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Gym Etiquette: Would You Walk Out on a Class?


So I was at what was supposed to be a Zumba class recently. It may have even been the one that Jenn’s good influence got me to attend even though I had just decided I would not be hitting the gym that day. Once I got there, I was in the mood. A hip-swiveling kind of mood.

Then the instructor said that she was substituting and that while it wouldn’t exactly be Zumba, it would be dance, just more hip-hop and still a lot of fun. Seeing that I was already there, I was totally down for the new experience, even if I was slightly disappointed. Not everyone felt the same as me though, and a couple of people bounced right out of class immediately.

But then it got worse. As the class went on — 10, 15 and even more than half an hour in — we lost more people who just walked out of class. Probably roughly a third of the class. The instructor was noticeably flustered, which only made it worse. And I felt so bad for her that when I had to pee halfway through class (seriously, thanks pregnancy bladder for striking at the worst time); I was afraid she would think I was ditching class, too, so I hustled to get back to class as fast as I could to show my support.

In some ways, I understand wanting to leave. When you walk into a class, you expect it to be the class posted for the day. It can be disappointing when it’s not — and even throw off your workout schedule if you’re looking for a cardio-based class and it turns out to be something like strength training. And I guess if you’re feeling lost in the moves, you might be too embarrassed to continue and might want to give up altogether. But I just felt so bad that so many people ditched — especially when it turned out to be such a fun class. I guess I’m just the type that will stick it out even if I’m totally lost, which has happened to a hilarious degree. I’m of the opinion that you just keep moving and working to your level — and that’s better than nothing (and will push me harder than hopping on an elliptical instead)!

It got me thinking about the reasons I’d leave a class before completion. Child care calling, feeling ill or injured, or feeling like the instructor is putting people in danger would be the only reasons I’d leave.

How about you: Is it bad gym etiquette to ditch a class before completion? What do you feel are valid reasons for doing so? —Erin

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  1. As a group ex instructor, I’ve been the brand new sub who has students walk out as soon as I announced I was subbing. At least, at that point, you can’t take it personally because they didn’t give you a chance.

    But, I’m with you, I’d stick with the class unless it was unsafe…or the baby called. 🙂 thanks for the great post. We fitness instructors thank you for your support! 🙂

  2. Alison says:

    I’ve walked out of a class when I was just too completely exhausted to go on — usually seeing spots or my heart rate is just too high or I’m overheating, something like that. I tried to do an hour-long Insanity-style workout at my gym once, and had to leave after 30 minutes! In those instances, I’m often disappointed in myself, but I know I’m just trying to be safe about it. Otherwise, I don’t think I’ve ever walked out of a class, even during some particularly terribly-taught classes.

  3. Miranda says:

    I’ve walked out of class twice. Once because I’m a certified spinning instructor and I knew the teacher was putting the students in danger. The second was during Zumba. I was already feeling under the weather and the air conditioning was broken during an Alabama summer! Whew!

  4. britt says:

    I have walked out in the middle of a class. I was there for yoga with my favorite instructor, there was a sub but I stuck around because I love me some yoga even with a new instructor. Then about 20 min in she decided she was done teaching yoga and decided to do pilates instead. yeah……….. no, there’s a reason I come to the yoga class and not the pilates class. So I left, and I didn’t feel rude or guilty about it at all.

  5. Candice says:

    I have left early. I have been in classes where I know the instructor won’t be as good as others and I can do better in my own. Or in some instances I am more tired than I might have thought and I can’t keep up. I also leave when abs start.

  6. Georgie says:

    I think I’m too bothered by upsetting the instructor and have stayed right to the end through some truly awful classes both for being dangerous and for being completely unchallenging and a complete waste of time. I think I need to be more brave about leaving when things aren’t right!

  7. Marielle says:

    Since I’ve been a group exercise instructor before, I always try to stick it out. If I’m not feeling the class, I usually just stop and take more rest periods. But I figure as long as I’m doing something active, it’s all good! But with saying this, I’ve never been in a horrible class…if I felt like I was going to hurt myself then I’d probably walk out!

  8. Pua says:

    I haven’t walked out of a class before, but I was close. The class was subbed by someone who was seriously under-qualified to teach that particular class; she would have us start a move and then suddenly say about five reps in, “Oops, wrong exercise. Stop, let’s start again.” A few people walked out, but I didn’t want to be rude.

