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Keeping Members Happy When the Music Slows Down

When teaching step classes, how can I (and my fellow instructors) successfully switch from music that is too fast to music that meets safety standards, without losing or upsetting participants accustomed to a faster pace? Our group fitness director recently talked to us about slowing down our music in order to stay within the industry’s safety guidelines. But when we reduced the beats per minute (bpm) in our step classes, participants got upset. Help before I lose all my participants or I lose my job!

Ruchi Agarwal, San Jose, California

First of all, I feel that consistency is the key here. It is great that your director wishes to move in the direction of safety throughout all the classes offered at your establishment. To maintain consistency, each instructor has to agree to stay within a certain range for bpm. This will make the transition easier for members, because consistency will stress the importance of the positive change your establishment is trying to make.

As for your own classes, I would begin by educating your members about the harmful effects of stepping at high speed. Numerous articles have been published about stepping and safe speeds. It might be beneficial to hand out copies of some of these articles before or after class. (See the June 2000 issue of IDEA Health & Fitness Source and the February 2001 issue of IDEA Fitness Edge for examples of articles to share with your participants.) Many members are unaware of the long-term consequences of high-speed stepping.

You can also help your members understand how to use the step accurately. For example, many members lose their range of motion (ROM) when the bpm get too high. Consequently, you will see incomplete ROM and participants’ heels hanging off the step. I usually begin any class (from beginner to advanced) by showing members how to gain intensity through propulsion and strong upper-body movement. In this way members can retain their complete ROM and still maintain form. It is important to stress to your step participants that they do not have to go fast to get a good workout.

In the long run, your members will be happy about the changes your club is making. The challenge is to help them understand this now. As both an instructor and a step participant, I want to get a good workout, but I also want to know that my workout today will not ail me in the future. Good luck!

Dimitris Kandris, Athens, Greece

I think you pose a difficult question! All the instructors I know use fast speeds (136-140 bpm) in a low-height step platform format and find it difficult to convince clients to work at lower speeds.

But it is really all about the music! If participants love the music, they will love your class. Another thing you can do to keep members happy is add power moves to your choreography. You can also energize your classes by adding height and using more than two blocks under the platform. Finally, a key to keeping your participants enthusiastic is to be enthusiastic yourself!

Deborah Puskarich, Dallas, Texas

I was recently confronted with this particular situation when I presented a step workshop at a YMCA in New York.
An instructor there shared with me similar concerns, but unlike you, she was feeling isolated from other instructors who used excessive speed in their step classes. Also, she didn’t have her group exercise director’s support to use slower speeds. Because she had remained faithful to what she knew was safe, credible and effective, she was feeling unpopular when her participants compared her to her colleagues.

Although it’s important to be popular, it’s also important to provide safe, effective classes. It is possible to be both popular and professional. It’s all about how you approach the situation. Be careful not to criticize any instructor who is leading faster classes than you are. Criticism is likely to seem offensive to both the members and the instructor; it may also be perceived as jealousy on your part.

Regardless of your feelings, remain positive and continue to search for enthusiastic ways to handle yourself and your class. Perseverance and patience are key when dealing with this type of situation. Be a leader and your participants will follow. Remain assertive and confident. Although you may not attract the members who would rather participate in faster classes, you will attract those who admire you for your ability to deliver dynamic classes that are safe and within your control. Meanwhile, try to identify what participants like about faster speeds and give that to them in other, safer formats. Is it intensity, direction, floor patterns or vocal energy? Try using music with strong percussion and dynamics.

You really are fortunate to have your director’s support. If negative feedback from participants comes your director’s way, at least you know that she (or he) will be behind you. It would be far more challenging to face participants without policy or management support.

Certainly, our members have a right to an opinion on matters that affect their workouts. But when it comes to safety and effectiveness, we have to remember that we are the trained professionals. We have education that they don’t have. Therefore, we need to make these kinds of decisions—whether they are popular or not.

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