If you’ve been teaching group fitness for a while, you may find yourself stuck in a rut. Maybe you’ve been following the same format, doing similar moves and using familiar music for too long. At some point every instructor goes through a slump—it’s normal. But mundane, routine classes devoid of any wow! factor won’t motivate your steady participants or attract new ones. So try a few simple strategies to take your classes from the ordinary to the extraordinary, and watch the energy level climb.
The key to being extraordinary is to do things a little differently and create an experience for participants that they won’t soon forget. In many ways, you are like
a performing artist. You choreograph classes and create scripts. You use cues to get people moving in unison. And you do all this while providing encouragement so that people are motivated to return. Sometimes audiences are critical, and sometimes you find yourself surrounded by groupies.
So think of teaching fitness as putting on a show, and add performance elements to spice things up. Use the following showbiz basics to create your performance-based group fitness class.
There are many attitudes you can have toward teaching a class, but the only one you want to show is a positive one. Some people look forward to coming to class; for others it’s a struggle. Since you are the principal “actor” running the show, you need to demonstrate that you truly want to be there. It’s not just another class—even if you’ve already taught 20 classes that week or three classes that day. Each performance should be unique and marked by the same passion. If you are going to set the stage for a successful session, participants must feel your positive energy.
Many actors follow a routine before they go on stage. Some listen to music or motivational tapes, while others repeat inspirational quotes. You may decide to go through a little routine of your own before you go on your stage. Come up with a mantra to put you in the right mood, tap into your energy and release your enthusiasm. This could be as simple as saying, “Today I’m going to give all my energy and teach the best class ever.” Repeat this statement a few times before class to get yourself in the right frame of mind.
We all learn about the power of voice when teaching a class. We’re taught how to project and inflect, for example, but there are other aspects of voice to consider.
The first element to understand is the power of silence. Think about your class. Do you talk all the way through it? How much do you really think participants listen to what you’re saying? Often they’re absorbed in the music and watching your moves more than listening to your cues, especially if they’re class veterans.
If you teach an intermediate or advanced class, experiment with talking less and using your body more. Use hand cues or even just single words or noises to convey movement changes. You don’t have to talk every second of class. Allow people to get into the groove and feel the music. Then when you do say something, they will listen more attentively.
Here’s another activity to try. Instead of using the same old introduction, have some fun with your voice. Repeat the following sentence: “Welcome to [Power Step]. My name is [Alex Jones], and we are going to have a rockin’ great time today.” Now repeat the sentence several times, but each time, change the inflection, tone and quality of your voice. Emphasize or de-emphasize some words, or if you’re daring, try saying it with an accent or in a cartoon character voice. Why would you want to do this? Why not! It’s fun and different and will get participants’ attention.
When I first became a fitness instructor more than 18 years ago, I was taught what to say before starting my class. It was all about safety guidelines and identification of new participants. For years I never thought much about starting or ending my classes any differently. It wasn’t until I got into the speaking industry that I realized how powerful strong openings and closings could be and what an impact they could have on an audience.
The class opening sets the tone, and while it needs to include some safety tips, it can also be fun and interactive. Some airlines have taken standard preflight safety announcements and made them fun. I’ve heard this on Westjet, for example: “In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, masks will descend from the ceiling. Stop screaming, grab the mask, and pull it over your face. If you have a small child traveling with you, secure your mask before assisting the child. If you are traveling with more than one small child, pick your favorite.” Write down your typical opening and see if you can make it a bit more fun. Here’s an example: “Welcome to ‘Total Body Conditioning.’ My name is Donna, and I have no doubt your body is going to remember me tomorrow. Think of me fondly when you try and get out of bed or lift your arm to drink your morning coffee. Be prepared to work hard, sweat hard and laugh hard throughout class. This is your time to play and push your physical edge, but remember to stay safe out there and, most of all, enjoy moving your body.”
Your closing leaves a final impression. Since most classes end with a flexibility component, which draws the energy down, you may want to leave people with an inspirational quote, thought or action for the day. I attended a conference where the instructor had participants repeat sections of a mantra throughout class. Then at the end he had everyone say the full mantra. It was a tremendously powerful ending because we were all saying it together. It left us feeling energized and empowered. Take the time to create strong openings and closings, and watch the energy shift.
Before a theater performance, someone has to think about the lights, props and actors in order to create the best possible experience for the audience. As a group fitness instructor, your “stage” is where you teach. Pay as much attention to detail as people do when putting on a show. Set a mood by playing with the lights. If you’re teaching a high-energy class, make them brighter—and play the music a little more loudly (but stay within acceptable decibel ranges). Create an environment where the energy is electric.
While most instructors don’t have much of a say in how group fitness studios are designed, if you have your own studio, try implementing some theatrical lighting, surround sound, screens and staging to enhance the workout experience. Treat your fitness studio like a dance studio or theater, and it will leave an impression.
If we all invest some time and thought to enrich our classes with drama-based elements, we can perhaps entice newcomers to join while giving our veterans a taste of something new. I hope this article has given you fresh ideas on how to spice up your classes, step out of your usual patterns and create top-notch experiences for all your participants.
While exercise is already fun, you can still put more fun into your classes. Not everyone will respond to your sense of play, but I believe all adults want a chance to release their inner child. Why not help them along? Here are some ideas to spike your regular offerings.
- If you teach outdoor fitness, why not toss water balloons as part of a hand-eye coordination drill?
- Have groups of three or four play “Catch the Tail.” One person in a huddle tucks a towel behind him, and another person runs around the huddle and tries to catch the towel.
- Throw a little fun into the mix by dividing the class in half and having the two sides compete.
- If you teach a circuit class, throw a “brain game station” into the setup and have participants work in groups to figure out the puzzle.
- Ask participants to work in pairs for some exercises. This helps create community and fosters camaraderie.
- Create theme days. Ask people to come dressed up or bring something with them, such as a photo or fun hat.
- Take any opportunity to recognize participants for achievements. Do this during class. Hand out certificates or small tokens of recognition.
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