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The Best of Both Worlds: Instructing Freestyle and Pre-Chore Group Fitness

This post was written by international presenter and educator Rebecca Small.

Once upon a time, in a land called Oz there was a group of Freestyle fitness instructors at the top of their game. The land was a melting pot, producing some of the best freestyle presenters the world has ever seen, and some of whom the world never got to see.

Lexie Williams, Marcus Irwin, David Hatch, Michael Betts, Anton Scott, Lisa Osborne, Cathy Spencer, Michelle Dean, Mitch Gibson, Helen Harper, Lesley Gray, Susie Miller and many, many more were all leaders in their chosen field.

Needless to say, the standard of freestyle fitness classes was extremely high – as was the level of attendance. If you wanted to become an international presenter in those days, the doors were permanently open. The Aussies, we were good – and the world knew it. All you had to do was say you came from Australia, and you got the job! People would travel from miles away, inside and outside of the country, just to attend Aussie Freestyle Classes.

But there was a small problem festering away in most fitness centres.

The gap between the good freestyle instructors and the average ones was HUGE. These guys didn’t have the skills of their colleagues and before we knew it, they were trying to deliver the level of class that their more skilled colleagues were teaching. The number of less talented trainers far outnumbered the skilled ones – and although studios were packed a lot of the time, the less skilled instructors couldn’t come close to filling their classes. The results were catastrophic; people left the classes in droves. When you have a Group Exercise studio that holds 150 steps, and it is empty, you have a problem.

While this problem was being recognised and addressed, a group from New Zealand called Les Mills jumped on a plane and came to see us with the promise of filling up our aerobic rooms – guaranteed! We were all very sceptical – gym owners and instructors alike – but the gym owners were looking for a quick solution to the problem presented by empty Group Ex studios. So, after long deliberation and consideration, five of the key clubs in Sydney decided to take on BodyPump (there was only one program in those days). I was the Group Ex manager at one of those clubs and witnessed the revolution first hand, and it was good. Yes, our Group Ex rooms began to fill and BodyPump was completely embraced. Everything was going swimmingly! Freestyle and pre-choreography sat side-by-side on each fitness centre’s Group Ex timetable, and ALL the classes were full!

However, something changed. The top level Freestyle presenters did one of 3 things;
1. Some left and went overseas to pursue international presenting
2. Some retired or left the business
3. Some joined Les Mills and left Freestyle behind.

The result was catastrophic for the longevity of Freestyle. There was almost no one left in Oz to hold up the Freestyle end of the Group Ex timetable! But Les Mills had a solution to this problem as well – it had MORE programs.

Almost 13 years later things have changed considerably. Les Mills dominates each fitness centre’s timetable, with almost complete saturation of the entire Group Ex market in Oz. There are very few Freestyle teachers, and those who still do teach, or would like to teach, Freestyle are in desperate need of education, motivation and assurance that ‘their style’ is also an acceptable way of teaching fitness.

We all know that saturation of any product is not good for any market, whether it’s cars, toys, computers or mobile phone companies. It’s not really a healthy market. Eventually, there will be a need for another, completely different style of program, one that is not pre-choreographed and is perhaps the antipathy of pre-choreography. As a believer in the Les Mills systems, I wouldn’t like to see this happen. Les Mills classes definitely have a place on the timetable, but that place shouldn’t be 90 per cent of a Group Ex timetable.

Once upon a time we were called fitness instructors; these days we’re categorised into smaller and smaller subsets of this banner. Once upon a time we taught Jazzercise, which was pre-choreographed. Once upon a time we had no mixed cds and were using single songs on a tape, teaching BodyAttack-style classes – but we called it aerobics! The fitness industry continues to grow, change, grow and then change again. The wheel continues to turn: what was new becomes old and what was old becomes new again. To have a balanced and healthy Group Ex timetable, shouldn’t we embrace and nurture all styles of teaching, whether it be freestyle or pre-choreography, or anything else for that matter? Why is freestyle dominant in some countries and pre-choreography dominant in others? And how do the countries that have successfully kept both styles alive do so?

The answer is successful education programs and marketing of BOTH modalities. In Oz we dropped the ball with Freestyle – would it be so bad to pick it up again and start running with it? What are your thoughts on this matter? Please share them with the industry and start a discussion by using the comments feature below.

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Posted by: Ed | 03-Jul-2009 04:50 PM | 5 out of 5 stars

In the city that i teach in, pre-chore dominates the timetables. Not necessarily a bad thing, but sort of sad. Personally, I teach both. I like the consistency of my pump classes but my students and I get a thrill from freestyle!

I agree with the post, there's a place for both...

Posted by: Rose | 03-Jul-2009 05:27 PM | 4 out of 5 stars

I started out as a freestyle instructor & my clients enjoyed the spontaneity, creativity and originality of my programs as did I. I teach Body Jam now, and as much as I love it, the pressure to keep going over tracks, remembering them and learning them is huge as I also have a full time job. Instructors also feel locked into a set format which doesn't always accommodate lesser skilled clientele. I miss the freedom of freestyle and being in control of what I presented. The onslaught of Les Mills is great, but instructor individuality & originality has slowly disappeared.

