Skills & Drills
Use a tested system to keep your classes fresh and prevent burnout.
Whether you teach sculpting classes, Pilates or step, you likely feel pressure to deliver a top-notch, innovative and motivational workout week after week. You are part deejay, part emcee and part physiologist as you stay on the beat, execute perfect form and deliver cues a beat before you move.
How do you consistently deliver a fresh, rock star–style performance without investing hours of prep time (that you honestly don’t have)? Keep great records and refine your focus! Here’s a 3-month—and beyond—plan that will take your classes from stale to stunning.
It’s time for new material! Write a detailed lesson plan for each class you teach. If you think note-taking is for newbies, think again. Keep a log of what works and create a cache of material you might otherwise forget. Like a food journal that exposes how and where extra calories slip in, your log might reveal surprising redundancies in your workouts.
Do you daydream about the next day’s class? Put pen to paper when inspiration hits. Are you more of a freestyler? Finish teaching your killer class and then write everything down. Note what you’d like to change next time and jot down any ideas that pop into your head.Each lesson plan should include the following:
- A heading: Include class type, equipment needed and the date(s) you taught this workout.
- The workout: A detailed account of combinations, specific exercises, transitions and key cues. (See the sidebar “A Short Note on Shorthand” for examples of abbreviations and tips on using them.)
- A space for notes. Planning ahead saves time in the long run. “A plan allows you to do a better job cuing and motivating,” says Marcella Vanharova, an instructor who works in the Los Angeles area. “You don’t have to think about what you’re doing next.”
Rebecca Tilbrooke, an instructor who works at Equinox in Palos Verdes, California, carefully types each class and saves an electronic file. When it’s time to set up her circuit, she simply prints out the signs she has already created for her stations.
If notes cramp your style and the idea of instructing while gripping an index card is not cool, make an outline rather than a script. Put your outline on the side of the stage and refer to it if you draw a blank. If you’re truly worried about forgetting a new or complicated combination, grab a dry-erase marker and write the combo on a corner of the mirror.
After a few weeks of recording lesson plans, it’s time to look for trends. Do you always throw in the same abdominal series at the end of a sculpting class? Do you use jumping jacks for every kickboxing transition? Once you’ve identified redundancies, you’ll be compelled to change them.
The notes you’ve amassed will now be used in phase two: Recycle. Most classes can be distilled to the same core content. A sculpting class might always include squats, lunges and curls. Yoga usually features sun salutations and warrior poses. However, boredom sets in if we present these moves the same way week after week. In the recycling phase, redesign your classes by applying a specific focus to each week’s workout.
Do you teach kickboxing? Make it a core day by emphasizing twists and adding intervals of abdominal work. If you teach Pilates, focus on perfect form, going back to basics and reviewing the principles. Create a posture theme in boot camp by choosing moves that target the upper back.
Giving your class a focus tells students three things: You put thought into the preparation, you know your physiology and how to apply it, and you’re going to help them reach their goals. You set yourself apart from your peers when you create purpose-driven classes rather than offering the same old moves in a different order. Students will be excited about next week. You’ll create buzz, and your classes will be packed.Here’s a sample list of focus areas:
- leg power
- functional strength
- “perfect” form
- heart rate recovery
When planning your focused class, go through your renew-phase notes, pull moves that support your goal for the upcoming week and get creative. At the beginning of class, explain the focus and point out which moves apply.
After 1 month of renewing and 2 months of recycling, you now have a minimum of 12 solid lesson plans. Reuse them! You have worked hard at record-keeping, and it’s about to pay off.
Dive into your new backlog of material and pull out a lesson plan from 2 months ago. Take the old routine and apply a new focus, use it as is, or take two old routines and create a mash-up. When Vanharova is ready for a remix in her cardio-sculpt interval classes, she pulls out her notes, which she writes in blocks of three or four complementary moves, and swaps out blocks for a whole new class. If she wants to apply a focus, she chooses blocks that emphasize her goal for the day.
Los Angeles–based teacher Valerie Malley plans her indoor cycling classes down to the second. When she adds a song, she also adds a full page of notes and files the song by how it will be used in the workout—as a hill, sprint, endurance work, warm-up, etc. When she is ready to create a new class, she opens the folder, pulls out the songs that match her focus, and has a fresh class.
Now that your system is in place, your stomach will never contract with dread before class because you don’t have anything new to teach. You’ll have a folder bursting with ideas and a rock-solid plan for collecting any fitness inspiration that comes your way.