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The Meaning Behind the Movement

IDEA presenter Abbie Appel shares her approach to class design and offers tips for avoiding injuries.

Abbie Appel is best known for her unique use of strength equipment and for her ability to tweak a basic movement and make it fresh and exciting. Based in Boca Raton, Florida, Appel is a seasoned, internationally recognized fitness educator and group exercise instructor. She is a Reebok University master trainer and
a Resist-A-Ball® master instructor with more than 15 years’ experience in the fitness industry.

Have you noticed any new trends in music? If so, what are they, and how are instructors adapting?

As a veteran instructor, I’ve found that participants are better able to follow verbal cues and execute exercises correctly if they can hear what you’re saying. Consequently, I’ve done away with the overly loud music. Music should complement the class and the format, not overpower it. With the wide variety of fitness music we have today, this should be easy. I want participants to be able to hear me when I give technical cues for strength classes and follow me when I give directional cues for choreographed/cardio classes. I tend to use music that is a little more sedate than I did when I first began teaching. I also teach a lot of morning classes, with participants who are 30 years and older, and most of them don’t want to hear loud music that will cause their ears to ring long after class ends.

What sources do
you tap for new ideas?

I go to personal fitness training workshops to get new ideas for both my private clients and my classes. I enjoy discussing group exercise training options with other personal fitness trainers—not that group exercise workshops and choreography are insignificant. Personal training workshops discuss the “why” and “how” of working out and “who” and “what” the exercise is for—the rationale behind the movement. This gives you a variety of cues to use in class. It also gives you ways to change a movement slightly to make each moment of each exercise more effective. In other words, it provides me with useful tools to be a highly effective teacher.

How do you stay motivated?

I genuinely enjoy teaching, and I become motivated when I freshen my choreography or “tweak” movements to make them more exciting. My extensive traveling allows me to attend a variety of workshops. Like most of us, I steal/borrow choreography from other instructors. But I change it slightly to make it more personal and appropriate for my classes. Even if I’m unable to attend a fitness conference, I periodically visit other clubs and participate in classes to see what else is out there. Finding unique ways to use old equipment really improves my attitude and enhances my classes.

What was the smartest thing you did to grow your career?

Learning Pilates and integrating those principles into my classes was the smartest thing I’ve done. Pilates not only taught me a variety of different exercises, but it inspired me to step out of my comfort zone and grow. The biggest challenge for me was learning cuing technique and breathing patterns simultaneously. However, I made myself do it, and, after about a year, it became second nature.

Who is your most
inspiring class participant?

The participant who inspires me most is a woman who lives 3 hours away and drives down once or twice a month to take my class. Nothing could be a greater compliment. When she surprises me and shows up for class, it motivates me to provide her with the experience she expected when she embarked on that 3-hour journey. It encourages me to stay at the top of my game.

What advice do you have for new instructors?

First, continue to learn. It sounds so cliché, but [you need to] educate yourself about new ways to motivate, inspire and inform participants. Understand why we do certain movements and activities—this can go a long way toward preventing injuries. Musculoskeletal injury is the number-two reason why Baby Boomers visit the doctor. With an active, aging population,
injury prevention should be a major concern. Second, I recommend aligning yourself with other fitness professionals whom you respect or hold in high regard, possibly a mentor. It’s not hard to find an instructor you can learn something from. This person could be better at customer service or at cuing. We can always learn something new from someone else.

How do you avoid injuries?

I have had so many injuries from sports and fitness competitions. These injuries have made me aware of my dysfunction and imbalances. So, I try to use impeccable form with all activities, and I don’t “cheat” the last few repetitions of strength training. Your body remembers best what you did last. So, if you cheat the last few reps with poor technique, your body remembers the bad form and tends to create dysfunction or bad habits that could result in injuries as you age.

I also balance my teaching schedule with a variety of formats. Rather than do all of the classes and workouts with the participants, I’ve learned to purely “instruct” to avoid getting burned out. I teach about 12 classes per week. Three are step classes. To avoid knee and back injuries, I no longer use risers under my step. I want to be stepping as long as my body can handle it. Simply using the platform can provide a fun, effective workout. You may never become injured from stepping up and down 1 hour a day, 3 days a week, for 20 years on a 12-inch step. But, why take the chance? I’m proactive about injury prevention.

What can group fitness
instructors do on a daily basis to further the positive growth of the industry?

Remember, your job is fun, and most people we encounter are happy and want to be there. Try to instruct in a positive and healthy way, even when you encounter negative people and situations. Learn to communicate better with participants and other fitness facility employees. Remember why you’re there in the first place. We are encouraging, motivating and inspiring people to improve their lives by becoming healthier inside and out. It’s all about the participants who take your classes.

© 2007 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.Music should
complement the class and the format, not overpower it.

The biggest challenge for me was learning cuing technique and breathing patterns


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