As we return to the group exercise studio, it’s good to remember how a workout community not only brings us together, but helps us thrive. Instructors can get so wrapped up in creating choreography, choosing music, cuing effectively and teaching proper technique. While all these aspects are important, we sometimes lose sight of the overall picture and miss the opportunity to connect with participants.

Think about the reasons why people choose group exercise and what keeps them coming back. It’s a workout community! While some attend for the sweat and others enjoy the choreography, some may be motivated more by the social support and group interaction. Therefore, use the time before, during and after class to connect with participants, create personal relationships and make everyone feel part of the “family.”

Before Class

Arriving early for class is not only essential for preparation; it also gives you an excellent opportunity to get to know your students. This is your chance to make a positive first impression on new participants and a lasting impact on your “regulars.” Attending a fitness class for the first time can be intimidating, so introduce yourself to newcomers, connect them with other participants and explain the format. This first interaction establishes an individual’s perceptions of you and the community workout and may determine whether the person comes back, so make it count!

Meeting and greeting is only part of the big family picture. Here are some additional tips:

  • Take time to converse with participants. Learn about their fitness goals, identify their reasons for attending and become aware of any injuries.
  • Make an effort to remember names—this will foster a positive instructor-student relationship and build a comfortable and inclusive environment.
  • Check in with participants who are returning after a hiatus, to welcome them back and offer support. Your acknowledgement of their absence may make them feel they are valued.

See also: Group Fitness and the Stages of Behavior Change.

Workout Community: During Class

Use class time to foster workout community through instructional techniques and structure. This may be as simple as asking participants to give their neighbor a positive comment or high-five. Try to interact with each person at least once. “Work the room” by moving around, engaging with participants, making eye contact and providing encouraging words throughout class.

Occasionally “flip” the room during a segment of class to give people in the back row a front-row experience, and to let front-row devotees gain a different perspective. This will also allow you to connect with individuals hiding in the back row. Another idea: Give attendees a chance to work together by incorporating partner drills and team activities.

Partner drills give participants the opportunity to interact, challenge each other, and exchange support and motivation. When designing partner drills, consider the type of workout community you want to create. For example, you may want each pair to complete a specific exercise or challenge, to focus on coaching and motivating each other, or perhaps to engage in friendly competition. Create drills that keep both participants active and engaged.

After Class

If feasible, take a few extra minutes after your community workout to talk with participants and answer questions. Go the extra mile and interact with newbies again to thank them for attending and to offer encouragement. The more positive interactions a new member experiences, the more likely it is that he or she will return. The end of class is also a great time to ask for song requests or suggestions from participants.

If you need some starter ideas to help you connect outside of class, try one of the following ideas:

  • Create a Facebook group for each class and encourage engagement.
  • Create a fun workout community challenge outside of class. Ask participants to log their daily activity and offer a small prize for the winner.
  • Organize a social gathering outside of class (socially distanced, if necessary). Meet for a hike, a picnic, etc.

Transforming your class into a warm gathering that feels like home away from home may take a little effort and energy on your part, but the payoff in retention and happiness is worth it. Students will know that you care and will feel accountable to others to show up, have fun and
get fit.

See also: How Facebook Groups Can Create a Fitness Community and Boost Business.