Your Christmas timetable:
pain or gain?

Far from being a headache, the Christmas and New Year period presents the perfect opportunity to try something different with your group fitness timetable, says Mel Tempest.

What do you do with your club’s Christmas timetable? Do you slice, hack and just get by, or do you use the opportunity to experiment with new ideas and classes?

Many group fitness managers will roll their eyes at the thought of scheduling classes over the summer holiday period, when instructors’ and members’ work patterns and holiday plans upset the usual routine, but I love the Christmas/New Year timetable. Why? Because it gives me the opportunity to trial new ideas we’ve had during the year and to implement suggestions made by members in surveys and via social media.

So, where do we start? Firstly, we divide the Christmas timetable up into three stages of two weeks each – so that’s a six-week Christmas timetable which commences approximately 10 days before Christmas. Here is an example of how we structure the three stages.

Stage 1: 16 – 29 December

This is a good opportunity to trial new timeslots for existing classes. For example, we noticed members hanging around the cardio equipment/gym floor but not really doing a great deal while they waited for their cycle class to start at 4:45pm. During the Christmas break we rescheduled the class to 4:30pm, which moved the ‘loitering’ members into cycle early. As well as freeing up the cardio equipment, this also had the effect of enticing a new group of members into the cycle class.

We also trialed our other group exercise classes at various times and found that starting them 15 minutes later than the cycle class prompted attendance by a totally different demographic. With cycle now starting at 4:30pm, we deliberately scheduled a completely contrasting type of cardio workout such as ‘Tummy & Hips’ at 4:45pm. Some members, of course, like to do back-to-back classes and will wait for 10 minutes for the 5:30pm class, but those that don’t stay free up car parking for the influx of members at 5:30pm.

Stage 2: 30 December – 12 January

This is a good time to trial new classes and to experiment with completely new timeslots, days and instructors. As a group fitness manager (GFM), this is a great time to shift experienced instructors around or trial instructors who are new to your club. The Christmas timetable also presents a fantastic opportunity to train and mentor new instructors. Because class sizes are usually smaller during this period, new instructors will often learn more because they spend a greater amount of time interacting with members who feel more at ease and more willing to give constructive feedback. By the time they are rostered onto the regular timetable they have gained confidence and are ready to go.

We also use Stage 2 to trial express classes. We have found that a 30-minute barbell express class scheduled back-to-back with a 30-minute step class, or a functional training class backed up with a cycle class works very well. Likewise, a half-hour express dance class with a half-hour wellbeing class. The public holidays scattered throughout the holiday period also present good opportunities to trial these formats.

Stage 3: 13 – 27 January

The final stage of the Christmas/New Year timetable is a good time to reveal your proposed template before launching into a fresh and exciting year. By the time you reach Stage 3, the majority of your staff and members will be back from their summer breaks, so you can take onboard all of their feedback before finalising the changes. Of course, you can never keep everybody happy, but by giving all members and staff the opportunity to have a say you are showing that you value their opinions.

Every year in our club we change the times of classes and, with the exception of two classes, we never run the same timetable two years in a row. Remember: some members can only come on certain days and times, so in order to retain them we need to keep them interested and challenged by offering them variety. Members do stay with us for years, but they don’t want do the same class every year.

When it comes to launching your new timetable for 2014 you don’t have to introduce all your classes immediately: don’t start those that you are a little apprehensive about until week three or four – but be sure to have them written on the timetable from the outset, with a start date to help build momentum. Give your instructors scripts or pointers and request that, at the end of their classes, they do little ‘infomercials’ about the new classes coming, and maybe even hand out free passes for members to give to friends. Group fitness instructors are a club’s best tool for growing the success of classes, and should make every effort in their own classes to create growth across the whole timetabling schedule. People vote with their feet – and we want feet!

Now is the time to start thinking about your Christmas group fitness timetable. It’s also a great time to be looking at new ideas and concepts out there in the marketplace and to get your instructors trained and ready to go. Don’t be the club that cancels a class because you don’t have enough trained staff. Group fitness is integral to the success of most fitness facilities. What you do with your timetable will determine whether it’s a money taker or a money maker for your club.

What do you do with your Group Ex timetable over the Christmas/New Year period? Share your experiences and advice below.

Mel Tempest
Mel is a group fitness consultant who works with fitness facilities looking to increase their group fitness revenue. She has presented group fitness internationally and is the owner of Ballarat Body & Soul health club, which has over 76 per cent group fitness attendance. Catch Mel on the Your Group Fitness Expert – Mel Tempest facebook Page or visit