Whether you are just starting out in your teaching career, or a veteran teacher looking for a way to inject his or her own spark of novelty to an existing class, there are some non-negotiables that come with teaching success that will make or break a class.
Here are 5 areas where your best tools of the trade lie, and where you can uncover some dynamic group fitness instructor tips.
While many programs already offer a musical playlist for instructors to follow, for the majority, especially freestyle classes, how you set up your music and what music pieces you choose will help you seduce a class when other skills are still developing or not considered a strength in your repertoire. Without even opening up your mouth, the music speaks for you and sets the mood for your class just 30 seconds after you've started your first song.
In order to keep the momentum going in your classes you have to be ahead of the game by researching and collecting songs before you need them. Be efficient and take advantage of ways to add music listening to your usual daytime rituals.
As I drive in the car, I'm listening for song possibilities.
As I clean my house at home, I am listening for song possibilities.
I always keep playlists of songs with genres or song-types, so that I always have songs ready for me when I need them. Playlists with titles: Warmup, Toning, Cool Down, Stretch, Crowd Killers, The Punisher, are some examples. Even with "set" songs for programs, like Pound(R) Fitness, for instance, keeping a playlist of "T&A Level 1", or "Set Level 2" of songs ahead of time helps me feel prepared for the next time I have to choreograph my newest song.
Pandora, iTunes Radio, YouTube and Instagram are places, besides group fitness program archives, where you can scan songs to collect in playlists. When I hear a new song I want to get to know better, I have my song identification app ready to go on my phone so I can catch the tune and save for later. A little time spent researching goes a long way for putting together a song quickly for showcasing at your next class. Recently, I have found it helpful to collect songs by seasons (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter) and publish them on Spotify so students can enjoy them on their own time and we can refer to them when we are ready to bring back a long-forgotten song that is still sweet in our memories.
It's like a yearbook for all our music we've shared in class.
Preparing to cue feels almost like watching a glass slide closer and closer to the end of a table ready to drop off to the side. Obvious and predictable cueing has been key to keeping my front row strong, and their dance leadership tight. If I do not make it clear when my next move is coming with some hint as to where it's going to be coming from, I will get a front row revolt. Because they hold up the energy of my class with me, I have to make it clear ahead of time.
At the ends of verses, the ends of musical choruses and just before there's a some unique musical hook, I always have my hand up or down before that beat into the next musical transition so we all make that move together.
It's a cue that happens just like signaling while driving to prepare everyone for my left or right turn. It wouldn't make sense to turn on my turn signal at the moment I have to negotiate my turn. I should be signaling my intention to turn 500 feet before.
For group fitness instructors, there's a 2 beat rule. Two beats before a verse, chorus or hook is heard, that's when students should see my visual cue. And you'll notice especially with dance formulas, that people will go in their zone and know to look up as they also feel their "dance glass" sliding close to the edge of transition, and you will be right there for their eyes to guide them into the next movement.
Extra credit for the group fitness instructors who not only include visual cues, but add the spice of audible cues with that little grunt, word shouted out, or whistle (my personal favorite claim to fame) to make the path crystal clear for your students to move forward like a well-oiled machine.
There are so many ways to create relationships with your students, to make your classes memorable. It really doesn't take much of your time to make everyone feel welcome. One way I help my students feel seen is to play Seek and Find at the beginning of the class. I seek out a new face and find out what the person's name is, what they do, or some way to make them stand out in my mind, even if it's to notice their hair, a piece of jewelry, an accessory, or color of athletic wear.
During class, there isn't that time to sit and have a conversation while teaching, especially if hands are full of weights and steps have to be underneath us.
When our hands are full, though, we can ask for "shout outs" from areas of the room, from "back row" to "front row" where they respond to a question or invitation for noise. "Let me hear the ladies say..." or "Let me hear the fellas say..." is a way to keep students engaged and help you give energy to the room even when movement is hard to come by.
When I'm free to move, in classes, like Zumba Fitness, for example, I use the Pat and Go, where I acknowledge a student's presence, an act of bravery, awesome energy, or encouragement when they might feel overwhelmed by the work, with a simple pat on the back as I walk by. Making it a short and sweet interaction keeps instructor cueing on point, and keeps shy students from feeling too singled out.
I always make it a point to carry out "student checkout" at the end of class, starting with those who come my way or those who linger in the studio a little longer. Here is where I thank them for being in class, remind them of special events in the future, or ask them when I get to see them at the gym next.
When I feel like I've had more new or unfamiliar students than normal, I head to the door immediately after our final stretch, so I can be sure to say goodbye to them as they walk out the door. It's a great way to feel a sense of closure in a class, and also encourages new students to interact or introduce any questions or share comments.
Part of being a recognized group fitness instructor, is carried in the energy of leadership-the presence of the teacher. In many ways, charisma is a "I woke up like this" skill, but there are a few cheats to make anyone a strong, professional leader.
I am known for my commanding, "Who is the teacher?!" when I have given a cue and the front row has gone to do the usual (maybe I want to do something different or add on to choreography once the students seem ready). It is critical for the group to recognize the difference between the teacher, and the skilled and dependable leadership of the front row.
I am the teacher.
A class only gets one alpha dog for a charismatic group that stands the test of time. Anything else will be short-lived.
It is an industry liability standard to never allow students to teach the class, especially when they are not trained teachers of your program. It's one thing for a teacher to step away to rouse up a quiet corner of the room during a song, but quite another when you ask your student to start teaching the class because you are running late. If you are scheduled to teach the class, you should be the one teaching it.
Many gyms have policies that forbid even trained teachers from teaching classes if they aren't employees of that gym. Check with your local employer to find out what their policy is. I guarantee there will be an email that will cross your collection where a gym will be forced to restate their policy based on what has come back to management on some liability measure "gone wild".
So a rule of thumb, "Not the teacher? Not my party." Your gym administrators should decide for you in writing what constitutes a "teacher," however skilled, however licenced, and trained. Following this rule of leadership is what separates a group fitness instructor from a professional.
Good segway into the most important tool of all: liability coverage.
As an employee, group fitness instructors are covered by the coverage of their employer (do your research on the level of coverage your gym offers.)
But it still doesn't stop students who felt they did not have a safe workout, from making the teacher personally responsible for their safety.
Special events in private studios, public event houses, and outdoors in public spaces should have the safety net of a policy that covers you wherever you go- not just in your primary location.
There is no greater peace of mind that comes with the tool of confidence-your own liability insurance with a policy that covers you for the unexpected. Since you can't control all the circumstances around you, play it safe and get covered for your professional peace of mind.