  9. Wanda says:

    I can understand walking out at the begining before class started, if it’s not what you wanted. I have only left class once mid-way and that was during a fusion class (cycle-yoga half spin class, then yoga afterwards) and left after spin because I wasn’t feeling well and I told the instrucotr I was leaving before the students transitioned to the yoga room. I figure once I stay in a class, i will stay unless I feel unwell. Even if it’s a “bad” class, I’ll stay and then never take a class from that instructor again.

  10. Kristen says:

    Such an interesting post — I joined a friend for a yoga class a couple of months ago. She’s a regular there, but there was a sub teaching. It was supposed to be a 90 minute Level II flow class, and a few minutes in, it became apparent that this teacher wasn’t going to get anywhere near that — it was essentially an hour and a half of gentle stretching. Probably 90% of the class left during the session, but I understood — I mean, they gave it a chance, and it simply wasn’t a workout at all. I stayed because I just felt so bad for the instructor (and had already gotten in a decent workout earlier in the day. But the thought of what I would do if that happened again has stuck with me, and I really don’t know. Maybe if I had been closer to the door, I might’ve stepped out …

  11. Kristen says:

    I should also state that the instructor did not say the class would not be what it usually was, so people didn’t have a chance to leave before she began. I think that would’ve saved a lot of awkwardness!

  12. Amanda says:

    I’m on the side of supporting the instructor, but I have tried to discretely grab my things and leave before a class started when I realized it was a sub that I did not like. This is only after I stuck through one to many of her classes, enough to know I would be let down if I stayed.

  13. Alyson says:

    I would ditch a class I was not comfortable doing or did not enjoy. Life is too short to do things you don’t enjoy.

  14. Darlene says:

    I’ve left class early before… I went to a Zumba class, and the instructor was just all over the place. It was confusing, and I decided not to waste an entire hour of my life when I could go get on the treadmill, elliptical or do something else.

  15. Tanya says:

    After being a student of group fitness, I am now an employee. I know students are often disappointed to see a sub and I completely understand, as I myself am verrrrrry picky about my instructors. As a student, i would often sneak out before the sub saw me, as I didn’t want to fluster them or hurt their feelings. Now, I have to stay for class even if I’m less than thrilled with the sub. I have witnessed students walking out in a snit before or during class, in full view of the instructor. This is childish , plain rude and a dangerous distraction for the other students. If they must leave, they should wait till they can be as inconspicuous as possible to do so and if they have valid complaints about the sub (not just being tooty and hormonal!), they should take those complaints to the owner/manager of the facility. We only use subs about whom we have gotten positive feedback from the students. but you can’t please all the people all the time. Students are as territorial about their subs as they are their spot on the floor!

  16. Ronnie says:

    I’m one of those horrible people. I’ve walked out of 3 classes in my life. First was yoga, the instructor NEVER changed the workout, in 3 months it was the same downward dog, warrior poses, etc., one day I had enough and quietly slipped out and never went back. If I wanted to do the same yoga over and over, I’d get a video. Second, was when a sub came in, one who I specifically avoided because their music did the exact opposite of energizing me. So I left once the sub was announced. If it was just the matter of format change, I’ll try anything once. The last time was when the instructor was having an off day and being a jerk. I walked out, if I wanted to spend my day dealling with jerks, I would have went back to work. I went back to his class with no more negative experiences. Exercise is my sanctuary and like everyone I have limited time to get it in. If something is keeping me from getting the maximum benefit from my workout, I feel I owe it to myself to go to another area of the gym and workout.

  17. Kristen says:

    I’ve never walked out mid-class because of an instructor, but I do have one class that I leave regularly! My gym changed the time of a class I love and logistically I can’t stay for the last 15 minutes. The instructor changes from weights/cardio to mat work/abs at that point in the class, so my leaving isn’t disruptive, and I make a point to be at the edge so I don’t have to get in anyone’s way while putting my weights away. I also gave the instructor a heads-up when the schedule changed that I would have to sneak out every day, but didn’t want to give up ALL of her class!

  18. Shelley says:

    I haven’t (but would) leave a class if I felt it wasn’t going to be what I needed. My time is scarce, and I can’t afford to “lose” an hour or half hour in a non-productive class. I would do it quietly without negative comments. Unless you have a lot of spare time, you can’t afford to waste the time in a class that won’t suit your needs.