Posted by: Anonymous | 03-Jul-2009 05:33 PM | 5 out of 5 stars

I started teaching aerobics back in 1984, so i have seen a lot of changes. (yes i taught slide too) Freestyle started off very simple but as time went on the complex choreography became a little too difficult for the average participant. I would spend days making up choreo and putting my own music together for step and hi-low classes and they were great, fun classes. Maybe we did get a little carried away? I only teach pre-choreographed now, which i have embraced and teach with a passion, but i think there is a place for both on any timetable. We just need to keep it simple, yet fun and motivating.

p.s. there are no freestyle classes on our timetable:-(

Posted by: Kerry | 03-Jul-2009 05:45 PM |

Yes, I must say I was a teacher from the old school of freestyle and all the old names came back in a flash reading your blog....I too succumb to the pressure to do what every one else was doing and left teaching all together. The game had changed to such a degree that I no longer wanted to play. I put it down to "ah well life goes on, you are no longer wanted, let the young ones have a go". But really I was dissapointed in having to leave my imagination and creative instincts at the door and so I do not attend classes at all. My fitness is done at home or on the street, jogging. Lets embrace all types of exercise and delivery methods to ensure the message gets across that no matter how you do it, just move it!

Posted by: Sue | 03-Jul-2009 07:48 PM | 3 out of 5 stars

Yes- been there- done that. I started teaching in 1983, barefoot and all. The names on the list above are still vivid, the memories great.

I have seen many changes over the years: "now you can do this- now you can't - now it's ok again" etc. I went with the flow, albeit a little frustrated at times. Pre-choreographed was never for me. I need constant change and challenge; I get bored witless with repetition. The spontaneity of a class cannot be programmed. From freestyle aerobics I moved into Aqua, where freestyle is thankfully still predominant.

I do understand some people like routine and thrive on it, they know where they stand and there are no surprises. Sorry, not for me.

I loved the freedom of presenting a freestyle class, the fun, the surprises, the laughter, the spontaneity, the 'any goes'. Let's bring it back- it's not that hard, you just need a little fantasy and personal input.

I have moved on too and do just a few fill in's these days.

Here's to many more years of aerobics rooms filled to capacity.

Posted by: Ruth | 03-Jul-2009 07:58 PM | 1 out of 5 stars

I too come from the old school of freestyle teaching and loved it. I was happy to spend hours working out routines and got a huge sense of satisfaction from adjusting and altering routines until all my regulars got it. It was creative, stimulating and fun. 15 years later I have never taught a pre choreographed class and am sure I never will. I teach mind body classes, with loads of creative and ever evolving choreography that is achievable for my participants. Long live freestyle and individuality in the fitness industry. There are so many amazing and talented instructors out there willing to give their all and use their creativity who feel they are fighting and up hill battle with little support, yet they are the people who keep group exercise diverse, interesting and innovative.

Posted by: Spring Cooper | 03-Jul-2009 07:58 PM |

I'm a freestyler--though i didn't know that there was a word for it before a few months ago. i moved here from the US where I've been teaching since 2001. we don't "do" Les Mills. There are very few Les Mills classes at very few gyms. i am still shocked by the domination it has here. participants here love my classes (when i can convince a gym to let me teach--since 90% of timetables are Les Mills). I get so much fantastic feedback. People are dying for some freestyle. They just don't know it bc most of the young gym-goers only know Les Mills. I say even the schedules up. A few good freestyle classes are what this country needs.

Posted by: G | 03-Jul-2009 08:30 PM |

I succumbed to the 'pressure' of the Les Mills onslaught. As the pre-choreographed class rose to prominence my confidence to teach freestyle classes, and not feel 'out-dated', diminished. I consider/ed myself a creative and vibrant instructor, however remembering choreography has always challenged me (whether it was a 3 minute competitive routine or a pre-choreographed Body Pump class). Eventually I stopped teaching and drifted 'behind the scenes', never leaving the industry, but losing my passion for what got me started in the first place . . . aerobics. This article reminded me that there is no 'right or wrong' when it comes to creating magic for your members . . . it comes from the heart and might come pre-packaged in polystyrene, or just as easily might come straight 'off the boat'.

Posted by: Julie Urban | 03-Jul-2009 08:55 PM | 5 out of 5 stars

I am another "oldie instructor", I started instructing in 1991, specialising in step classes...I was big then and still going strong today. My classes are full at all the gyms I work at. My style is freestyle (complex choreography),. I refuse to teach pre-choreographed classes, as I need to keep my brain active and creative and at the same time display my individuality!

Posted by: Anonymous | 03-Jul-2009 09:09 PM | 5 out of 5 stars

I am one of the minority that still love freestyle. I have taught pre-choreographed and am back to freestyle. The funny thing is that you can do the same pre-choreographed classes for 3 months and everyone loves them and raves on about how great the new Pump or Combat is. Teach the same freestyle for more than a week and you get crucified!!!

