// Freestyle Group Ex: The future of member retention

by Alisha Smith

How many members are visiting your facility to participate in group exercise classes? The 2009 Australian Fitness Industry Survey contained the interesting revelation that out of 7,000 gym member respondents, 34 per cent indicated that a typical gym visit involved participating in a group exercise class.

The survey also discovered, less surprisingly, that the key concerns for club owners and managers are membership sales and retention.

Interestingly, one of the biggest factors identified in member attrition is a lack of regular communication between gym staff and members, with one respondent going so far as to assert that they were only smiled at by gym staff when there was something to sell.

According to IHRSA’s Guide to Membership Retention, another key determinant of retaining members is ‘member to member contact’ – or creating a culture of social interaction between members. Looking at the research, it becomes clear that one of the ‘big rocks’ that keeps our members returning time and again is multifaceted interaction – that is, not only staff-to-member, but also member-to-member.

It’s no secret that the best group exercise instructors are intrinsically linked to member retention. Through their ability to connect with members and introduce them to other avid participants while providing a positive, scheduled, social exercise session, the group exercise instructor helps to create a culture of support and accountability. In her article ‘Trends, benefits and practical approaches of group fitness’1, Shonna Porter supports this notion, stating that ‘being a known and familiar part of a class where people notice your absence is a huge retention tool’.

Considering this, and the high percentage of gym members who are motivated to attend their gym for the purpose of attending a group exercise class, it is surprising that some clubs still display such a ‘laissez faire’ attitude towards underperforming timetables and instructors. It is also surprising, when a strong group exercise program is such a key tool for member retention, that the number of educational programs in the Australian fitness industry targeting personal trainers grossly outweighs those for group exercise instructors.

Any group fitness manager will attest to the fact that good instructors are hard to find, and with freestyle group exercise beginning to experience a resurgence in Australia, good freestyle instructors will be even harder to find. Now, consider for a moment your front row regulars. This passionate group of individuals is a fantastic source of eager, physically capable, budding instructors who, with the right training and mentoring, have the potential to become skilled and knowledgeable instructors.

Responding to a clear need on the part of the fitness industry, Australian Fitness Network has developed the Elite Group Exercise course, which will qualify existing and potential fitness professionals as freestyle group exercise instructors. Delivered entirely online, Elite Group Exercise, is an interactive, up-to-date course with a flexible study format that fits in with every lifestyle. Developed by industry pioneers, including the legendary Marcus Irwin, Elite Group Exercise provides options for specialisation across a range of group exercise formats. Here’s how it works:

The Elite Group Exercise course comprises three levels, culminating in the attainment of a Certificate III in Fitness (SRF30206) specialising in Group Exercise.

Level 1: Foundations of Fitness Instruction

Covering topics such as anatomy, physiology, nutrition,exercise science and specific populations, the Foundations of Fitness Instruction component teaches you all about the body, how it works and how it applies to group exercise.

Level 2: Essential Instructing Skill

From cueing and communication to structure and safety, the Essential Instructing Skills component provides you with the skills and knowledge that are common across all group exercise formats. Learn how to cue, count, manage a group and put together a comprehensive group exercise class plan. Fitness professionals with a current Certificate III in Fitness can enrol straight into Level 2.

Level 3: Strand Specialisation

One of the most important factors in developing this course was addressing the broad range of class formats and styles that are now instructed in the group exercise marketplace. It was realised that each format falls into one of two entirely separate categories: Choreography and Athletic.

The Choreography strand teaches you how to plan, structure and deliver high and low impact aerobics, step and body sculpting classes, whereas the Athletic strand teaches you how to plan, structure and deliver circuit, muscle conditioning and stretch classes.

This means that for the first time ever through Network, you can complete a full Certificate III in Group Exercise and actually choose which format of class you learn. If choreography is not your preference, you can learn about circuits, muscle conditioning and stretch. And if you really want to move and groove your participants, then you can learn how to put together step, aerobics and body sculpt classes.

Network’s Elite Group Exercise course will be launched in late 2009, so if you think that you or your participants have what it takes to be part of the freestyle revival, stay tuned for more information and check out www.fitnessnetwork.com.au/elitegx


1. ‘Trends, benefits and practical approaches of group fitness’, Shonna Porter, March 2006, www.ptonthenet.com

Alisha Smith
Alisha is the education manager at Australian Fitness Network. She is a Tomahawk ICE master trainer, personal trainer, group fitness instructor and curriculum developer. Alisha’s extensive industry experience is the underpinning force of her passion for educating and developing both existing and aspiring fitness professionals.

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