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Should You Freestyle or Prestyle?

by Pamela Light, MA on Sep 23, 2013

Group Ex Skills & Drills

Review the pros and cons of teaching “freestyle” and prechoreographed classes, and learn new tricks from each method.

Are you having problems deciding whether to jump on the prechoreographed workout bandwagon or stick with the more traditional “freestyle” method of teaching? Let’s look at both.

Some professionals say prechoreographed classes offer the comfort of predictability. The repetitive workout allows members to directly measure their improvement. Generally, all the exercises are safe and effective, with no contraindicated moves or “fluff.” The music is part of the package, complete with choreography. On the other hand, learning a new routine can feel like homework, and the licensing takes a chunk out of your paycheck.

Advocates of freestyle say the classes offer excitement and variety. You’re free to change the workout, which enables you to apply the principle of overload every time. Workouts are tailored to the attendees’ needs, and you choose your own music. On the downside, keeping your class fresh takes time, attention and money. To stay inspired and current with your education, you must attend workshops, try other classes and subscribe to industry journals.

As you can see, prechoreographed classes and freestyle classes both offer pros and cons. Read on to find out how you can have the best of both worlds, whichever path you take.

Be the Best Freestyler

There’s a reason why prechoreographed fitness is gaining popularity. People work full time to make sure each routine delivers a finely tuned concept. Can a freestyler compete? Yes. Here’s what branded programs do well—and how you can do it better.

Have a Clear Goal

It’s true that indoor cycling torches calories and that strength-based classes help participants build muscles, but you can do more! Participants trust that you have researched what works and will help them succeed. Therefore, you’d better have a crystal-clear goal.

What prechoreographed classes offer: The best prechoreographed workouts specifically define the main intention. For instance, the overall goal of Les Mills CXWORX™ is to strengthen the core, and each move targets the core. Individual tracks also have specific goals, such as targeting the posterior core or performing functional movements.

What you can do: Communicate three things at the beginning of class:

  • the goal,
  • why the workout will pay off, and
  • how attendees with achieve their goals.

For instance, if you’re teaching a sculpt class, you might say this: “Today we will focus on functional strength (goal). These moves will make you stronger for activities of daily living (why). Our exercises will be compound, meaning we will work multiple muscle groups at once (how).”

What you can do better: Tailor your workouts to your audience’s goals. Is it beach season? Drop to the floor every 10 minutes for a quick plank or a bonus set of crunches. Is it the day after a holiday? Make burning extra calories the focus. Take advantage of your freedom and personalize your classes.

Have a Routine

You’re not doing yourself any favors if you ask attendees what you should do next or you fiddle with your iPod for an hour. Some instructors believe these tactics keep things spontaneous or encourage class participation; however, coming off as unprepared doesn’t inspire confidence, nor does it provide an effective workout.

What prechoreographed classes offer:

  • a warm-up that rehearses movements,
  • moves that flow in an organized manner, and
  • high momentum that keeps people engaged.

What you can do: Plan ahead, and write it all down. This ensures you won’t leave anything out and you won’t have to frantically decide what to do next. You may never look at the notes, but the act of notating will help you build a logical progression into your class. And it will provide you with a record of a successful class to tweak or reuse.

What you can do better: Preset routines don’t leave room for adjustments. It’s often impossible to walk the room and make personalized corrections. Participants may get through a whole set of squats without doing a single one of them correctly before it’s time for you to take the class on to the next move. As a freestyler, you can toss in three more sets to get it right and nail the “learning moment” that makes the difference between strong legs and sore knees.

Let he Music Drive the Class

Music is a very important part of class. Maximize it.

What prechoreographed classes offer: Movements are perfectly choreographed to the beat of the music. The instrumental sections are pumped up, which also pumps up intensity. The music is mapped for you.

What you can do: Don’t fight the music. Find the beat and get to know the eight-count well. If you can hear musical phrases, you’ll be able to “feel” when there are four beats left before the 32-count phrase ends. If you cue participants to transition then, you may very well hear sighs of relief. You may not have time to choreograph every beat, but your class may think you've done so if you know eight-count phrasing.

What you can do better: Since you don’t have to use the same music for 3 months in a row, treat yourself to some new tunes to keep it fresh.

Be the Best Freestyler

One major principle behind prechoreographed workouts is the “Starbucks® effect.” No matter where in the world you take a Turbo Kick® class, you are guaranteed the same quality no matter who’s teaching. Can that be true, or is it possible to stand out? Yes! Here’s how to be a star.

Back It Up With Your Brain

While one benefit of teaching prechoreographed classes is that the thinking is done for you, you can still enhance the experience with your own knowledge. A college degree in exercise science or a certification from a respected fitness certification agency will provide a strong, professional foundation—and you’ll feel more empowered to motivate and educate members. Tell them what the workout is doing physiologically, and open the floor for questions. Students might dance a little harder in Zumba® if they knew they’re likely to burn more fat for 2 hours after a workout if they work at 60% of VO2max compared to staying at 40% (Mulla).

Cue Like a Pro

You’re the teacher, motivator and entertainer. Zoning out to the music or counting down three sets of eight is not filling any of those roles. You have to set up the move and explain how to execute it properly, but what you do beyond that will make you stand out. Asking questions is one way to engage participants: “Where are you feeling this?” “Who has seen a difference because of this move?” Another tactic is to directly motivate students: “Now is your chance to lift an inch higher. Take it!” Point out someone who is working extra hard: “Diane brought it today!”

Make It Personal

Know the names of class participants! Find out why they are there. Maybe Sue is rehabbing an injury and Joe is training for a triathlon. Ask them what changes they’ve seen, and share their success stories. People will return to class if they get the sense that you care.

Give Specific Feedback

Rather than cuing the group to keep their knees straight, address students individually. Be careful with this tactic, and make sure you have a good relationship with the person you spotlight. You don’t want to alienate or criticize; you want to empower. You might also want to wait until after class to give the student you addressed a private clinic on how to improve form, how the move should look and feel, and how the correct form can prevent injury. Don’t forget to follow up! During the next class, call that individual out on what she is doing right. “Does everyone see how Faith’s knees are over her heels as she squats? Well done.”

Practice, Practice, Practice

On the opening night of the Nutcracker ballet, the dancers don’t say, “Hey, it’s our first time dancing this for an audience, so please bear with us.” On the contrary, they have worked diligently on every aspect of their performance. Do what they do, and have a dress rehearsal! Use it to identify and fix problem areas. For example, if you discover that you don’t have enough setup time between tracks, add 10 seconds of dead air between songs. Does a lull precede a rapid series of changes? Use the downtime to talk about the upcoming sequence.

Be the Best You Can Be

Regardless of which path you take in your group fitness instructor career, there are traits that most fitness professionals agree are highly desirable, including the drive to stay educated, a love of movement and music, a passion for people and a knack for inspiring others. All of these traits can be found in both freestyle and prestyle formats! Commit yourself to greatness, and watch your classes flourish.*

Reference

Mulla, N., et al. 2000. “Post-exercise adipose tissue and skeletal muscle lipid metabolism in humans: The effects of exercise intensity.” The Journal of Physiology, 524, 919-28.

IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 10, Issue 10

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About the Author

Pamela Light, MA

Pamela Light, MA IDEA Author/Presenter