Posted by: Rhee | 03-Jul-2009 09:46 PM |

I began taking classes in 1988. I have attended most Les Mills classes but never taught any. I did do the training for Balance but didn't follow through with it. I like freestyle, so I moved over to aqua. I thoroughly enjoy using my imagination and being creative. I have recently moved and am not taking any classes now as there are not the facilities where I am living now for aqua classes, and the local gym has only Les Mills classes. I think there is room for both, and I look forward to introducing some freestyle land based classes to this area!!!

Posted by: Jari Rehula | 04-Jul-2009 09:00 AM | 5 out of 5 stars

At my Gym in Canberra, the Freestyle classes get heaps more attendance than the "Les Mills" classes on our timetable. If I could source a couple of good Freestylers to help me out I could totally get rid of pre-choreographed classes all together. I'm running a lone hand at the moment. Les Mills is so expensive as well if your running a small gym. I remember working at RCM Healthland during the peak of Freestyle and it was awesome indeed. I think maybe we ruined it with too much choreography, but it sure was fun,eh????

Posted by: Olivia | 04-Jul-2009 09:38 AM |

I'm a freestyle teacher and always have been, I feel constricted by pre-choreographed tracks. My classes are full and have been for years, there's always a downturn at times, school hols and winter or summer sometimes, but I love my students and I love the energy I give them and them to me in return. I find it sad that there are no other gyms in my city to which I can teach freestyle. I would love to share my enthusiasm across the city and show people there's another way of teaching, but most gyms I've approached are locked into the choreographed system. Bring back freestyle I say!

Posted by: Dale Tubinas | 04-Jul-2009 12:32 PM | 5 out of 5 stars

There most definitely is a big gap still, between the good instructors and great instructors in the freestyle world because there isn't any official continuing education for freestyle instructors. Much unlike Les Mills and Radical Fitness, who have education sessions on their quarterly dvds and updates which not only serve to better instructors talent-wise, but network and broaden their work opportunities teaching pre-choreo style classes!!

People training up to become instructors aren't exposed to as much freestyle; most gyms offer more pre-choreo now, so anyone becoming an instructor is more likely to teach pre-choreo- it's easier to teach WELL and you can learn how to do it pretty quickly. Developing as a freestyle instructor takes YEARS, and members are not as forgiving towards less talented freestylers.

Freestyle firstly needs promotion in order to become "cool" again, plus we need to teach it WELL in order for it to survive. Let's do it!

Posted by: Jenny | 04-Jul-2009 04:46 PM |

I own and teach at a small fitness centre and we are completely freestyle and very popular, most of our classes are full but it takes a lot of training and extra work to maintain good freestyle Instructors and I can understand gym owners going for Les Mills, it is easier, and you get the same type of quality.

In the long term, I think we will have a mixture of freestyle and pre-choreographed, but we need to be willing to spend time and effort training people to become good freestyle Instructors.

It is harder work but well worth it.

Posted by: Anonymous | 04-Jul-2009 11:43 PM |

Lot of fair and reasonable comments here... I love freestyle and have taught it for 15 years but I also teach choroeographed classes. In fact I was teaching the barbell/pump type classes before it was patented/copyrighted. Let's face it. Nothing beats a good freestyle class with an instructor who can teach, who can nurture and who can bring anyone (even a first timer) along for the journey. We need a lot of skills and we need a lot of experience and a lot of personality. We did/do get carried away with complex choreography and if we can't teach it we come undone and the punters don't come back. Jari was right - get a few good freestylers and you can make an entire timetable come alive and have ongoing full classes . But where do we get a good freestylers now? When I first started I attended regular workshops run by most of the instructors named by Rebecca. But now the only time you can do a freestyle workshop is at Filex or a M&M workshop. We have to face up to reality that freestyle won't come back til gyms and group ex mgrs put some time and money into the programs and the instructors - but they won't do that when they have the "McDonald's" pre-chore classes packaged up for them - it's too easy (and that's not a dig at Les Mills). Take the effort out and provide consistency that brings the punters and gyms will love it. We freestylers have a long wait before things come around again. but as Rebecca said "what's old is new". Things always go round and I do believe that great instructors will always be able to pull a class.

Good luck and keep your skills up.

Posted by: Anonymous | 05-Jul-2009 12:22 PM |

I started teaching classes back in 1992 in a small country town when step reebok was the new big thing in group exercise. We had New body, Results (interval class with 5 min cardio 5 min weights), slide reebok, circuit and the list goes on. There were freestyle workshops most weekends in the capital city gyms, and we even had instructors touring around to country towns so there was always places for instructors to get ideas for choreography, cueing techniques etc.. In 1997 we started Body pump which was huge at the time, and then other Les Mills prorams started popping up. I refused to sell out and use someone elses pre choreography when I had full classes for my own step and Hi low classes(I do teach Pump and Balance).

