Do you ever feel nervous before teaching a fitness class? While your main focus is to educate and encourage students—and you know your stuff—there’s also a performance aspect to your work, and that can lead to a case of the butterflies! Professional athletes, actors, singers and public speakers experience similar nerves, and many use routines and rituals to put themselves in the right mindset prior to performing or competing.
Rituals and routines can help you as a group fitness instructor, too. If you take a few moments before class to adjust your mindset, you can create a more positive experience for participants, and this helps encourage students to return. Discover what rituals and routines are and how you can create your own individualized ones to enhance your teaching.
Rituals and Routines: What’s the Difference?
Although rituals and routines appear similar, there are distinctions between the two.
Routines are actions taken before a performance that have a specific function related to the task at hand. They’re functional and specific, such as warming up by stretching before a class (Brooks et al. 2016).
Rituals, on the other hand, often lack a causal mechanism linking action to outcome. Sometimes referred to as superstitions, preperformance rituals can play an integral role in handling feelings of anxiety before an event. Often, they are performed in a fixed sequence, have symbolic meaning and are nonfunctional, but research has shown that rituals can help manage anxiety and improve performance (Brooks et al. 2016; Legare & Souza 2012).
Both routines and rituals can be utilized effectively—and even simultaneously. For instance, a preclass routine could be reviewing your class list of specific moves or exercises. A ritual component of that action might be looking through your notes exactly five times before class. That part is a ritual because the number 5 doesn’t have a specific function. A routine would be laying out your clothes the night before a class so that everything is ready for you. A ritual would involve wearing the same pair of socks for a specific class every time. Taking time before teaching to repeat a mantra or hold a special gem that has significance to you would also fall under rituals, since those actions don’t have a function related to your upcoming class.
Results Backed by Research
Rituals may seem symbolic, but they produce real results. In fact, how you frame a behavior can make a big difference in whether it will steady your nerves. In a study involving several universities, Brooks et al. (2016) divided participants taking a math test into three groups. One group performed a ritual and knew it was a ritual, the second group engaged in random behaviors but did not say they were a ritual, and the third group did not perform any of the behaviors prior to the math test. The ritual group got the best test scores. The researchers connected improvements in performance with simply reframing behaviors and calling them rituals and said that subjects did better because they were less anxious before the test.
GROUP EXERCISE SUGGESTION
The take-away message is not just to implement your new behavior before class, but to acknowledge the behavior’s purpose and understand the benefits. When you choose a new ritual and perform it before your next class, remind yourself that it can actually improve your performance.
Finding What Works for You
The goal is to find routines and rituals that provide meaning and make you feel the way you want to feel before class.
Darian Parker, PhD, NSCA-CPT, co-owner of Epic Leisure Management, headquartered in Blaine, Washington, uses visualization before each class. “I spend time visualizing my performance and then go through a walk-through,” he says. “So I spend a lot of energy, and then I give myself a mental talk about how I want the experience to unfold.” Parker uses this process to get himself mentally focused on performing at his best.
Wendy Ansley, MA, RYT-500, and kinesiology professor at College of the Desert in Palm Desert, California, sets intentions before she teaches self-defense, women’s health or yoga.
Here are some examples of intentions you can set before teaching:
- Today in class I intend to connect with all my participants by looking everyone in the eye and greeting each person as he or she walks in.
- I intend to forgive myself if I make a mistake in class.
- My intention is to exude love and positivity and have participants leave feeling better than they did when they walked in.
- I intend to give all my energy and enthusiasm to class today.
Setting intentions and practicing visualizations are rituals that you can work into your preparatory routines. Rituals are not one-size-fits-all behaviors. What works for someone else may not work for you.
GROUP EXERCISE SUGGESTION
Identify a thought or action that has significance to you, would fit within the time available before class and would be comfortable to do at your location. Remember, it doesn’t have to relate directly to your teaching. If the behavior feels authentic, you may be more likely to continue it! If the first practice you use doesn’t work, try something else.
Make It a Habit
Once you have figured out what rituals and routines work for you, focus on maintaining the habit of doing them. This will ensure that you keep reaping their benefits. Measure how long an action takes, then allow yourself that much time before class (adjusting other elements in your schedule, if needed). Minimize distractions and last-minute activities that could pop up and divert you from the behavior.
Ansley says that to succeed in maintaining a habit, you need to make it a priority. Understanding its significance and reminding yourself of the benefits can help you prioritize it.
GROUP EXERCISE SUGGESTION
Keep up your habit before each class. Notice its impact on your teaching experience. If you don’t do it for one or more days, problem-solve. Did something change? Have you had less time than usual? Is there a new barrier? How can you reincorporate the practice into your schedule?
If time continues to be a challenge for you or your habit takes a significant amount of time, you might consider choosing something that takes just a few seconds or a few minutes, so you can be sure it’s sustainable.
A Tool for You
Recognize that you are human. If you forget to do a preclass behavior one day, don’t beat yourself up for it. Just jump back into it next time! Rituals and routines are intended to support your teaching and allow you to get into the best possible state when instructing. They are not meant to negatively affect performance if you overlook them. Good luck!
See also: Coping With Instructor Burnout
Sample Rituals: Habits That Improve Performance
Enhance your teaching performance with rituals like those suggested below. Customizethese ideas to meet your own needs.
- eating a certain meal or food
- carrying a gemstone that reminds you of a mantra
- visualizing your success
- mindfully breathing in and out for a set number of breaths
- setting a goal for each class, such as focusing on cuing or giving positive feedback to each student
- creating an intention for each class, such as not being distracted by other people at the gym
- reciting a mantra; for example: “I am present,” “I am aware” or “connection”
- reciting a quote from your favorite author
- reminding yourself how you want participants to feel during class
- taking a few moments to meditate
- listening to your favorite song
Brooks, A.W., et al. 2016. Don’t stop believing: Rituals improve performance by decreasing anxiety. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 137, 71–85.
Legare, C.H., & Souza, A.L. 2012. Evaluating ritual efficacy: Evidence from the supernatural. Cognition, 124 (1).
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