Participants can tire of our classes – and so can we. So how can you keep things fresh in the studio while retaining your unique flavour?
One of the biggest challenges faced by group fitness professionals is maintaining variety in their classes, particularly in freestyle programs. If participants feel like they’re doing the same thing over and over, week after week, their devotion to a class can be short lived – especially if they’re also not seeing results. On the flipside, humans are also creatures of habit who value a certain level of consistency. This makes knowing exactly how much to change, and when to change it, tricky.
So how do you know it’s time to shake things up?
Identify the signs from participants
Firstly, learn to identify some telltale warning signs. If there are no signs then perhaps you are already providing the appropriate level of variety, but if things are starting to tire, the first hint you’ll receive will generally come from your participants. Sometimes you’ll receive direct feedback asking you to include certain methods of training or particular exercises or focuses in the workout. If it’s a music-based program they may ask for a new track.
Other signs I’ve identified include regulars changing the exercise you’ve prescribed for ‘something different’ or because another instructor has told them a new or innovative way of doing it. Generally this isn’t done with any malice, so rather than taking it personally, take it as a sign that they are looking for something more and throw in a few innovative tricks of your own for them to try. I believe the most effective exercises are the basic ones, but adding a few frills here and there can provide enough decoration to boost motivation.
Probably the most telling external sign you will see is a change in class numbers. There can be many reasons for a drop in attendance, but I believe that too much blame is attributed to the weather in this scenario. When people are engaged and motivated by your classes, they will attend rain, hail or shine, so when numbers begin to fall or become sporadic, it’s time to look deeper and seek feedback to determine the reason.
Identify your own signs
In addition to these external signs that there’s a hunger for change, there are also some personal signs to be aware of. Personally, I know that I love what I do and when I am delivering my best classes I am teaching directly from a place of passion, I am fully present in the moment and afterwards I experience a feeling of fullness and satisfaction. When I begin to feel less than full or low on energy when teaching, it’s a clear signal that something is wrong. Group fitness instructors need to lead from a place of authenticity, with the motivation and engagement of the group feeding off that of the instructor. When my own motivation and engagement start to wane, I know we are heading into the danger zone and that the external signs from participants will also soon become apparent.
So what can you do when these signs start to appear?
The types of change necessary to address these issues fall into two categories: class content, and internal motivation.
Change class content
The class content is the nuts and bolts of the class, the workout itself, whether it’s dance-based, indoor cycle, Pilates or anything else. It’s tangible and most of the time can be changed immediately to cater to varying class needs.
Examples of ways you can be inspired to freshen up your content without losing your flavour include:
Completing a short course
Participating in a short course in something relevant to the classes you teach will inspire you to do at least one thing differently. It might be a new exercise, a new piece of equipment or a new way of formatting your workout which completely changes its dynamic without losing its benefits or style.
Working with a colleague
This can take many forms. Other instructors will always have a different approach and attending another’s class, team teaching, brainstorming a class together, mentoring each other and sharing resources is a great way to add variety to both your class and theirs.
Change your internal motivation
Because it refers to the way you feel about what you’re doing, rather than what you are doing itself, this area of change is more subjective. Even the best instructors who love what they do will feel burnt out from time to time. Getting to the heart of why this is so is critical to class attraction and member engagement. Generally, group fitness addicts come to the class because they enjoy being led by an enthusiastic instructor. If this changes they will start to notice, and so will you.
If you feel a little uninspired, some techniques to reinvigorate you include:
Taking a break
Rest is really important when you are face-to-face with people for a living. It’s vital to take a break from your classes a few times a year, whether you take an actual holiday or just a week off from teaching. When I’ve taken a break, I have often had space to understand the real reason why I’ve been lacking in motivation and then been able to address it.
Sometimes changing the day or time you teach can be as good as a holiday. If you are able to swap classes with a colleague, participants will enjoy a new style of teaching, and you’ll see some different faces and often be reminded why you love what you do so much.
Learning something new
When I’m lacking motivation I often invest some time in learning a new skill. Unlike taking courses specific to a class I teach, this skill may be completely unrelated to my career. However, it is always something that I want to do, not something that I feel I should do. Investing in myself helps me feel full again and renews my energy for teaching.
Knowing when it’s time to go
Sometimes no amount of internal or external inspiration can help keep content and motivation fresh. In such instances, a courageous instructor will let go of a class and provide an opportunity for another instructor to lead it back to its original heights.
This can be hard, especially if you’ve led the class for a long time, and letting go means letting go of an identity and a group that you know well. Ultimately, however, if you’ve done all you can to reinvigorate the class and yourself, but the spark isn’t returning, then it’s probably what needs to happen. Mentoring a replacement is often the gentlest way to do this, and a great way of easing your participants into a change that will be better for all in the long term.
There are many ways to approach change in your classes and how it’s done will differ for every instructor, group and program. As long as it’s based on awareness of your own motivations as well as signs from your participants, however, you’ll be able to ensure the best possible outcome.
Caroline Hynes is an experienced fitness professional currently employed as an instructor, teacher, tutor and group fitness coordinator within the industry. With a passion for group fitness and education, she is committed to doing all she can to see group fitness continue to thrive through the development and education of current and future fitness instructors.