Fortunately for me we have both style classes at the gym I work at, BUT, my problem as group fitness manager is to get current instructors who have only ever taught LES MILLS classes, to teach anything else. Some of their classes aren't working, but they refuse to teach another style of class. Recruiting new instructors to teach freestyle is virtually impossible as there is very limited places for them to go and get ideas for their own choreography.

To teach Les Mills classes you basically have to just do a couple of weekends of training and complete a workboook, and then send in a video of yourself teaching a class. To teach freestyle you have to complete your cert 3 in fitness (and learn alot of extra information irrelevant to teaching classes in a gym) and then seek out freestyle workshops which might happen twice a year. No wonder there are so few new freestyle intructors coming through the system. Is there any way we can come up with a course specific to teaching classes which concentrates on teaching techniques, choreography etc....Filex is fantastic, but there are less and less freestyle group fitness sessions, and alot of them are so complicated that new instructors would get little take home value from them. (not to mention the fact that there are so many sessions in the weekend that alot of the information and choreography would be lost ands we have to tracel over 1000km to get there). Is there any presenters out there willing to teach new instructors?? I am trying to create freestyle instructors, but I don't know where to send them to get training.

Any ideas would be most appreciated. (I am teaching a couple of young instructors in my own time but don't know what the next step is)

Long live Freestyle!!!

Posted by: Mandy Reed | 05-Jul-2009 05:16 PM | 5 out of 5 stars

I have been teaching 'freestyle' classes for 20 years in a country town 45 mins from Canberra. I run a small aerobic business and teach a variety of low, step, pump, and circuit classes each week. I could never afford 'Les Mills" and wasn't ever interested in teaching it so Freestyle it was and still is and my participants love it. I will continue teaching freestyle as long as I physically can. I would be happy to teach new instructors 'free-style' instructing. Free style is great!!!

Posted by: Shirley Batchelor | 05-Jul-2009 10:32 PM | 5 out of 5 stars

It was after a session with the king of funk, Marcus Irwin back in 1990 that I said - "if that's aerobics, I'm in" so I too am a fan of freestyle and have never strayed. As others above have said - since the Les Mills machine hit our shores, where can freestylers go now for inspiration? and how can we get young/new trainers to teach freestyle when all they have ever experienced has been pre choreographed stuff?

I run my own little fitness studio and take most sessions myself so I can't do midweek sessions. The 1/2 day weekend workshops that used to happen (and provided CEC's) fizzled and freestylers were left out in the cold. There are plenty of videos and DVD's that we can buy (but you don't get CEC's) however, you don't get the same kick out of it compared to networking with others at a workshop.

I guess LM is a bit like Curves - if it's getting people exercising who otherwise possibly wouldn't then I suppose that's a good thing - but if (like someone above said) to teach LM you don't even have to have cert 3, when to be a group ex leader and teach freestyle you must have cert 3. - that's not fair.

It's late, can't think anymore

Posted by: Lynsie Dunkley | 06-Jul-2009 07:29 AM | 5 out of 5 stars

I agree 100% with Shirley. I am 62 and have been instructing freestyle for over 20 years and haven't hung up my Reeboks yet. I love the freedom of being creative and original in the movements I present. Choreography is like a work of art and an extension of one's personality. Freestyle is also more adaptable than a set format to meet the nedds of the less skilled participant. I have resisted becoming a Les Mills instructor and I am sure may other instructors have tried to resist. But practical educational programs for freestyle instructors are almost non-existent and it is hard to get the CECs. Workshops are desperately needed for classes such as Barbell, Step and Circuit. Bring back the likes of Marcus Irwin and Lexie Williams who were truly inspirational presenters. It would be a positive move for the fitness industry. There are fitness centres out there which do not have Les Mills on their timetables.

Posted by: Kay | 06-Jul-2009 09:38 AM | 5 out of 5 stars

Funny, you hit the nail right on the head. I've been around for those 20 years; I remember my first convention was with Lexie, she even trained me to be a fitness instructor. You had to do 40 hours up on the podium and get someone to come and assess you before you got your certification; things have truly changed and I think money and time has taken over and killed part of the role we play as group fitness instructors.
The problem I find today is everyone seems to be an expert; especially the younger ones coming through who are coordinators at gyms. they don't know how to talk to clients in a professional manner and they are left to assess instructors not knowing have to critique professionally.
I teach freestyle and pre-chorey at various Fitness First clubs. I find a lot of new instructors don't know the simple things such as 'why do we do a step touch or a knee lift; they have no idea when they ask for my help.

I hope to continue in the industry for a little longer and hopefull impart what I learnt years ago and continue to teach people to be committed to a healthy lifestyle without the peer pressure.

Posted by: Natalie Mazzucchelli | 06-Jul-2009 10:26 AM | 5 out of 5 stars

I have become a Pre-chore junkie but not necessarily through choice. Whilst I love the programmes I teach, it is too hard to continue the freestyle component living in Perth as not many quality workshops come over here. There is also the issue that there are no freestyle instructors avaiable for covers. In my opinion the industry is ready for change but due to staffing requirements it is not going to happen any time soon. There is also the issue of pay rates for freestyle clases which will limit progress.

