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Cost-Effective Education for Group Instructors

by Peggy Gregor, AFAA, ACE on Nov 24, 2009

Creative strategies help instructors remain educated in challenging times.

Today’s tough economic climate may be stressful for group exercise instructors. To keep budgets in line and doors open, some facilities have reduced the number of class offerings while closely watching their “cost-per-head” class ratios. Instructors who both teach and train may be losing income as some clients stretch out their training packages or temporarily opt out of training. Other instructors may be forced to seek full-time employment, limiting their ability to teach as many classes. All of these factors can affect instructors’ expendable income.

Today’s realities pose a dilemma for some facility directors and group exercise managers: They expect and need staff to stay up-to-date with fitness knowledge in order to sell the club’s value; however, with less income, instructors may not have the financial means to do so. Fortunately, the fitness industry is devising some innovative strategies to offer education at a lower cost. Discover what managers can do to provide education and what instructors can do for themselves.

Industry Efforts
Industry leaders, such as IDEA, have answered the call to lower the cost of education. Fitness conferences are now placing more emphasis on early-bird specials, group rates, and discounts. In addition, educational associations are offering perks—such as free videos, education manuals, magazines or CEC--when memberships are renewed.

Terry Browning, president of Body Training Systems (BTS), an international company that develops and licenses a variety of group exercise programs, describes his company’s plan to provide quality education at affordable prices: “We understand these economic times have restricted many instructors from pursuing certification and continuing education,” says Browning. “For the long-term growth of instructors and the industry, we feel it is important to support clubs and instructors as much as possible. Ultimately, the quality of education that is delivered is paramount. As a company, we have responded by instituting a variety of ways in which instructors can continue to receive great value [in a cost-effective manner].”
Many companies, including BTS, are reducing the number of large, splashy annual events they offer and choosing to host more workshops in smaller venues throughout the country.

These regional events boast lower registration fees and limit travel expenses. In addition, events are including shorter sessions that may be more specific to individual class formats. Industry educators such as BTS are reaching out directly to facilities by asking them to host events within their centers. Browning says that BTS has also introduced a discount program, the BTS Instructor Network, which enables staff to receive discounts on previous DVD releases.

Fitness organizations are also offering more online continuing education courses. Not only are these courses convenient, but they can be offered for a substantially lower price than live workshops.

Facility Efforts
In this economic crunch, businesses may not be as open with the purse strings as they were in the past. They should, however, still support instructors who want to pursue additional education or certification. Companies can use a variety of strategies to encourage instructors to stay in the know while earning a great return on their investment.
A 50-50 Split. Offer to pay half of the cost of an instructor’s education, with the instructor paying the rest. After all, both parties benefit from the education. The club benefits by employing a knowledgeable instructor, and the instructor gets to keep the information, making him more valuable to the club and the industry as a whole.

Delayed Reimbursement. To ensure return on investment, offer full or partial reimbursement of education costs after an instructor has taught the new program in the club (or its parent company) for 1 year. The instructor would be required to maintain certain performance standards—including a professional attitude—in order to justify reimbursement.

Spread-Out Reimbursement. Reimburse the instructor over a period of time (e.g., 25% each quarter). Paying out a smaller dollar amount every quarter may be easier than paying a lump sum. For the instructor, the advantage of gradual reimbursement is that she will receive at least partial payment throughout the year. Some instructors may be faced with issues like pregnancy, injury or relocation, meaning they cannot fulfill a yearlong commitment at the facility.

In-House Seminars. Promote learning by inviting education providers to come to the facility. While the initial cost may cause sticker shock, this approach can be a value in the long run. In-house seminars are a viable education source for several reasons. First, they bring the professional to you. Most instructors do not want to travel, given the expense and their personal commitments. Hosting a professional also allows the club to train more instructors at once, reducing the cost per person. Even clients may benefit, as many industry educators are willing to present a master class for them. Importing education also ensures that instructors receive consistent information, which keeps everyone on the same page. If the cost still seems high, consider partnering with other area facilities. Doing so can further reduce the expense and will also educate other instructors who may eventually find their way onto your team.

Manager Efforts
As a manager of group instructors, you have the power to transform monthly group exercise meetings from the usual “gripe sessions” into knowledge “jam sessions.” For each meeting, set a theme, such as core work. Encourage instructors to bring information they have obtained regarding the theme. They can draw from continuing education sessions they’ve attended in the past, or research the topic in articles or online blogs. Open up the meeting to comments. Solicit input from all team members, asking what is working for them and answering questions. Not only does a jam session heighten knowledge of the chosen theme; it also gives staff members a voice and invokes communication and teamwork, as instructors interact as they share information.

Making a jam session fun and interactive serves to increase staff participation. Most fitness pros will steer away from lecture-type sessions. Staff will respond more positively when they are moving and active. Creating games and activities makes learning both effective and enjoyable. Turn to TV game shows for a template you can follow to create a winning experience for your team. “Fitness Feud” and “Fitness Jeopardy” are amazing team- and knowledge-building games that foster learning, raising awareness in areas in which some staff members may be lacking. These games also allow you to observe the team’s ability to work together and see which instructors may need more mentoring in certain areas.

As a manager, you must take the reins when it comes to sharing information. E-mail staff with links to online fitness facts. And make copies of articles and place them with paychecks or in instructors’ mailboxes.

Individual Efforts
Instructors themselves must also be responsible for staying current with their education. They can do this in several inexpensive ways.
Going to Group Classes. Attending classes taught by educated teammates can breathe new life into instructors’ teaching skills. For example, strength instructors can benefit by taking yoga or Pilates classes and borrowing postural alignment cues to use in their own sessions. Hearing or seeing how others teach can provide instructors with a variety of techniques or cues.

Reading Articles. Learning from magazine articles can be both effective and inexpensive. IDEA, the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America and the American Council on Exercise all provide informative industry publications that offer relevant articles. Many issues include one or more articles with a quiz that can be submitted for CECs for a minimal fee.

Reviewing Information From Past Workshops. Reviewing tips from recent trainings and workshops is a useful strategy. The wealth of information presented during educational sessions may be overwhelming. In reviewing it, instructors may be able to extract information that they didn’t pick up during the initial training.

Going Online. The Internet offers a wealth of information. Reputable fitness resources post information not only for the consumer, but for the professional as well.
The Cost of Education
Where all of these ideas can help keep your staff in the know, they are not a replacement for accredited education. Instructors may not have the financial means to participate in every seminar that comes their way, but they must still invest time developing their knowledge and skill. Continuing to learn, keeping an open mind and staying on the education path is essential for today’s group exercise instructor.



IDEA Fitness Manager, Volume 22, Issue 1

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About the Author

Peggy Gregor, AFAA, ACE

Peggy Gregor, AFAA, ACE IDEA Author/Presenter

Peggy Gregor is the group fitness director and corporate group fitness advisor for Healthtrax Fitness & Wellness. She inspires and educates others through her many published articles, dynamic fitness conference presentations and lectures. Additionally, she serves as a Group POWER and Group GROOVE program tester for Body Training Systems and is a member of the Ringgold Rams (Football) Strength and Conditioning Coaching Staff lending her fitness and Pilates expertise to highschool athletes.