Talking point: How do you deal with participants arriving late to class?

In each issue of Group Exercise, Mind Body & Aqua Network we ask a selection of leading industry professionals to share their insights and experiences in the world of group exercise. Here we address the perennial problem of latecomers to class.

Picture the scenario: you’re up on stage, the music is working its magic, and your participants are well and truly warmed up and getting stuck into their workout when the door opens and a latecomer sneaks into the studio and starts looking around for a good spot to join in. Actually, you probably don’t need to imagine the scene – you can probably recall this common occurrence all too clearly.

So, how do you deal with participants arriving late to your class? Do you have a no-entry policy to minimise disruption and risk of injury, or do you welcome all comers, regardless of how late they are?

We asked this issue’s authors:

How do you deal with participants arriving late to class?

Mel Tempest

Group Fitness Consultant, Your Group Fitness Expert

‘We love our members being vigilant in their workouts, but coming late is not cool. In our club we’re lucky it’s a very rare occurrence, but beware if you do turn up once the warm up is finished – our policy is for the group fitness instructor who is teaching to ask you to leave.

I often see members arrive at the door, see that the class has commenced, and then move on to cardio equipment or choose another class. Strategically placing classes on your timetable can minimise latecomers. For example, if a member misses the 5:30pm Tummy & Hips class, they can go to the 5:45pm Cycle. Commonly if one person is asked politely to leave, the message is set in stone for the individual and for other participants present. If disruptions caused by latecomers are a big problem in your club, you may need to look at the culture created by the group fitness team.’

Stephen Parker

Group Fitness Manager, Fitness First Darlinghurst

‘What a great topic – I applaud Network for raising the point. There are very valid points both for and against the admission of late members into a class.

Against late admission:

  • Increases the risk of injury and can be unsafe for members to miss out on the warm up.
  • Arriving late is disruptive to other participants if equipment needs to be set up.
  • Lateness can be viewed as disrespectful and rude to the instructor and other participants.
  • If the class is busy, arriving late generally sees the participant squeezing in at the back of the room, further reducing space for surrounding participants.
  • In a freestyle class, late participants will have missed learning curves and layers to a routine which makes it difficult to follow safely.

For late admission:

  • For some people, motivating themselves to come to the gym in the first place is hard enough. If they are turned away for being a few minutes late, they may not come back again.
  • A skilled instructor will be able to offer exercise options while they warm up and catch up to the rest of the class.
  • Demonstrates flexibility and sends a message that everyone is welcome.

My personal opinion is not to allow members in to a class after the warm up has finished. This must be handled with respect to the member and professionalism on the part of the instructor. As a GFM, I have received feedback from members who have felt embarrassed and as though they have been spoken down to by instructors who have yelled over the microphone in front of other class participants.

My advice is to, if possible, approach the member, mute the microphone and advise them that it is not safe for them to attend class at this point. Offer an alternative such as the next class and let the member know you would love to have them back next week at 5:30pm.

What is important with this issue is consistency. The group exercise team must all be aware of the club’s policy around late arrival to class. All instructors must adhere to this so the members know the policy, and a culture is established. It is also a good idea to display club policies for the members on club notice boards.’

Maria Teresa Stone

Zumba® education specialist and fitness presenter,

‘The clubs where I teach my regular classes are not strict about this, so I do get some members arriving late, now and then, but I do not have a big problem with it. They know that the experience starts from the moment I welcome everyone to the class, so I know they do their best to arrive on time.

But if I do get a late arrival, I normally keep the class moving while I greet this person one-on-one (if possible) and advise the member to warm up slowly before joining the class. If I am unable to do this, I make sure that I talk to them after the class finishes and explain the importance of arriving on time – this helps prevent it from becoming a habit.

My advice on this issue is two-fold. Firstly, make your entrance, welcome and warm up exciting, so that members will not want to miss it! Secondly, if your facility has a policy about not allowing late members to join the class, make sure you enforce it.’

The ‘Stop’ and ‘Go’ signage used in California Fitness’ group exercise studios

Kayla Duke

Group Exercise Country Manager California Fitness, Singapore

‘This is certainly a tricky one. We  previously had a strictly enforced policy of no entry after a class has begun, but have now introduced a degree of flexibility as some members were arguing, which caused greater disruption to the class than letting them in, especially when they were only a couple of minutes late.

Instructors are encouraged to follow the original policy, but a 10-minute grace period is allowed during which they can choose whether or not to admit late arrivals. Entry after 10 minutes is strictly forbidden. Once a class has got to this point the warm up is complete and further arrivals are disruptive and present a potential safety issue.

Ideally everyone arrives on time and we try to educate our members to do so. It states on our weekly schedule: “Attention: For your safety please enter all classes on time. Kindly note entry may not be permitted after class has started.” Also on each studio door is a sign shaped like a stop sign that instructors can flip over: the green side says members can enter; when flipped to red, entry is forbidden. Of course, some members ignore this sign, but it supports the instructors when needed.’

Dominic Gili

Aqua Instructor Trainer,

‘I specialise in teaching aqua fitness classes. Many centres I teach at have tried to enforce late entry protocol to aqua classes as they do for other disciplines – and failed.

The main reason for this is because most participants are very aware that due to the cooling effects of the water temperature on the body, the only distinctions between a warm up and cardio/conditioning segments are the focus on larger muscle groups and less complicated workouts while the body and brain are adjusting to the unique multi-dimensional resistance of a water workout.

Hence, when a receptionist (often the same age as their children or grandchildren) is brave enough to tell a member they are late and cannot enter class, the would-be participant usually smiles sweetly and tells the receptionist they’ll go for a swim instead – only to join the class regardless.

When taken to task by a group fitness manager for letting people in late, I suggested that the next time I would stop the class, jump in the water, wrestle with a woman in her wetsuit, throw her over my shoulder and drag her out of the pool. The manager got my point!

Most centres leave me to manage late arrivals myself. I try to do this with understanding and respect, aware of the multitude of benefits of these water workouts for participants, including social and psychological, and the commitments some have with school drop-offs and medical appointments.

Rather than concerns around potential risks for participants not warming up sufficiently, the major challenge is managing the disruption caused by late arrivals and sometimes the talking that follows. This is where I, as a fitness professional, step up and do my best to ensure that the needs of all are considered.

The bottom line is, I’d prefer people work out for 35 minutes and share a smile and a laugh with others rather than receive the ire of a receptionist, or worse still stay in bed using their fear of being rejected as another excuse not to exercise.’

How do YOU deal with latecomers to your class? Share your experiences and advice below.