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How can group exercise instructors stand the test of time?

Our lovely Head of Instructor Development, Gillian Reeves, shares some advice on how group exercise instructors can keep up on top of new trends and continue to inspire and engage with their participants.


What’s the next big group ex trend? What’s going to be the next Zumba? These are questions I hear a lot, especially as the spotlight is shining so brightly on the group exercise arena right now and as so many health club operators and fitness businesses are keen to innovate to get the nation moving.

Could you have predicted 10 or 20 years ago that there would be so many branded class concepts covering all kind of styles from high intensity training like Sh1ft to dance fitness such as Flowetic to Anti Gravity Aerial Yoga? Could you have predicted that there would be so many stand-alone Group Cycle studios dividing the market into performance based, metric driven experiences to zero technology, theatrical, night club style events?

It’s clear that demand for exercise in groups is as strong as ever. People currently participating in classes know their Body Pump from their Body Combat, they are wearing the latest fitness technology and debate on the benefits and accuracy of a FitBit versus Myzone versus Garmin. Classes have evolved from 80s style, instructional based delivery, or have they? With savvy participants with high expectations, have we as instructors moved with the times too?

We are in a technology driven world where most people have their heads in a phone, tablet or computer for hours and hours during the day. Like it or not, technology has changed our behaviour and it has made it into the Group Exercise world too. Looking at the Group Cycle space alone, Cyclebeat studio in the City uses technology to display power output in real time on a big screen at the front of the studio. Virgin Active launched a bespoke, innovative concept, The Pack, last year gamifying the class where three teams compete with each other during various speed, cadence and power based challenges. David Lloyd has invested in a suite of technology driven cycle classes such as Les Mills Virtual RPM, Sufferfest and instructor lead concepts like Stages Flight and The Trip from Les Mills. Nuffield have recently launched NuCycle, a concept using ICG’s Coach by Colour, Digme Fitness in London uses sophisticated technology that combines information on riders displaying it during the class and storing it so that participants can track their progress and this is just a small list that is expanding wider than Cycle studios.

I taught a Yoga class recently at a health club and heard one of the voices of a well known presenter based abroad as I walked by the Cycle studio. The class was almost in a peak time slot and there were a bunch of members enjoying the class. Before the Yoga class I taught, the members told me that they tried out a virtual Yoga class at another branch and now go weekly to this session to be taught on screen by the wonderful Matt Miller, founder of Broga.


What does this mean for us as instructors and how do we move with the times to make sure that we are offering experiences that meet and exceed the expectations of the participants coming to us?

The intention with the questions that follow is to support you in your career as an instructor, to give you the opportunity to reflect and figure out which areas of your teaching delivery you could work on to maintain and build your career and ultimately compete with the experiences based around technology that you will be inevitably compared to by participants.

How often do you video yourself teaching and watch it back with the goal of noting what you do well and what you could improve on? Be really honest when watching it back without being too hard on yourself. All instructors have development areas and delivery that could be improved no matter how long they have been teaching or how experienced they are. Watch videos of teachers that have been taken on by companies who offer virtual or online content and notice what they do, what they say, how and when they give cues and coaching to be able to integrate this as best practice into your delivery. Better still, watch your video back with an experienced instructor or mentor to ask for their feedback.

How well do you know your anatomy and physiology? When was the last course or workshop you took that focused on this? Have you done any reading in this area in the last 6 months or even the last year? Knowing how the body is designed to move will give you the ability to coach more effectively during your class. When you take time to fully observe the people in the class, you will then be able to offer them assistance with more effective coaching as opposed to standard teaching points in order to support them achieving good alignment and exercising in the energy system to which you have mapped your class to for example. Coaching effectively will then in turn show in the results class participants get from your classes.

How many names of the people coming to your classes do you know? How much rapport have you got with all of the class participants and do you introduce yourself to newcomers the moment they step foot through the studio door? Better still, do you make eye contact whilst they are hovering outside looking in? Making connections that are sincere and genuine is likely one of the fundamental reasons you became an instructor; to uplift the lives of the people attending and serve them as best you can in their endeavours to move towards their goals. It’s all too easy to be rushing for class, to be late and to be tired, these things won’t happen in a virtual or online Group Exercise service (unless the computer breaks!). Now is a good time to step up our games, get really organised, ‘diarise’ professional development time and personal relaxation time to move forwards and be the best instructor you can be.