Articles, Fitness and Exercise

How to get the best out of your exercise class or personal training session?

It sounds simple doesn’t – all you need to do is turn up and do the class, or turn up and be beasted by your trainer and you’ll get fitter. Well, yes, on some levels that’s true but you could be getting so much more out of your sessions. Have you ever wondered why your trainer or class instructor was telling you to do a particular exercise? Have you ever wondered if there was a different movement you could do that would get the same results? Maybe one that was less scary to try? Are you doing everything you can to maximise the benefits of your time spent working out? Here are a few tips. Now many of the things I mention here you may think only apply to personal training or one on one sessions but think about bringing them in to your exercise classes too – I promise you’ll see the benefits.

Be prepared

Ok so this may be an obvious one but you’ve got to be prepared for your session. This doesn’t mean a massive time investment or lots of thought, but just a few simple things. You don’t want to miss your session because you forgot to have your kit with you right? So make sure you have your kit with you or keep a spare set at work, or factor in the time you need to get home and get changed. I often hear people telling me they can’t make the evening classes at the gym as there isn’t time to get home, get changed, eat and get there after work. I get that – but if it’s a class you really want to do then the simple solution is to take your gym bag to work, have a high protein snack in it to eat on your way and head straight to the gym from work! Simple 😉

Being prepared also means preparing your body so hydrate well before you start – try to drink 500ml – 1 litre of water in the hour or so before you train or do your class, also do get some fuel in – something light and high in protein would be good (a protein shake, some nuts, a banana etc).


Be there

Yes you do actually have to be there 😉 Easier said than done though right? Life’s busy, things get in the way, the train’s delayed, the weather is pants – the last thing you fancy is getting in to some lycra and jumping around… now whilst it’s much harder to skip a personal training session (you will usually have to pay for cancelling last minute), exercise classes can be really easy to skip. The intention is there, you mean to go every Tuesday night… but… somehow you never make it…well start by actually scheduling it in to your diary – write it down, block out the time and make it a priority – not something you can choose to do or not. If it’s a class you enjoy then it’s important you allow yourself the time to go to it – it’s YOU time and it’s vital. Don’t arrange things for that time if you can possibly help it – treat it like a work meeting that you can’t just skip. If there’s a booking system at your gym – book in, it will make you far more likely to attend. And then once again, give yourself the time to get there.

Be present

So you’ve made it to your session – be it pump, aerobics, or a PT session. Now you have to actually be present. Again this is far easier in a PT scenario as if you start to zone out your trainer should notice and bring you back to the workout. In an exercise class it’s very easy to just go through the motions. You’ve made the effort to get to the session – so try to put everything else out of your mind – the shopping can wait, that big deal at work isn’t going anywhere, the kids are being looked after (presumably! 😉 ). Engage with the class – that doesn’t mean you have to sing, shout or respond when the instructor tries to get the class to join in, but just be focused on the workout in whatever way works for you. Some people like to be up front, singing, clapping, wiggling, connecting with the instructor… others prefer to focus on getting the moves right, watching their form in the mirror, or just enjoying the music – that’s all fine – whatever works for you!

Be open about your goals

If you’re having PT sessions then hopefully your trainer has discussed your goals with you – if they haven’t then you need a new trainer! But have you been completely open? Is there some crazy goal you actually want to achieve but are too scared to mention? Tell us. No goal is crazy, and no goal is wrong. Never exercised before but want to run a marathon? – fab! Regular weight lifter but really want to up your flexibility and master the splits? – also fab! Anything goes!

Fitness instructors and personal trainers do what we do because we want to help people reach their goals – that’s one of the biggest things I love about my job so we want to know what you’re trying to achieve. We want you to succeed 🙂

This doesn’t just apply to one on one sessions – talk to your group exercise instructor if you have specific goals. You may just find they’re able to give you some tips to help support your route to that goal in class and in turn you will start to get more out of the session. They may also be able to recommend other classes to try that will help you that you’d never thought of, or ways to modify moves etc. At the very least you’ll find another supporter who will be cheering you on your way 🙂

Be questioning

What’s the point of that exercise? Trainers and instructors love movement – we love how the body moves, we love what certain moves do for the body and we want to share that knowledge. Of course we also don’t want to bore you rigid in sessions harping on about it so we often hold back on the “why” – but if you want to know more – ask! Why is a knee repeater in bodystep such a powerful exercise? What does a plank actually do for me? Why am I doing a wide legged squat….?  We are desperate to tell you why exercises are so great and what they will do for you – so ask!

“I don’t understand that exercise?” – tell me – if you don’t understand it, then I didn’t explain it well and if you’re in a class then I bet you’re not the only one thinking that. So you’ve done me a favour – I can now explain it another way and make sure everyone gets it. If it’s in a one on one session then this is even more important – remember that the PT session is YOUR time. Yes it’s about getting those reps done but it’s more important you understand the exercise and what you’re meant to be doing than just bashing them out for the sake of it.


Be critical

I think I may be opening myself up for a whole world of abuse here.. but that’s good too 😉 Be critical – if you don’t like an exercise – say so. Chances are that if you don’t like it there’s a good reason for it and it might be a reason I can fix! So what don’t you like about it? Is it weird? Does it hurt? Do you feel like you’re rubbish at it? Lots of this can be fixed with some simple cues or explanation from your instructor or trainer or we can modify it for you. Maybe part of the reason you don’t like it is because it’s uncomfortable – so it could be I need to give you a modification, or suggest some other exercises that you could do outside the class or session to improve your joint mobility for this exercise. Do you feel like you’re just getting it wrong? Well I can spend some time with you at the end of class or whenever and we can go through it together to help you get it right. Do you feel the move is just too advanced for you? Well I can give you something else to try first to build up to it…   Instructors are happy to do that – it only takes a few mins and if it makes you feel stronger and happier in class or your PT session then that’s brilliant!


Be aware of your body

Most importantly be aware of pain. If something hurts – and I mean really hurts (not just the aching muscle/ mucle burn pain) then that’s not right and you need to tell us – the last thing we want to do is hurt you. We can probably modify things for you but we might also need to refer you to someone to check it out. Chances are we know a fair few physios, osteopaths, etc so can give you a personal recommendation. Or we may be able to refer you to another trainer with a special skill set.

In general though think about your body – so when you’re doing an exercise try to look at yourself in the mirror (yes, I know, as cringeworthy as that may seem). If you’re in a group exercise class try to position yourself so you get a glimpse in the mirror (even from the back), or if you’re in the gym and you’re near a mirror check out your form. Now if you’re doing a one on one you’ve got the trainer watching you but it never hurts to watch yourself too and see if what you think you’re doing translates to what you’re actually doing. In classes – take a look – if the instructor is telling you to keep your chest lifted, is it? Is your knee over your ankle? Is your butt in line with your shoulders etc etc It’s not vain to look at yourself – it’s sensible and will help you to become more body aware. More often than not our bodies just don’t do quite what we think they are doing and it takes are while for muscle memory to develop, so help it along by keeping an eye on yourself.


So there you go – a few tips for getting even more out of your sessions. Working with a personal trainer or instructor should be just that – working WITH them – never be worried about starting up a conversation about the workout.  It really is OK to ask questions, tell us that you like (or don’t like) certain exercises and, most importantly of all, tell us that something hurts. And if you don’t feel like you’re being listened to then find a new trainer, or another class! This is your leisure time so make it work for you! 🙂

Nancy 🙂


(This article was originally published on

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