Why is it that while some participants love your class, others walk out in
the first 15 minutes and never return? Is it your music? Your clothes? Your hygiene? Of course not. Odds are you simply didn’t cue these people in the mode in which they learn most quickly and easily. While you can’t please everyone, you can please most of the people most of the time when you recognize the three primary learning styles and know how to integrate them into your cuing.

The Learning Styles

During the learning process, the mind takes in information through sensorial experiences. It then processes that information for storage or immediate action. In group exercise classes, people process for action. Your job when cuing is to incorporate all three primary learning styles so everyone has a chance to get the moves down.

Let’s look at the learning styles in statistical order of preference.

Visual Learners (VLs) represent
60 percent of the American population.
A VL learns best by seeing. If you scratch your nose or hold up your hand for a
4-3-2-1 countdown, she will too. A VL must be able to see you or she feels frustrated and may not return. Keep in mind that this is usually beyond your control. However, if there is a platform or stage, use it as much as possible. If the VL can see you, she can usually follow you or figure it out. Since group exercise classes are primarily learning by seeing, they draw more learners of this type. The VL prefers the front row, enjoying the spotlight with you, and is the most likely type to become an instructor.

Kinesthetic Learners (KLs) make up 30 percent of the population and learn most easily by doing. A KL enjoys repetition, especially taking it from the top. If you move along too quickly or the class is too crowded to allow full range of motion, the KL may feel frustrated and not return. He loves it when you break down moves and give options until you feel at least 80 percent of the class understands. A KL is found near the center of class (surrounded by the action) or at the back where he can try your moves more than once without being a major distraction. Even though a KL may avoid the front row, he is the one who hoots and hollers. He is also the most likely type to answer the questions you ask during class.

If you have been doing the math,
you know that we are down to the last 10 percent: the Auditory Learners (ALs). However, the fact that ALs represent the smallest portion of learners nationwide does not mean they represent 10 percent of your class. You never know how many of each type may show up
in your class on any given day. An AL learns best by listening. She hangs on your every word. If you say it, she does it; if you don’t, she probably won’t. An AL doesn’t memorize your combos—she counts on your cuing. She feels frustrated and may not return if she can’t hear or understand you because the music is too loud or the microphone is bad. The AL likes cuing that
is clear, concise and at least two to four beats before the next move. Late cuing
is her biggest pet peeve. Never presume she’s “got it”; always cue if you want
to make her happy. An AL can be found where she can best see your face (mouth) and wherever the speakers put out the clearest sound—or the lowest,
if your music is too loud.

Moving Among the Styles

So, how do you please most of the people most of the time? First, determine which primary learning style
you prefer. It is important to identify your dominant learning style. We use all three when learning, but one style tends to come most naturally to us. You can talk on the phone, watch television and fold clothes at the same time. However, one of these tasks is always getting more of your attention than the other two. Odds are, when you lead a group fitness class, you teach in the style you prefer. The logic behind this is that if it makes sense
to you, it must make sense to others. Your goal while cuing is to move your attention from learning style to learning style so everyone has an equal chance of succeeding with the routine.

As an instructor, if you are a VL you probably do a lot of “watch me” or “check out the change” gestures. You tend to believe that if participants can see a move, they should be able to do it. You’re not much on breaking it down
or taking it from the top. You prefer
to keep it moving along fresh and new.
As a VL instructor, you should

  • do combos a little longer (at least 3
    to 4 weeks) and each time you introduce a new combo section, take it from the top
  • cue a combo even if you feel as though it’s the 100th time you’ve done it
  • avoid loud music that creates more
    of a “party” atmosphere (Loud music can not only damage hearing but also alienate the other learning styles.)

If you are a KL instructor, you try
too hard to make everyone happy.
You probably keep the same combo or music for more than 4 weeks. You feel committed to teaching a combo until everyone understands it, and you take
it from the top. If you ever get off the beat or phrase, you have to stop completely and start over (usually from the top). You stay on the stage the entire time (because you need to “feel” your own workout) or else you don’t stay there enough; instead, you run through class doing the combos side by side with participants.

As a KL instructor, you should

  • not ask too many questions
    during class
  • change your music and combos at least every 4 weeks and let a combo go when fewer than 10 percent of
    the class can’t “get it”
  • explain breakdowns and strike a
    better balance between being on and off the stage

If you happen to be an AL instructor, you like to explain what’s going on and tend to keep the music volume lower. You prefer to do everything a little bit more slowly than others. You have excellent mike skills and are the most likely type to carry extra batteries and wind screens on you. An AL instructor can break down any combo and explain it as he goes along.

As an AL instructor, you should

  • play the music loud enough to be motivating while allowing yourself to get caught up in the moment
  • not talk too much or be too technical (People like to be informed, but they are there to work out and have fun, not get certified. Explaining the whole 32-count combo before you do it will only confuse and alienate the other learning styles.)

Let’s relate the learning styles to
your favorite schoolteacher, whose characteristics you can borrow and use with your group fitness participants. It is likely that your favorite teacher used
the learning style in which you process best. For example, if you are a VL, your favorite teacher wrote a lot on the board with different colored chalk, took you on field trips and explained things in strong visual images. This great teacher also looked you in the eye when you spoke and when she spoke to you directly. If you are a KL, your favorite teacher probably broke the lessons down into smaller, more manageable parts, organized group projects and
presentations and let students lead the class occasionally. If you are an AL, your favorite teacher read stories aloud in class and had very few group projects. You loved him because he always had time to listen to you talk about your challenges.

Positive Phrasing

Regardless of learning styles, your
participants will be loyal when you remember to ask for what you want instead of what you don’t want. Asking for what you don’t want is confusing and slows down learning. If I say, “Don’t think about a pepperoni pizza,” what’s the first thing that pops into your head? As a cue, “Remember to breathe” or “Keep your knees a little bent or flexed” is so much more effective and specific than “Don’t hold your breath” or “Don’t lock your knees.”
Get in the habit of asking for, and
getting participants thinking about, what you want.

As you can tell, each style has its strengths and weaknesses. The goal is
to keep up your strengths and spend less time on your weaknesses. This will allow you more time to incorporate what the other learning styles prefer. Becoming adept at engaging all three styles is like learning a new combo or class: It takes a little time and effort, but the reward is great.