Maybe you’ve been teaching the same group exercise class in the same time slot for months or years on end. If so, you may feel your sweat sessions are stuck in a repetitive fitness rut. Even worse, your clients may agree!
Here are 10 surefire ways to get into a new group-ex groove and reignite your passion for class.
“It’s very easy to get in a musical rut, so try changing the type and style” of your class picks, says Karyn Katterman, an ACE-certified fitness professional and group exercise director at the YMCA in Asheville, N.C.
If you normally use pre-mixed music, experiment with a custom set you make from scratch, Katterman says. Or, offer one or two “unexpected” selections during class beyond the usual Top 40 pop, such as classical music for spinning, classic rock for strength training or opera for stretching.
“There is a huge library of music that exists now, and with the Internet and sites such as Spotify and Deezer, it is easy to find new music for class,” agrees Fred Hoffman, an award-winning industry consultant and author of Going Global: An Expert’s Guide to Working Abroad in the International Fitness Industry (Healthy Learning 2011), who lives in Paris, France. Just be careful not to violate music copyright restrictions.
Hoffman also recommends the custom-mix options from Yes Fitness Music (MyMix.YesFitnessMusic.com) and Power Music (ClickMix.com).
Every studio has some—once-popular, semi-abandoned training toys, gathering dust in the corner. The exact options will vary between facilities, but often include Thera-Bands, Figure-8 tubing, Reebok Slides, jump ropes or stretching straps.
What’s the fix? “Look through the equipment closet and find something you don't normally use, or haven't used in a long time,” says Amy Bomar, an ACE-certified Group Fitness Instructor in Snohomish, Wash., industry presenter and the owner of FIT Launch studio. “Then come up with three new exercises or variations of traditional exercises using the ‘forgotten’ items.”
Unfortunately many group exercise studios have harsh fluorescent lights that provide all the atmosphere of a high school cafeteria. But several hundred dollars of wall sconces, track lighting, colored gel covers, or even portable lamps can completely transform the look and feel of a room, say our experts.
For example, “changing light bulbs to different colors in the yoga studio creates a relaxing and soothing atmosphere, while keeping the lights low in a cycling studio or using black lights will generate high energy and keep riders focused,” says Amy Dixon, Santa Monica, Calif.-based instructor and star of DVDs such as “Raise Some Bell – The Ultimate Kettlebell workout” and “Breathless Body 3: HIIT IT BIG.”
But don’t despair if your studio manager says new lighting isn’t in the budget. Experiment with your own LED candles, string lights or lamps for a quick and cheap mood change, says Bomar.
To generate buzz and up your class’ fun factor, throw down the gauntlet with short-term, individual fitness goals for participants.
This might be a six-week challenge to lose a few pounds or inches, says Hoffman. Or it could be strength-based, says Katterman. For example, repeat a small set of simple exercises (such as push-ups) each week for a month. Have members track the number of repetitions they complete each week, per exercise, so they can see their progress.
“Theme classes are one of my specialties,” says Bomar. “I love costumes, holidays and any opportunity to celebrate an occasion. For example, you could do a Throwback Thursday and have students dress up in workout attire from the ‘70s or ‘80s, use disco and ‘80's pop for your music and incorporate some fantastic ‘80's aerobics moves.”
Or, “take advantages of the holidays and add some spice to your classes with themes like a ‘turkey burn’ cycling ride for Thanksgiving, dressing up for Halloween, or hosting a Super Bowl-themed circuit class with ‘game day’ music, team challenges and a MVP prize,” says Dixon.
Communicate the special theme at least a few days in advance so participants have a chance to prepare, adds Bomar. And be sure to allow participants to opt out of the “extras” such as costumes if they prefer, adds Hoffman.
No longer solely the scope of mind-body classes, an enhanced and extended stretch-and-relax portion of class can change up your routine while offering participants a much-needed treat, says Hoffman.
“Our lives have become so hectic, stressful and rushed,” he says. “Most people appreciate the moments of quiet, calm and relaxation you can offer in a group-ex setting that they might not experience elsewhere.”
“At least once a month in all formats I teach I will extend the cool-down and stretch portions of class,” agrees Bomar. “I dim the lights and guide students through a longer stretching segment that ends with them lying down on a mat, relaxing, breathing and tuning in to their senses. It's a nice treat for your students to do this every once in awhile.”
To avoid becoming stuck in your own preferences, ask students for ideas and feedback for class, says Katterman. “You will have a ton of buy-in from students if you use their ideas.”
For example, find out what types of music they like and listen to, says Bomar. “When you get a consensus, you'll be better able to guide your music choices for your classes.”
“Have the students pick their all-time favorite tunes and moves or combinations you have done, and create a mash-up of their favorite things,” Katterman adds.
“Get outside of the group ex room when you can,” says Bomar. “Take your warm-ups outside or into the [weight room] if there is one available. A brisk walk outside as a group with some dynamic upper- and lower-body movements, or some skips, gallops, walking shuttle runs and a few laps around the gym are great ways to add a little ‘new’ into your group warm-ups.”
Of course, check with your manager before heading outside, as there may be insurance issues to consider.
The more participants enjoy the camaraderie of your class, the more likely they are to return. Get to know your student’s names and interests and make an effort to create a sense of community in your class, says Dixon.
To do so, include partner drills during the strength segments of a class, says Bomar. These might include medicine-ball throws between partners, or low rows performed facing each other with intertwined exercise tubes. “This is a great way to get the group interacting and encouraging one another,” she says.
Another idea? Create fun in-class drills or mini-competitions, says Dixon. For example, one person could hold a plank while his or her partner sprinted across the studio and back, after which they would switch places in a fun relay race to cap off the “hard work” portion of class.
Instead of always teaching “theater-style”—you up front with participants scattered around the room, facing forward—think of different ways you can orient your students, such as facing the side or back of the room for part of class.
More Get-fresh Group Ex Ideas
Here are more class inspirations:
Dixon: “Use social media outlets as a teaser for an upcoming playlist or new format you are going to use for class later that day.”
Katterman: “Take a break when you need it. It’s good for you and good for your students to have a sub every now and then.”
Dixon: “In appropriate settings [and with student permission], use aromatherapy oils or sprays to enhance [class atmosphere].”
Bomar: “Go to conferences and attend continuing education seminars. This is imperative to the longevity of your group fitness career.”
Katterman: “Hold a ‘Zumba Idol’ (or any cardio-dance modality) competition. Have a panel of judges and let members compete on best routine/performance.
Hoffman: “Use YouTube and other video-sharing sites to see 'what’s out there'... My personal experience is that there is a lot of content that is not for me, but I often will see one or two things that I like and can use or that inspire me.
Also consider using a fresh approach to moving participants around the room. You might have students crisscross the room with shuttle runs, or travel in a circle using walking lunges, for example.
And don’t forget that an occasional cardio and/or strength circuit format (with exercise stations in a sequence) can freshen up a stale theater-style set-up, says Katterman. “While the exercises and equipment [won’t have] radically changed, it will feel new and different.”
Rediscover Your Passion
Especially for novice instructors, it can be tempting to stay in one’s comfort zone and offer similar exercises, sequences and set-ups week after week. Eventually, however, this approach leads to boredom and attrition for both instructors and students.
The good news? There’s no need to overhaul everything overnight. Instead, challenge yourself gradually and add one fresh idea, every one or two weeks. The bottom line: Keep learning, keep trying new ideas, and you’ll keep them coming back for more!