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The Spirit of Advocacy

Peggy Buchanan, MA, shares her vision of a well-rounded fitness professional.

1997 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year co-winner and 2002 IDEA Program Director of the Year Peggy Buchanan, MA, has touched a lot of lives during her career. Under her leadership, the Vista del Monte Fitness & Aquatic Center in Santa Barbara, California, has become the template for many senior fitness facilities across the country. Since 1979, Buchanan has owned and directed the Santa Barbara Jazzercise® franchise, teaching six classes per week while supervising eight associate instructors in three facilities. She is an advocate for educating the community about fitness, presents at local elementary schools and offers ongoing weight management courses at local health and fitness clubs.

Most of the examples and ideas I use in class come from everyday living situations. For instance, when cuing the proper body mechanics for a squat, I might say, “Pretend you are in a public toilet and you don’t want to sit on the seat.”

For another move I might say, “Practice lifting a suitcase into the overhead compartment on an airplane.”

I also get plenty of ideas from other instructors’ classes, as well as suggestions from students. For example, one might request particular music and another might ask, “Are we ever going to do kickboxing?” I also read a lot and look for trends in all types of magazines—not just fitness- related ones, but also mainstream publications like People and Reader’s Digest. I stay away from the obvious and the infomercial stuff.

I give examples of all modifications while teaching. For instance, “If you want to make this lower-impact, drop the hop” or “If you get tired of a plain old grapevine, add a turn.”

I also give my students permission to modify moves as needed: “If you have trouble with this move, try this one instead.”

I went back to school, kept up with all the new trends, attended many conferences and always took on new challenges.

It’s the 80-year-old who exercises side by side with an 18-year-old in the same class. It’s awe-inspiring to see people overcome immense challenges on a daily basis. Anyone who makes a major functional comeback is inspirational. I see examples all the time. We have a therapist who discovered a way to work with a client’s oxygen tank by putting it on a kickboard in the pool. Both the therapist and the client are inspirational. Some challenges seem bigger than life, but that doesn’t stop certain people. Now that’s inspirational!

Focus on your students, not yourself! Have fun, because if you don’t, they won’t. Be able to laugh with every class (especially at yourself). Learn something new often and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Keep your ideas and your classes fresh. Take the necessary time off to avoid injury and burnout.

I listen to my body. I walk through something if I need to (after all, it’s the students’ workout, not mine). I take time off, and I teach a variety of class formats to avoid too much repetition. I also wear good shoes and practice good body mechanics and good nutrition.

It’s always changing. The older people get, the more different they become. Every group is unique, which keeps things interesting. It’s like pouring water into a dish and then moving it—you can’t predict which way the water is going to spill. I also think it’s important to maintain flexibility in your overall game plan. Working with older adults requires a lot of forethought and preparation. Anticipate trends by taking classes and reading up on things that may not seem relevant right now. Keep your toolbox full; you never know when you might need a certain tool.

Offer them something they don’t have that they need. For example, the Arthritis Foundation recognized that its aquatics program was nationally well received, but didn’t own the pools to host the program. So if you had a pool that met the requirements, you could offer the foundation something it needed. In return you got to offer a good program.

You may also be able to offer organizations an audience to whom they can market their expertise. Marketing is costly unless you have a captive audience. Some people would spend a lot of money to access the age groups I have in a typical Jazzercise class. Offering something that allows an organization to reach its goals while benefiting others is a perfect formula. If you can work money into it and support your business as well, then all the better.

We change with the times and manage to stay current, but we are still different from the other offerings out there. We also pay the music industry for the rights to use original music, which makes a big difference. True aerobic dance has drop-ped as a trend, yet movement and entertainment haven’t grown less popular. Dance is an ageless, artistic emotional experience that never goes out of style. It is the physical expression of current societal trends.

The bottom line is to have fun. I know a lot of people pay lip service to this concept, but it is really fundamental in Jazzercise. A lot of fitness instructors take a more serious, scientific approach to exercise. This can be intimidating and isn’t what Jazzercise is about. Because they are independent contractors, most Jazzercise instructors don’t make it financially unless they are good at several different aspects of business. We usually have the most qualified people working with us. This helps with retention and group camaraderie. As I go into my 26th year of teaching, at least one-third of my original clientele are still with me. People stick with the program, and this bonding creates a strong network.

Offer what you do best. Present a basic exercise seminar to a local rotary club or high school. Give guided tours of your facility to local schools and educate people about fitness. Offer discounts through local doctors’ and physical therapists’ offices. Sponsor a walking group. Volunteer to do a warm-up or cooldown at the local walk-a-thon. Just get out and do what you do best!

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