Gym Class Etiquette: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

If you're not feeling a class at the gym, is it okay to leave halfway through? Or should you stick it out to the end?

Last night I took at a class at my gym. I’ve taken this class once or twice before, but not with any real consistency. See, I like the concept of the class—it’s my gym’s approximation of BodyPump, just without the name—but the instructor’s, well, not my favorite. She’s nice enough, but she’s weirdly bad at syncing her moves with the beat of the song, which throws everyone off. And she doesn’t shout out the next move until we’re already supposed to be doing it—which, as you can imagine, is too late.

You can always pick out the newcomers because they seem so much more frantic than the rest of us. At least the regulars know to expect all this. Last night’s newcomer was especially obvious: He was a man. And this class, though unofficially so, is always, always 100 percent women. I didn’t even see the guy at first. He was sort of shoved behind a pole, as if he was hiding (he probably was). And I could tell that as the class began filling up with one ponytail after another, he was reeeeally starting to second-guess his workout plan for the evening. But by then it was too late to bail without making a scene—the class requires a boatload of equipment so putting it away would have meant several painful treks across the room while everybody watched—so he stuck it out. I could tell, though, just how badly he wanted to bounce.

As I caught glimpses of Lonely Guy Behind the Pole, I was reminded of a class I took a couple months ago in which a woman did, in fact, leave in the middle of class. And it was quite the scene. This class was tiny—there were only five of us—and was at a small studio instead of the gym. We were maybe a third of the way through the class when the woman in the corner got up and started packing her things.

“Is something wrong?” the instructor asked.

“I just don’t think this is for me,” she said. “I’m leaving.”

“Oh, umm .. it … it gets easier,” the instructor stammered. She’d clearly never had anyone up and leave in the middle of class before. I’d never seen it, either.

“It’s nothing personal,” the woman explained. “You’re a good teacher and everything. This just isn’t my kind of thing.” And out the door she went.

Maybe it’s a pride thing, but I’ve never bailed on a fitness class before. I’d just be too embarrassed throwing in the towel early (heaven forbid 20 strangers think I can’t handle it or something), plus I’d feel bad offending the teacher. But is avoiding five seconds of potential awkwardness really a good reason to tough out a less-than-awesome workout?

I mentioned all this to a friend of mine this morning and was surprised when she told me she walked out of a class just last week. “It was clear the instructor had no idea what he was doing and I didn’t want to hurt myself,” she said. “I was in the center of the front row so I just put my head down and left between two sets.”

Sweat Fitness trainer Holly Waters says she’s had people leave her classes early before, though she doesn’t think it had to do with her teaching. Still, she says, it’s definitely awkward, and the teacher will wonder what he or she might have done wrong, but that’s no reason to stay. “All any good trainer really wants is for people to find what works best for them, what they’re going to work hardest at. If you need to walk out and find something that works better for you, that’s fine,” she says. “Just slip out as quietly as you can.”

What’s your take on this particular point of gym-going etiquette? To stay, or not to stay? That is the question. Go ahead and sound off in the comments.