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Reward and recognition for instructors will help build a happy and reliable team – and fortunately for budget-conscious managers, it needn’t always be financial, says GFM Kirsty Nield.


  • Club budgets seldom allow for monetary bonuses as rewards for excellent work, so it’s important for GFMs to make instructors feel valued through other simple and cost-effective methods
  • Praise, added responsibility and small tokens of appreciation like coffee vouchers and free gym passes for their friends or family can help you display appreciation
  • Challenges and competitions that encourage instructors to grow their skills and class success can also involve elements of reward and recognition
  • Providing the opportunity for upskilling makes instructors feel valued, while also increasing the quality of service they deliver and their adaptability.

Reward and acknowledgment are an important part of group fitness management. By recognising good work, the GFM is more likely to get the most out of their team of instructors. Reward is all about the GFM building good relationships with their team of instructors, which results in the instructors happily supporting their manager. They are more likely to help out with covers, contribute to launches, attend meetings and training opportunities, and be reliable and loyal to the gym. Happy instructors result in fuller classes, fulfilled members and longer-term gym memberships.

Many instructors don’t teach classes just for the money – they do it because they love it. Therefore (fortunately, considering today’s financial climate), reward doesn’t always need to be in the form of high pay rates or financial incentives. Simple and cost-effective ways of showing appreciation and acknowledgement often suffice.

Following the previous articles in this series, which looked at how to create a dynamic group fitness team and how to promote classes, this article provides an array of techniques to build relationships through reward and acknowledgment. These should be kept safely in the GFM bag of tricks and pulled out whenever the team needs a fresh burst of enthusiasm, a morale boost or even a bit of a kick up the butt!


An effective way of recognising the hard work, passion and skills of group fitness instructors is by providing rewards. Here are some great, cost-effective ways of doing so.

1. Praise

Simple praise is free, it’s easy to provide and will always be appreciated by the recipient. It can be as simple as a handwritten thank you note or a private conversation about how much the GFM appreciates the instructor’s efforts. A Freddo Frog in the pigeon hole of an instructor that has helped the GFM or an appreciative Facebook post can facilitate an ongoing dialogue between instructors with regards performance, and can improve engagement.

2. Responsibility

The amount of responsibility an instructor is given should directly correlate with how capable they are. Selecting instructors to take the lead on instructor training or giving them the authority to make their own judgment calls without the involvement of the GFM shows them that the GFM believes they’re capable.

3. Showcasing

A gym’s best instructors are its rock stars. Providing them with the opportunity to lead by example will reinforce their value to the club. This can be done by asking individual instructors to lead a specific program, and giving them a corresponding title, such as ‘HIIT Leader’, ‘Head of Aqua Fitness’ or ‘Seniors Program Leader’. These people can be put in charge of updating other staff regarding the latest trends in their area, helping mentor new instructors and letting the GFM know if there are any problems with equipment or complaints regarding their program. As well as making them feel validated, this will also inspire other employees to compete for the top spot. This will make them feel validated, and will also inspire other instructors to aim for the top spot.

4. Event recognition

Having a whiteboard in the staff room and using it to acknowledge instructor achievements and occasions, such as ‘Happy Birthday Sanuli!’, ‘Well done for receiving your BODYATTACK Certification Sam!’ or ‘Congratulations on your engagement Tom!’, lets instructors know the GFM is interested in them and their achievements and wants to share it with the team.

5. Tokens of appreciation

Management may be able to supply the GFM with resources that they can give to instructors who have gone above and beyond. These could include coffee vouchers, supplement samples or free visit passes for the gym for them to share with friends. Finding one of these tokens of appreciation in your pigeon hole will always put a smile on an instructor’s face.

Instructor challenges and competitions

As a leader, it is the GFM’s job to lift the skills and performance of the instructor team to the highest level. This can be done by motivating and energising them to become better instructors and make more effort in their classes.

In general, instructors are people who like the limelight. They love to be noticed and are often quite competitive. Therefore, a really effective way of building team spirit and enabling instructors to interact is to set a challenge. The following are two examples of challenges that I found to be effective at getting instructors to communicate, both with each other and members.

1. Connection challenge

After attending several instructors’ classes I felt there was a lack of connection between the instructors and the class participants. In business, particularly within the gym environment, customer satisfaction is vital for ongoing success. Therefore, if instructors are not engaging with the customer (their participants), class numbers may suffer. Inclusion and engagement make people feel good, which will keep them coming back week after week.

Rather than giving the instructors a lecture on how to form better relationships with people, I set them the Connection Challenge shown below on our club’s Instructor Facebook group page.

The outcome from this challenge was fantastic. During the month, over 30 posts were made with instructors sharing their stories of meeting their class members. The instructors became more aware of how to connect with their classes and how others achieved this goal. It also helped the instructors interact with each other and commend each other on their connection skills.

2. Participation selfie challenge

I regularly attend other instructor’s classes. Whenever I do, I pick up ideas for my classes, different ways of cueing and great insight into how others teach. This is a useful strategy that all instructors can benefit from. To encourage instructors to do this, I set the Participation Selfie Challenge, shown below, on Facebook.

