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What Do Instructors Want in a Group Fitness Manager?

Get the inside scoop on how to find (or be) the perfect group fitness leader.

A group fitness manager with fitness class

There’s no doubt that leading a group exercise department as a fitness manager is a tough job! I’ve seen it all in my 42 years as a group fitness instructor. I’ve worked at 15 different facilities in seven cities, and I’ve had more than 35 managers. Not only do these hardworking individuals need to understand and relate well to “rock stars,” but they must also be skilled communicators who can quickly identify the needs of their instructors and advocate for them. It takes a special individual to do the job well, and the right person adds significant value.

So what do instructors want in a fitness manager? I posed the same set of questions and statements to eight veteran instructors who generously shared their insight. Their responses provide keen insight into the attributes needed to successfully take on the role of group exercise manager.

My Favorite Group Fitness Manager

Describe your favorite manager of all time and why they stood out.

“They were a great communicator, professional, fun, on top of their game, present, and [they] took care of the entire team.”

“[They] saw the role of fitness manager as one of working for the instructor versus the other way around.”

“They were stern but fair and had a talent for seeing both sides of any situation.”

“They were supportive, helpful and always reasonable.”

“They had a sense of humor and were experienced in business, and they were innovative.”

“They were kind, always there to help if needed, appreciative of the work and encouraging. They were always up to date on new information.”

All the top-performing managers I’ve worked with continue to make a difference in my career, performance, confidence and sense of security. They’re strong individuals, and I admire their teaching skills and positive leadership qualities. Great managers encourage growth, individualism and mutual respect.  They know how to be supportive while elevating staff with positive, constructive feedback, and they’re equally good at relating to staff one-on-one and in group situations. The most reliable, fair and available managers won my loyalty, and those bonds kept me working for them and, in turn, their associated facilities, for years. I have followed a manager to another facility just to be able to work with that person again.

See also: Fitness Business Management

Personality Test

What kind of personality works best with group exercise instructors?

“To successfully lead group fitness instructors, a great manager needs confidence—enough to make and stand by consistent decisions and lead without ego or bias.”

“[They should be] calm, level-headed, confident, open-minded and willing to try new things—and also creative or able to recognize and nurture creativity in others.”

“[They should be] a servant and leader.”

“The words I would use to describe a good personality: hard worker, approachable, solution-focused, and [with]a sense of humor”

“[They are] quick to listen and slow to judge and reprimand. They should be willing to hear all sides of a situation, understand each person’s strengths and develop those, while being able to give clear and concise, applicable feedback.”

“[They are] enthusiastic, yet introspective, and can objectively, compassionately think things through.”

“Easygoing, friendly and time-efficient.”

“[A good manager is] high-energy, knowledgeable and nondogmatic. [He or she] is a free thinker and open to new systems and processes to make all things better.”

Any staff is comprised of many different personalities, and it can be difficult to pinpoint which approach works best for everyone. Some might prefer a soft-spoken, less domineering character, while others may need a stronger hand to keep control, maintain high standards and ensure adherence to protocol. I found that when an insecure, ego-driven or narcissistic person ended up in a management role, it always became problematic and wreaked havoc for everyone. Regardless of the personality, whether funny, friendly, serious or meticulous, managers must have the team’s best interest at heart and not be self-serving. The winning approach: a positive perspective and a strong desire to develop and aid the entire team. Ultimately, the best fitness leaders are compassionate master problem solvers and multitaskers who only asks others to do what they would do themselves.

See also: Nine Traits That Top Trainers Look For in Managers

That Special Something in a Group Fitness Manager

What are the top management qualities of a group fitness manager?

“Someone who teaches classes (or has taught them), is level-headed, calm, but at the same time adventurous. He or she is well-organized and appreciates the value each person brings to the table.”

“They are organized, empathetic and a fitness expert.”

“[A good manager] communicates well with members, reacts well to the unexpected, keeps up to date with current fitness trends and is willing to try new things to keep the schedule innovative.”

“He or she has clear communication skills, is objective yet empathetic, and knows how to gain respect by leading by example”

“[The best qualities are] kindness, compassion and the ability to get the job done.”

