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October 3, 2013, 12:00AM PT in Fitnovatives Blog  |  0 Comments

How NOT to Impress Your Students: The Top 5 Things GFIs Do That Backfire

Group fitness class

GFIs have ONE mission: Make participants feel successful so they’ll come back for more. We do this by providing safe and effective exercise, educating and entertaining, and being as personal and professional as we can be. But in the last decade, I’ve witnessed five things that GFIs are doing that might actually be backfiring on our goal to get more people into classes. Be forewarned—we’ve ALL done one (or many of these things) with the greatest of intentions. The goal of this post is not to point out what you shouldn’t be doing, but to focus on where we could intensify our efforts for the greater good.

1. Shameless Self Promotion

I love that instructors are beginning to understand that we have the same amount of responsibility to market and promote fitness as others in our industry. The quickest way to be an MVP, in my book, is to help the club’s (and industry’s) cause by getting more people inside to check out the amazing resources we have to offer. What I don’t love is that the marketing by GFIs (especially on Facebook) tends to be that of self-promotion. Take a look at how simple tweaks to common posts could help engage our audience and further fitness as the headliner, not our individual pursuits:

Just taught a kick-butt class today; thanks class, you #rocked vs. XYZ class today at @XYZGym was amazing; those that came & gave their all, let me know what ONE exercise is on your MUST DO list for next week – w/ @mary @jenny @bob

Instead of simply saying talking about how great your class and your participants were, you’ve tagged the club so they get some action, tagged people who were in the class or those who normally come, asked for their input (in a directed way) and planted the seed they will encourage them to return.

Just a heads up, not going to be teaching cycling tonight at @xyzgym, but I’ll be back next week vs. I’m so excited that tonight’s 5pm cycling class at @xyzgym will be taught by my good friend @suzie! You guys are SO lucky to have her; she’s ready for you and I’ll see you next week!

The post became both an invitation to participate and a chance to promote the CLUB/CLASS in general instead of about you and the individual part that you play.

Just killed another workout after teaching back-to-back Pump and Tread this morning, 1 more to go vs. Anyone else having a busy day?? (or saying nothing at all)

Sometimes (see next section), we may have potential participants following us who need a reason to just say NO—hearing about all of our athletic pursuits, seeing selfies of our well-defined abs, reading about our clean-eating diaries and public proclamations of how often you crush people, things and workouts, may be the reason they hang up their sneakers. Consider your audience—if your goal is to attract only the hardcore crowd, it might be the perfect marketing approach, but if you’re truly on a mission to inspire the WORLD to fitness, think about how you can be authentic in your public space (whether it be on FB, blogs or in person), while being more inclusive to the groups that need us most.

2. Using Teaching Time As Your Workout

I get it—it’s hard to fit in working out when working out is your job. But the minute that you use the classroom as your training zone, your focus has shifted from the role of coach to colleague. I know what you’re going to say: “But if I don’t work out as hard as them they won’t respect me,” or “If I don’t work out alongside they won’t work hard; it’s motivating.” That’s when I say, “You have to learn how to be more than a great instructor; you need to be a great coach!” There’s a big difference.  

Jay Blahnik, whom I admire so much and has mentored me throughout my career, once gave a workshop about coaching that has stuck with me all these years. He says (and I’m paraphrasing) that there are three fundamental differences between being a great instructor and a great coach:
1. A coach always has a beginner’s frame of mind (see tip #3).
2. A coach does not have to be a physical representation to get his or her point across.
3. A coach is devoid of all ego. 

From this conversation, I realized I needed to focus more on what I was saying and how I was saying it to shift from being the physical representation. I find when I’m truly coaching, they don’t even NOTICE I’m not breathing as heavily as they are. Seriously, if I gave the effort I was hoping to get from my students, I would not be able to formulate a good sentence, much less coach effectively to get the best out of them. When you’re working out more than you’re teaching, your cueing turns into barking, shouting and just saying, “You can do it!” and “Breathe!” over and over.

You are a professional—you have a responsibility to not just MOTIVATE and DEMONSTRATE, but EDUCATE and CULTIVATE. You wouldn’t go to a dentist who was brushing his teeth while he did yours, or hire a trainer who was lifting weights while you were. Yes, GFIs are known for their unwavering enthusiasm and motivation techniques, but if we want to reach a wider audience, we need to be able to communicate with the back row and beyond who need more than a great exerciser. They need exercise LEADERS.

