Making Connections

Oct 24, 2008

Generation Group XYZ

Students at Colorado State University have a chance to prepare early for a job in the fitness industry.

Tamar Cline, assistant director of fitness at Colorado State University (CSU) in Fort Collins, has spent the past 7 years training new fitness instructors just to see them graduate and move away. Cline and CSU staff help students get a head start on their certification exams while earning spots at the Student Recreation Center as group fitness instructors. Her program, FIT, is a comprehensive class designed to “teach the fundamental skills of group fitness instruction.” The class itself is a “leisure” class and offers no credit, so students must be inwardly motivated to take it. It also takes a certain measure of interest and motivation to audition for a staff spot. Cline hopes that the skills the program teaches translate well in the real world and will help bolster group fitness as a professional option.

How long have you been involved with this program? What kind of changes have you seen in the program during your tenure?

I have been here 7 years and have seen the program shift in many ways. We now offer a more comprehensive curriculum and certification structure. We have also seen changes in retention and interest from year to year. Unfortunately, there seems to be a decreased interest in the fitness instructor role. We have varied the amount of practical and theoretical experience to see what works best. Over the years, we learned to lean more toward practical experience and guidance and less toward theory.

What are the main highlights of the curriculum? How do they prepare students for a career in the fitness industry?

This program is totally self-motivated since it offers no credit for school, and the class is about 10–12 weeks long. We have a partnership with the American Council on Exercise (ACE) that sets us apart from other programs. We get curriculum and teaching support, which leaves our time and energy free to focus on other things. Our curriculum offers many highlights. Students shadow instructors for 1–2 hours per week. They must also participate in two fitness classes per week for 10 weeks total. They assist in class and have one-on-one experiences with mentors.

I think the word career is a strong word to use in relation to group fitness, but our students do learn how to be a strong instructor. They also learn that this training can enhance any career. The social skills, practical application and support skills they learn carry over to many things.

How do you grade students or define program completion?

We don’t grade per se, since this is a no-credit class, but we have some incentives and we also provide rewards for commitments kept. This program is particularly helpful in preparing students for the ACE Group Fitness Instructor Certification exam. We hold auditions at the end of the class term, which is an incentive for many in the program who wish to be on staff here.

How much of the program is practical (hands-on) and how much is theory?

The practical side takes up about 65% and the rest, about 35%, is theory (study materials).

What are the major obstacles or challenges for your program? For the graduates?

The major obstacle we are facing right now is recruiting younger students. We usually don’t see interest from students until they are juniors or seniors, and then they graduate and we start from square one. Also, students don’t always understand the level of commitment involved in becoming an instructor. It takes a lot of time and effort and is more in-depth than many people realize. There is a bigger learning curve; people think it’s going to be easy and it’s not. Also, many of our auditions are not successful.

What motivates today’s college students to enroll in group fitness programs? Do they have traits in common that distinguish them from other students? What attracts them to your program?

I typically see students who are outgoing and extroverted. Some of them have dance or cheerleading backgrounds. They also tend to influence their peers to have healthy habits. Many of our students are recruited by existing instructors and are drawn to us because of the high quality of our classes and programs.

Does your program have any network in place to link program alumni with upcoming grads?

Our mentorship program includes current instructors who teach in the group fitness program. This has been very successful, and we experience less attrition. Instructors who come out of this program are more advanced and capable, with more advanced skills.

What do you think needs to happen in the industry in order to ensure younger fitness professionals’ success?

Current leaders need to be more hands-on in order to make a personal connection with participants. We need to offer assistance to new fitness instructors. We also need to offer more preparation- oriented classes; you can’t simply read a book and know how to be an instructor. Most important, I think experienced instructors need to pass on the dynamic and social skills involved in interacting and communicating with a group.

Group exercise will continue to evolve as new programs enter the arena. We just need to continue to find ways to reach the people who aren’t being reached right now. The more classes we offer that are empowering, interesting and exciting, the more chances we have to bring in new populations. We really need to reach out and touch people and make connections.

IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 5, Issue 11

© 2008 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.