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An Industry Investment

Use this three-step process to secure management buy-in for your group exercise instructor-training program.

High-quality group fitness classes invigorate participants, members and staff. However, as a fitness director, you know well-trained, motivating instructors can be hard to find. You may have thought about developing your own in-house program to recruit, train and mold future instructors. But how do you get started?

The first step in developing a successful instructor-training program is to secure management buy-in. This isn’t always as easy as it seems. Club administrators may not necessarily be interested in your ideas. The following three-step approach will help you successfully sell a time-intensive and potentially costly program to busy, revenue-conscious managers.

Step 1: Prepare

Designing and implementing an instructor-training program can be a lengthy process. Although initially you may be very excited about it, enthusiasm and commitment can wane. Or perhaps the interest is still there, but the time and resources are not. In these cases, it might be better to hire an outside organization to offer weekend workshops or continuing education opportunities for staff.

On the other hand, if after careful consideration you are still highly committed, the next step is to thoroughly research existing programs and develop a vision and purpose for your own plan. You must be able to articulate your purpose clearly. For example, being able to cite specific examples of how other fitness facilities have successfully implemented their programs will give you the backbone of a good, persuasive pitch.

Grace DeSimone, national director of group fitness for Plus One Health Management in New York, recommends that directors prepare a report outlining the program before even mentioning the idea to management. Here’s what to include:

  • program objective: Write a one-line summary of your program goals and rationale.
  • program description: How long will the program last? When will it begin? Who will teach it? What types of classes will students learn to teach?
  • competitive analysis: Do other clubs in the area offer a similar program?
  • revenue projection: How will this program improve the facility’s bottom line?
  • summary: How will the facility benefit from this program?
  • related information: Include references and resources—for example, contact information for managers at other clubs who have successfully implemented instructor-training programs; websites; supporting media; etc.

“Directors have a tendency to get very excited about a program and speak to management prematurely,” DeSimone says. “This means you don’t have all your facts and can’t speak about the details. Management may just say no.” You can make it easier for management to say yes if you have already gathered the necessary information and developed a feasible plan.

The next step is to determine how you will appeal to management’s specific interests. In the book The 5 Paths to Persuasion: The Art of Selling Your Message (Warner Books 2004), Robert B. Miller, Gary A. Williams and Alden M. Hayashi write that proposals must be tailored to their recipients. The authors suggest that before pitching your idea, you choose a persuasive tactic based on your supervisor’s “executive behavior.” They propose that each manager can be categorized into one of five styles:

Charismatic. This executive is always looking for the next big idea and is enthralled with bold and innovative approaches.

Famous example: Oprah.

Possible tactic: Acknowledge the risk of maintaining the status quo (e.g., hiring insufficiently trained staff owing to the reduced supply of high-quality instructors) and the negative consequences that may result. Emphasize the possibility of improved staff camaraderie, commitment and competency. Stress the resulting increase in group exercise participation and member retention. Talk about the opportunity to be an industry leader.

Thinker. This manager cautiously evaluates the pros and cons of a proposal before making a decision.

Famous example: Bill Gates.

Possible tactic: Develop your own list of pros and cons, and be prepared to explain how the benefits outweigh the risks. Emphasize the most striking advantages, such as the program’s role as an effective risk management strategy (instructors will be thoroughly trained to adhere to industry standards and will be more easily held accountable for performance).

Skeptic. This manager must be convinced by very credible sources that the idea is worth pursuing; otherwise he or she is inherently suspicious.

Famous example: Ted Turner.

Possible tactic: To establish yourself as a trustworthy source, highlight your previously successful program ideas and accomplishments. Show that you have done your homework by presenting your research findings and your rationale.

Follower. This manager will make decisions based on how other trusted peers or managers have made decisions in the past.

Famous example: Carly Fiorina, former chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard.

Possible tactic: Provide the names and contact information of club managers who already offer instructor-training programs. Contact them ahead of time and ask for advice and lessons learned. Use this information in your presentation.

Controller. This manager must be highly involved in each facet of the decision-making process.

Famous example: Martha Stewart.

Possible tactic: Offer a multistep implementation plan in which the manager can reassess his opinion of the program. Allow the manager to play a part in the decision-making process at each step.

Not everyone will fit nicely into one of these categories, but by making an effort to determine how management makes decisions, you’ll develop a persuasive and tailor-made presentation.

Step 2: Present

Armed with a plan, supporting information and research, you are almost ready to present your idea. But before you pitch it, confirm the basics:

  • length of the presentation
  • level of formality
  • scope of the presentation (how hard a sell will this be, and how much detail do they really want?)
  • multimedia accessibility

For many, a relaxed, unscheduled meeting may work best, while others will want a formal PowerPoint presentation. The key is to know your boss, your company and what will be most compelling to them. Anticipate reasons management might hesitate to endorse an instructor-training program (see the sidebar “Overcoming Obstacles: How to Respond to Dissension” on this page).

