Sarah Gilbert joined her local health club hoping to lose a few of the pounds she had gained since graduate school. She hadnt exercised in months when she stumbled onto Erin Carsons Spinning class. It wasnt Spinning per se that got her interested enough to go back (Gilbert, a 35-year-old project management consultant, had tried it before at another gym). It was Carson.

"Its her attitude about the class," Gilbert says. "She treats us like were capable, and it makes you want to step up to that level." Instead of emphasizing the aesthetic benefits of Spinning, like great glutes or shapely legs, Carson focuses more on what it does for her students cardiovascular systems, muscles, and metabolisms. At first, Gilbert was intimidated by the talk of target heart rates and intensity levels. But she was so impressed with Carson that she kept coming. Two years later and 25 pounds lighter, Gilbert still rides with Carson twice a week.

The take-away: What the instructor says matters, agrees Brian Focht, PhD, an exercise psychologist at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. Many women worry about their body image, he says, so appearance-related feedback may actually make them more anxious by focusing their attention on what they see as their shortcomings instead of on whats good about their bodies. In fact, a recent study by Focht and colleague Tom Raedeke, PhD, found just what Gilbert discovered: When the instructors feedback focused on an exercise routines fitness or health benefits, participants felt better, enjoyed the class more, and were more motivated to return than when the instructor emphasized looking good or losing weight.

Make it work for you: Look for an instructor whose personality and style click with yours, preferably one who gives health-related feedback like "feel your heart getting stronger," rather than appearance-oriented cues like "lets tone those abs!" Try classes whose titles include words like "training" instead of "sculpting" or "shaping," advises Gregory Florez, a health coach in Salt Lake City and CEO of In addition, people who lead classes designed to get you in shape for specific activities like skiing, tennis, or bicycling are more likely than other instructors to emphasize performance and how you feel over how you look.

By Christie Aschwanden and Lisa Bailey