  19. Amy says:

    I have definitely left a class before. I’ll be totally honest, I like some instructors better than others. Now, I have never just had a surprise instructor and left without giving them a chance, but I’ve gotten to the gym, seen a change on the schedule and a.) decided not to go in and do some other form of exercise or b.) left after giving it yet another chance. I am by NO means super-coordinated or fit, but I go to certain classes for certain instructors/formats, and my time is limited. If I can go grab groceries and get home an hour earlier vs. flop around in a class I don’t want to be in and have to struggle to keep up with, I’m headed to the grocery store. It’s nothing personal for the instructor~it’s just how I prefer to manage my time. Plus, when there are some instructors who only teach once a week, and their styles are drastically different than what I’m used to, I’m spending all of my energy trying to figure out what’s going on instead of burning calories. I really like consistency . . . so, maybe I’m the minority, but that’s how I feel. Oh, and I’ve definitely also left a class because I was a.) exhausted b.) sidetracked c.) not feeling well in general d.) had to be somewhere at a certain time and had to go home, shower, get the kids ready, etc.. There are many reasons to leave, and as the “customer” we shouldn’t feel guilty for doing so.

  20. Marycarol says:

    I left a Zumba class that was open to families (included kids) and it was a young instructor. The location was a running store after hours and several of the instructor’s family members started the class, but became distracted and went to the side and shopped the racks. I left when one of the kids thought the whole Zumba thing was so funny he took his mom’s cell and began filming everyone. Wanted the give the instructor a chance, even after a horrible, repetitive warm-up but the giggling you-tuber was the last straw

  21. As an occasional group instructor, I’m all about support. But at the end of the day, if I’m a student and I have an hour to work out, I’m going to get my money’s worth. If I don’t think it’s happening in that class, I would definitely leave. But I’ll give the instructor a nice “it’s all good” smile on the way out the door.

  22. Michelle says:

    If you’re paying for a class, it’s your choice to stay or leave, and the feelings of the provider of the service shouldn’t come into play. Look at it this way: If you ordered steak and were served shrimp at a restaurant, would you just eat it so you didn’t hurt the waiter’s feelings? If you went for a haircut and asked for 1/2″ trim and got a shocking new bob, would you smile and pay without making a fuss? The instructor is there for YOU, to provide a service, and if that service isn’t being provided as promised, it’s totally okay to walk away.

  23. Dara says:

    Um, I’ve walked out of my fair share of classes, all for the same reason – the teachers timbre of voice. If they’ve got what I find to be an annoying voice – I’m out! Guess I’ve got very sensitive ears? Though it usually only happens at my first week or two at a gym when I’m searching out all the pleasant voices or hard assed push you to the limit voices. But if that teachers got a meek voice, nasal or whiney – I’m out yo!

  24. Pam says:

    I can understand not wanting to hurt feelings, but how much are you paying for your membership? If I was attending a class run by a volunteer I might be a lot more relaxed about a class that wasn’t what I expected. If I paid for a class I wouldn’t feel guilty for slipping out quietly, especially as my time for exercise is limited and I need to make the most of it.
    As a teacher, I am not offended when people step out quietly in the middle, as long as they aren’t causing a disturbance. I don’t take it personally (I don’t teach fitness classes though, maybe the etiquette is different).

  25. Peggy says:

    I think leaving class if you are “too exhausted to go on” or “heart rate is way too high” are REALLY BAD REASONS TO LEAVE A CLASS! Fitness instructors primarily care about the health of participants and are also trained in basic first aid. If you have any symptoms of overworking yourself, it is vital that you stay with the class and cool down where your health can be monitored and medical assistance can be called if you need it. I’ve had students push too hard and start to walk away and I have stopped class to make sure they are well.

  26. Laura says:

    I left mid-class last week, actually. It was the second time I’d given this particular sub a try and was *not* getting anything close to a decent workout. I slipped out between songs and went for a run on the treadmill instead. I won’t leave a class just because there’s a sub I don’t know, but I don’t have the time to putter about and not actually get a good workout. If I know in advance that there’s going to be a sub that I already know I’m not too fond of (or there’s going to be a different format like Zumba instead of Sh’Bam) then I’ll just plan to do something else.