When drafting your presentation, aim for brevity, precision and clarity (Martin & Pemberton 2003). The average audience’s attention span diminishes after 20 minutes, so share the most important information before that happens. Focus on what management cares about most, which is often money.

“Selling anything requires information on how the training, product or service can increase the bottom line for the company,” says Kerry Silverstone, a California-based veteran program director and an IDEA program director committee member. Be prepared to answer detail-oriented questions if asked, but keep the presentation slides simple and clear. The following suggestions may help you prepare (Martin & Pemberton 2003):

  • Include information about the problem (e.g., poor instructor quality or too few instructors).
  • Propose a solution.
  • Offer benefits (improving quality of staff, realizing a profit, increasing participation, expanding company visibility, etc.).
  • Outline drawbacks and limitations (e.g., time- and labor-intensive).
  • Review risks, overall costs, resources needed, and short- and long-term expectations (see the sidebar “Instructor-Training Program: Cost-Benefit Analysis” on this page for a sample assessment).

Many public-speaking resources recommend that you prepare and practice what you will say and how you will say it. If you know your material well, it will be easier to infuse your talk with energy and confidence. And that makes for an easier sell.

Step 3: Follow Up

During your presentation, questions may arise that you are not prepared to answer or that need further research. If you immediately follow up on these issues and thank your manager for her time and attention, she may be more likely not only to support this proposal but also to listen to and buy into your future ideas.

The process of converting indifferent managers into enthusiastic, key stakeholders requires extensive preparation and effective communication skills. But ultimately it sets the stage for realizing a program that will transform fitness enthusiasts into highly qualified and competent fitness professionals. The newly trained instructors may in turn become the club’s most loyal and dedicated supporters—and perhaps products of the club’s most profitable investment.

overcoming obstacles:
how to respond to dissension

Objection: “The potential payoff is not worth the investment.”

Response: “In addition to the revenue-generating potential from fees, an instructor-training program is a good risk-management strategy and continual source of first-rate group exercise instructors. It also improves camaraderie and quality among current instructors. The small initial investment has a huge potential return over time.

Objection: “The time commitment required to develop the materials and lead the training will detract too much from the program director’s other responsibilities.”

Response: “We’ll recruit current outstanding instructors to assist with the training. We won’t reinvent the wheel. I’ll find clubs and university fitness centers that have already implemented a program.”

Objection: “Trained instructors will work at other clubs, and the competition will benefit from our investment.”

Response: “A training program like this often fosters club loyalty, but competition is a real possibility. We’ll provide incentives to entice quality instructors to stay.”

Objection: “Not enough people will be interested in the training program to make it worthwhile.”

Response: “To date, most successful training programs are in university fitness centers, where the demand often outpaces supply. A market may be wide open for private clubs like ours to successfully recruit from among its members and from local colleges and universities that don’t already have programs.”

Before deciding whether or not to pursue a group exercise instructor-training program, do a cost-benefit analysis to estimate risk. Here is a sample analysis based on a 20-hour training program:

Total Participants: 10

Material Costs:

  • group fitness instructor manual: $39.95 each (at student’s expense)
  • practice CD: free from Jumpstart by Power Music: = $0
  • printing and copying: 1,000 sheets x $0.05 = $50

Training Costs:

  • fitness director salary
    (to develop and teach program): 50 hours x $20 = $1,000
  • group exercise instructor mentors: 20 hours x $20 = $400
  • certification costs: $225 each
    (at student’s expense)

Total Costs: $1,450

Income From Program Fees:
$300 x 10 = $3,000

(total student investment:
$264.95 + $300 = $564.95)

Total Revenue: +$1,550 per

Additional Benefits:

  • improved customer service, member retention and group exercise class participation
  • decreased administrative
    costs (instructor recruitment, troubleshooting)
  • decreased liability risk
program: cost-
benefit analysis


Martin, P., & Pemberton, J.M. 2003. Making the executive presentation. The Information Management Journal (Nov./Dec.), 58–62.
Miller, R.B., Williams, G.A., & Hayashi, A.M. 2004. The 5 Paths to Persuasion: The Art of Selling Your Message. New York: Warner Books.

Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RD

"Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RDN, FAAP, is a board-certified pediatrician and obesity medicine physician, registered dietitian and health coach. She practices general pediatrics with a focus on healthy family routines, nutrition, physical activity and behavior change in North County, San Diego. She also serves as the senior advisor for healthcare solutions at the American Council on Exercise. Natalie is the author of five books and is committed to helping every child and family thrive. She is a strong advocate for systems and communities that support prevention and wellness across the lifespan, beginning at 9 months of age."

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