Shannon Fable by Shannon Fable

group fitness class

Now that I have your attention…

Becoming the most successful group fitness instructor and more importantly, truly helping to lead the wellness revolution one person at a time, requires broad-based appeal. Much like music and television, you can choose to exist on one end of the personality spectrum and gain notoriety, but to reach the top of the charts and win an award, it is usually better to play somewhere in the middle.

While you may think of this as playing it safe or be concerned that you’ll lose legions of fans if you play to the ‘average’ participant, think again. I propose a different view.

When you develop a style that is challenging enough for the front row, easy enough for the back row and inviting enough for the outside observer of your class, everyone wins. And, there’s a way to do it without drawing attention to the very different levels.

The new year is coming and never is it more important to walk this tightrope of managing expectations between the uber-athlete in the front row and the timid nature of the person checking out the elliptical!

Front row frowners, as I like to call them, get CRANKY at the start of the year. Have you noticed? They hate that the gym is crowded with New Year’s Resolution people and fear you will downplay the hard stuff to be nice.

But you know what, we have to honor that. They have paid their memberships, been loyal to the club and to your classes. They deserve to be serviced in the way they have come to expect. So it’s definitely not advisable to scale back to the point of being unrecognizable.

Let’s look at the other side. Think about the person who has FINALLY made the decision to come to the gym. Don’t they deserve the same respect? They also deserve a workout that meets their needs without having to rearrange their life just to be able to make it to the one beginner class on the schedule. And they certainly don’t deserve being singled out for finally taking the leap.

Ahh! What’s a girl (or guy) in spandex to do!?

Here are 3 tips to help you achieve broad-based appeal:

    Start now; prepare your regulars for the onslaught and give them assignments. Make them the welcome wagon by enlisting their help in getting folks set up with equipment. Provide sound bites to spread before, during and after class to help those who may not be familiar with the club, the class or you. Reassure them that you will reward their loyalty, but discuss what an opportunity it is to help others find the joy in fitness! Make everything about connection — connecting the new person to the veteran will decrease fears for the newbie and validate the contributions of the veteran.

  2. Use the PSYCHOLOGICAL SPECTRUM versus PHYSIOLOGICAL ABSOLUTES when it comes to intensity.
    Keep in mind that even the most novice exercisers have the ability to work hard, but their hard is not the same as the front row's hard. If we get hung up in the absolute science of aerobic versus anaerobic, 65% compared to 85% of max heart rate, or never delineate between hard and hardest, less people have the ability to be successful. Intensity exists on a spectrum and each day is different from the next.

    It has far less to do with whether you’re a beginner or an advanced exerciser. Forget about always encouraging folks to “take it at their own pace,” but develop a way for that to be a reality without a blaring neon sign. If you provide an overview for the day and highlight where the hardest parts are going to be, then everyone can decide what their best effort will be for the day and work the rest out on their own.

    For example, which of the two would you prefer to hear me say in a cycling class: “Today we are doing four 10 minute sections; you’ll have the opportunity to work your HARDEST for two minutes at the end of each section. But, you’ll always have plenty of time with Moderate and Hard efforts leading up to the push. Think about how you want to attack today based on how much you have to give! Let’s get started!” Or, “We have four 10 minute hills today that are going to be brutal; remember to take it at your own pace.”

  3. Learn to COACH versus play FOLLOW THE LEADER whenever possible.

    After providing an overview of the intensity layout (see tip 2), it’s best — if you can — to provide an algebra equation to get them there versus just the facts. OK, so there really isn’t math involved, but I promise it makes sense.

    You must tell someone — every step of the way — what you want them to feel, how long they have to get there, how long they have to sustain it, and then provide options to achieve it.

    For example, if I say, “We are getting ready to head into our push-up set. Don’t worry, you’ll have two more chances to do push-ups. This is just the warm up set. Each time we come back to push-ups, you’ll only have to do 10. And, in between, I promise not to push your chest but give you time to recover in the upper body. So choose a position — whether it’s knees, toes, or a little bit of both — that you think will leave you NOT wanting to do another push-up at the end of the third set. Use this first set to test how you’re feeling.”

    Compare that with, “Let’s get ready for some push-ups. You can do these on your knees if you need to. Feel free to modify at any time.”

    The first option will give you the opportunity to test different options with NO judgment. I gave you the purpose and the outcome, as well as a road map to how we were going to arrive there. You have all the data — just ONE missing variable.

    In the second suggestion, it’s great that I gave modifications, but how do I know which one to choose without the rest of the information?

Teaching with these three tips in mind is challenging. The cues suggested and ideas presented will not necessarily roll off the tongue. But I promise that if you at least put them in your wheelhouse and spend a few minutes on your drive in thinking about how you could potentially weave in these ideas, your stock will rise tremendously. Not only that, but the number of people you inspire to lead a life of fitness will increase tremendously.

Happy teaching!

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