Shannon Fable by Shannon Fable

January is the best month for group fitness. Tons of bodies packed in rooms trying every class you’ve got. Numbers and energy are at an all-time high, but if we’re not careful, come March, we may be back to just our regulars with only a few new additions! How can we build on the momentum in January and find ways to help KEEP the crowds until spring break? Here are three tips to UP your game with newbies and keep your rooms packed all year long.

Tip #1: Integrate Versus Separate

Part of the craziness in the New Year is juggling the newbies alongside the veterans. It’s important you work to bring these two groups closer together. Your veterans need to know their experience will not change, so their fear that their favorite class will be “watered down” to cater to newbies. Honestly, just because someone is new to the club or your class doesn’t mean they necessarily need anything different! Your classes should feel the same the whole year; group fitness is just that … group fitness, which implies singular opportunities to drop in and play. No one should ever need a crash course to fit in.

Another way to avoid further segregating newbies and vets is to avoid asking the question, “Who’s new?” This question, asked in this way, is actually pretty ambiguous. Are they new to exercise? New to the club? New to the format? New to you? Let’s face it, no one really wants to be singled out at the start of class only to feel like a giant spotlight is shining down saying, “Check me out—I have no clue what’s going on!” Instead, as people are coming in, you’ll know (or should know) the participants you’ve never seen before. Try saying something like, “Hey there! I’m so happy you chose my class tonight. I haven’t seen you before—new to the club or just me?” If they want you to know about their insecurities or need for extra help, you’ve opened the door and in a private way. Or do the same after class: “It was so good to have you. I’m not sure I’ve met you before?”

A great way to integrate your participants is to play the role of “Hostess with the Mostest.” As people are coming in, put yourself in a position to say hello and introduce a new face to one of your regulars just like you would with your friends at a cocktail party you’re hosting. Give the regulars a job to help the new person get set up and tell them a little bit about the class. Not only will it save you some set-up time, it will also foster new friendships while keeping both groups occupied and comfortable with the setting.

Lastly, at the conclusion of class, play concierge for new and veteran participants. Remind the class what you just did (e.g., “This was a 60 minute, non-stop cardio workout.”) and then follow it up with what they could do tomorrow (e.g., “Tomorrow, you might want to check out Nancy’s strength workout at the same time or get with a trainer for a complimentary session if you’re new to the club.”). This will help new folks figure out where this class fits in the grand scheme of things, help participants realize your club works as a team on behalf of all members, and offer veterans the opportunity to explore cross-training options.

Tip #2: Education is Empowering

January is a great month to educate and empower, so try turning your focus to improving communication techniques to help everyone feel successful. Focusing on providing clear expectations at the outset of class, monitoring cues at every turn to make sure participants know what is expected and offering a variety of ways to achieve it, and using inclusive language that gets everyone moving quickly and easily together is a must. “Leave no man behind” should be your motto—this takes some careful crafting of your words, as well as your body language.

The new folks need to hear from you the what, why and how of fitness. What are they supposed to be getting out of the fitness class they just took? Why is this a great way to achieve the benefits you described and why is it important? And, never forget the HOW! Don’t make assumptions regarding experience or understanding of the format. Help your participants by (succinctly) explaining the movement (using demonstration—people learn with their eyes) and then anchoring the movement with language to get everyone on the same page.

For example, in a yoga class, instead of starting with chair pose or utkatasana, begin with the major action that will get them started in the right direction. For example, sit back into a chair by bending your knees and moving your tush toward the back wall. Move slowly, if you can, so your participants can get there before you move on or change the rules! Then, fine-tune the move with a cue they can test or feel such as, “You should be able to wiggle your toes and see your belly button in the mirror.” Finally, anchor the move with the term you will use in the rest of class and future classes (e.g., “This is chair pose/utkatasana.”). Understandably, this may not be possible in all dance-based, choreographed classes, but you get the picture. It’s important for people to be taught the how versus the “preview and pray” tactic we sometimes use!  

Tip #3: Celebrate

If you really want to capitalize on January’s momentum, turn the focus to your members’ successes! Yes, of course, building a relationship with class participants and having them fall in love with your personality can do the trick. But, at the end of the day, we need our participants to fall in love with FITNESS in general and fall in love with THEMSELVES because of how they feel when they walk out the door. It’s pretty easy to shift the focus to the internal motivation that will keep them sticking with it for a lifetime—we simply must notice and acknowledge.

First, notice that they’re there—not just in your class, but at the club. Of course, you’ll congratulate them on making it back to your class, but do you ever come in to just work out or go to other classes? A pat on the back or a high five when they’re NOT in your class takes it one step further. Use social media—I encourage you to friend the members in your class, but instead of using it to only invite them to your activities and inquire as to why they may have missed class, publicly acknowledge them for any physical activity you see, as well.

Next, in your classes, build in ways for members to achieve small wins and see progress. It’s not enough to just provide a great experience. Yes, that can get someone hooked. But, our clientele is becoming increasingly savvy and they want to see change. The change they are after (typically weight loss) may or may not happen via exercise alone or in a quick time frame, but if you can show them improvement in physical feats from week to week, it may keep them coming back and perhaps those goals will not be so elusive! We have to get them to fall in love with the process. In a strength class, perhaps it’s repeating a few exercises every week, like push-ups.  Execute the exercise at the same time during class (so they’re equally exhausted) and see if they are improving by keeping track of the number they can do, for example. In a high-intensity interval class, always do the same drill at the end for time. Again, count the number they achieve in the time allotted (i.e., burpees) and each week, see if the number goes up or if they have to take a new option to achieve the same feeling. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but something small they can hang their hat on. And when you see improvement, publicly acknowledge them whenever you can.

Last, celebrate in big ways, as well. Class participants are why you have a job! I still get nervous each time I teach, even if it’s for 10 people at 4:30 in the afternoon on a Thursday. Why? Well, I heard once (from industry legend and friend, Petra Kolber), it’s a sign of respect for your audience. I get nervous because these folks chose this one hour of their week to spend exercising with me and it’s up to me to make it fun and enjoyable. So, it is fitting that we celebrate the folks that allow us to keep doing what we love. Perhaps you choose an MVP in each of your classes and provide an award at the end of the hour. Or, make it bigger and take those weekly winners and plaster them on Facebook and then choose an end-of-the-month winner. Perhaps there’s a hall of fame in your club and on your club’s Facebook wall that talks about the journeys that begin in January and follows participating members through to the holidays. The sky’s the limit when it comes to big time celebration, but here are two rules to truly make it impactful: It must be public and it must be specific!

Now, remember, it is less about what you teach your participants and more about how you treat them that will turn dabblers into doers. Are you going to up your game this year so that your members can improve their lives? We’ll check back with you in December and see how you did. Good Luck!

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