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GROOMing Habits, Part Two

If you’ve ever struggled to fill open classes or you’ve ever wanted more qualified fitness pros on your staff, it’s time to get proactive and ensure that you have the team of your dreams. GROOMing Habits is designed to arm you with the tools to make it happen. In the first installment, we covered Groundwork and Recruitment. Now let’s explore the final components: Options, Opportunity and Manage & Meet Expectations.


You’ve laid the groundwork, and you know how to recruit. It’s time to build your workforce. Your options are to groom inexperienced instructors from the ground up (precertification) or to “retrofit” current certified fitness pros to your specifications.

If you choose the “ground up” approach, consider the following.

Provide an educational program to prepare candidates for certification. This is a great way to get new instructors started on a career path that leads to your facility. Host a formal program, where a group meets live on a weekly basis, or host an informal program, where you mentor candidates virtually through an independent study program (i.e., provide a syllabus, and check in with candidates to answer their questions).

Either way, you’ll need to

  • choose a certification,
  • make sure you have up-to-date study materials,
  • refamiliarize yourself with the content,
  • provide suggestions for additional study, and
  • help the group work through the material.

Next, determine

  • a program start date,
  • how many days and hours are needed,
  • the cost, and
  • your staffing needs.

Once you know how much time is required, divide up the curriculum accordingly. The end result: seeing your candidates sit for a group fitness instructor exam—and pass it!

Arrange for a postcertification learning laboratory. This brings the certification textbook material to life. Hands-on practice ensures that instructors are well-rounded and ready to teach effectively. Offer this as a standalone program or as an add-on to the prep program. Build a curriculum based on the following:

  • musicality
  • movement quality
  • cuing
  • feedback delivery
  • creation and delivery of classes
  • microphone usage

You may also want to provide modules for specific formats. Offering hands-on opportunities greatly enhances the quality of your talent pool.

If you’re “retrofitting” fitness pros, you’ll need to ensure that their base-level certifications are current and relevant before they move to internal bridging programs. For example, personal trainers with a current personal training certification would not need to obtain a group fitness certification to begin teaching classes such as group strength, boot camp or circuit in your department (but they may need to learn cuing and sequencing skills, among other things). However, Pilates instructors who have only a Pilates certification would benefit from obtaining a base-level group fitness certification. This learning laboratory is designed to “up-skill” professionals for new opportunities in your department. The following learning laboratories would also be useful for this:

A general learning laboratory. For current employees who have little skill or experience teaching group fitness with music, suggest that they attend the same learning laboratory that you’ve created for new instructors. Ensure that this process does not make these professionals feel they are moving backward. For most retrofit candidates, the next option will make more sense.

A format-specific learning laboratory. To get current fitness professionals up to speed on a particular format, create short, specific programs with a classroom aspect as well as practical learning. These programs can be formal (delivered en masse, with a specific meeting date and time) or informal (individual meetings)—and brief (4–6 hours). Cover the following:

  • class description
  • format
  • equipment use
  • construction
  • form/technique
  • cuing
  • motivation

Examples of specific learning laboratories include Step Reeboksm, strength, HIIT, circuit and core. If the format requires a specialty certification, such as TRX® or Zumba®, mandate that learners first attend the course, in place of the initial classroom-type meetings. Then, work together on practical delivery skills.


Once instructors complete the program, it’s important to provide tangible opportunity.

Employment. In exchange for their participation, you could promise newbies a place on the sub list. Or you could offer to let them teach a class, which is most likely what candidates want. However, just because instructors commit and participate doesn’t mean they will be a good fit. If you guarantee only a place on the sub list, you might find a way to make it work. It’s best to assess skills before promising a class!

An internship. The best option is to offer an internship. It’s not a promise of employment, but it gives new instructors a chance to practice their skills on live participants—and it gives you the opportunity to see if employment is an option. Recruit seasoned, nurturing and respected instructors to host potential instructors in their classes for 4–6 weeks. Allow the newbies to progress each week: from standing in the front row and acting as the demo; to delivering the cool-down; to leading the abs section, then the warm-up and, finally, part of the class. Check with upper management and the legal team to discuss potential liability issues. To comply with legal concerns, you may need to delay this level of participation until after the new instructors have completed the certification and have been hired.

Your waitlist. The safest option is to promise a “waitlist” position, pending audition and appropriate openings. This doesn’t provide a specific outcome, but it does protect you. Offering an audition process shows professionalism on your part, and it provides an “out” if candidates are not a good fit. You promise to keep them in your talent pool in case something becomes available that matches their skills and abilities.

Manage & Meet Expectations

GROOMing is an ongoing process. To keep your talent pool fresh, run programs such as the ones described above annually or biannually. If you learn to manage and meet your current employees’ expectations, you’ll have better hires who stay longer. Plus, each additional instructor who completes your program will be “extra credit.” The following are a few ideas for making sure you make your expectations clear prior to hiring.

Assess cultural fit. Participation in the GROOMing Habits program helps you assess candidates’ cultural fit. Simply put, do your new instructors mix well with other instructors and members, or will they be outliers? Your team doesn’t need to be the best of friends, but each individual should have the same core values and be on point with your vision and mission.

Look beyond the job description. Get very specific about what it means to be a group fitness instructor at your facility. Outline everything the candidates need to know about what’s expected of them. Are there meetings they need to attend? How do you communicate? Are there expectations about instructors attending each other’s classes? When are reviews held? What are the requirements for maintaining certification? What are future opportunities? How is performance judged? The more specific you are, the better. Be sure both you and the new employees sign the job description for future reviews.

A few important topics to be discussed right away:

Advancement. Instructors want to know that there is a clear path. How do they learn about new opportunities? Do they receive feedback and performance improvement plans? Is there a process for selecting “format experts” or leads? Typically, there are very few traditional advancement opportunities for part-time group fitness instructors. However, if these people can see clearly that they are being monitored, encouraged, mentored and recognized for reaching milestones, their job satisfaction will likely increase.

Increased compensation. Money is important to both full-time and part-time employees. Instructors need to understand how and when they can become eligible for a raise. Are raises granted based on a higher number of certifications, specialties, years of service or perhaps a combination of the three? Outline this information clearly at the start of employment to help instructors plan accordingly.

Your day-to-day interactions with your team will also influence longevity. Once you’ve assessed cultural fit and communicated job expectations, you’ll need to focus on these important elements of the relationship:

Communication. Stay in contact with your trainers, and make the connections frequent, specific and encouraging. Avoid the monthly newsletter with too many items, or the constant emails that discuss problems and nothing else. Communicate purposefully, and remember that you are a leader and a mentor, not just the manager of day-to-day operations!

Meetings. Hold formal meetings sparingly. Instead, use frequent electronic communications to create community. When there is a meeting, make sure there’s something in it for all your staff. Create an educational focus, and allow instructors to take the lead when possible. Increase the frequency of informal meetings. Be present, and see your team face-to-face as much as possible. Speak to each individual a minimum of once a month.

Recognition. Instructors want to know they are valued! Think beyond the occasional comment cards from members. Catch your instructors doing something well, and publicly acknowledge them in front of teammates, members and upper management.

While instructors may not be knocking down your door begging for work right now, GROOMing Habits provides a system to help you recruit, hire and retain great group fitness instructors for the long haul. It’s not easy, and it will take work. However, the more effort you put in on the front end, the easier your job will be in the long run.

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