Being an instructor isn’t an easy job. Sure it’s rewarding and inspiring but it isn’t easy. And why should it be? The best things in life are worth fighting for.

Group exercise class

But instructors are a passionate group of people; with the top two reasons for fitness professional joining the industry being a passion for fitness and wanting to help people, it’s fair to say instructors aren’t afraid of a bit of hard work.

One thing that instructors put a lot of time into is class choreography. All those twists, kicks, chassés and jumps that make up the class aren’t random (for the most part). They’ve been carefully choreographed to suit the class through hours of meticulous planning. If you’re new to instructing, are considering becoming one, or just have an interest, here are some of the things you need to know.

The basics

There are two main types of choreography that group exercise instructors use; pre-set choreography and instructor-set choreography. Each have their own strengths and weaknesses and, as an instructor, it’s worth considering which one you would prefer to work with. It all depends on which styles you’re instructing as to which group exercise choreography works for you.

What is pre-set choreography?

Pre-set choreography refers to choreography that any brand gives its instructor workforce for every class. Think Les Mills. Each Les Mills workout (BODYPUMP™, SH’BAM™, GRIT™ etc) has set choreography for instructors to watch and learn.

What is instructor-set choreography?

Instructor-set choreography refers to choreography that has been created by that specific instructor. It may contain recognisable moves and sequences but the whole set has been made specifically for the classes of that instructor and, theoretically, won’t be seen in the classes of any other instructor.

I’ve heard of pre-style choreography; what’s that?

Pre-style is a fairly new kid on the group ex block. This sits in the middle of instructor-set and pre-set; a class framework, selection of moves and sample music are provided and the instructor builds their own class from there. Think Jayne’s Nichols/Group X Training’s Freestyle Fitness Yoga and Virgin Active’s The Grid as examples of this.

Pre-set vs instructor-set: the benefits

As with anything, each set of choreography has benefits. If you’re trying to work out which type of choreography would work for you, this is a good starting point. Working out the strengths of each style can immediately make your mind up. But there are things you could take into consideration; do you prefer to be creative and have freedom to put your own routines together? Do you want guidance when it comes to the content/choreography? Here are the pros of each.


  • Class format is done for you and is regularly refreshed by that brand
  • Music is sourced, mixed and provided
  • In the case of Les Mills, the workouts are all scientifically tested to ensure safety and effectiveness
  • Recognised brands that participants recognise
  • Makes it easy to cover branded classes for other instructors


  • Flexibility and freedom to be creative
  • Teach choreography you love and feel comfortable with
  • Opportunity to be reactive to your class and spend a little less or more time breaking down exercises and routines depending on the ability of the class on the day
  • The satisfaction of seeing people enjoy choreography that you’ve personally created
  • Pick and compile your own music

One ‘benefit’ we’ve omitted from both lists is preparation time. It is a contentious argument around whether pre-set choreography actually saves instructors time. Many will argue yes, because the videos are there to watch and you can learn as you go. Others will argue no, as you end up watching the video, stopping, rewinding, re-watching etc, which can be just as time consuming as creating your own choreography. Ultimately, no matter which choreography you’re into, preparing for any class is time consuming; it’s part of the job.

Pre-set vs instructor-set: the negatives

Made up your mind on which you prefer? Let’s now throw a spanner in the works by introducing you to the negatives… sorry…


  • Less freedom to be creative as an instructor
  • Can be expensive with license fees, equipment, CPD workshops etc
  • Classes can be repetitive
  • Less tailored to the participants mix of abilities
  • Relying on new routines to be released before you can change the class entirely


  • Can be exhausting constantly coming up with fresh choreography
  • Harder to find class cover for when you can’t teach
  • Your participants wouldn’t have experienced your routines before so it might take longer for them to engage with choreography and pick things up
  • Rely on personal branding to promote the class

Definitely some things to mull over there. Do the negative outweigh the benefits? Of course! Challenges help us grow, develop and become stronger so you can relish the negatives as an opportunity to turn them around!

Things to consider

No matter which way you swing with choreography, there are some things you should consider as an instructor.

First off, the best way to keep up with the latest trends and choreography is to ensure you have your Level 2 Exercise to Music (ETM) qualification or equivalent. You may not think an ETM is relevant but trust us, it’s the best starting point. ETM will allow you to:

  • Understand how to map choreography to the beat, phrase and block of music
  • Learn how to give effective verbal and visual cues so your class can follow you properly
  • Understand what to say and when so the class participants feel that the class has an ebb and flow and builds appropriately to give them the ultimate feel good experience.
  • Learn how to look after participants and procedures for setting up your own classes.

Coming straight into learning choreography, and indeed teaching classes, without a Level 2 qualification can be a daunting prospect and you may not have the all the required skills to cope. We absolutely recommend taking the Level 2 ETM before embarking in any kind of teaching.

The second thing to consider, especially when teaching in the community (i.e. not in a leisure operator sports centre), is your personality counts for lot. Irrespective of brand or choreography, many people will keep coming back to same classes solely because of their instructor; that is the biggest compliment you can get. If you…

  • Are passionate about both fitness and teaching group exercise
  • Welcome your participants into the class with a smile
  • Have a genuine interest in your class goers
  • Can show them progressive exercise whilst allowing for their abilities and limitations

… then you’re onto a winner. This should be the standard across the board, regardless of whether you’re teaching pre-set or instructor-set choreography. Let your personality and passion shine. After all, that’s why you got into the job, right?

Lastly, you’re not alone. There are loads of instructors out there and building your own community is a great asset. You can share ideas about class content and choreography which will go a long way when you’re having ‘writer’s block’… what’s the group exercise equivalent of that… squat block? Anyway, the point is build yourself a network and share the load.

So, which is better?

Well, we couldn’t possibly say and it’s not really a case of being better. It’s really about which one works for you and your career. So whether you’re into moving your participants to your own beats or cranking up the volume on your pre-set moves, take the time to get the steps right and the class will follow.

For further help and advice on this topic contact our training team on