“They are able to listen, are transparent, and can understand how all the pieces and flowcharts of a group program fit together and affect the whole.”

Directly managing individual instructors is only one aspect of the job. There’s also the added stress of covering classes, doing paperwork, approving time sheets, scheduling trainings, hiring, performing class audits/reviews, onboarding, ordering equipment (and maintaining it), going to meetings, fielding group emails and more. This adds to the position’s ever-changing dynamics and complexity. Organizational skills and time management are critical. Successful managers must be available to members, instructors and management when issues occur. In fact, knowing how to manage time well allows them to prioritize the most important aspect of the job, which is taking care of people. The person who goes beyond the job description and thinks outside the box will win the hearts of staff and clientele.

I’ve been lucky to have had some very impressive managers. The best were confident individuals with vast knowledge of the industry and were dependable and honest. There are few things more uplifting than having your manager take interest in what you do and taking time out of their busy day to attend your classes, give you feedback and show support.

Above and Beyond

For my final question, I thought it would be interesting to ask something a bit more personal:

Can you share a memory of when your manager went above and beyond?

“I work a high-pressure job, but still wanted to teach classes. I took on a class that would need help when it came to last-minute meetings and travel. My manager was all in, and we both committed to making it the best possible partnership.”

“My group fitness manager picked me up from the side of the road when I had a flat tire on my way to teach!”

“I have had to take a couple weeks off for surgery and my manager took care of all my subs and let me come back early and teach classes off the bike.”

“During the recession, when the club was having financial difficulties and the staff Christmas party was cancelled, this manager made small, personalized gifts for every instructor.”

“My manager helped me create a program and wrote an absolutely captivating summary, which I never could have articulated on my own. My manager is so good with alliteration and program titles and spent personal time to elevate me and my program.”

My favorite manager often showed up to check on me before class. One day, I had a sudden, strange allergic reaction. I quickly became very sick and had to get to an emergency room. I had three classes to teach that day, and [those classes] were covered on the spot. She even followed me to the emergency room and didn’t leave until my husband arrived. I will forever be in debt for the quick thinking, effective action and caring response.

When hiring a group exercise manager for your facility, look for a consummate professional who will go to bat for the team. Choose someone who is organized, confident, knowledgeable, capable of teaching multiple formats, and who is a great communicator and a respected mentor.

Even if you’re lucky enough to find a candidate with these qualities and you hire them, it will all be for nothing if you don’t give them the necessary tools for success. Provide them with a decent budget for salaries, equipment, etc. But even more importantly, give them a sympathetic ear when they need to talk about important issues in their department and empower them to perform effectively. And if you want to become a group exercise manager yourself, take a cue from the excellent advice offered in this article.

See also: A Coaching System for Fitness Managers


A very special thank you to the amazing fitness professionals who took the time to send me their thoughts and personal stories:

  • Barbara Brodowsky, COO of WRKOUT Media, Los Angeles
  • DeDe Daniels, personal trainer, Los Angeles
  • Rob Glick, senior director of programming and innovation for group fitness, yoga and indoor cycling at Life Time®, Aliso Viejo, California
  • Madeleine Lewis, operations manager, Bay Club, Santa Monica, California
  • Ashley McKeachie, MA, C-IAYT, E-RYT 500, YACEP, Huntington Beach, California
  • Cathleen Murakami, department head, Pilates & GYROTONIC EXPANSION SYSTEM®, Rancho La Puerta Resort and Spa, Tecate, Mexico
  • Keli Roberts, 2003 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year, Los Angeles
  • Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA, Goleta, California.
Aileen Sheron

One of three finalists for IDEA’s 2020 and 2021 Fitness Instructor of the Year award, Aileen is an entrepreneur and innovator across most facets of the fitness industry. She is an international presenter, inventor, program developer, content creator, writer, business owner, and social media personality. A continuing education provider for decades, she has trained thousands of instructors. She has been a mentor and life coach to many of today’s industry leaders and provides proprietary choreography to align with their personal brands. Aileen is also president of Good Natured Products, Inc., makers of her invention, the Omniball, and other fitness products. You can find her at www.aileensheron.com. Certifications: ACE and AFAA

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