Group Fitness For Introverts
Many years ago, when I was looking for a way to support my cheese, chocolate and wine habits, I discovered group fitness classes.
In many respects these classes were ideal.
They were choreographed to music — I could sing along and forget how hard I was working.
They were challenging — there was always something to work on so I stayed motivated.
They burned major calories — I could indulge my dietary foibles and still fit into my jeans.
In fact group fitness classes ticked all the ‘fitness’ boxes.
The problem was the other part of group fitness. The ‘group’ part. The unfortunate fact that group fitness classes invariably involved, you know, other people.
People who tried to talk to you. People who eschewed deodorant or toothpaste or shampoo. People who had no sense of personal space.
But because the classes suited me in so many other ways, I persevered, and over the years I developed strategies for coping with some of the more challenging aspects of group fitness.
Below I’ve set out some common hazards, with my tried-and-tested solutions for coping with them. Well, some of them.
I hope these tips save you some distress.
Introvert Solutions To Common Group Fitness Dilemmas
1. Attempted Conversation
Upon entering a group fitness studio, there is a clear and present danger that a stranger will try to engage you in chit-chat.
They may attempt to share an anecdote about their parking experience, or to conjecture as to whether the air conditioning is working, or, most distressing, to ask questions, such as how long have you been doing the class or where did you get that top or can they borrow your towel.
Once they have begun speaking, there is little you can do to avoid engagement, unless you’re prepared to commit to extreme tactics such as pretending you don’t speak English. Better if you can ward off such incursions before they start.
First, avoid eye contact.
This of course is simply good practice in all potential social situations, and here it can deter the casual, half-hearted chatster. However, your more determined chit-chatters will proceed even without eye contact.
Which is why you need a second, back-up-strategy: have earbuds in.
Earbuds too are a sound pre-emptive strategy for use whenever you may be exposed to sudden stranger interaction.
Combined with avoided eye-contact, this double defence should insulate you from all but the most hell-bent chit-chat assaults. Keep eyes down and buds in right until the class is about to start.
2. Personal Space Invaders
Perhaps the most insidious source of trouble for the introverted group fitness aficionado is the personal space invader.
This is the person who likes to stand near you. Really near you.
When you move away to get more space from them, they take it as an invitation to move too. ‘Oh, we’re moving over there now’, they seem to say. Wherever you go, they go, preserving the same minuscule band of distance like a really annoying shadow.
Over the years I’ve had several of these shadows who insisted on standing right near me in every class.
First I tried a passive approach: making a scowling face, huffing melodramatically, complaining loudly to a third party. While I found these tactics stressful, they failed entirely to register on the space invader.
Next, getting more desperate, I worked myself up to an assertive approach: explaining politely that as the class was not crowded I would like more space, and asking if they could please leave a greater distance between us. They smiled and nodded and smiled again and proceeded to make zero adjustment.
Finally I resorted to a slightly aggressive approach: a combination of singing along loudly to the songs in my tuneless, quite horrific singing voice, while also gratuitously swinging my sweaty ponytail in their direction.
Not even that worked.
You may have better luck than I did so my best advice is to keep these strategies in your toolkit: huffing, politely requesting, using sweat as a perimeter marker. Be prepared to experiment, to mix and match.
But I suggest also facing a disturbing reality: some people just like being super close to sweaty strangers. Weird but true.
3. The Dreaded High-Five
As the class progresses, sometimes a group fitness instructor will encourage participants to celebrate their hard work by giving someone a high-five.
Now I understand this is a pleasant and even fun thing for many extraverts to do.
But for the introvert, high-fiving a stranger, like any form of forced interaction, is akin to spraying pepper directly into your own eyes.
The trick to avoiding the high-five is to act fast. Once someone is approaching you, palm raised, smile beaming, you’re a gonna. You’ll have no choice but to assemble your face into a smile, offer your palm, and think of a fort.
Instead, be on high alert for the ‘high-five’ phrase and as soon as you hear it, move swiftly into action. Flee from the centre of the class to where you’ve left your stuff. Then, facing away from the class, pick up your towel and wipe off sweat, or grab your water bottle for a big, long drink. (If you face the class you leave yourself open to the energetic high-fiver for whom distance is no object.)
TIP: Be prepared for re-wiping sweat areas or savouring an extra-long drink if the high-fiving is prolonged or multiple high-fives are being encouraged.
4. Forming A Circle
Occasionally a group fitness class will devolve into an orgy of unwanted interaction known as ‘forming a circle’.
When this happens you can no longer remain in your own little world of the music and the mirror’s reflection and will be forced to acknowledge the presence of many strangers.
Over the years I’ve experimented with different strategies for evading the circle. I’ve developed a cramp and had to stretch. I’ve needed to check my phone for some sudden and unexplained reason, and been detained there, staring fixedly at the screen, until the circle disbanded.
However, in the end I’ve found the best solution is to join the circle but at a safe distance, like a little anti-social satellite on the edge of the class orbit. Technically you’re part of the group thing, facing in and all.
But you can also keep your distance and avoid complete stranger overwhelm.
5. Finding A Partner
For the introvert in a group fitness class, the only words more terrifying than ‘form a circle’ are ‘find a partner’.
Fortunately though, there’s a quick, effective strategy for subverting this command: simply look confused and avoid eye contact for the time it takes people to partner up.
If everyone gets partnered up then you’re golden; you can relax and stop looking confused and resume your workout.
If there’s one person left over and looking lost, then resolutely maintain your eye-contact-avoiding confusion just a little longer. Eventually the instructor will partner with the residual person and you’ll be left blessedly partner-free.
Leaving you alone to finish the class in your lovely, happy, pretend-it’s-not-a-group, group-fitness bubble.
Originally published at louderminds.com on February 19, 2016.