Skills & Drills
Help participants overcome obstacles and enjoy consistent workouts.
Part of your role as a group fitness instructor is to help students reach their fitness goals. This is not always an easy task. Each person has different objectives, as well as unique obstacles to overcome. If you can understand some of these factors, you’ll be in a better position to meet participants’ needs, and you’ll be a more effective teacher, coach, motivator and leader.
Whether people want to lose weight, get stronger or improve their health and wellness, your job is to get them in the door consistently. No matter how positive their intentions, they won’t succeed without regular participation. Address those obstacles to consistency, and you’ll help well-meaning participants reach their goals. Here are some common roadblocks students face, and some suggestions on how to help them overcome these barriers.
Perceived lack of time to exercise is a common complaint. Even people who have a sincere desire to get fit fall off the wagon when life gets crazy. There are creative ways to minimize the time commitment and still offer results-focused programs. For example, many facilities schedule express classes that enable clients to get in and out quickly; they also offer circuit classes to allow participants to accomplish a lot in less time. Why not volunteer to teach an express circuit class? Carefully select exercises that target all muscle groups, and offer very little rest between sets. Just 30 minutes of this calorie-blasting workout is more than enough to help improve strength and cardiovascular conditioning.
Other types of creative scheduling can also make a difference. Mary Beth LaVeck, an instructor at Aspen Athletic Club in Liverpool, New York, offers unique scheduling for her 90-minute boot camp class. “I give students the option to do all or just part of the class,” she says. “I set up a circuit so my students can come to class late, begin with some rhythmic movements to warm up and then join in when the next segment begins.”
She adds that offering this option takes away excuses such as “I can’t leave work that early,” “I have to get home by such and such a time” and “I just can’t do that much.” It opens the door for everyone to participate more consistently. Her students appreciate the flexibility, and they’ve been extremely enthusiastic about this approach.
Students who feel successful will return to class. Create a positive experience for everyone. Introduce lower-impact or lower-intensity options for each exercise to accommodate all levels. Encourage and motivate students to work hard, while also respecting limitations. For example, the plank is an instructor favorite for training the core, and there are endless options to choose from. Students can do it from their knees and/or forearms if they’re beginners, or with one leg or arm elevated if they need more of a challenge. Demonstrate all the options for your exercises throughout class, to ensure that participants are challenged, safe and successful.
There may be some truth to the saying “No pain, no gain.” Working out doesn’t always feel comfortable, and some exercises can be extremely intense. How do you create a fun and positive experience while also challenging and motivating students to get outside their comfort zones?
In recent years, dance-based classes have been very successful, especially with beginning exercisers. This may be because participants are able to challenge themselves physically in an environment that feels more like entertainment than effort. Zumba® classes, for example, dial up the fun factor by creating a party atmosphere with upbeat music and energizing Latin-inspired dance. The music and dance moves allow participants to get their heart rates up while also feeling energized and invigorated.
Instructor enthusiasm and personality can also create a motivating and uplifting workout experience. Lead by example—by modeling high energy and excitement. If you’re having a good time, your students will too. A smile or a sincere motivational cue can make all the difference. Positive energy is contagious, and your students will follow your lead.
Knowledge is power! If participants understand the method behind the madness, they are more likely to stick with their exercise programs. Be an educator. Provide information about the benefits of each exercise. In addition to demonstrating the exercises and monitoring form and alignment, share your insight and knowledge. Impart at least one new health tidbit each time you teach. It may be as simple as this: “Did you know that this exercise can improve your sports performance? By choosing multiple muscle group exercises, we train the various muscles to work together. This approach allows our strength gains to carry over to our daily activities.” Even a small amount of information can give students the additional incentive to stay motivated.
If students don’t feel a personal connection to the group, they’re less likely to show up for class. Encourage interaction by designing classes where people work together. Certain formats lend themselves well to group work. In boot camp classes, for example, teams compete against each other or people pair up to complete specific drills. This encourages socialization and allows people to get to know each other.
Meredith Andrews, physical education teacher at Wellwood Middle School in Fayetteville, New York, and group exercise instructor at Aspen Athletic Club in Cicero, New York, uses team drills to help students build a social support network. She divides the class into several teams that complete a relay race involving various high-intensity exercises. All the teams cheer each other on as they compete in a supportive and friendly environment. She adds, “After the class, the students feel like they’ve crossed a finish line and they feel so accomplished.”
Participants also make personal, supportive connections that hold them accountable for participating on a regular basis.
Even the most interesting exercise programs may grow stale over time. Shannon Fable, a veteran instructor and international presenter based in Boulder, Colorado, recommends using creative sequencing when developing a class. “Provide a consistent theme throughout the workout,” she says. “This can help keep things interesting. Set up a series of exercises so that your students know what to expect. Then repeat the routine several times while making small adjustments to each exercise to keep your students guessing. This approach offers familiarity, yet offers surprises as well.”
When participants understand the class theme, they thrive. They not only anticipate what’s next; they also look for surprises along the way. Balance creativity with predictability to provide an effective and engaging workout that will keep students coming back for more!
Although your job as a fitness instructor may be challenging at times, it comes with many rewards. When you help people maintain a consistent exercise program, you offer them a chance to greatly improve the quality of their lives. Create programs that are convenient, enjoyable, results-focused and well-planned to cater to all participants. Truly connect with everyone who enters your class. You can make a difference—one person at a time.