This challenge was really successful, with all of the instructors attending numerous classes and taking advantage of having a reason to participate in classes they hadn’t previously tried. The instructors were able to learn from each other’s teaching styles, increase their fitness and show support for each other – outcomes that benefit both instructors and members.


The life of an instructor isn’t always easy. The training required to become an instructor, and the ongoing professional development and upskilling needed to remain an instructor, takes real commitment. Instructors have to continually deal with difficult members, take complaints and insults on the chin and, often, juggle another job in addition to teaching classes. They often drop what they are doing to help out with covers and in many cases don’t get much appreciation. It’s a tough gig!

The fastest way of winning instructors trust and loyalty is for the GFM to go above and beyond in showing appreciation and recognition of their achievements. The following are some key accomplishments worthy of recognition:

1. 100% class attendance

Each week for a month, post a list on your Facebook group page of all classes that had 100% attendance for that week. Tag the instructors who were teaching the class and congratulate them for hitting that goal.

2. Being a covers hero

Maintain a record of every time an instructor does a cover, by keeping a tally or getting the instructors to fill out a slip of paper with their name, the class they covered and date on it and putting it in a box. Every six months, count the total number of covers by each instructor and award first, second and third prizes to those with the highest numbers. Rewarding covers means the instructors know they are appreciated and will be more inclined to put themselves out to help out with covers when needed.

3. Great feedback and upskilling

Recognition can be as simple as saying ‘thank you’ when an instructor helps, or commending them when they complete some training or receive some good feedback. This can be done by taking photos of feedback forms and posting them on Facebook.

Communication, staff meetings and catch-ups sub head

When instructors feel like they don’t know what is going on around the gym or with the timetable, it makes them feel like their opinion doesn’t matter and they are not valued. Regular communication with instructors, therefore, is very important.

This can be done by sending out a weekly email to the instructors and other gym staff addressing any timetable changes, promotions, achievements and other business happening around the gym. It is important that everyone knows what is going on in the Group Fitness space and no one feels neglected.

While Facebook groups provide a great platform for communication, nothing beats face-to-face interactions. Regularly catching up with instructor’s can be quite difficult and due to clashing timetables and schedules there will be some instructors the GFM rarely sees. It is important that the GFM attends these instructor’s classes once or twice a year, both to let them know they are not forgotten and to check that their teaching is up to scratch.

Other ways of catching up with instructors include:

1. Staff meetings

These are important for covering items such as general housekeeping, including timesheets, batteries, procedures and policies, qualification updates, introduction of new instructors, brainstorming for new classes, discussing launch themes, timetable changes and general discussion of the latest trends and research. Staff meetings are a good chance to get the team together and allow the instructors to connect with each other.

It is not usually possible to pay instructors to attend meetings, so their presence is generally voluntary as well as being subject to their availability around other work and life commitments. This makes it even more important to make staff meetings fun and beneficial for the whole team. Combining staff meetings with training, workshops, social events or catch-up drinks is a good way of enticing instructors to attend.

2. Casual catch-ups

It is really important for the GFM to make face-to-face contact with all instructors from time to time. As well as allowing the GFM to see how the instructor is doing, this lets the instructor know they are well supported and provides an opportunity to discuss any changes or concerns. A one-on-one catch-up could just be a quick coffee meeting or a chat in the staff room.

3. Social events

Once or twice a year, the GFM should organise a catch-up with the whole team of instructors. This could include dinner, movies, bowling, rock climbing or any activity that appeals to the whole team.


Another important way of showing support for the group fitness team is for the gym to host training opportunities for the instructors. Training could be in the form of an informal practical brainstorming session, in-house training run by one of the more experienced instructors on the team, or a more formal CEC workshop run by a professional trainer

Running upskilling opportunities can be used to either train instructors in a new program or to fill a gap in the skillset of the team. Not only does upskilling broaden the knowledge of team members, it also makes them more adaptable and improves the general standard of instructors at your club.

The group fitness team is one of the most valuable assets of a gym. A cohesive team which runs like a well-oiled machine can take the group fitness program from ‘ho-hum’ to ‘wowzers’ and make classes better than those found at any other gym. The best way of achieving this is by having a team which is well informed, well-educated and feels appreciated.

Network’s course ‘Group Fitness Management: Creating a reliable and skilled team’, designed by the author of this article, group fitness guru Kirsty Nield, ​equips you ​with the tools​​ to become a skilled manager of ​GFIs or PTs. If you’ve ever wanted to ​become a GFM​,​ or you’re currently in the group fitness space and want to learn ​how to create a reliable and skilled team, this course ​can help you do that.
  • Innovative ways to lead your team
  • Strategies to build class numbers
  • How to make group fitness the heart of your club
  • How to find and retain the best GFI’s
Accredited for 3 CECs, the course is just $109 for Network Members ($139 non-members)

Kirsty Nield
Over the past 20 years Kirsty has established herself as one of Australia’s leading group fitness instructors and educators. A GFM for the past decade and a fitness presenter since 2012, she is passionate about mentoring and educating fellow fitness profession

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