Have you forgotten your roots? Did you become a group fitness instructor because you loved taking classes? Once you become a teacher, you sometimes lose touch with that spark of joy you felt in the beginning. Sure, you may attend continuing education workshops, but you don’t even think about attending classes in your own facility. Maybe it’s time to rethink that. Attending someone else’s class may be just what you need to supplement your education and growth.

Best Intentions

Lack of time seems to be the biggest obstacle to class participation. You have your own classes, and you’re bogged down with learning, creating and practicing programming. This is in addition to dealing with the rigors of your personal life. However, view the time as an investment. Ironically, 1 hour of class participation per week could actually enhance your teaching and your personal life.

You may have a fear of realizing your own weaknesses. But feelings of inadequacy needn’t be viewed as negative—they can be used as fuel to make improvements. Everyone has areas in which he or she excels and areas that need a little more tender loving care.

Let’s face it: this is an ego-driven industry. Your ego may drive your passion, but it may also get in the way. Once you’ve tasted success, you may feel that your way is the only way. Other teammates may have a different approach to teaching and connecting, but that doesn’t determine success or failure. There is always something new to learn, and there are many ways to connect with participants and help them get results.

Shifting Point of View

Being a participant has its advantages. The pressure is off, and you can simply enjoy the workout. As an instructor, your focus is on your clientele. Attending a class shifts the focus back onto you, which may help you achieve your own fitness goals. For example, I recently attended a strength class identical to one I lead. It was more challenging and effective because I was the trainee and not the coach. I concentrated more on my form and shared the participants’ experiences, walking away saying, “I did it!” It was relaxing and rewarding.

Being in a class also provides an opportunity to see how other instructors connect with participants. It’s easy to fall into a rut when you’ve been teaching for a while. Kelli Snyder, a group exercise instructor at Healthtrax Fitness & Wellness in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, agrees. “I sometimes feel as though I am saying the same thing class after class,” she says. “While attending other classes, I pay close attention to [the instructor’s] cuing and connecting skills. Hearing how others cue alignment and technique enhances my teaching. Not only do I feel a difference in my own body, but I get the chance to see how participants react to other cues. I take away some of these cues and connect with a broader base.”

Cuing style isn’t the only element you can take away from other classes. Instructors have many different approaches to teaching, and their nuances can offer you insight. “Some people are very serious and technical,” shares Snyder. “Other people use humor, are visual or are more quiet. While an instructor’s style may not match mine, I can always learn from the experience.”

Best Practices

There are many benefits to taking a teammate’s class:

You Gain a New Perspective. It’s not only new teachers who gain from attending a teammate’s class—veteran instructors stand to benefit, too. In fact, exposure to the passion and excitement of a new instructor might be just what veterans need! Many veterans are more likely to step it up in a class taught by an enthusiastic newbie. And newly trained instructors offer a clear, fresh vision regarding current industry concepts, techniques and standards.

You Remember the Benefits of Cross-Training. We encourage our members to cross-train, so why don’t we take our own advice? When attending a yoga class recently, I was forced to open my mind and, in turn, to work differently. The practice benefited not only my physical being but also my mental well-being. What’s more, even though I don’t teach yoga, I found that the instructor’s cues could work well with other forms of exercise I lead. I also realized how different class formats enhance one another. For example, the flexibility gained in yoga translates into greater gains for participants in a strength or cycling class.

You Help Strengthen the Team. One of the most important reasons that attending other classes should become a common practice is that it helps strengthen the group fitness team. By attending classes, you break down walls between formats. You see others’ strengths and how each person is an integral part of the team—even if he or she has a different approach to leading class. “I love when other instructors take my class, because it gives me a chance to get their feedback,” says Snyder. “That may make some instructors uncomfortable, but I welcome the input. The relationships I’ve built have helped me personally and professionally. We share ideas and constantly help each other with class design and presentation.”

You Improve the Member Experience. The union among instructors not only helps with staff development; it also positively affects members’ experiences. When you step off the stage and into the participation field, members view you in a different light. Many may feel a stronger, more personal connection to you because now you are “one of them.”

Go Beyond the Spotlight

Being a group exercise leader allows you to get more people moving and motivated. Pulling from various styles, cuing types and motivational techniques builds your instructing arsenal. In addition, attending other classes enables you to see a bigger cross-section of members (some of whom may not attend your class) and get a better feel for what rings true for them. This results in more consistency from class to class and instructor to instructor, which leads to greater member satisfaction and retention.

Classy Etiquette

Here are some suggestions that will help you use your best manners when attending another instructor’s class.

  • Be open-minded in your approach. Go in with the right intentions: to support team members; to learn something new; and to experience your own workout.
  • Remember that there is more than one way to connect with members. Your fellow instructor may take people on a different path from your own and still be able to get them to their workout destination.
  • If you know the instructor leading the class, ask for permission to attend.
  • Respect your teammate. Make sure that the instructor is comfortable with having you in the class. Make your intentions clear. You don’t want her to feel uncomfortable or under the microscope.
  • If you don’t know the instructor, keep the fact that you are an instructor to yourself until after class (if you reveal it at all).
  • Blend into the background. This will help divert attention from you to the instructor. It will also allow the instructor to focus on the members.
  • Honor the instructor’s movements and programming, even if he is off beat or not presenting preprogrammed material the way you would. Follow his lead—this is his class. Don’t change anything unless he asks or looks to you for assistance.
  • If class participants ask you about exercises or events in the facility, give the instructor the opportunity to respond before you do.
  • Keep criticism to yourself. Offer advice only if you are asked for it.
  • Express gratitude. For example, let the instructor know that you liked the way she taught alignment on the dead lift and that your body reacted positively to the cuing.
  • Set your mind to look for the instructor’s positive attributes. Don’t focus on weaknesses.
  • Thank the instructor after class. As an instructor, you understand the effort this person made in developing or learning the programming. Acknowledge that effort.

Peggy Gregor, AFAA, ACE

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