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The Art of Programming

Learn how to create a group fitness schedule that is a masterpiece.

Group exercise programming is an art that group fitness and program managers must master. To compose a schedule that works for your members and
facility, you must delicately balance several elements, including member needs and expectations, type of programs you want to feature and available equipment and budget.

Member Needs and Expectations

Members are usually extremely vocal when it comes to their group fitness needs. To put together a successful schedule, you must make members part of the decision-making process instead of just forcing the programming you want on them.

To pinpoint members’ requests, conduct a survey. Provide a quick and easy one-page sheet that details your facility’s class times. Ask the members to record when they exercise (specifically what time of day, which days of the week and how many days per week), what type of programming they want and who their favorite instructors are. In prime-time classes, announce a week in advance that you will be handing out the surveys for the next 2–3 weeks. Set up a table in front of the group exercise studio and hand out the surveys at all prime-time classes throughout the week. Also give surveys to members when they check in at the front desk. In addition, you can mail the survey to members if you have the budget for a mailing.

Once you have canvassed 60% or more of your membership, tally the results and compare the data to your existing schedule. You will be surprised how knowledgeable your members are when it comes to their own needs. Then, when creating the group exercise schedule, accommodate as many members as you can without sacrificing the integrity of the programming or exceeding budgetary constraints. Remember, though, that you can’t please everyone. Consider scheduling the classes the majority of members request.

Signature Programming

Another important element of your schedule masterpiece-in-progress is determining your signature programming; that is, the classes you want your facility to be known for. First ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish with your program. Do you want the most people in each class? Do you want to be known for the most esoteric programming? Do you want a mind-body or dance-focused schedule? Do you want classes based on the newest equipment? Do you want to challenge members with complex class components? Are you gearing your programming for broad appeal? Or are you focusing on a specialty population, such as older adults? Do you want the majority of the programming to appeal to the highly fit? Based on your goals, fill the schedule with many classes that accommodate the class type and population you are targeting. (For examples of classes that fit under different signature programming options, see “Featured Programming: Sample Class Formats.”)

The member survey and your own knowledge of your members’ skill level will help you figure out your signature programming. Ideally, your program will feature signature programming but will also provide a variety of choices: dance-based, athletic, functional training and mind-body.


When creating a schedule, you’ll also want to figure out how many classes will use fitness toys. Are you going to use every fitness toy available or highlight just a few? There are so many options on the market now. If you have an unlimited budget for new equipment, then buy it all. Variety staves off boredom for instructors and members. However, if you are on a budget, you will have to make difficult choices when purchasing equipment.

A good rule of thumb is to first get the essential equipment: hand weights, tubing, weighted bars, mats and steps. Then you can add medicine balls, stability balls, BOSU® Balance Trainers or all of these. You’ll also need sticky mats, blocks, straps and blankets for yoga and possibly magic circle rings and foam rollers for Pilates classes. If your facility offers indoor cycling, then the bikes themselves are the number-one purchase followed by the type of pedals you want to supply. You can also consider the newest products on the market, such as Ramping™, efi’s GRAVITYSystem™ and BodyWedge 21™. Attending continuing education workshops where all these products are offered will give you greater insight into whether they are right for your facility.

Once again, you cannot be all things to all people. You must focus on what will be right for your members. Look for equipment-based programming that will challenge them, offer safe and effective exercise, be enjoyable and let them succeed. Nothing stops a program faster in its tracks than the members being continually unsuccessful in their performance. Programming should be fun and challenging while allowing members to succeed.


Finally, consider your budget. You
want to offer as many classes at as many different times as possible with the best instructor talent. However, you must also adhere to a set budget. What
should you do? First, create your ideal schedule without focusing on budget. Look at all the available times your members want classes and also at the types of classes they request. Consider which instructors you would place in those classes. Then calculate your cost. Multiply each class by instructor cost and then add up the cost of all the classes. If you are at or below your budget, great!

If you have exceeded your budget, you must fill some classes with less costly instructors or cut classes. Ask yourself, “Is it more important to use higher-quality instructors in fewer classes or lower-quality instructors in more classes?” Ideally, a good schedule will feature high-quality instructors and several classes. Try spreading out your most costly instructors throughout your schedule, making sure to put them in prime-time slots. Then see where you can use less costly instructors to fill time slots without sacrificing quality. Body conditioning, basic beginner classes and slower time slots are good places to schedule the less experienced, less costly instructors.

If you have a good mix of higher- and lower-cost instructors but are still going over your budget, look at class counts for slower classes. Can you drop any of these classes from the schedule without greatly impacting the members’ experiences? Sometimes it is better to schedule fewer classes and fill them with the top talent who will attract members.

Program for Success

Once you have created your schedule, promote it. If you feel strongly about a particular instructor, program or piece of equipment, then sell it! Talk it up to your members, staff and management. Get people excited about trying it. If
you are passionate about your job and programming, it will rub off and everyone involved will be more willing to try new classes.

Once you have your schedule, don’t be afraid to try new classes. Offer them first as special events to gauge interest and evaluate their success. Buy a limited amount of new equipment and demonstrate it to see if the interest level warrants the purchase. Also, remember that members may have a learning curve when doing cutting-edge, complex programming. Because of this, new classes may take some time to catch on.

Featured Programming: Sample Class Formats

Before creating a class schedule, you should know what your goals are in offering classes. Are you trying to emphasize a certain type of class? Are you trying to reach a certain type of person? The answers to these questions will define your featured programming. Once you’ve defined the programming, you can brainstorm classes that would fit within it. Below are examples of classes you might offer for four different types of featured programming.

Mind-Body Classes: various types of yoga (Ashtanga, vinyasa, power, anusara, restorative), Pilates, Nia, tai chi, chi kung and fusion classes combining different mind-body forms

Dance-Focused Classes: hip-hop, jazz, Latin, modern, dance video, classic, ballet barre, Balletone, Ballecore® and NYC Ballet Workout

Classes Geared Toward the Highly Fit: boot camp, interval training, boxing, kickboxing, martial arts step interval, plyometric circuit training, supersets, BOSU® Balance Training, advanced indoor cycling, reformer training and medicine ball stability and balance training

Classes Geared Toward Everyone (Also Suitable for Older Adults): basic body conditioning, step training, low impact, cardio dance, stretch, hatha yoga, flexibility training, beginners’ Pilates mat class, Urban Rebounding™, aquatic fitness and Ramping™

Carol Scott

"Carol Scott has been a fitness influencer for over 25 years. She founded ECA World Fitness Alliance, and as CEO of Conscious Body Consulting, she consulted for companies large and small, including Hyatt Hotels, Gatorade®, Nike, SoulCycle®, Velocity® and Peloton®. She is also the former national director of group fitness for Equinox® Fitness Clubs. Carol was awarded IDEA Program Director of the Year and has appeared in and contributed articles for many publications, including the New York Times and Vogue, and has been featured on network television, including CBS, NBC and Fox."

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