The Group Fitness Trifecta

by Shannon Fable on Jan 18, 2017

Skills & Drills

Measure your progress with a three-pronged approach to metrics.

Group exercise has changed tremendously over the past 30 years. A lot of us began as "aerobics instructors," and we remember grapevining under neon signs, decked out in our shiny spandex. Now, we're responsible for an ever-expanding repertoire of formats, and we inspire millions to move every day. Still, although group fitness has evolved, the formula for determining an instructor's worth has not kept pace.

A group fitness instructor must be equal parts leader, ambassador and cruise ship director. As a leader, you're responsible for program development and delivery and for keeping participants safe as you monitor their progress. As an ambassador, you're a grass-roots marketer for yourself, the facility and fitness itself! The cruise ship director role kicks in as you blend these two skills and point people in the right direction on their unique fitness journeys. How do you measure your own growth in an industry that keeps changing? Read on to find out.

Future Group Exercise Metrics

As a group fitness instructor, you are the facility's heartbeat and much more. You have a direct line to dues, meaning your actions affect the club's bottom line. Your job is a delicate balance between science and art. Nevertheless, it is a business, and evaluating expectations is important. The group fitness department is an integral part of a fitness facility's ecosystem. So what is currently being measured? Most group fitness departments track class numbers, including attendance, cost per head and penetration. Payroll variance, which is the actual payroll expense versus the budgeted expense, is another valued measurement.

Current metrics are objective and numbers-focused, and they're used to compare the class schedule against the investment required to provide the service. While these measurements are necessary, they barely scratch the surface. Why? Because your impact can no longer be measured by numbers alone! If you measure only the outcome (numbers and expenses) and not the behaviors that influence those outcomes, you don't have direct control over moving the needle on the gauge. Instead, why not evaluate group fitness in three distinct, equally impactful areas:

  1. education
  2. engagement
  3. class value

I call this the group fitness trifecta, a "perfect group of three." Each one, while singularly impressive, expands in importance when combined with the others. The trifecta is an easy way to gain a broader view of your role as an instructor. Plus, it provides structure for determining behaviors that should be measured, incentivized and improved throughout your career.

For the trifecta to produce results, you must set expectations for each area. So be sure to determine and track key performance indicators. Ask for ongoing evaluations, and expect performance improvement plans that highlight areas for growth and opportunity.

Let's take a closer look at each area.

Education

The role of education in an instructor's career is often debated. While you're expected to possess a nationally recognized certification, it's quite possible to get hired without one. Certification proves minimal competency, but your education shouldn't stop here.

Once you've obtained a group fitness certification accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, it's important that you dive deeper into specific education for the formats or populations you want to teach. Look for specialty workshops, certifications and programs to help you learn how to apply your knowledge. Then, practice and perfect your craft. Seek out mentors or learn from industry veterans; this will help you with the "unwritten" rules that textbooks can't teach you.

Formal and informal education should continue forever! The more you learn, the more you realize you need to learn. Attend workshops when you can, read industry and consumer articles, take other instructors' classes, review programming ideas from a wide variety of sources and develop close connections with colleagues.

Expectations. Get an NCCA-accredited certification prior to instructing. Obtain specialty certificates (or applicable coursework) for custom formats. Stay up to date with ongoing continuing education, both formal and informal.

KPIs. Record the amount and quality of formal education you acquire. Track your participation in informal education, such as attending other instructors' classes, participating in choreography exchanges or reading professional articles.

Performance improvement plan. Base your decisions regarding continuing education on objective class design and delivery reviews. Evaluations can be self-directed, peer-based or management-driven.

Engagement

Whether you're a part-time instructor or a full-time fitness professional, you're most likely an employee—and you have a responsibility to show up, do your job, be well-informed and understand the big picture. Even if you're a contractor, there are still opportunities for you to "lean in" at the fitness facility. Engagement is key for producing optimal results for facility members, and it begins with understanding the part you play. While you may see teaching group fitness as an individual sport, you actually need a village to get people fit. As part of a village, simply showing up to teach and then leaving won't cut it! You must think of yourself as a valuable team member who is responsible for a piece of the puzzle. Then, understand how your talents come together with other team members' talents to produce a group exercise program that's greater than the sum of its parts.

