Shannon Fable by Shannon Fable
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While most people are counting down the days until summer break, group fitness instructors typically feel differently about the looming 12 weeks of warmer weather and laid-back schedules. Of course, we’re equally as excited to frolic in the sun and enjoy longer days, but this time of year leaves even the most loyal class participants with less-predictable attendance patterns, which leads to lower-than-normal numbers in our classes. Here are a few ideas to encourage class participants to stay put and help keep numbers up during the summer.

Summer Student Spotlight – Establish a fun ritual for your summer classes by choosing a “special student” each week who will get to help you create the next week’s class by suggesting music, exercises and equipment. Begin promoting the concept live and via social media; get started right away for the biggest impact. At the beginning of class, announce that you’re beginning the Summer Student Spotlight to celebrate the class participants that stay committed to their workouts over the summer. Let them know you will continue the contest through the end of the summer so there’s plenty of time to win. A student simply needs to be in class and participating to be considered. You could announce you’re looking for enthusiasm and, as the weeks go on, bringing friends to class, being part of the community and remaining consistent will also weigh in your decision. You will announce the “winner” during the cool-down. Consider creating a certificate for the winner with your contact information on the back to ensure you can connect to plan for the class. You want to make it feel like a really big deal to be chosen. Consider a coffee date with the winner to plan if you’ve got the time. Be sure to snap a picture and (if they’re willing) post to your social media accounts to build excitement for the promotion. Celebrating participants is a sure fire way to get the participants talking about you and your class.

Classroom Chatter - Get the people that DO come to class over the summer to build a community within your class. Building community will ensure they stay longer and achieve the goals they’re after. If you play your cards right, this might also help to build your classes over the summer or, at the very least, increase attendance once everyone’s schedules are back to normal. Begin class by asking participants to introduce themselves to one person in the room they do not know. You could also consider giving them a starting topic such as what they’re planning for the weekend or a family vacation, or even what they had for breakfast. Make it quick and to the point; avoid letting it go so long that folks feel cheated out of class time. At the end of class, have them go back to the person they chatted with earlier and discuss when their next workout is planned and if they’ll be back in class next week. Ask for a show of hands at the end: “Who’s planning to be here next week?” Take note and then congratulate the participants on their consistency and let those that won’t be around know you’ll look for them the week after next. You’d be surprised how many of those that do not raise their hand will come up to you and let you know what their “excuse” is and publicly declare they’ll make it back to class soon. This will help you mentally prepare for next week’s numbers and help reinforce the fact it’s not YOU—it’s a schedule thing. Remembering this can help you stay motivated during the summer months.

Cross-training Competition – If you teach more than one format, consider creating a cross-training competition. Create a flyer (or postcard size) of your teaching schedule at the club, complete with descriptions and promises for how the class can benefit the participant. On the flip side, create a BINGO card with the class titles in the squares (don’t forget the free square in the middle). You can also add in other activities that can keep the summer fun such as bringing a friend to class, outdoor workouts (to show that it’s O.K. to skip the gym every once and a while), other gym workouts and so on. Each time the participant goes to a class or completes one of the activities, he or she gets to cross off the title of the class or activity on the BINGO card. Reward participants who rack up enough classes to get BINGO with small prizes throughout the summer. If a person can fill up the entire card, reward him or her with a bigger prize. Of course, this will require a bit of logistical planning, as well as the gathering of prizes. If BINGO seems too hard to figure out or organize, use the concept of tracking activities to encourage consistent participation as you see fit.

Smaller is Better – Finally, remember that smaller classes can actually be incredibly rewarding. It’s a time for you to try things you might not be able to do if the class was packed, such as use limited equipment or do partner work. Plus, you can take a personal trainer’s approach to teaching with fewer people by walking around, correcting form and making one-on-one contact with each participant to ensure proper form and provide education and motivation, which might be tougher to do in larger settings. The more you can celebrate the small class size and use it to your advantage, the better both you and your participants will feel about the experience. 

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