// Listen up and move

by Kinnie Ho

Around the time that I started teaching group fitness classes, a wise and skilful instructor told me to keep my language simple so that everybody I taught could understand me. Over many years of teaching, as the bank of choreography builds up like a financial savings account so does the bank of vocabulary we use to convey instructions to our class participants. Movement and choreography are like fashion; they go in and out of style, and the same applies to words and expressions that we use when teaching.

In classes such as step aerobics and high-impact dance classes, movement terminologies can become as common, to both participants and instructors, as the actual move itself.

It is not unusual to find an instructor calling out the names of moves and regular participants competently executing the action on cue. So what happens when you have first timers or non-seasoned group fitness participants attending your class? Will they be able to pick up the choreography immediately from simply hearing you call out the name of the moves? Participants become accustomed to a workout by connecting what they see with what they hear and those new to group exercise classes will adopt this pattern by default. This experience, however, can leave participants feeling frustrated by trying to familiarise themselves with the moves while keeping up with the class, instructor and choreography.

How, for example, can we guarantee new participants joining a step class will be able to follow the class without becoming confused and disoriented? The answer is for group fitness instructors to master effective, basic cueing and communication. While there are other factors to take into account such as participants’ motor skills, coordination, fitness levels and instructor’s class management skills, the role of clear, basic verbal cueing is of the utmost importance.

Linking base moves to base cues

The foundation of every instructor’s choreography bank is basemoves. Regular, seasoned class participants most likely find base moves very simple but for a beginner or non-seasoned participant, this may not be the case.

Let’s use step terminology as an example. To a first-timer, hearing standard moves such as ‘basic step’, ‘turn step’, ‘knee lift’ and ‘leg curl’ can be like listening to a foreign language. In a class, the conventional term used by instructors is the one that identifies the actual move. That is, to cue a knee lift, an instructor would call out ‘knee lift’ to the class. For a first-time participant, it might take several repetitions before he or she achieves fluidity in performing the move, and several classes before kinaesthesia and coordination sets in. An instructor can quicken a participant’s learning process by consistently using the same basic names for moves. Also, a good instructor will observe whether their new participants have become proficient at a move before changing too quickly. Repetition can feel like a God-send to a newcomer!

Cueing over the beat

Just as we might use repetition as an effective approach to teaching, we can also use different methods of cueing to facilitate the new participant’s learning process. Commonly instructors call out the name of a move (along with a visual cue) ‘pre-phrase’ or before the change of movement occurs. While this may serve to quickly get your message across to participants, sometimes it can be too quick for class beginners.

Newcomers coping with coordination issues and keeping to the beat of the music will feel challenged irrespective of the amount of verbal or visual cueing an instructor provides in class. When this is the case, it may be worthwhile shifting the cues over the phrase or, in the case of a single move, over the beat that it occurs, to assist participants who are challenged with rhythm and coordination.

Let’s take a simple base move – leg (step) curl – leading on your right foot (facing participants). The sequence would look as follows: (see sequence A).

A step curl takes four counts to execute fully. 

Traditionally, instructors would cue a step curl from the last two or so beats of the previous move (assuming there is one). However, if we apply auditory cues over the music beat to which the move takes place, it can be of greater help to new participants.

Using the same move as above, step curl:

Auditory cues are effective in emphasising a move, technique or visual cue and can either be words or sounds as highlighted in the example above. This approach is not limited to base moves; it can also be applied to compound moves or more complex routines.

Let’s take another move – double stomp (wide) – leading on your right foot (facing participants).

The sequence would look as follows:
A double stomp (wide) takes five beats to execute fully.

The auditory cues you choose to use over the double stomp move might sound something like: (see sequence B).

Simple is best

When you use auditory cues in your class, ensure you choose single syllable words which sit neatly over each beat of the music that comprises the move(s) you are teaching. You should not, however, feel compelled to cue over every beat; you might choose to use this method when and where you observe class participants experiencing difficulty with a particular move or part of the routine being taught.

While a large component of group fitness is visual orientation with participants copying or replicating the move of the instructor, it is important to remember that different individuals will interpret cues in different ways. The concept of ‘cueing over the music beat’ is a very useful teaching technique for effectively and efficiently getting your message across. Effective communication skills depend on an instructor’s understanding of the way various people learn. The ability to apply various teaching techniques in different situations is a vital ingredient in the art of great group fitness instructing.

Kinnie Ho, BSc (hons) MComm
Kinnie has over nine years teaching experience and a diverse background in fitness. He has been a guest speaker at various community health organisations and was previously an education coordinator for the Australian Institute of Fitness (NSW). He now resides in Hong Kong where he is an education program director.