Posted by: Gail | 06-Jul-2009 05:34 PM |

Rebecca has certainly set the ball rolling with her 'Best of Both Worlds" posting which, having read, left me feeling enlightened. This feeling has grown more so today, having read through the feedback from other instructors. How amazing to find so many of us with fond Freestyle memories and similar feelings. I began teaching 'Aerobics' in the late 1980's and currently teach LM Body Pump, Freestyle Step and Pilates. I became a 'workshop junkie' when those top presenters, mentioned by Rebecca, were at their peak. The atmosphere was electric and you came away so inspired that it had to rub off on the classes you taught. Looking back today I realise just how fantastic these masters were and so approachable at the same time. LM has recruted at least two of these masters that I know of and I still get a buzz going to LM Quaterlies. My Freestyle Step, at one Centre I work at, has gone full circle - although succesfull, it was replaced by Body Step for a while under a new young GFM. This has now been reversed and the Centre has both on the timetable. Variety should be the key in the Fitness Industry, however I concur that in our current Aussie society, the versatility of Pre-Chorey has too many advantages to up and coming instructors over and above the long road, without much support, to becoming a Freestyle Instructor. We must all promote Freestyle to new instructors and pass on that, once mastered, it will give them the best years of their lives as well as more confidence to teach Pre-Choreo classes.

Posted by: Pete Manuel | 07-Jul-2009 02:14 PM | 5 out of 5 stars

Being one of the original Les Mills 'pioneers' makes me proud. For 10 years I travelled the world alongside most of those famous freestyle names, presenting at all the major fitness conventions. We weren't enemies. We competed - sure. Competition is healthy. But at the end of the day, what came out of it was a lot of healthy respect and friendship. We proved that a lot of great quality comes from Antipodea/ Australia and New Zealand. We were the ANZAC's out there making a fitness difference to the world, whether it shone through in freestyle or Pre-Choreographed Les Mills. We all wanted to achieve the same thing I'm sure. Get more people moving more often. Give people results-oriented fitness experiences. Get people fitter. And we have helped achieve that. 13000 clubs around the world. 60 countries. And the other figures continue to astound.

What I'm also proud of, reading all the other posts, is that most people generally accept that there is a place for both. Congratulations to you all. There has to be and there needs to be a place for both.
Creativity, uniqueness, spontaneity - these words have been popular among some. I'm absolutely sure that everytime I stand in front of any one of my 10 classes per week, I have as much opportunity to be spontaneous and creative within a prechoreographed class. Plus I am UNIQUE because I'm me! And that's where the lines get blurred when we try and differentiate between freestyle and pre-choreographed. Too often, creative, unique and spontaneous are mistaken for coordinated and uncoordinated.
Every class we teach, no matter what style or gender is an opportunity not to be missed. It is an opportunity to change lives, to inspire and motivate and to use our natural god-given talents to the best of their abilities. We are all on the right side!

I too believe that we need more freestyle opportunities. We need more workshops and training and controls as it seems it was the lack of controls which sent highly coordinated choreography spiralling out of control and participants spiralling out of studios - 8 counts behind! And now we have the unenviable position of having an instructor market that is unskilled at freestyle. A huge instructor market that would need a huge amount of upskilling to really put quality freestyle back on the map. A freestyle industry in need of a massive overhaul and a quality blueprint to future success and development. We have the talent in Australia to lead this charge. We have the history and we have learn't lessons from our mistakes. It can only help us to make things better and keep us all at the cutting edge of Group Fitness.

Long live Freestyle. Long live PreChoreography. Long live Group Fitness.

Posted by: Jayne | 09-Jul-2009 07:47 AM | 5 out of 5 stars

Lets re-package freestyle!!! 'Freestyle' is such a misnomer. As fresstyle instructors we teach a highly stuctured (not to be confused with complexity of choreography) well planned classes which give us the ablitiy to control the learning curve for our clients. We do take our participants on a journey and not just take the "follow me or get it next time" approach. We deliver customised classes for our participants.
As a passionate freestyle instructor I stepped out when to much pre-choreography hit the shelves. I have now been trying to get work in the industry as a very experienced instructor in a large regional town and can't get on a timetable!!!
Agree with the need for more training. We got where we were because of the fabulous training and development opportunities that were available to us. We won't have instructors and quality classes without without support and guidance.

Posted by: John | 09-Jul-2009 09:34 PM | 5 out of 5 stars

Totally love this artical and its about time someone stood up and said it!!!!!!..
I have been in the fitness industry for almost 15 years now and have presenting all over the world for the last 9 - 10 years and am constantly surprised at poor attendence by people wanting to teach freestyle fitness and have the ability to think and structure a class for themselves, instead of being told what to say and do.
Whilst I do believe that pre-choreography and freestyle can live side by side, training must be given to everyone... I still believe that freestyle instructors make better LES MILLS teachers than those that have not been through the whole process of planning a class by themselves and developing the performer (unique performer, yourself!) instead of just giving the cues that you receive with you new Body Pump CD.
As well as presenting I am a group ex manager and my studio timetable is an equal 50/50 split and all the classes are busy! whenever I arrange a STEP (Freestyle) afternoon at the club, we have a waiting list of people that want to do it, they just can't get enough.....
So as Pete said, you guys have got to get out there and help train these people (didn't agree with the Ozzies are best part, being and English man myself!)..

