Amanda Vogel by Amanda Vogel

Being a group fitness instructor means you must always be ready to make a good first impression—whether you’re a sub in a roomful of participants who don’t know you or greeting a handful of new students in your own class.

You only have a few crucial minutes at most to create a great first impression, but if you can win participants over early, they’ll be more likely to trust you as a group fitness instructor.

And, of course, people’s initial judgments stick—group fitness participants who like you will be more motivated to attend your class again and tell others about it. Here are four simple ways (and one bonus tip) to make a stellar first impression at the start of every class you teach.  

1. Come Prepared

The more organized you are for class before you even set foot in the group exercise studio, the more opportunity you create for greeting participants—smiling, making eye contact, learning names, offering equipment advice, etc.

Picture an instructor who’s distractedly digging through a gym bag, head down and focused inward, versus one who can stride into the studio with enough focus and free time to look around and connect with participants.

Group fitness participants often have ample time to observe you before class as they stand in the studio and wait for the workout to begin—what you do (or don’t do) in the time before class influences their first impression of you.

2. Dress Professionally

Everyone has their own style, and unless the club where you teach group fitness has a dress code for staff, you can express yourself freely. Consider how your clothes communicate that you’re the class leader—right or wrong, people make snap judgments about appearance.

When I first started teaching group fitness at a university gym, I’d show up in old t-shirts, sweat pants cut into shorts and whatever athletic shoes I also wore around campus. My rationale was: Why get too dressed up just to exercise?

But the instructor isn’t there “just to exercise.” It's a job. Once I started teaching at other fitness studios, I quickly realized that looking more polished on the job—wearing professional workout attire and clean shoes that I only used in the studio—made a better first impression with a range of group fitness participants.

3. Introduce Yourself With Confidence

Every instructor knows that before you hit play on the workout music, you’re expected to say a little something to the group. This is where you might introduce yourself and the class format and maybe provide a heads-up about what you’ll be doing in the workout.

Your skills as a public speaker contribute to first impressions. Adjust your speaking style and energy to the atmosphere you want to create. For example, your energy might be different when introducing HIIT or indoor cycling versus yoga or stretch. Engage the group with strong body language, good articulation and eye contact. If necessary, practice your opening spiel at home so you appear prepared and confident as you speak.        

4. Warm Up With Enthusiasm

As an industry educator and former group fitness manager, I’ve evaluated plenty of group fitness instructors in action. I’ve noticed that many instructors tend to teach the warm-up as if it’s a boring formality to get to the “good stuff” (i.e., cardio and strength).

However, the warm-up is your first opportunity to make an impression doing what you’re there to do: teach and motivate with cuing, music, movement, etc. It’s your time to “sell” the workout and reassure participants that they made the right decision to spend the next hour in your class. With that in mind, set the tone with ample enthusiasm at the start of every class.

Bonus: Make the Last Impression Count, Too

Beyond those fleeting moments where first impressions happen—and all that you can do to create a positive experience during class—there’s the lasting impression participants take with them as they walk out the door.

To manage “last impressions,” be available, if possible, to see participants off as they put equipment away and leave the studio. Ask how their workout was, praise people for a job well done and let folks know you look forward to seeing them again next time. This extra measure helps ensure that participants remember your class in a positive light long after the workout is over.

With a group fitness instructor certification, you have the ability to get the most people moving, every day, and to make a tremendous impact on the health and well-being of your community. Find out more about ACE’s Group Fitness Instructor Certification.