How to attract and keep new group exercise participants – some tips for instructors

People doing a kettlebell exercise class

As a group exercise instructor, you probably have a core (no pun intended) of loyal followers, but how do you attract and keep new participants to your classes?

There are a  number of channels that you can use – social media, flyers, posters, local advertising (can be expensive) and uploading your classes on classfinder (free!) – but how can you help overcome a reluctance for someone to come along in the first place, and then come back the following session?

I don’t have enough time to exercise

If you are able to offer a variety of times/days for your classes, there is a possibility that one of them would fit in with a person’s lifestyle, making it more doable to get to a class.  Many classes, such as circuits or HIIT lend themselves to a 20 or 30 minute ‘express’ version which could fit into a lunch break.

Exercise is boring

Ah well, that’s our job to make group exercise more enjoyable, exciting and fun – with music, your own great personality and by encouraging camaraderie among the group. Instructors can use marketing techniques to make their classes look more fun by using images of their actual classes and with group shots depicting smiling, sweaty class-goers.  An entertaining name for your classes can also help project a fun image and grab people’s attention.

I’m too unfit to exercise

We all started somewhere.  Instructors should encourage first time exercisers to call them prior to the class to alleviate any worries they may have. Taking the time to build rapport before the class helps people feel supported before they even arrive.  Giving options in class to help everyone do as much as they feel able will also help to lessen any anxiety and make it a supportive place to be.

I’m too tired to exercise after work

It’s a vicious circle, the less exercise the less energy. Offering classes at different times of the day may help get around this – and with luck the participant may become energised enough to eventually try a class after work.  Instructors could advertise classes as a great way to relieve stress after work. Stress busting need not necessarily just be yoga/Pilates etc either.  Any class can make you feel good and get better sleep, therefore making work that little bit easier!

I’m too lazy to exercise

As an instructor you can support by helping set realistic expectations. An enjoyable, fun class may help to energise too.  Exercise may seem like a chore, but the vast benefits outweigh any laziness. For example, it’s a great way for them to spend time with friends whilst doing something else, and it’s fun to try different classes.

I’m too old

Absolutely not! Teachers of FLexercise, KFA and Medau will already know that these styles of exercise are very suitable for older adults.  While there are other classes  that are aimed at older participants such as Move It or Lose It, as an instructor you can offer options to make the class inclusive. In retirement, many people have more time to exercise regularly, are up for trying something new or find that a daytime class appeals.

I’m too self-conscious about how I look

Instructors could alleviate some of this fear in how they market their classes; using images reflective of real participants of all shapes and sizes getting sweaty or by sharing campaigns such as #ThisGirlCan on social media.

We’re sure your classes are already non-judgmental and a quiet reminder to ‘newbies’ that other class members are too busy focusing on their own moves to worry about anyone else may help to allay any fears.   Turning the lights down a bit, Clubbercise-style, could help people feel less self-conscious, and suggesting that new participants have a look at the great tips for newbies on the EMD UK website could also be helpful.

I don’t know where I’m going, I’ve never been to that venue before

You could liken holding a group exercise class to welcoming guests to a hotel.  When guests arrive, they receive a warm welcome, are checked in and then directed or shown to their room along with directions to the main facilities.  As a group exercise instructor, a warm welcome and a quick tour to explain where the facilities are can do a great deal to lessen the anxiety felt by newcomers.  At the end of the class a quick conversation, the opportunity to ask questions or even a coffee with some of the class members can help build a rapport.

Attracting and keeping new class participants is obviously vital from both a professional and a financial point of view.  For more advice on ways to break down the barriers to exercise take a look at the free instructor resources on our website here.  In particular, the What Women Want summary document, written in partnership with This Girl Can, contains some great ideas and tips.  And don’t forget, our instructor support team is always on hand for further advice or information. You can contact them here.