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The Unwritten Rules of Group Fitness Classes

By Karen Austin

Photo Credit: Army Medicine via Creative Commons

I’ve spent over a decade attending fitness classes at the local gym, and I am still trying to discern the unwritten rules for who gets to be up front near the instructor.  I’ve spent a little over a year attending kickboxing, yoga, and Zumba classes in my new town.  It seems as though these rules are written in sand and not stone.

The New Kid in Town Rule

When I first moved to Indiana, my understanding was that new people get to stand up front next to the instructor so that other people can get to know them.  I would go up to the instructor before class starts and introduce myself. Then I would just stay there until the other class members fanned out a bit to make room for me.  How very kind of them!

The Worse Dancer Rule

After about three months, the instructor started introducing new routines in these fitness classes.  I am not a naturally gifted with body movement. Consequently, I would place myself up front next to the instructor so that I could see her clearly in the mirror or in my line of sight if we turned away from the mirror.  Most people leave a wide margin around the yoga teacher, so there I can easily set up my yoga mat in this area. This makes sense because it’s important to nurture and support the weakest members of our tribe. We are not animals who push the weak to the periphery to be eaten by predators! Oh, no.

First-Come, First-Serve Rule

After about six months, I had the basic routines down in kickboxing, yoga, and Zumba, so that new routines didn’t throw me for a loop as much.  But I like to be up front next to the instructor, so I started coming 30 minutes before class starts so that I could stand right in front of the door so that the instructor had to nudge me aside to get the key in the lock. Then I would race to the front and claim my spot.  Sometimes new people or less agile students would try to insert themselves between me and the instructor.  Not on my watch!  If they want to be up front, they can come early.

The Best Student Rule

Once I was late to Zumba, where I am one of the most expressive dancers. I had to dance on the side of the room next to the utility closet. I was singing loudly, leaping high, and extending my arms wide. Jeannie, who was dancing closer to the center of the room, tapped me on the shoulder and suggested that I move closer to the instructor. She escorted me to the front and center, which shuffled everyone else over one spot. Now when I go to that class, I realize that I have a duty to demonstrate the dance moves for the weaker dancers, so even if I’m late, I go stand next to the instructor.

The Perks of Being a Regular

After about a year, my daughter got her learner’s permit, so the drive time to the high school was longer, and we had to park in visitors parking at the school so that I could move from the passenger seat to the driver’s seat. This was making me late to kickboxing class.  But after a year, surely the instructor and the other students recognize that up front and next to the teacher is “my” spot.  It’s an unwritten rule, after all.

About Karen Austin

After living in UT, HI, CA, VA, DC, WI, WV & KS, Karen now lives in Newburgh, IN with her husband and two children. She's been a BYU writing tutor, an English teacher, technical writer, director of academic support services, and aging studies adjunct. She's reinventing herself--again. New role still pending, but mature athlete, thrift store fashionista, and court jester are strong candidates. She maintains the blog The Generation Above Me.

2 thoughts on “The Unwritten Rules of Group Fitness Classes”

  1. I'm getting the feeling that you like to be near the instructor, and that you can find a rule so that you — whether newcomer, oldtimer, best or worst — can be near the instructor! 🙂

    … and then I start thinking of other settings where I can do the same thing.


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