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Contributing Early

Teri Bladen, MS, assistant director of fitness and wellness at Arizona State University Campus Recreation, talks about making fitness fun for new instructors.

As the fitness industry grows and ages, many people have noticed a gap between “veteran” instructors, who have been teaching for 10 years and longer, and “newbies,” group fitness professionals who are just getting started. This has led many to voice concerns over the future of group exercise. To address this issue, IDEA Fitness Journal is running a new column that will highlight university and mentorship programs that focus on educating this new breed of instructors. Our hope is to discover, together, what we as an industry can do to support and foster continuing and robust growth in this important area of health and wellness.

Teri Bladen is the assistant director of fitness and wellness at Arizona State University (ASU) Campus Recreation in Tempe. Among other programs, ASU offers “Learn to Teach Group Exercise” to students interested in pursuing this area of fitness as a potential career. The 8-week class offers a certificate of completion, 40 hours of practical and theoretical training, educational materials, national certification exam preparation and the chance to audition to become a student group fitness instructor at the facility. Students also learn basic anatomy and kinesiology, exercise physiology, teaching techniques, class design, cuing and choreography, safety and injury prevention. Approximately 25 newly minted instructors complete the program annually.

How long have you been involved with this program? What kind of changes have you seen during your tenure?

I’ve been involved with university campus recreation programs since 1991 (when I was a group exercise instructor, then a personal trainer, at Indiana University) and in campus recreation management for more than 10 years. I’ve been with ASU Campus Recreation for 2 years. Fifteen years ago it seemed instructors wanted to learn every available format. Over time I’ve noticed more group exercise instructors wanting to teach one or two formats only. I think this is because students are involved in so many things these days—a full academic load, a part-time job, volunteer work and student organization involvement. Our group exercise program is steady, with BOSU® Balance Trainer, cardio kickboxing and dance classes being popular. It’s funny to me that students don’t know what high-low is anymore. I keep thinking I’m going to bring it back!

How do you grade students or define program completion?

Participants must pass written and practical exams with a minimum score of 80% and meet other basic competencies.

How much of the program is practical (hands-on), and how much is theory?

The program is roughly 60% practical and 40% theory.

What are the major obstacles or challenges for your program? And for the graduates?

One major challenge is the high turnover rate in student population. Sometimes we won’t get students until their junior or senior year, so we don’t have them very long before they graduate. We do attempt to reach them as first-year students or sophomores so we have more time to develop their skills. I think the students find it challenging to balance their commitment to a campus recreation fitness position (we have a lot of meetings, trainings, special events, etc.) with their other college pursuits.

What motivates today’s young adults to enter group fitness? What attracts them into your program?

I think aesthetics plays a role initially, with socializing coming in a close second. When I interview candidates for group exercise instructor positions, I still sometimes get the “I’ll get paid to work out” response when I ask why they’re interested—but I can tell many of them get hooked on the idea of helping others get fit. What attracts potential instructors to our program is the fact that we have in-house training, and we’re very flexible with their academic schedules.

Do you have a mentorship or placement system set up for students to transition into? How do you define your success rate?

Students who do well are partnered with a senior instructor who mentors them into different class formats until they gradually take on their own class(es). Success is defined by participant and program surveys that are completed each semester, as well as by progress we see as staff supervisors.

What do you think needs to happen in the industry to ensure the success of younger fitness professionals?

We need more academic courses that complement theory with lots of practical experience. I know there are great academic programs out there, but we need more of them. This includes fitness management courses. We need to help students realize there are opportunities out there beyond being a personal trainer and/or group exercise instructor, and beyond running their own gym. And we have to make it fun! Exercise science does not have to be intimidating. If we can provide a solid foundation early on, we’ll have more qualified folks entering our field at earlier ages and therefore contributing to the field longer.


Concerned about your place in the new fitness industry? We have 40 years of experience supporting pros just like you! Let’s create a new wellness paradigm together—IDEAfit+ is the extra edge you need. Once you team up with IDEA, be sure to take full advantage of all the benefits of membership.

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