Whether you’re swinging kettlebells at boot camp or getting in formation to Beyonce at dance cardio, typically everyone heads into the studio, does their thing for an hour, and then goes home without so much as a high-five to the person on the mat next to them.
Which is too bad, because for someone who’s looking to expand her squad, post-college—and who prefers not to hang out with coworkers after 6 p.m.—making new friends can be harder than perfecting a push-up.
I decided to make it my mission to try and make one friend at a class.
Hoping that there’s more camaraderie in boutique fitness than meets the eye, I decided to make it my mission to try and make one friend at a class. So, over the course of a week, I did everything from a recess-inspired gym class (remember how easy it was to make friends in school?) to an out-there group mindfulness exercise.
How easy was it to bond with new a BFF? Here’s what I learned about looking for (platonic) love at the gym.
Get there early
I kicked things off at Throwback Fitness in New York City, which incorporates grade-school games into the class. And you know what that means: team activities.
Tip number one for making friends at your next class: Get there early. I learned right away that having 10 minutes or so to try and strike up a conversation is crucial. As soon as I walked into the studio, it was very clear that virtually everyone there wanted to be social.
Tip number one for making friends at your next class: Get there early. Having 10 minutes or so to try and strike up a conversation is crucial.
Normally, I would have been a bit nervous to start up a conversation with a random stranger—like most people, I never talk to anyone in my fitness classes. But the studio really did feel like a high school gym (AKA no dark lighting or loud music), which made it feel like you’re supposed to be talking to the person next to you.
When I mentioned to someone that it was my first time in class, she excitedly started filling me in on what to expect—and two other girls joined the convo as well. So when we had to pair up for the first activity, it was easy for me to pick a partner because I just asked one of the girls I had already been talking to.
Look for workouts that appeal to your inner child
Group games equal lots of high-fives—and the sillier the concept, the better. At one point in class, the instructor split everyone into groups of threes and wrote a circuit on the chalkboard: 10 burpees, 10 squats, and 10 push-ups. Before each round started, he played a clip of a semi-old school jam (like Kanye’s “Gold Digger” or an ’80s Madonna tune).
Each group had to guess the exact year the song came out—and for every year they were off, it meant adding an extra rep to the circuit. Little games like this led to lots of joking around (and of course suffering together through extra burpees is one way to bond).
Pick a hard workout, but not too hard
Next, I went for a couple of intense HIIT classes with partner work, at Switch Playground and Brick Fitness. My workout buddy at Brick Fitness seemed pretty friendly, but the class was so intense that having a conversation was impossible. We were both huffing and puffing so much that any communication had to be in sign language.
At Switch Playground, I got to class early and hit it off (no pun intended) with another veteran of the studio’s super-sweaty circuit. I was hoping to get paired up with her, since we’d already broken the ice before class began. But since our group was unusually small—only six people showed up—each of us was paired with a fitness instructor.
Who knew making friends would feel so much like dating?
After class, we continued our convo drenched in sweat. No digits were exchanged, but I don’t think it would be weird for me to ask her if we ended up at the same class again. Sigh, who knew making friends would feel so much like dating? (By the way, meeting a love interest at the gym isn’t exactly easy either.)
Try something you’ve never done
The most meaningful connection I made all week was actually at a class that involved zero sweating—and one that I might not have picked on my own.
I was a bit skeptical when a friend invited me to a meditation event hosted by SereneBook. How would sitting in silence help me make friends? But I went anyway. It focused on heart healing—letting go of painful experiences to make room for healthier ones.
Doing something outside your comfort zone connects you to other people who are doing the same thing. And positivity and openness are contagious.
Afterward, each person in the class (about 20 of us) had to share what we felt during the hour-long meditation. My first thought was: Um, personal much? I don’t know you people! But I was surprised at how open everyone was being, and it encouraged me to let my guard down—it really did feel like a safe space.
At the end of class, over warm cups of cacao doled out in the studio, my friend and I split up and talked to different people. “This isn’t something I would normally go to on my own, but I’m glad I came,” I said to the woman next to me. We started talking about other wellness classes we were interested in, but were too nervous to try alone, and before I was out the door, we had exchanged phone numbers with plans to go to Woom (the New York City wellness center known for its multisensory classes).
The whole thing taught me that doing something outside your comfort zone—like getting all woo-woo—connects you to other people who are doing the same thing. And positivity and openness are contagious.
Looking back on the experiment, I realize that fitness classes are there to help you zone out and to make friends—it just depends on what you’re looking for. So go ahead and give the girl next to you a sweaty high-five at the end of class. Chances are, she won’t be weirded out, and it just might be the start of something awesome.
Originally posted April 6, 2017. Updated March 1, 2019.
You can also check out these fitness clubs, which make being social a priority. Or, go next-level and jet off to a wellness retreat—almost everyone goes solo and comes back with a bunch of new friends.
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