Lawrence Biscontini by Lawrence Biscontini

Given the constantly changing nature of the group fitness market, group fitness instructors who take their client base for granted risk losing even the most committed exercisers. Here are five techniques and tips for attracting—and keeping—your group fitness clients. These proven approaches are sure to compel new and seasoned exercisers alike to keep coming back to your classes, time and time again.

1. Set a Focus

Setting a focus or theme can help participants zone in on one particular aspect of the class experience. Whether you teach pre-choreographed, pre-formatted or individually choreographed classes, setting a theme or focus can make any given class feel different, even if the sequence of moves, cues and music stay the same for months.

Noel Chelliah, ACE Certified Personal Trainer and creator of the DailyMuscle Boot Camp based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, creates a theme for each class. For example, Chelliah will tell his class, “Today, I invite you to focus on your balance,” or “Today, we will try to close our eyes on the last few repetitions of each set to see how that affects our movements,” or “Today’s theme is intensity, so whatever you did last week, try to caffeinate that today.”

Garrett Drissel, a regular CrossFit attendee in Quakertown, Pa., agrees. “Although our sequence doesn’t change, sometimes the coach has us focus on speed, intensity, breathing or reps. Constantly having a different focus keeps me engaged and present in the movement without getting bored in the sequence,” he says. Additional ideas for setting themes can be found in the book, Cream Rises, Excellence in Private and Group Education.

2. Strategize the Start

When students first come into class, they may select their regular spots and get out their equipment; other times they enter in a rush because the previous class finished late. Regardless, you can still take control of your class—whenever it officially starts—by your presentation.

Jeffrey Howard, an ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor and group fitness manager for Baptist East Milestone Wellness Center in Lexington, Ky., says that instructors should try to “create community through cueing.” He recommends scheduling a quick, easy icebreaker before every class. “I’ll ask participants to tell their favorite Starbucks drink to the person next to them, or to organize themselves in 30 seconds according to their birthday month, or to exchange their profession with one person in the room whom they don’t know.” While icebreakers like these may seem disconnected from the upcoming class, they help create community by encouraging interaction between participants.

3. Social Media Strategy

Many health and fitness professionals put in dozens of hours preparing lesson plans for the classes they teach, including choosing music, selecting equipment and preparing the class layout. You might consider using social media to let your participants in on the planning process and feel instrumental as part of your tribe.

“I couldn’t do all my class planning without Facebook,” says Yury Rockit, an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor based in Hanoi, Vietnam. “Using Facebook to help involve my students not only helps me lessen the stress of class preparation, it lets everyone know that everyone’s opinion counts. I’ll announce at the end of one class that next Wednesday’s core class has a theme of balance, and tell them to visit my Facebook wall to post what song helps them to feel the most balanced. Then, 48 hours before that class, I’ll compile my playlist based on the songs that they have posted. Their faces light up when their songs play in class. I will also let them decide on which piece of equipment we’ll use for core training during a particular class. I ask them and then watch my Facebook wall as they battle it out with their opinions for which piece of equipment they most want to use—and the majority wins.”

Using social media to help your tribe know how important their opinions are can be very effective in keeping participants coming back for more.

4. Switch Up the Style

Group fitness participants return when they feel both comfortable and successful on a weekly basis. Keeping that comfort level while changing up small aspects of a class can offer just enough spark to keep them interested.

“When my participants start to think they can predict every aspect of our boot camp, I make a change of equipment, formation or class organization,” says Chelliah. However, it’s important to tell participants why you are making a change, “so they know they’re getting extra value.”

Changing up the class—doing strength exercises before cardiovascular work, changing a piece of equipment or reshuffling the orientation of a class and teaching in the round or from the back of class, for example—also helps to create cross-training muscle confusion. “Change is the only constant we have in fitness,” says Rockit, “and keeping even small aspects of class fresh means that students never get bored. As a teacher who is also a presenter, I travel often and have subs teach for me. Because I teach my students the value of change even when I am there, they are more likely to have a successful experience when someone substitutes for me because they have already been exposed to an approach to class that invites change on a regular basis. Everybody wins: the students, the substitute teacher and me.”

5. Support Your Support

Knowing where your support system comes from in any class is not difficult. While our most loyal participants usually come from the front row, some of our biggest supporters may have favorite spots elsewhere in the class. Bringing attention to these special participants via friendly competition can boost class adherence and motivation. Bernadette O’Brien, a BOSU® Development Team member and an ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor based in New Jersey, teaches eight classes per week. “In every class,” she says, “I always remind them at the start that I’m looking for one MVP—a most valuable participant—for class that day. I explain that it can be the one who makes the most progress from a previous class, who smiles the most or who just seems the most focused that day. At the end of class, he or she gets a small gift and we do a Facebook selfie for my social media wall where I proudly show who won the MVP title for that class.” O’Brien gifts are sponsored by a local business or the club where she teaches, or are drawn from her own re-gifting drawer at home. “The point is that they get something,” she says, “not that I go broke as an instructor rewarding my favorite person that day. And I have to be sure to change it up often so everyone gets a chance to be an MVP over the course of a class run.”

These five tips can help you ensure that your participants will not only continue to return to class by habit, but out of energized volition. After all, if we don’t make our current clients feel valued we don’t deserve new ones.

We’ve launched an all new, world-class ACE Group Fitness Certification study programs. Featuring an interactive, digital learning component that takes you step-by-step through the fundamentals of group fitness—from exercise programming and music selection to engagement and motivation techniques—our study experience will empower you to make every class world-class. Learn more about it right here.