Keep freestyle alive. We need new blood out there, i'm getting too old to keep going and need to hand the batton onto someone fresh.

Posted by: Anonymous | 10-Jul-2009 08:28 AM | 5 out of 5 stars

I did Pump training in the early days of pump. While I love it as a concept the training I believe undermined my professionalism as an instructor. It was enough to put me off instructing for quite a while. I believe that pre-choreographed classes were pitched to and appealed to managers / owners of fitness centres. It was a quick approach to fix things. If centres had been willing to commit the amount of money to training as they do to pre-choreographeed fees we would have phenomenal instructors. While I believe that packages do try to address instructor techniques and pedagogy, the preoccupation is still with learing "what" to teach rather than "how" or even "why" we do it. Choreography is not a dirty word. A "one size fits all" approach does not give all our participants a chance to succeed. Lets get some balance back! A diet of pre-packaged ready to made meals is not a healthy option in the long term.

Posted by: Kylie | 14-Jul-2009 10:59 AM |

I have been teaching freestyle classes for only five years and enjoy the freedom and creative challenge a freestyle class offers. Although I do believe that pre-choreographed classes have their place, I also believe that there is a large percentage of the population that is not catered for within the format. Freestyle allows you to manipulate and change a class according to the clients. The pre-choreographed classes do not allow for a change of pace or cater for special populations as "the show must go on" (in time with the pre-package cd!).
Furthermore, pre-choreographed classes do not necessarily make for good instructors. I am in total agreeance with the above comments that more focus is put on the 'what' rather than the 'how'. I fear that we are thus creating a generation of instructors that have absolutely no idea of how to really teach. God forbid if the cd is damaged and an instructor has to actually make up something to music they do not know phrase for phrase!

Posted by: Wayne David Clark | 14-Aug-2009 11:06 AM | 5 out of 5 stars

Good onya Rebecca, for kick starting which will hopefully be a way back to the world of Freestyle....(although you should have put my name on the list) but that's okay...

Well let me think as a former Ozzie I too moved to another country to try and help build the industry in Asia, quite well I might add in that when I fist came to HK in 1998 there wasn't much happening or should I say things were just starting to happen and now the industry is booming especially GX.

I work for FF in HK and part of my role is head teacher for Freestyle and am working hard to create new and interesting ideas to keep members open minded more than anything and aware that freestyle is very important.

In my club I have more Free style classes than our other 6 clubs of course I teach most of them but we do have a small good group of freestylers and freestyle training is quite strong here in HK

Having worked personally with all the names above and being a co ordinator for one of the best clubs in Sydney many many years ago Physical Factory Mosman I was shocked actually when I had heard that Peter and Louise (owners) had been bought out by FF.

It was one of the last remaining Amazing Fitness Centers in the country and like you said people would come from miles around just to attend the classes taught there. There was an energy that you just can't describe. But most of you up there are freestylers so you will know what I am talking about.

I agree with the majority of the comments here the training that is needed to teach PRE CHOREOGRAPHY is nothing compared to what we had to go through. I know that there are some great PRE CHORE teachers or should I say Coaches out there... but that is mainly because they came from a Freestyle Background there are just so many little things that only a freestyler (well trained that is) can pick up in a class something that no matter how much PRE CHORE training you have, may never be able to see.

As a Fitness Manager I know that there is a place from a business perspective for PRE CHOREOGRAPHY, but I have to say even though Bodycombat is one of our most popular classes on the timetable, my freestyle Body Toning classes and Stretch classes bring in just as many people and at off peak times so I truly believe there has to be a place for creativity and versatility in all clubs. Like someone mentioned before some countries just don't do PRE CHORE and real fitness presenters teach FREESTYLE workshops to packed crowds all over Europe and the States.

So if you look outside Australia FREESTYLE is very much alive and kicking ass...

p.s I started teaching my first class in 1980@!#$!#$ OMG

Wayne x

Posted by: Tim | 18-Aug-2009 05:10 PM | 5 out of 5 stars

Ah...those were the days :-)

What a trip down memory lane to read this article and all the great comments.

So where did the freestyle class go?

