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How to Handle a Group Exercise Diva

by Peggy Gregor, AFAA, ACE on Dec 16, 2008

If you teach group exercise long enough, you’re bound to encounter the group exercise diva. The diva’s behavior tends to create a negative experience for the majority of attendees. Unfortunately, the instigator often goes unchecked, which can lead to higher attrition rates and less class participation. As an instructor, you are responsible for controlling your class. It may be difficult to be the “heavy” and address a diva, but this is a necessary evil if you are to provide all members a quality experience. Here are a few professional ways to deal with a diva so that your class can be enjoyable and stress-free for all:

Problem: Better Late Than Never

One behavior typical of a diva is consistently arriving late and making a point of staging a grand entrance! The disruption affects members in a variety of ways and can even make the situation unsafe, both for the latecomer and for others.

Solution: The Early Bird Gets the Good Workout!

Noel Miller, initial training supervisor, program developer and national trainer for Body Training Systems, based in Atlanta, offers advice about being proactive and addressing the situation prior to class. “For equipment classes, I encourage those who are on time to set up their equipment toward the front and center, and I let participants know that this is so that late participants can be less disruptive. Then I’ll tell people as they come in late to fill in the back and sides.”

Making general comments such as “Remember the importance of a proper warm-up” or “Be sure you arrive early to set up your equipment” puts the diva on the radar. It also shows others that you do not approve of the tardy arrival and you have the group’s best interest at heart.

If a diva still doesn’t comply with the arrival rules and you need to approach this person one-on-one, Aimee Marshall, group exercise director for the Berkshire West Athletic Club in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, offers this advice: “I try to explain that it is for her own safety that she [should arrive] on time. If she knows she is going to be late, she should be quiet and have someone else set her equipment up for her, or perhaps find a class that fits her schedule better.”

Problem: Spotters

Divas are territorial. If you cross one by taking “her” spot in class, beware! I remember a verbal and physical confrontation erupting between a diva and a member who took “her” spot. Not only did this affect the other member involved, who promptly canceled her membership; it also affected the other 25 people in the room, who stood with mouths agape.

Solution: Spot Removers That Work

  • Ask the diva to arrive early if there is a certain spot she desires. This can help address the issue of coming to class late as well.
  • Personally remind the diva that every member pays club dues and no one “owns” space or equipment.
  • Be very clear that confrontations, verbal or physical, cannot be tolerated. If bad behavior is repeated, have your director intervene and issue a strong warning outlining the consequences, which may include suspension of membership for a specified time, or even termination.

To read more strategies for handling divas, see “Pruning a Prima Donna Participant” in the November-December 2008 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal or online in IDEA's Health and Fitness Article Library.

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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.