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Make Them Stay!

It’s happened to every group fitness instructor: Time-crunched participants pick up (or abandon) their equipment and leave before the end of the experience. Not only does this create a distraction, but it prevents these students from reaping the benefits that occur in the final phase. How do you get people to stay? Read on for tips on how to encourage everyone to remain in class until the close.

Why Stay?

Group fitness certifying organizations agree that participants should remain until class has ended. Todd Galati, director of credentialing at the American Council on Exercise, stresses the importance of a cool-down on venous return to prevent cardiovascular incidents. “[The cool-down] is a pretty critical item to alert instructors to,” he says. “We know people will leave class early due to life events (work, family, etc.), so providing information that can help [participants] understand the importance of a cooldown can be helpful.”

Similarly, the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America says, “The final class segment is designed to promote mind-body awareness and facilitate the relaxation response; a state in which the heart rate and blood pressure are decreased, muscles relax, and physiological stress is reduced. The final segment is also a great time to provide participant education and a sense of completion” (AFAA 2010).

Laura Gladwin, MS, MAFP, editor of many AFAA manuals, adds, “Participants who leave early after a high-intensity group exercise class may place themselves at risk of a cardiac event. In addition, those who leave class early miss out on the opportunity to reconnect with their bodies and bring them back to a pre-exercise state.”

Eight Reasons to Stay

Use the following eight tips to encourage, motivate and incentivize participants to continue having fun with you until the final note plays.

  1. Rephrase it. Since most static stretching occurs in the last phase of class when students are warm (not cool), perhaps calling this section the “cooldown” is a disservice. Consider calling it the “final phase,” “grand finale” or “transition section” instead.
    Maureen Hagan, PT, 1996 IDEA Program Director of the Year and 2006 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year, agrees. “It makes more sense to me that we rename this section because that is exactly what we are doing—preparing participants for the next parts of their days,” she says. “Whether [the segment] includes active-range-of-motion exercises to help lower heart rates at the end of the workout, or specific exercises that prepare participants for the next class ahead, it simply makes more practical sense [to rename the cool-down], especially when classes are scheduled back to back.”
  2. Plant a teaser. In your introduction, tell students about a special
    event that, exciting as it sounds, will not take place until the grand finale. Consider making it a special guided meditation, an inspirational song, a preapproved poem written by one of the students, or even a unique approach to aromatherapy. For example, sometimes I blow aromatherapeutic bubbles toward my students while they sit or lie supine. Participants poke the bubbles in the air, releasing scents such as freshly cut green grass, peppermint or lavender (for more information, visit http://franciskurkdjian.com/art-of-living_10_perfumed-bubbles_.html).
  3. Incorporate education. Throughout class, explain some of the muscles that are key players in the workout, and talk about how you will pay special attention to training flexibility in those muscles at the end of class with a variety of stretching techniques (active, dynamic and static). Also explain delayed-onset muscle soreness and how important stretching is for diminishing overall soreness. If it is a less-understood, hard-to-palpate muscle like the quadratus lumborum, this approach might generate additional interest among students who want to learn more about their bodies.
  4. Be entertaining. Early in class, find out what makes people smile, and provide levity during the most intense moments of work. When you have students’ attention, point out that you are going to make everyone feel so much better at the end, when you stretch the muscles that are now in agony. To add a little drama, change lighting during different stages of class, as if it were a Broadway production. Use colored lights, if possible. Darken the room at the end to signify a complete “set” change.
  5. Weave a theme. Plant a focus at the outset of class. During the experience, weave in your theme every 5–7 minutes. Constantly tease about how everything will make sense at the end of class, and tell participants, “You don’t want to miss it today.” Then, during the final phase, bring back the theme with a poem, reading, story or song. “Wrap” the entire experience with a pretty package bow. Here are some examples:
    • If your theme is “sweat,” stretch to a slow version of “Gonna Make You Sweat.”
    • If your theme is focusing on the breath at key moments, play “The Air That I Breathe” by k.d. lang or “Barely Breathing” from the Glee soundtrack.
    • If your theme is teamwork, have students form a circle at the end and, as you stand in the center to lead them, play “Circle of Friends” by Point of Grace.
    • If your theme is partner work, conclude class with “It Takes Two” from the soundtrack to either Into the Woods or Hairspray.
    • If your theme is finding some element of “home” in different yoga postures, consider choosing “The Journey Home” from the Bombay Dreams soundtrack.
  6. Use your allies. Students who regularly stay until the end are your biggest allies. They understand the importance of the entire experience. After class, ask them why they stay, so you can fully understand what you are currently doing that works. Thank them for staying, point out how important it is for their bodies, and invite them to spread this message. Consider saying something like this: “When you see some of the other people who often miss the fun, please feel free to share with them what they’re missing, what you get out of it, and how your body feels when we’re done.”
  7. Point out potential risks. Explain that the industry standards and guidelines under which you are certified urge you to explain why students should not only start class on time but also stay until class is over. The cool-down may be particularly important for some special populations and might even be considered mandatory owing to the high risk for complications and/or injuries.
  8. Use friendly bribery. Develop relationships with local businesses and ask for giveaways that participants will view as valuable; then distribute these rewards at the end of class. “If you stay until the end,” you can tease, “Here’s what you’ll get at Friday’s class.” Here are some examples:
    • Ask local health food stores, coffee shops, spas and nail salons for discount coupons that your students can redeem during off-peak shopping hours.
    • Ask a local massage therapist to come in at the end of class to give quick shoulder or foot massages to participants as they lie in corpse pose; this will also be a chance for the therapist to promote his/her services.
    • If a specialty store near you offers particularly nice shopping bags, ask for a bunch. Everyone wins—the store gets free promotion, and your students get a great carry-all bag.

Completion and Compassion

Ultimately, you put a large amount of time, energy, preparation and love into your classes. Share your passion for a complete class with your students, and stress the importance of experiencing it in its entirety. This is the best way to ensure that participants fully embody the benefits a great workout can offer, and it solidifies your intention to be an inspirational instructor.

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