Red Flags in a Fitness Class You Should Never Ignore

Booking a new group exercise class can feel daunting, whether you're a total beginner or a seasoned exercise pro. With so many options to choose from, such as yoga, Pilates, barre, HIIT, dance, and group gym circuits, it can feel like a minefield deciding what you want to do. While knowing what you want is great, it’s just as important to be aware of what you don’t want in your classes. Take a look through our guide of some of the most glaring fitness class red flags that should never be ignored.

Key takeaways:

Why is it important to know about exercise class red flags?

Your well-being is essential to feeling good, and exercise can be an incredible way to boost your mood, improve your health, and increase longevity. Exercise classes are a great way to get engaged and stay motivated along your fitness journey. However, a bad class can have the opposite effect and leave you feeling uninspired, or even worse — injured.

Knowing the glaring red flags to look out for can mean the difference between feeling inspired and positive, or downright depressed about your fitness future.

Fitness class red flags

Let’s explore some of the most obvious red flags you might find at a new exercise class. Remember, even if you are already booked in the class, it doesn’t mean you can't leave. Your well-being and safety is the number one most important factor.

1. Skipping warm-ups, cooldowns, or both

This is probably the top red flag in any fitness class. A good instructor knows that going in for a hard workout with a cold body is a recipe for injury. Our bodies need time to warm up and get going before doing unfamiliar or strenuous movements. Even a gentle yoga class should start off with some basic stretches and end with some extra relaxation.

What to do
If you are already at the class and there’s no warm-up — ask for one. It’s your class, you’ve paid for it, and the instructor should know to begin by preparing the body for movement.

2. Broken, dirty, or outdated equipment

There’s nothing worse than turning up to a class and finding your equipment in a less-than-desirable state. You might see dirty and torn yoga mats, rusty weights that don’t look safe, or machines that look like dusty relics. Sub-par equipment isn’t just unsightly, it’s unsafe and shouldn’t be used.

What to do
Tell the instructor about any equipment that doesn’t look right, is dirty, missing parts, or seems dangerous. And remember, you don’t have to use it if you feel unsafe.

3. Teacher practices poor form

We go to classes to learn from the best, so if you notice that your instructor has poor form, take that as a massive fitness class red flag. Your trainer should be fully aware of the best practices to use while performing the exercise activities, not playing guessing games about how to get into postures or use the equipment.

What to do
If you don’t feel confident following the instructor's lead, it’s okay to sit the exercise out. Join in only when you fully understand the mechanisms of the exercise.

4. There’s no talk about modifications

This is a huge fitness class red flag. With so many body shapes and abilities in classes, it’s critical for safety that there are options and modifications given for exercises. Not everyone can lift the same weight and not everyone has the same level of flexibility. You need to be in a class where your instructor can help you modify postures and techniques that are suited to your current level of ability. Pushing to do more before you are ready can lead to serious injury.

What to do
If there’s an exercise that feels like too much of a push, or a weight that doesn’t feel manageable, tell your trainer that you would like a modified version, or another option suited to you. If they don’t accommodate or offer anything then don’t do the exercise. It’s not worth the risk of hurting yourself.

5. Overcrowded classes

Exercise classes can often get hot and sweaty. You need room to move and breathe without having someone else huff and puff all over you, or drip sweat on your mat. If you notice that the room is packed, and you don’t feel there’s enough space, the chances are the class is oversubscribed. A good instructor will always prioritize giving attendees a safe and pleasant exercise experience over cramming as many bodies into the room to make more money.

What to do
Before attending a class ask about the size of the space and maximum number of attendees. If it feels like it will be packed, try another class. If you are already at the class, and it’s too full, you are perfectly within your rights to speak up about it, ask for a refund, or check in with the instructor about the safety of having that many people in the room.

6. Toxic and negative motivation

We tend to work best when we are praised for having done something, for showing up and trying the hard things, for putting our energy into our health and well-being. When an instructor does the opposite and uses army-style drill techniques in an attempt to motivate and inspire it can often have the opposite effect. Keep your eyes alert for red flag fitness phrases such as:

  • "Pain is weakness leaving the body."
  • "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels."
  • "If you give up it means you never really wanted it."
  • "Go hard or go home."
  • "I don’t want to see anyone pick up the light weights."
  • "Don’t stop when it hurts, stop when you are done."
What to do
If someone is using these outdated and toxic phrases during class, then either speak to the instructor after the class if you feel comfortable to do so, or email the gym when you get home. Explain that it’s highly irresponsible to speak to a class this way as it upsets people and can lead to injury and pushing yourself beyond what's safe.

7. No time for questions

A good instructor will always be available for questions during the class. If you don’t understand something, or you have a question about a particular activity, you should get an answer before attempting to perform the exercise. It’s a huge red flag if a trainer doesn’t make the time to ensure all the students have complete understanding of what they are about to do.

What to do
If you don’t understand an exercise, don’t attempt to do it, as you risk injuring yourself. If the instructor rushes through, it's okay to sit it out and join in when you feel safe. You can also speak to them at the end to let them know that you needed better and clearer instructions.

Questions to ask yourself about your instructor

When you have a new teacher, there can be a period of getting used to each other, however, there are certain behaviors and qualities that are not going to be a good fit for a long term teacher-student relationship. Take a look through some important questions to ask yourself about your instructor and pay attention to how you answer them — it will give you a good indication about whether to start or return to their classes:

  • Are they too focused on short-term results or aesthetics?
  • Are they adapting to your needs?
  • Are they exercising for popularity and likes on social media?
  • Are they positively motivating?
  • Do you feel good during and after their class?
  • Do you feel valued during the class?
  • Did they create a positive and inspiring atmosphere?

Your feelings around your health and well-being matter and getting to the point of joining an exercise class is a big deal. You might have had to overcome anxiety about working out with lots of other people in the room, or you may have conquered your own fears around starting or restarting an exercise regimen. Whether you are a newbie or a seasoned pro, being in a safe and inspiring workout environment is something you deserve.

Extra inspiration

With all this talk of fitness class red flags, how to spot them, and what to do when you encounter one, it feels important to mention some of the good things you should expect from an exercise class. Here’s a roundup of some of the key green flags you can also be on the lookout for:

  1. Friendly instructors. A fitness coach can drive a hard task for sure, but the best ones drive you forward with a friendly manner that feels encouraging and supportive.
  2. Clean and functional spaces. Your workout environment should be clean, safe, and enjoyable to be in. A great gym or fitness studio will be well taken care of and feel like it’s brimming with positive energy.
  3. Happy members. A sure way to tell if you’ve picked a good class is to watch the faces of the attendees who leave the room before your session. If they are smiling and glowing in that, "I’ve just had a great time working out," way then you are likely onto a winner.
  4. Available teachers. At a good gym or studio, you’ll often see the instructors chatting with students after class. The fact that they are giving their time to answer questions after the class is over is a great big green flag and a sign of a good teacher.

Final thoughts

Finding the right class for you can sometimes take a bit of trial and error. There’s no one size fits all approach to teaching and there are many different styles and methods out there — some of which will be great for you, some not so much. What’s important is that you enjoy yourself and feel inspired enough to stay dedicated to your fitness journey. Great classes with instructors who make you feel seen and heard are such a powerful way to keep your motivation up, inspire you to go on, and help you get the results you want in a sustainable and enjoyable way.

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