The Freestyle or Prechoreographed Debate

By Joy Keller
Oct 27, 2015

Over the past decade, group fitness has splintered into two groups: those who believe wholeheartedly in “original” choreography and class design (“freestyle”) and those who lean more toward templated programs based on exercise science, matched with synched soundtracks (“prechoreographed”). Both options are popular, and both have advantages and disadvantages.

According to the experts interviewed for this article, it seems the industry is meeting in the middle. While some respondents do not offer any prechoreographed classes at their facilities, the majority offer
a split (60/40; 90/10, etc.). Program directors decide what that ratio is by using a formula that includes budgeting for licensing fees, member interest and instructor skills. Many facilities offer their own in-house “branded” classes, adding to the possibilities.

Everyone interviewed for this article agrees that the member experience should come first. However, opinions on the topic vary. “Prechoreographed classes have become easy for clubs to offer, as [these classes come with] the necessary tools for easy implementation, and it doesn’t matter [so much] who the instructor is, as the content remains the same,” says [Fred] Hoffman. “Not everyone will agree with me on this, but it is pretty much the premise for these types of programs—that there is consistency in the quality of the programming regardless of who teaches it. Of course, individual instructor personalities can play a role in how attractive a certain class might be to students and participants.”

[Grace] DeSimone relies primarily on freestyle classes, although she says Optum does provide some prechoreographed options. “The reason behind this strategy is that if there is one class offered at a particular time slot, I prefer that the instructor can modify the contents of the class on the spot to serve the needs of the students attending class that day,” she says. “Maybe you have a lot of neophytes, or maybe you have a super experienced group. The instructor can adjust the material appropriately.”

[Kimberly] Spreen-Glick says she offers one prechoreographed class as part of a strategic partnership. “Beyond that, we prefer to offer classes that have structure but allow for talented instructors to put their own creative spin on the content. In our case, 90%–95% of what we offer is ‘structure with freedom to create,’ but not prechoreographed.”

The debate has spurred some respondents to create in-house training and mentorship programs to ensure that instructor skills are up to par. Many also mention “signature, preformatted” programs, the definition of which varies slightly from facility to facility. Spreen-Glick explains her company’s approach: “Our signature programming represents eight group fitness, four yoga and two indoor cycling formats that are unique to Life Time’s menu of offerings,” she says. “The path for instructors to be able to teach our signature formats includes online prelearning, live training and a teach-back certification. We also provide a continuity program through our Yammer intranet platform so instructors have a place to go for new ideas, inspiration and support.”

To read more about fitness trends in 2015, please see “2015 IDEA Group Fitness Trend Watch” in the online IDEA Library or in the July-August 2015 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

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Joy Keller

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