I think just as video killed the radio star, choreography might have had a part in killing the fitness class as we knew it. Back in the day there was a place for choreography but i think it just got too complexed as us 'freestyle instructors' got so caught up in our fancy footwork.
I did see an evolution of the fitness class as we went from a basic single or multi peak class to a highly complexed choreographed routine with no breathing space or room for error. We went from a track to track pace to a non stop 32 count frenzy. Sure it was fun to be creative and teach routines but did we lose sight of what our participants wanted? I remember I used to hear comments like "i don't want to have to think when I'm doing a class" or I'd watch as a class would halve as people used to walk out in frustration.
Just as frustrated as I know participants were getting there were also a lot of frustrated instructors. I recall lots of instructors feeling the pressure of having to teach routines or they would become obsolete. If you didn't teach the way everyone else was then you were out of work. Perhaps we should have left them to keep teaching the great classes they were already teaching. In fact what they were teaching was along the lines of the Les Mills concept. Simple!
Add to the problem of classes getting far too complex for the 'norm', there wasn't any consistency in fitness class terminology or content. Although not a fan of Les Mills programs (i'm was a die hard freestyler!) at least participants have some ideas of what they are walking into.
As a former die hard freestyler instructor, I used to attend the workshops of the greats and like most others got so excited I couldn't wait to teach my next class to show them the latest new moves. The thing I used to see was a lot of instructors trying to replicate highly complex routines and getting it all wrong. There is a lot of skill involved to be able to teach high complexity in a low complex way. We also need to keep in mind the K.I.S.S principle. A great routine doesn't need to have that many steps and directional changes that it confuses the hell out of people.
With the right bit of marketing and upskilling instructors I am sure participants would embrace the freestyle class once more. I recall Lexie Williams once saying something like 'there are no new moves, just new ways of doing them'
Bring back the creative flow of the freestyler!

Posted by: Wendy Watkins | 22-Aug-2009 12:24 PM |

I teach freestyle and prechoreographed. What I would like would be smaller workshops for freestyle instructors. Filex is definetely not a possibility for me, because of the cost. If there were more frequent and affordable workshops for freestyle instructors, I would be there. I am talking about choreographed classes, not cycle and boxing.

Posted by: Kate | 13-Sep-2009 07:51 PM |

Another oldie instructor with 20 years experience particularly with step. I still teach 4 step classes a week and they all do well. I work in 3 gyms and I am the only freestyle class on the timetable in two of them. When I need to take a class off, it is replaced by Body Step. After 10 years of LM in the industry, our skill base has been severely depleted, not just instructors, but participants. LM has stopped instructors trying new things, being confident in their own abilities, and being spontaneous. BodyStep is the same stuff rehashed at every launch and our participants dont ever evolve. We have been taken for a ride......sad but true, and LM has laughed all the way to the bank!

Here at Network we would tend to disagree. Whist it is true that there is a shortage of skilled freestyle instructors in the marketplace, there are a huge number of very talented LM instructors who do a fantastic job getting people to exercise - which is exactly what we all should be worried about. As mentioned above in a previous comment, we all have the same mission regardless of what we teach. The LM product is good, in fact it is VERY good, and that's why there are more than 13,000 clubs around the world using their programs. No one should fault someone for having a good business idea and capitalising on it, that's what a free market is all about! Keep teaching and keep smiling, no matter what modality you choose. - Network

Posted by: lisa t | 25-Oct-2009 10:48 AM |

Hi from Sweden. :-) I have been giving classes since 1984 and have since the vast change that came with the Les Mills programs.
The good thing is that there are more guys (males) attending the grouptraining classes and there are more females that have started doing weighttraining at the gym after they were introduced to weights by the Bodypumpclasses. I do feel however that the "quality" of the instructors are lower today compared to a few years ago. The need for a good education, containing anathomy, physiology etc is not as important as it used to be as the Les Mills programmes are all set and they teach you how to do and what to do and you might not actually need to have the full understanding and yet get away with teaching it.
That is how I feel :-) So please make room for both. Bring back the freestyle-classes. kram

Posted by: Annie | 25-Oct-2009 05:40 PM | 5 out of 5 stars

You rock Kram!! Networks response is great in an ideal world, and I passionately would love to have it that way. However, in the real world, well in Melbourne suburbs anyway, LM dominates most timetables AND what happens to instructors that have years of experience and cannot work in a gym because they dont teach LM? They disappear taking their knowledge and skills and individuality with them. My local Fernwood recently took all freestyle classes off their timetable, and in the process 2 fantastic, experienced instructors, who had fab classes were put out of work! Bizarre and why?? The classes cut out were amongst the most popular on the timetable. Now that gym has all LM and some Yoga and choice, and no explanations given......and this is the REALITY! How can a lone freestyle instructor compete with the LM marketing machine, when it is coming from well above in the organisation? THEY CAN'T!! Organisations like Network should be proactively encouraging clubs to maintain balance shouldnt they....we are all paid up members of Network - dont we deserve a bit of support? And if LM instructors are so wildly talented, why cant they teach a freestyle class, when they are covering for a freestyle instructor??

Posted by: Adam Wilson | 06-Feb-2010 08:28 AM | 5 out of 5 stars

Active health Clubs in Cairns Embraces Freestyle in 3 of its five Clubs in Cairns ours customers, after I mentioned this article to the freestyle instructors Ben Newman came back with a awsome resonse which I have posted..Adam

Hi Adam, please pass on my feedback to Rebecca:

"Hi Rebecca,

Having been mentored by some amazing Freestyle and Les Mills instructors on the Gold Coast ten years ago, I too have witnessed a lot of change in the industry in regard to the group fitness products used in the Australian Industry.

