GX SKILLS: THE GROUP X FACTOR

It’s awesome to have studio celebrities on your team that pack out every class. But how can you define their ‘X factor’, and what can you do with those who don’t appear to possess it?

As a group fitness coordinator, my role is to continually create a high performing team and culture that makes group fitness shine from the inside out. I believe there are two components to success when it comes to group fitness: amazing programs and, more importantly, amazing instructors. I recently reviewed my own skills and those of my instructors in an attempt to better understand the types of players that make up a group fitness team and their impact on overall team performance.

It became clear that my team possessed a variety of skills and personal attributes. It was made up of:

1. Instructors who had amazing knowledge, with some even being qualified PTs

2. Instructors who were reliable team players willing to step in and lend a hand to their team mates whenever needed

3. Instructors who were conscientious and took pride in the package they presented both in and out of their classes through preparation, presentation, and active interaction with the team both on and off the job

4. Instructors who were visionaries, challenging the norm and providing ideas to further the development of the team and the programming

5. Instructors who really wanted to connect with people and who used their classes and their environment to do this. These ones could usually be found chatting with the staff and members after the class.

After giving myself a high five for creating such a well-rounded team on paper, I had to face the fact that, actually, it still wasn’t performing as well as it could be. It was clear that although there was a good mix of team players onboard, there were big variations in the class numbers they achieved.

It appeared that there were some instructors on my team who, despite not having the entire list of desired skills and attributes, had that something… extra; that something that made participants flock to their classes regardless of their skill or style of program they taught.

I understood that people just ‘liked’ them, and I also knew that they were the types of people who could really bring home the bacon and push a team to new heights when it came to group fitness. I guess you could say they had the ‘X factor’.

So what is the X factor?

The Oxford Dictionary defines the ‘X factor’ as: A noteworthy special talent or quality or A variable in a given situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome. Unsatisfied with traditional definitions, I decided to consult the Urban Dictionary which defines the X factor as: an indescribable quality or something about a person that you cannot put a finger on… Je ne sais quoi.

Great, I thought, how am I supposed to find and recruit instructors with this X factor if the quality is indescribable? Well, maybe it’s not. I thought back to the first time I stepped into a group fitness class way back in 1995. Now, it was a long time ago and I may have been wearing a G-string leotard, but I remember that from the first moment I was absolutely hooked, mesmerised by the alluring combination of lycra, fitness, choreography, loud pumping music and a group of which I was automatically a part.

We were all in this together, and the instructor was instantly my idol. I was grape-vining, easy walking and rocking horsing my way into fitness heaven and my most immediate concern was going home to beg my mother to buy me a pair of Reebok ankle high cross trainers, and a fancy new pair of bike pants so I could be just like my instructor... It was a 90’s thing. In my mind, this instructor was a superstar and I knew that one day I was going to be just like her. She had style, a great body and a great outfit, but most of all she had a great personality. She was funny, she wanted to know my name, she wanted me to know the other people’s names and she wanted us all to have fun. She ‘cared’ about me, and as a result I’d never wanted to be better at anything more in my entire life, so I signed up – first for a class, and then for a career.

These studio celebrities still exist today, and participants are still mesmerised by them. They take things to the next level and inspire their participants, igniting the fire that drives them to be their best, helping them to grow both inside and outside the studio. The ripple effect of this is that the family and friends of these participants notice the change in them, and can either be inspired or challenged by it. If the former, they will also come along to class hoping for a taste of the good stuff. They too are welcomed and included by the X factor instructor, and the army grows.

Active ingredient X

Based on my experiences, and my observations, I’ve come to the conclusion that, despite initial elusiveness, there are certain qualities that give these instructors their X factor.

1. Passion

Passion needs no words. It shines through any activity when it’s present. Have you ever found anything hard to do when you were passionate about it? Personally, when I’m passionate about something, I put a lot of thought into it, I never miss it and I want to know everything about it. Instructors who are passionate about their classes always come prepared, rarely take time off and take pride in delivering their amazing experiences to others. It’s not just a job, it’s a privilege, and an opportunity to live from the heart, a place of satisfaction and joy.

2. Knowledge

Despite knowing a lot about the programs they deliver, passionate instructors never stop learning. They are always observing, open to formal and informal feedback and keen to try out new ideas. They are continually seeking self-improvement, and passing this knowledge on to their participants.

3. Awareness

Great instructors have a heightened level of awareness. They are always observing themselves and others, reading the room, reading the body language, watching their emotions and taking responsibility for their actions. This awareness allows them to know exactly where their motivation comes from and give it permission to drive their behaviours.

4. Authenticity

X factor instructors believe and practice what they preach. Nothing sells like congruency and authenticity. People can smell a fake a mile away. When participants know they are getting the real deal, it builds instant trust and long-lasting loyalty.

In addition, these people are natural teachers and natural performers; they have that winning balance of entertainment and education; of attention seeking and attention giving. They can own the floor while at the same time sharing it, a skill many find challenging.

Managing the Why? Factor…

Of course, not everyone who instructs group exercise possesses these qualities. You’ve doubtless attended classes where you’ve wondered why the instructor was teaching when they didn’t seem to have the right skills or appear to be enjoying themselves. These group fitness experiences leave me perplexed and asking myself, how did this person end up here? Why did they decide group fitness was for them, when they obviously aren’t enjoying it?

At some stage in your career you’ll find yourself working with an individual or a team of people that don’t appear to have the X factor. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not there, just that they may not be in touch with their own passion, or allowing it to be their driving force. For some, it’s a lack of the third quality we discussed – awareness. This is something that can be changed, especially if you are managing, mentoring, coaching or teaching them.

As a group fitness coordinator, it’s my responsibility to not only find and employ those with the X factor, but to guide our other great instructors to get in touch with why they do what they do. Simply asking an instructor to reflect on this, what they love about the job in general, and what inspired them to teach the programs they teach, will usually illuminate their motivation pretty quickly. If it doesn’t, it may be because specific experiences or circumstances have dampened their enthusiasm. If, after discussing it with them, they remain unsure what they love about the program they teach, they don’t like to be in front of a crowd, or they don’t enjoy the leadership role in some capacity, then perhaps group fitness instructing is not for them. If the barriers can be identified and addressed, however, the instructor may be able to re-kindle their motivation into the raging passion that is the heart of the X factor.

This isn’t a passion that is simply switched on in the studio though: it permeates their everyday life and trickles into the lives of their participants. It comes from the soul. Of the four qualities discussed above, some are innate, and some can be learnt. When an instructor lives their passion, however, they become authentic and congruent, meaning that there is no line between work and play. This is the dream, and these people are living it. No wonder it’s infectious! Instructors with the X factor are the catalysts that ignite the passions in their participants (just like my 16-year-old lycra-clad self), some of whom go on to become amazing instructors themselves. They support the talent and share their stage to mentor the new generation of instructors; they consciously and unconsciously create the X factor blueprint that keeps the industry alive.

It’s never too late to find the hidden stars who do have passion, who do love people and who do have that X factor – it’s just a matter of helping them uncover their motivations, gain self-awareness and really understand what programs and situations fire them up. After a little digging and some strategic instructor ‘Tetris’ to get everyone teaching the programs they love, you can establish that next level of group ex excellence – the illustrious Group X Factor Team.


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.