you, ask around to find out which instructor is easiest to follow. Then give yourself at least five classes with that teacher. By then you should feel comfortable with the routines and start seeing progress. If not, check out a different instructor.
Suppose you get into class and find yourself faced with complicated moves that look impossible. You can cope by breaking those moves into manageable parts. Skip the arms and just do the legs. If you're tall with long arms and legs, you may find that the leprechaun-limbed instructor performs the moves too quickly for you to complete them with full range of motion, so you're either rushing through the movement or staying a half-beat behind. Your solution: Cut the moves in half. In other words, take the move halfway, but with full control and muscle power. For example, if the jumping jacks are too fast, let the legs go out half as far and the arms half as high, making an X instead of bringing the arms over the head. Watch the instructor more than the mirror. If you're too far back to see clearly, follow the person in front of you. If you keep concentrating on how the moves look when they're done correctly, you'll soon be able to match them.
Repetition is essential for learning the skills of all sports, including this one. You won't master them immediately. Think back to the first time you played your favorite sport with more-experienced players. You felt awkward at first, but you stuck with it, learned the moves, and practiced. It was fun after you became adept. Same here! Feel free to modify any moves that don't work for you--it's your workout, after all. Any good instructor will encourage you to do this. If you get one who insists that everyone perform in lockstep formation, switch to another teacher pronto.
How do you modify? Let's again take the example of the too-fast jumping jacks. Try slowing the move to half time, doing every other one. This way you have time to land with your heels fully down (much safer than landing on the balls of your feet) and bend the knees slightly (more muscle work than fast jacks). When you're trying to learn the steps and they change too fast to master, you can jog or march in place and just do the arm changes until a familiar step comes around again -- and it will. Watching and concentrating on the instructor's step changes will help. Once the eyes and mind catch the routine, the feet will get it, too.
Fight that self-consciousness about doing something different from the rest of the class. If you look around you at the other exercisers, you'll see them doing variations and modifications whenever they want or need to. So set your goals, lace up those shoes, and get in there. Make it yours.