Yes, Les Mills have the budget, the team of inspiring experts in their program fields, and yes there has been an exit of high calibre freestyle instructors in the Australian Fitness Industry, so what is the solution?

Where do you find freestyle instructors who are experts in their field (ie. weight-lifting, strength or sports conditioning, martial arts, dancing, yoga, etc etc) who have full-time jobs in the fitness industry, speak to the customers, strategically plan variety of programs, commit to practice and testing out their formula, source inspiring music, and are available ALL THE TIME at the required timeslot?

I would love to see more variety on group fitness timetables, I would love to see new awe-inspiring dynamic freestyle fitness instructors (I have had the pleasure of working with both Lisa Osbourne and Michelle Dean in the past two years), and I would like to see customers talking about enjoyable quality freestyle classes, but do I think the Australian Fitness Industry has any skilled instructors who can commit to producing this each week? no.

The truth is that Health & Fitness is now a part-time industry, with part-time attitudes. Instructors DO want to shine and have popular classes, but only at the times that suit them personally and with the least amount of effort.

I speak with other instructors at FILEX when browsing the freestyle music sales, and no one is comfortable with quality of freestyle in Australia, or the availability of instructors.

If you would like to see people commit the time to becoming better rolemodels for freestyle fitness, you will need each and every health club in Australia to commit the time and expense of hiring full time group fitness instructors, and paying them to produce better freestyle programs (whilst giving them funding for pursing sports, tournaments, and competitions to be better EXPERTS in their fields, as well as the time/funds to upskill with education courses).

Until each and every health club hires someone for this role, freestyle will never become popular with Australian customers.

Good luck.

Benjamin Newman
BDM, Active Health group

ph: 13-000-FITNESS

Posted by: Nigel Fletcher | 06-Nov-2010 10:59 AM | 5 out of 5 stars

As a participant of freestyle when it was big in the 90's and now living in Sydney where there is very little freestyle aerobics & step around. Recently completed cert 3 fitness and freestyle aerobics with FIA (2010). They advocate freestyle instructors are in big demand, but how does a new instructor in training break into frestyle, I would so love to teach freestyle hilo & step. It would be awesome to find a mentor that can take me under their wing so we can keep the spirit of freestyle alive. Us new emerging freestyle instructors need the help & support of those experienced freestylers. I also believe there needs to me more freestyle workshops around for us to grow & develop. Recently joined Virgin Active in Sydney City and its great to see they are offering freestyle aerobcs & step.... great work

Posted by: Peter | 23-Jan-2011 06:18 PM | 5 out of 5 stars

I've been a participant in freestyle classes since the late 1980s. In Melbourne now I can conveniently get to maybe two freestyle step classes per week, and with one of those the long term instructor has now retired. Seeing some of the names in this thread certainly brought back many memories - Marcus Irwin and Lisa Osborne, and in Melbourne we can't forget John Cunnold, Deryn Rowe and Chris Kemp. It is a shame there aren't more freestyle classes available nowadays.

Posted by: cathy | 01-Feb-2011 05:23 AM | 5 out of 5 stars

I teach both. Sometimes I want to curl up from embarassment when i have to watch the pre choreo dvd's of that fast fitness organisation Les Mills. What worries me the most is that the instructors i know who are fanatically enthousiastic about pre choreo are the ones that practically need their personalities and personal style prechoreographed. They even crack the same jokes as the presenters on the videos. If i realise my dream to have my own studio, we will do our best to only employ that rare breed of freestylers that this article refers to.

If you look at fitness trends for 2011, because of trends favouring programmes like power yoga, dance workouts, cross fit, PT in small groups, more specialist workouts, it's looking good for the talented and well schooled freestyler! You just have to pay them what they deserve and that's where most centra (and whole countries) go wrong.

And Rebecca is one of the best!! I remember at the EFAA convention about 13 years ago following my first step class with her. I was sold!!

Posted by: Anonymous | 23-Jul-2011 12:45 AM | 5 out of 5 stars

I teach both freestyle and Les Mills, Bodystep and Bodypump to be exact. What I hate about the Les mills programs is the 'clone' like effect that I feel as an instructor - well really I am like any other instructor presenting the same pre-choreographed
class all around the world. Les Mills has produced a factory of reproductions, and this is where my group fitness teaching is broken up by my freestyle pump, hilo and step classes. To have a client come up to me at the end of my freestyle class which I made
by myself with no help, and say they really enjoyed it, and they'll be back, means more to me than teaching a large class of Bodypumpers who really don't differentiate between myself and the instructor the next day. Freestyle classes need an instructor with
BRAINS - to be able to create a masterpeice by themselves, be it basic, intermediate or advanced. That's the beauty - we can cater to ALL people, not just some people. I believe that Les Mills will soon come to an end, as creative as they can be, because people
get sick and tired of repetition. We need more Les Mills cloned instructors to realise that they can use Les Mills as a leverage to be able to move up and create their own magic!