  27. Robert says:

    As a former participant and now instructor, I have never had anyone walk out because I’m subbing. However, I have been guilty of leaving when I find out there is a particular sub. Not because I don’t like the person, but because they are a lousy instructor. When I knew there was a sub, I often just wouldn’t go, because I not only went for the class, I was there because the instructor motivated me.

    If the instructor is doing a bad job, it’s a bit hard to force yourself when you’re not motivated.

  28. Ama nda says:

    I teach several types of group fitness classes. I have people leave at the half point and later. Most of them wave as they are walking out the door, and I know several who have just been to a previous class and are already exhausted but want to stay for part of mine. Everyone has their reasons for leaving. I do know of members who will leave before class when I have to get a sub. They will see who the sub is, and based on experience with that sub, they will either stay or leave. My style isn’t for everyone, and not everyone is comfortable in a group class. Some people just prefer a treadmill or working out on their own, and that’s ok. One of my classes has 40-50 people weekly. I get new members who have never tried that class before. Most are deconditioned already, and leave after the warmup or 2 or 3 songs in. A few people leaving isn’t going to break me. It does hurt when you aren’t even given the chance to show your stuff though…

  29. FitYaf says:

    I have had people leave my class for several reasons. I try not to take it personally, but I teach highly choreographed step aerobics and kickboxing classes, and sometimes the new participants just don’t know what they signed up for. I wouldn’t want someone to feel uncomfortable, and I think group fitness should be FUN, so if you’re not having fun, I can understand wanting to leave. I do wish people would give the classes more of a chance, and I do get upset when people do leave, but like I said, I try not to take it personally. I have had VERY few people leave my classes that require much less coordination – those I would be a little more offended if people left in the middle.

  30. Sarah says:

    As a group-ex instructor I never want to put you in a position that makes you unhappy. If I have to change a class that I sub I will say out loud “I realize this isn’t want you planned for so if you’re not comfortable I understand if you choose to leave” I’m also ultra attentive from that point on because anyone that decides to stay has trusted me to get them through this new version of their workout. I want to make sure nobody injures themselves! Having people walk out on me? I don’t take it personal because there are a million and one reasons someone chooses to leave and 94% of them have nothing to do with me. And sometimes people just don’t mesh with you or your teaching style which is OK 🙂

  31. Gina M says:

    I have been instructing Zumba all over LA for almost 4 years now. For the 1st 3, I would be flustered/hurt/concerned when students walked out… But this last year I realized: not everyone’s going to love me and/or my style, you simply cannot please everyone & having displeased students in a class tends to bring the entire energy of the room down. So now, I’d RATHER students leave, if they aren’t feeling like they want to be there. When I start class now part of my opening is: “If you need or want to leave for any reason, please do, just please give me some sign to let me know PHYSICALLY you’re OK… A thumbs up, peace sign, etc… That way I don’t worry that you might have a health issue & need some kind of assistance from myself or another staff member.”

  32. Todd says:

    As a member of the gym where I take plenty of classes. I am not being paid to stay and take a class that I believe is horrible. I’ve taken plenty of fitness classes with plenty of teachers and I know a bad one when we start. It’s our right no etiquette needed to leave a crap class. Sorry for you instructors who feel differently. If I don’t like your style I don’t stay and I don’t feel the need to be discreet about it. I’m actually kind of shocked at the number of quote unquote qualified Zumba instructors I see teaching classes. The Zumba company would probably be horrified.

  33. Lauren says:

    I teach group fitness classes and honestly, it doesn’t really bother me if somebody leaves. If I’m subbing for something else, I will not take it personally that people are disappointed that it isn’t the scheduled class. It’s a little disappointing, but there are always one or two that would never have taken your class otherwise and end up being loyal class attendees. So, it’s still a win. If I’m not subbing and somebody steps out early, I don’t take that personally either. Everyone has a different fitness level. I will help as much as I can, but if you’re truly not comfortable, that’s okay. Come back another time. If my class just isn’t your thing, that’s okay too. If you don’t want to be there, I don’t want you to feel obligated to stay. Plus, I know that sometimes things just happen. I always tell my personal training clients that if you want to try a class, do it. If you hate it, chances are the instructor won’t be upset if you leave after 15 minutes. We understand. Workouts should be enjoyable. Find what makes you happy and ditch the stuff you hate.