Expect to be rewarded for being consistent with your schedule, remaining diligent in finding subs, preparing for each class, and understanding department and facility policies and procedures. Interact with team members to provide a top-notch program—rather than striving to be an individual bright spot on the class schedule. Promote other instructors and set up members to enjoy all the classes, not just yours. A strong team can help influence people far more quickly than any individual can. This begins with enthusiastic engagement.

Expectations. Consistency is key. When you take on a time slot, commit to the class for a minimum of 3 months. Of course, extenuating circumstances may prevent a long(er)-term commitment, but the goal should be to stick with it! Be proactive in covering your classes. If you need to use a sub, find the best person—not just the first person—for the job, and prepare the sub as well as your participants for the change. Have a firm understanding of all policies, procedures, opportunities and initiatives.

KPIs. Track communication receipt and comprehension. Document the number of times you sub out your classes, the number of times you raise your hand to sub, and how often you sub. Note how you support teammates in big and small ways.

Performance improvement plan. Determine your individual talent and value. Every instructor brings something different to the table and contributes in unique ways. Part-time instructors who travel a lot for their jobs may not be able to sub all the time, but they could supply the other instructors with great playlist ideas. Or, part-time instructors who have incredible flexibility in their full-time jobs might be able to sub more often than others, but not able to take on Sunday classes because of a church commitment. Engagement is equally important and possible, regardless of how many hours you teach in a week. Share your gifts!

Class Value

When you're calculating the investment involved for the hour you lead a class (square footage; electricity; sound system; equipment; personnel, including support teams; etc.), it's easy to see why emphasis is placed on the bottom-line value of the class. However, members' experience with you inside the classroom influences their behavior outside the classroom, which in turn increases the value of your contribution. That's hard to track! Therefore, it's still important to improve numbers and teach popular classes.

Base class value on more than just raw numbers, as not all classes are created equal—due to audience, time of day, day of week, or season. Coupling cost per head (class pay rate divided by total participants) with penetration rate (number of people in class divided by total number in the fitness facility) is a superior way to measure impact and allow for easier comparison. While cost per head reveals the value a club is receiving based on how many people you lead compared with how much you're being paid, the penetration rate helps determine if the department is doing its job by capturing a certain percentage of the total membership base in a given time period.

Expectations. Record class numbers with integrity. Your facility should assist you by making this information private. Aim to teach classes that ensure participant return and, even better, a recommendation to other members or nonmembers.

KPIs. Track class numbers, cost per head and penetration. If possible, make yourself privy to the trends for your time slot, format, day of the week and general department.

Performance improvement plan. Insist on feedback from management, colleagues and trusted facility members to help craft classes that draw more participation and repeat customers. Review what you're doing outside the classroom (in education and engagement) that might influence your numbers, as well.

The group fitness trifecta shines light on three areas of equal importance. Whether you teach 1 hour a week or 10, getting people to move requires strategy! If class numbers are the only measure for determining your worth, you run the risk of misplacing your effort. The same could be true if you focused solely on any one of the three. Education, engagement and class value must all be objective metrics used to determine return on investment. Track your progress, and create a plan for growth and opportunity to keep you motivated. Motivation keeps you in the game, and the world needs more of you.

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About the Author

Shannon Fable

Shannon Fable IDEA Author/Presenter

Shannon Fable, 2013 IDEA and 2006 ACE Instructor of the Year, is the Executive Vice President of Learning & Product Development for the FIT4MOM® franchise. For more than two decades, she has helped impressive brands such as Anytime Fitness, Schwinn®, Power Systems, ACE, Silver Sneakers, and BOSU® as a fitness business and programming consultant. An experienced educator, freelance writer, and certified Book Yourself Solid® Business Coach, she helps fitness entrepreneurs navigate the industry and make more money. Fable serves as Chair of the ACE Board of Directors and is the founder and co-owner of GroupEx PRO®, a cloud-based group fitness management tool.