What Makes a Successful Class for You and Your Participants?
“Left, right, left, right”
Fitness instructors have a fun job … right? We get to yell out commands, push our participants out of their comfort zone and work the floor as if we were the only one on center stage! This is partly fair to say, but we serve so much more than a bossy drill sergeant to our students.
We, as instructors create movements that effectively challenge our students to accomplish their fitness goals. We are motivators, educators, listeners, coaches and an inspiration to those around us. It’s a truly amazing role that we play and there are so many elements that have to come together to create an outstanding class experience for both parties and ensure participants keep coming back for more.
The role of a group fitness instructor is filled with personal experience, specific skills and a vast amount of knowledge that is developed over time. We are creative ‘movers’ that motivate and inspire people to engage in a healthy lifestyle. Classes flow from one movement to the next to the beat of the music (depending on the class), with phrased continual cuing that keeps the class flowing.
Teaching an effective class requires planning, strategy and continuous improvement efforts. As a seasoned group fitness instructor for over 25 years, I am always learning and developing my teaching skills so that I can create a positive experience, not only for my students, but also for myself. There are days when I am spot on and the class is killer from start to finish and there are days where things are a bit off and the energy in the class suffers.
So how can you learn to improve your skills, both personally and for your students? I’d like to share some qualities I expect to receive in a class, and tips on how to make this happen. Because YOU are what can make or break a participant’s experience!
Listed below are some important teaching concepts. Be mindful that we all work in different ways and what affects one may not work for the other. Learning how to be aware of possible situations and knowing how to accommodate all personalities, is a skill that develops over time.
The Importance Of A Good Welcome And A Proper Introduction
We can all agree that it’s always nice to be greeted and welcomed as you enter into any room. Your class is about to sweat together, so putting them at ease is the best way to personalize your hello and interact with them as they walk in. This develops trust and a personal connection with your students, especially as you get to know them more.
Always introduce yourself prior to the start, even if you are familiar with your students. There’s always one person that can sneak into the room without you seeing them. Perhaps give them a quote for the week, or a little fun fact about you that will break the ice. As you talk, in the introduction and throughout the class, make direct eye contact with each student – it’s welcoming and can set a personal tone. The introduction is also a great opportunity to share a brief explanation of the class and to remind them to work at their own pace.
“What? I am fine.”
Ask About Injuries
Asking your students if they have any injuries or other health concerns prior to class is a must, so that you are prepared to make modifications for them. However, from personal experience, I find it embarrassing and rather non-personal to ask the class as a whole and expect someone to blurt out their issues. It puts the students on the spot.
Rather, ask ‘if you have any injury or health concern, please raise your hand and I will come to you’. This way you can have a one-on-one short chat. You can also ask as they enter the room and have another discussion post class to make sure they leave happily. However you do it, try to respect your student’s privacy.
Every class, studio or instructor may have his or her own set of rules on this topic. Some instructors will not allow a student to enter once the door is shut and I respect that. Arriving late to a class is not appropriate, however, things do happen. You never know what has happened prior to their arrival and the effort they made to get to your class. I would not take it personally, unless it was a consistent trait. If someone is late, I suggest keeping the flow of the class going and help them quickly set up and warm-up before jumping right into the workout.
Set The Tone For Early Leavers
It drives me nuts when a student sneaks out right before you are about to end the class. It can be frustrating but don’t take it personally. Typically, a class ends with a few good stretches to lengthen the muscles worked and prevent injury. It’s understandable that a student may have to leave early, but out of respect for you and the rest of the class, they should at least tell you prior to class and position themselves closer to the door so it doesn’t disrupt everyone else. I recommend setting the tone at the beginning of the class so your students learn to take your sessions seriously and get most out of it.
Know Your Students
People of all ages and ability levels take classes for different reasons. They may be attending due to the class time, the class type, or just because they like your style of teaching. The more you teach your workout, the more you will learn about your students’ abilities, goals and any limitations. Pay attention to them before, during and after the class. Learn as much as you can about them. It shows you care and be genuine about it. Over time you will gain their trust and that helps both of you in the long run.
“Thank you, thank you very much”.
Use a Microphone but Know Your Voice
Most instructors today teach their class using a microphone so they can easily be heard without having to scream over loud music. It allows you to float around the room cuing and correcting without disrupting the class flow. Not only is it better for your students to hear you, but it’s also better for your vocal health. It can prevent a serious case of vocal chord nodules from occurring. Trust me, that’s not fun!
We all have our own teaching styles and ways to communicate but be sure to become aware of how you sound on a microphone and correct if needed. There’s nothing worse than listening to a trainer who has a really grating high pitched voice for an hour or is shouting unnecessarily into the microphone. Be sure to check yourself with and without the microphone regularly.
Having the ability to be yourself while teaching a class is a perfected skill and it’s always important to know what could affect your participants both positively and negatively.
Just Be You
Being an instructor is highly rewarding, but can also be exhausting. Never lose sight of what you want your students to feel and experience in your class.
Remember to learn from experience and listen to your students’ feedback. Your students give you joy and make you thrive to be the best you can be. Do what you do best – be yourself and teach your heart out!