I apologize for abandoning you in the middle of the ClassPass Experiment. The problem was that I took no good classes. None. Zero. Zippy. Writing the blog articles became an exercise in how to be entertaining without being mean. Because I had almost nothing nice to say. And I think we have all learned, if you don’t have anything nice to say…
I do have something to say to the group fitness instructors of the world, and also to the group fitness enthusiasts. My hope is both groups benefit from both messages.
To the group fitness instructors out there:
That’s what we’re most-often called, I think? Instructors. Sometimes teachers. Occasionally trainers. What else are we? Leaders? Educators? Demonstrators?
My point – we are INSTRUCTors. So why do so many of us shy away from actually INSTRUCTing? In 23 years of teaching group fitness, I know I have had several different answers for this. I’m guessing many instructors reading this will be able to find themselves in one of the following stages of group fitness instruction.
The GPS Group Fitness Instructor
In the early stages of my career, I didn’t feel like the expert in the room. I felt like a poser. I was faking it til I could make it. I was afraid to correct form, or deliver too much info that might be construed as science-y, because I wasn’t sure of myself, or my knowledge. So I defaulted to being a director of my class. Quite literally, a giver of directions – step right, lift your left knee, walk around your step. I delivered directions, and people followed. And, lucky or skilled, not sure which, I eventually got good enough as a fitness router, that I could move on to the next stage.
The Fun Group Fitness Instructor
Now that people could follow my directions, I had a little energy to expend to encourage
and motivate them. “Great job!” “So strong!” “Excellent work!” Pretty generic stuff, but forward progress on my instructor learning curve. I got a bit more comfortable showing my personality, singing along or adding a shimmy, or letting out a whoop, whoop.
I think I stayed here for far too long. Eight years too long, in my estimation. I was a freestyle instructor. I played great music, I choreographed interesting patterns, I enjoyed class, and that was more than a lot of other instructors, so I thought that was enough.
That’s about when Les Mills entered the scene in my fitness life.
The Virgin Les Mills Instructor
Many of you reading this know I teach Les Mills formats, and I’m pretty deep into that cult of exercisology. It may surprise you to learn I was a reluctant recruit to LM.
Les Mills and I are a match made in heaven in a lot of ways. A Les Mills training is a very thorough training. I cannot speak highly enough about the process of becoming a certified LM instructor.
But on this next point I diverge from LM, and thus we have finally come to the purpose of this blog post.
Les Mills teaches instructors to never deviate from the choreography. To “push play and go.” To “never leave the stage.” As a former freestyle instructor, I always had trouble with this directive. Then, as a group fitness director for 20+ years, I found myself unteaching some of that directive time and time again.
But it’s not just Les Mills. Group fitness instructors are trained to address the group. To direct the class to the middle of the bell curve. We are trained to give options that allow participants to option up to something more difficult, or option down to something a bit easier, or option laterally, to something similar, yet slightly different. But we are trained to teach generically. We address corrections to the group.
Brace your core.
Take your stance wider.
Whose core? Whose chest? Whose stance? Well, in the group fitness world, I was taught to give a universal cue for all in the room to check their stances, then gently suggest that some individuals in the room might need a wider stance. Maybe I even (gasp) make eye contact with a narrow stander, to indicate I *might* be referring to her. But under no circumstances should I call the narrow stander by name.
Because I might offend Narrow Stance.
Yes, Narrow Stance might be the kind of person who doesn’t want to be singled out. Narrow Stance might feel embarrassed or put on the spot.
Or, Narrow Stance might be inspired by being noticed and given a tool to improve her skill.
If You Teach It, They Will Learn
Last I checked, as the INSTRUCTor, I am the expert in the room. My job is to instruct. Not to make everyone guess whether or not I am talking to them. No one expects a personal trainer to be afraid to teach clients to lunge properly for fear of hurting their feelings. How is group instruction different? The concern is that other people are present to witness a correction being made, and that can be embarrassing for the correctee.
If I am the instructor, the people in the room are my students, yes? By definition, these people are “formally engaged in learning.” My job is to teach them. Yes, much of that can be done with a universal lesson plan, but occasionally teaching a student requires personal attention.
Fitness instructors, though, have been taught to treat each person in class as if they are fragile, thin skinned with eggshell egos. I am guessing school teachers in the US are commiserating on some level as they read this.
I am not suggesting barking orders in the face of the brand new person in the back row of your class tomorrow. I am suggesting that group fitness is about relationships. And relationships are about trust. How do I build trust?
I begin by learning names.
I acknowledge attendance and effort.
I praise when deserved.
With a little trust earned, I might offer an easy correction, “Hey Narrow Stance, just give yourself a step wider so your foundation is strong.” Then, when executed properly, “YES! That stance has a fighting chance.”
I progress to offer more difficult challenges. “Narrow – I know you can move your feet quicker than that!” And then maybe even eventually, “Narrow, if I see you on a tightrope again and you’re giving me extra pushups at the end of class!”
Over time, I have gotten to know the people in my class, so I can cater their instruction to suit their personality. Some people respond to a challenge. Some people want their hands held.
It all starts with knowing the people in your class on an individual basis. You won’t make best friends with everyone in one week and some people will probably always remain a bit of an enigma, but your teaching will be so much more effective if you can shake the idea that offering personal feedback is too much of a risk.
A little risk often produces the greatest reward.
So, for those group exercise enthusiasts out there:
Buck up. If your instructor calls your name, it is because s/he is doing his/her job. Like any teacher or coach in your life, your fitness instructor is trying to educate you. To help you master new skills and access strengths you may not even know you possess. To acknowledge the choice you made to spend your hour in this class, recognize your hard work, and motivate you on the days when you need it most.