Twenty years ago, if a friend said she was going to “aerobics,” you had a pretty good idea what that entailed. Today, however, that same person might attend any number and style of group exercise classes, including high-low, step, kickboxing, funk, hip-hop, cardio dance and circuit training, to name only a few. These diverse choices only scratch the surface. All of them can be mixed and matched to create fantastic format blends. While not a new concept, combination classes offer myriad benefits to instructors, program directors and participants.

Instructors Show Off

Just like any other professionals, group fitness instructors are subject to occasional malaise. One way to battle this is by looking at class design from a different angle. The combination-class approach offers many perks.

Demonstrate Talent. Many instructors invest significantly in their training and education. Combination classes allow them to show off their knowledge and talent in more than one area. Someone who’s been a great step instructor for 10 years may also have developed exceptional kickboxing skills. By combining these proficiencies into one class, she can approach her abilities in a refreshing way and renew her outlook.

Avoid Burnout. Combination classes help ease exhaustion for the busy instructor trying to keep classes interesting and enjoyable. Dividing the format into two or three sections makes it easier to develop choreography. Anyone who has had to create new moves week after week can appreciate the difference between coming up with 50 minutes of interesting steps versus 25. Less choreography doesn’t “dumb down” classes; it gives participants a chance to master two or three combinations in a condensed time block. Efficient instructors save additional combos for the next class.

Keep Pace. Most instructors, at one time or another, have glanced at the clock to find that only 10 minutes have passed when it feels more like 30. This sinking feeling isn’t pleasant, and good instructors don’t want students to experience it. When a format is split, the pace clicks right along. A great warm-up flows into the first two combinations and, before you know it, it’s already time to switch to the next format.

After two or three engaging segments, it’s suddenly time to cool down and stretch. Consistently shifting one’s attention helps with the pacing. There’s no time to settle in and get bored, because the cues and the stimuli change.

Avoid Overuse Injuries. Teaching the same format week after week can be mentally draining, but the physical
effects can be more serious. Variety decreases physical fatigue and helps instructors avoid overuse injuries. Cross- training may enable instructors to enjoy several more years of teaching.


Introducing combination classes is also beneficial for program directors, who these days have an increasing number of duties to fulfill in addition to developing and maintaining the class schedule.

Less Subbing. It’s not unusual for an instructor to take a “mental health day” every now and then. An occasional substitute is fine, but frequent subbing is not good for the growth and maintenance of a class. Instructors keep classes they enjoy and will prioritize them on their schedules. Members notice the consistency and quality of the instruction.

Utilize Equipment. With only so many spots on the schedule, how often do those stability balls, kickboxing bags or steps get used? Justify the purchase price by using the equipment in more classes. For example, you may be able to schedule a stability ball class only twice a week. But you can offer a yoga and stability ball class or combine tubing with the balls. Combination step and kickboxing classes use steps, target pads and heavy bags. Any circuit or interval class uses most or all of your available equipment (balls, bands, weights, steps, etc.). Members may find this variety more interesting and perceive the facility as having more to offer.

Schedule Management. Members tend to request different classes for the same time slot. It is impossible to please everyone, but combination formats may be a solution. For example, if members have requested both cardio dance and step classes at 5:30 pm, you can please most members by combining the two. Die-hard step participants may not want to give up class time to do kickboxing (or vice versa), but good instruction generally wins them over. A few dissenters may find a new class, but the overwhelming majority will become serious fans of a well-designed offering.

One great place to try a combo class
is following a popular time slot (after
a 5:00 pm cardio class, for instance). Another idea is to schedule the combo in a “trouble spot.” If a stability ball class
isn’t pulling in enough people, add a cardio or stretch component. Avoid combining formats just for the sake of it, however. Make sure the combination is a well-planned endeavor that offers benefits to staff and members.

Program directors must consider staffing issues before scheduling combination classes. A half kickboxing–half yoga class requires an instructor who is proficient at both. Problems will arise if only one person is qualified to teach the class and he’s out sick one day. Choose instructors with strong skills in several different areas and provide additional training as needed. Also, sit down with instructors and plan the class ahead
of time. Decide if it will be half-half,
interval or another design altogether. Determine the transitions, safety considerations (moving from intense cardio to stretching must include an adequate cooldown period, for example) and appropriate music.

Members Come First

Instructors and program directors aren’t the only ones who benefit from combination classes. Participants also stand to gain.

Balanced Workouts. No matter how many times you tell certain members that doing six indoor cycling classes a week isn’t the most balanced approach, they’ll want to continue because they simply love to do that. Combination classes may pique these members’ interest and encourage them to try a different format. Cross-training may make them less prone to overuse injuries.

Exposure to Something New. Despite good intentions, people don’t always explore different classes. Perhaps they tried yoga once but didn’t like the teacher and decided it wasn’t for them. A combination class exposes participants to additional exercise modalities. Students are more likely to take a step class after being introduced to step as the other half of a class they already enjoy.

Increased Satisfaction. Because combination classes are unique in design and touch on different aspects of exercise, participants perceive them as a better workout. They view the instructors as more knowledgeable and the effort as more manageable. The combinations also tend to be simpler, so participants enjoy a sense of accomplishment. This may ultimately lead to better adherence and bigger classes.

Whether they’re basic interval, half cardio–half strength or more complex yoga fusion classes, combination programs showcase the exciting variety the fitness industry has to offer. Instructors find renewed vigor in their work, and program directors discover new creative license. Most important, new participants emerge and current ones find additional pathways to fitness.