3. Never Going Back To School

Along the same lines as not having time to work out after you start doing it for a living, I find that many instructors fail to find time to be a student once they become the teacher. As mentioned above, one of the first steps to becoming a world-class coach is always having a beginner’s frame of mind. When all of your headspace is used in the “authority” category, it’s hard to retain the student perspective. Forcing yourself to make time to go to classes outside your comfort zone and even suffer through classes that you know you could teach better will do you more good than practicing alone in your basement!  

You also must take time out (yes, even if it means finding subs) to attend live continuing-education events and participate in the process (in other words, not just sitting there taking notes). It’s imperative that you stay up-to-speed on the ever-changing fitness industry, including the art AND the science of training. Avoid simply looking for the newest tricks, products and exercises. Instead, try to learn more about teaching, communicating and the business of fitness.

Last, but not least, you should not be getting your latest and greatest ideas from consumer magazines and reality television shows. True, you were a fitness “consumer” before you became a fitness “professional,” and these pitches are sexy, compelling and talked about. But, once you decided to be the authority, you made a promise (I hope!) to be the ‘watchdog’ for your clients and potential clients. Keep an eye on the consumer trends and crazy TV tactics, but be the truth seeker and the realist and bring the real REALITY to your participants.

4. It's Not About The Money

It is a blessing to be paid to do what you love. What’s the saying, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life”? I firmly believe this is what GFIs mean when they say that. But, when we allow our wage to basically remain unchanged for years because “it’s not about the money,” or, worse, we reduce what we’re willing to do (engagement with our colleagues, staff and management, extra learning, etc.) to justify what we don’t make, we have a problem!

Teaching fitness does not command a huge salary, but it should. What we are expected to do on a daily basis is mind boggling: Have the knowledge of an exercise physiologist; move like a dancer; hear and make use of the beat like a musician; perform like a rockstar and communicate like the best public speaker. We service more people than nearly anyone in the club (collectively) and we have a great impact on retention. But, we still make very little money compared to other segments of our industry. Perhaps we SHOULD make it about the money!

There are many things I do for the LOVE of it without expecting compensation, but they are called hobbies. And, I’m here to tell you that what you do is NOT a hobby and, more importantly, you shouldn’t treat it like one. It may be something you do part-time or VERY part-time, but it’s a bigger job than just a hobby and referring to it as such diminishes the authority of each and every person who calls herself/himself a GFI. You may be lucky and the money doesn’t matter; you may need the work so you do it for a meager wage. But at the end of the day, whether you teach one hour a week or 10, you have the SAME responsibilities in the eye of the participant and those responsibilities are worth a significant return on your investment.

5. There's No Right Or Wrong

I love the passion GFIs possess for fitness—the energy is intoxicating and, quite often, sets in motion a new person’s fitness journey. However, when the passion becomes less about the message of health and fitness, and more about his or her way being the only way to the exclusion of other approaches, we have a problem. Can’t we all just get along?

Whether you love CrossFit or hate it, whether you think barefoot is better or not, whether you think pre-choreography is the best thing that ever happened to group fitness or the worst, aren’t we all doing this for the same reasons? We should be and, with that knowledge, accept the fact that there are several radio stations to meet the needs of several listeners. The same is true with fitness. We are NOT in a competition with other programs, other clubs or other instructors who teach on our staff.

We must have a wide variety of programs for instructors to find what they were meant to teach. We have to have a wide variety of classes for participants (or would-be participants) to find success. When ego trumps purpose, a group/team/industry is set up to fail. My fear is that we are on a collision course because, at times, we misplace our passion. Celebrate diversity, celebrate options, celebrate contradiction. At the end of the day, I know that there are PLENTY of people out there who need our help and, while I’ve realized my job may be a bit different than I first believed it to be, my number-one responsibility is to make people happy so they’ll come back, so they’ll get fit, so they’ll be nicer people and so the world will be a happier place. How’s that for a bigger vision of your “who and do what” statement? Think about it!

By Shannon Fable
Shannon Fable

Shannon Fable, 2013 IDEA and 2006 ACE Instructor of the Year, is the founder of SFR, a consulting firm for aspiring fitness educators, manufacturers and managers, as well as the owner of Balletone® and GroupEx Pro®. Shannon is a 15 year fitness veteran, freelance writer, as well as an international presenter for Schwinn®, BOSU and ACE. She is a member of the ACE Board of Directors, has helped author portions of the ACE and ACSM Group Fitness manuals, and has starred in over 25 fitness videos. Shannon is a certified Book Yourself Solid® Business Coach interested in helping fitness professionals navigate the fitness industry and find their place. She's busy improving the self-esteem of the world as the the Director of Exercise Programming for the Anytime Fitness Franchise.

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