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3 Tips for Super Subbing

Your goal as a group fitness leader is to provide consistent, quality service each time you teach. When circumstances prevent you from appearing in your regularly scheduled time slot, however, responsibility for creating positive experiences falls on substitute teachers, commonly called “subs.” The following tips will help you prepare both subs and class participants for a positive subbing experience in a nonideal situation.

Tip 1: Embrace Change

When teaching your regular classes, try to frequently introduce at least one unexpected element to keep participants’ minds open to change, even if this means pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Changing even the most seemingly insignificant detail can help each workout experience take on a fresh feeling so that participants’ minds stay open. Experiment with the following:

  • adjusting the lighting
  • playing a different genre of music
  • dressing differently
  • laying out equipment differently (e.g., changing the direction of yoga mats)
  • ordering your exercises differently
  • teaching from different parts of the room

These suggestions introduce healthy variety into the teaching atmosphere. The more often you make little changes without sacrificing your own style, or brand identity, the better you prepare students to flow with other changes, such as a substitute instructor teaching your class.

Tip 2: Prepare Your Substitutes
I am often surprised by the number of teachers who know they will need a substitute but wait until just a few days before the class date to start searching for one. Plan ahead, and when you do find subs, arm them with information, including important details we often take for granted:

  • class size
  • whether or not there are classes immediately before and after yours
  • your general format
  • information about how the room’s equipment may affect the class, such as “The iPod© connection is broken, so prepare a backup CD” or “There usually are more people than steps
  • the kind of music you normally play (this is extremely valuable information in music-dependent classes like cycling)
  • any notable regulars who may attend
  • whether it is normal for some students to leave early

Tip 3: Educate Students

Don’t overlook the value of a friendly reminder that it is in everyone’s best interest to be pleasant to subs. When I recently subbed a class for a high-profile instructor in New York City, I was pleasantly surprised when two students came to me before class and said, “We knew you were coming, and we love subs here, so you can relax and give us all you’ve got.” My guard went down, and I was able to create a positive experience because they were so open from the start. More important, however, is the positive, open-minded environment this regular instructor fosters on a daily basis. Ask yourself what you can do to foster the same kind of positivism; for example:

  • reminding your regulars that they will get a better class if the substitute teacher is not scared or stressed
  • telling them that every substitute teacher deserves the benefit of the doubt
  • giving them the responsibility of showing what a positive environment you all share on a regular basis
  • asking them to treat the substitute as they would want someone else’s class to treat you

For three additional tips, please see the complete article, “The Art of Subbing,” in the online IDEA Library or in June 2010 IDEA Fitness Journal.


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.

Lawrence Biscontini, MA

Lawrence Biscontini, MA, has made fitness history as a mindful movement specialist, winning awards that include the Inner IDEA Visionary Award. He is a philanthropist, presenter, keynoter, and course development specialist for various companies, including ACE, AFAA, FIT and NASM. He also serves on the advisory boards for the International Council on Active Aging and Power Music®, and is an International Spa Association reporter-in-the-field for its #ISPAInterviews series. Lawrence teaches with yoga RYT 500 and decades-long certification experience. His company, Fitness Group 2000 offers scholarships to professional conferences and competitions on several continents. Lawrence runs fit camps in Puerto Rico in the winter months and has authored more than a dozen books.

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