Group exercise has been on my mind a lot lately. I have a lot of thoughts running through my head about the fitness classes I teach and the direction to go in to grow as a fitness instructor. I feel like I’ve become a little too comfortable with my teaching style. I’m teaching the same two classes a week to the same exact people, and I feel like I’ve become stagnant and BORING. Please someone tell me otherwise? Don’t get me wrong, I love my Tuesday/Thursday 6am total body crowd, but I am definitely in need of a little change or jolt of new energy or something. My certifications are due to renew in a couple of months, so I’m hoping that some continuing education classes will help snap me out of this funk. However, it’s hard to feel like I can’t grow while working full time because I simply don’t have time in the day to take anything else on. I just refuse to run myself rampant anymore with dipping my toes in too many things at once. Not interested.
In thinking about myself as a fitness instructor, I also started reminiscing a bit about the classes I used to teach and my old style. I mean, Step and Sculpt at Providence College was the very first group exercise class I ever taught, and my Thursday morning class at the Y used to be a lot of random cardio combinations thrown together with some light weights here and there. I had no idea what I was doing, and I know some of you remember what I’m talking about. Shudder! There are also a couple of major mistakes I made back in the day when I was a less experienced fitness instructor. If you are a beginner to teaching group ex, I hope talking about these can help you!
1. Using class as my own workout.
Gah, I did this for YEARS! People constantly tell me how lucky I am to be a fitness instructor because well, I get paid to work out! And back in the day, I would agree. I used to DO my class WITH my class for its entirety (so selfish!), but over the years I’ve learned that while on the clock as an instructor, your own workout should be the last thing on your mind. Some might say that having an instructor who does the workout up there with everyone can give the class a more energizing vibe, but a good instructor should know how to keep things high energy and motivating while ensuring a safe and effective environment for class members. I still always demonstrate the moves before making my class members do them, and I definitely still join in for some reps or sets here or there if I sense people are losing their oomph. The majority of the time though? I’m walking around, making corrections, or getting right down next to someone if I think they need a little extra push. This makes for a more personal experience I think! And then I do my workouts later, on my own time… and I get more out of them.
2. Not trying exercises on my own first.
When planning my class formats, sometimes I’d think of an exercise combination and just incorporate it into my class without trying the moves on my own first. This resulted in a lot of confusion and moves that often worked better in theory than in actuality. This mistake isn’t a huge deal if the exercise just ends up being awkward (everyone simply gets a good laugh), but it’s definitely a bigger deal if the exercise ends up being unsafe in any way. Not good. I was humbly reminded of this last week during Halloween class when I planned on everyone doing a move using the bosu that definitely seemed better in my head at home. As I demonstrated it, I felt mortified that I would even think to have class do such a thing, and I switched my plan on the spot. We all mess up, but I definitely used to make this mistake much more often during my earlier teaching years.
3. Not reading the crowd well.
I mean this in a couple of different ways. First, not reading the crowd sometimes meant that I wasn’t paying enough attention to class member reactions (see #1) to tell if we were doing too much or too little of something or if an exercise was too hard or too easy. I used to just stick to my class plan without deviating from it, and that’s never a good thing. I’ve learned to become much more flexible to change things on the spot if they just don’t work. I also would never take it as a reflection of my own instruction methods if members couldn’t understand something I was cueing. Couldn’t they just fix their form? What do you mean they didn’t know what I meant when I told them to split up and then do that thing over there? I never thought that maybe what I’m asking them to do is just more complicated than it needs to be. Over the years, I’ve learned that if a class member doesn’t understand something, whether it’s how to do an exercise or what’s coming next, it’s usually because I’m not communicating as effectively as I could be. People are different types of learners, and not everyone is going to understand audio cues. Take instructing your class to pay more attention to hip hinging for example. That’s enough for some, but there are others who need to see the hip hinge, and some people need to feel the hip hinge. Maybe telling someone to not let their knees hit your hand as they try a deadlift or kettlebell swing is what will get them into the correct position, not you just yelling at them.
I’m sure I made many more mistakes, and I’m not saying I’m the perfect instructor now, but these are three ways that I feel I’ve grown as an instructor over the years.