  34. Belinda says:

    I left a class one time only. We had a substitute instructor for our swim aerobics class. She was at the front of the pool in the water with us instead of on the pool deck. Now that would have been fine if she had stayed in her space, but she was very active and would move into my space trying to get all of us to move backward. Like 6 or 7 feet into our space forcing us to move backward a lot. It made me completely uncomfortable that she was right in my face. I couldn’t take it anymore. I tried to stand it as long as I could but it made me so so so uncomfortable. She was over enthusiastic and I finally just got out of the pool left.

  35. Denise says:

    Good for you keeping an open mind and finishing the class, even though it was not what you had expected. As creatures of habit, I think we need to remember that trying new formats and styles are good for us. Our bodies become accustomed to the same workout very quickly, and because of this, instead of elevating our fitness level, we can find ourselves on a plateau. Although feeling a little disappointed is understandable when we are expecting a different type of workout, these things are going to happen and we might as well make the most of it. Anything is better than staying at home on the couch, right? Speaking from the viewpoint of a group fitness instructor (and having subbed for other instructors many times), I can definitely say that we appreciate you for staying for the entire class if you’re not injured or have other obligations. Each instructor has their own style of teaching as well as their own knowledge to bring to every class. You might discover a new technique or explanation of a movement that works for you. Staying for the entire class not only shows courtesy to the instructor and other clients, but it is beneficial to you with your fitness goals as well.

  36. T says:

    I came to this website because as a sub, participants have walked out of my class in two different formats- Zumba and indoor cycling. I try not to take it personally but immediately after it happens it is demoralizing. I realize peoole leave classes for various reasons – deconditioning, fatigue, picking up children, etc.
    The point of views expressed here seem to be mostly centered around not wasting one’s time and money in a class that is not what one expected or is being led by an inexperienced instructor.
    I guess I’ll have to just get over my hurt feelings and really internalize the fact that when people leave, 94% of the time, like someone mentioned earlier, it’s not like personal. But I will say this, there are people that I will not sub for unless it is a dire emergency. They have developed such a following and fan base that when a sub is introduced they are amazingly rude and nasty. Also taking other instructors’ classes helps me to learn their format and audience so that if I sub I can do my best to meet their needs.

  37. FitMom45 says:

    I’m a group ex instructor and I have been walked out on (not often but it has happened) and I’ve definitely walked out. I’ve walked out on many classes over the years and it’s usually because it wasn’t a very good class. My time is extremely valuable and I don’t feel I should feel bad about wanting a good workout when all I have is that your to spend at the gym. I’ve never take. It personally when someone leaves because I know my classes are good, safe and well taught. When I leave early, I do it in the least obtrusive way possible, wave to the teacher and say thanks, with a smile!

  38. samantha hunter says:

    I’ve left one class, ever – a cycling class I bought on a groupon and 15 minutes in it was nothing like I thought and I felt sick – I walked up to the instructor, said I was leaving because I felt ill and promptly puked outside on the pavement. I have an overheating condition and had stayed and pushed my body too far in an environment that was way different than advertised. Nothing against the instructor – in that case I had to do what was best for me (and the rest of the class, I’m sure they’d wouldn’t like smellin my sick for 30+ more minutes).

  39. Cat says:

    Honestly, sometimes I don’t want to take a full hour class, especially when I’m easing back into exercising and it’s a high impact class like tonight, kickboxing. I felt horrible leaving at 50 minutes. The instructor even text me to make sure I was okay, (which was nice) but really, I don’t see any reason why I cannot come and go as I please. Time is precious. It’s a 15 minute drive, and when I’m done, I’m simply done. I’m paying to be there. Kind of pisses me off that there’s a whole etiquette to it. People have things in their lives and instructors should learn not to take it personally when someone has to duck out – for whatever the reason.

  40. Anne-Marie Lee says:

    I’m a fitness instructor and I don’t like it when people walk out of the class because they are finding the moves too difficult or challenging! I understand if you have to leave early or take a call, etc, but I always offer modifications so to me there’s no reason to leave! Even if you do the minimum effort required, you can do SOMETHING other than walk out of the class and make the instructor feel bad when she’s worked to put a good class together!

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