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How to get the most out of group fitness class
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The goal of any good group fitness instructor should be to help members feel better at the end of a class than they did at the beginning. By understanding each other more, both instructors and class members can work together to achieve that goal. - photo by Kim Cowart
I love my job as a fitness instructor. When I was younger, I would get up early to watch Denise Austin pump it up on ESPN. Occasionally I would even do the workouts along with her. But mostly I would watch and wish my life to be like hers. She got paid to work out, and once in a while she got to work out on a Hawaiian beach. She got paid! After 25 years of envious viewing, Im now living that dream (minus the Hawaiian beach but Im not dead yet).

That said, I love this time of year. Its an opportunity for me, as resolution time rolls around once again, to show others how motivating group fitness classes can be. But I realize it can be a bit intimidating for some to dive into that sea of change. Results happen best when instructors and members are on the same page. So, I wanted to share a few things fitness instructors wished their members knew, as well as a few things members wished their instructors knew, to make 2016 the year good change happens.

What instructors wished members knew:

1. Ive gone through extensive training and know what Im talking about. Any instructor worth their salt has a national certification and takes part in continuing education to stay on top of the latest fitness research and findings. We put hours of work into one single class. When I stress good form, its for a reason. I choose specific music for a reason. I put some drills back-to-back for a reason. I want the best for my members. I want fitness to be a lifestyle. Trust me to keep you healthy and safe while helping you make positive changes in your body and mind.

2. Im not a nutritionist or doctor. I cant prescribe a diet or eating plan. I cant diagnose your injury, and it would be irresponsible (and illegal) for me to do so. I can, however, show you modifications to work around that injury or help you with proper form to keep that injury at bay.

3. Dress appropriately and bring your own towel and water. Ive gotten more than an eyeful watching members do crunches. Its a vision I cant erase. On the other extreme, Ive had some come to cycle in heavy sweats, hoody over their head and no water. None of those classes ended well. You dont have to wear head to toe Lululemon, but dressing for your intended exercise and staying hydrated will enhance your workout.

4. I come on time, prepared to work, and expect you to do the same. What a pleasure it is to unplug and focus on ourselves for one class. Class time is sacred time. Nothing else matters outside the group fitness doors. Leave your baggage outside and focus on you for 60 minutes. Please dont talk on your cellphone or carry on a long conversation with your neighbor during class. Its distracting, but more importantly, it defeats the purpose of your being in class. If you cant dedicate an hour to your workout, maybe a class isnt the place to be that day. I turn my phone off when Im teaching. Do yourself a favor and do the same.

5. Do as Im doing. Modifications are fine, even necessary sometimes, but if youre doing a completely different workout than the rest of us, do it on your own time. Its one thing to substitute lunges because of an injury; its another thing to do crunches while the rest of us are focusing on bicep curls. Its distracting to the members and disrespectful to the teacher. What were doing may look easy, but we put in a lot of work to make the class seamless and effective.

What members wished instructors knew (and my responses):

  1. I am here to work out. Im not interested in your personal life. My day is full and I have one hour. I want to make every minute count and dont really want to hear about how your baby threw up last night or your husband is out of town and youre so tired.


This class is about you, not me. You have every right to expect your instructor to be professional. In fact, you should insist upon it. Being friendly is fine, but your instructors personal life should remain personal.

2. Im afraid I cant keep up. I dont want to look stupid. Everyone in class looks like they know what theyre doing and Im afraid I wont even be able to catch my breath, much less execute the perfect squat.

Everyone was new once, even the instructor. I always encourage first-timers to use the first three classes as an experiment. Get used to the format and the drills. Play around with different weights. The more you come, the more comfortable youll feel. Youll find that most members are accommodating and understanding. Pull me aside at the beginning of class and introduce yourself and Ill help you through.

3. It was a struggle just to show up today.

Guess what. Even I struggle to show up some days (and I get paid). Its often the hardest part of the workout. I get it. I dont expect you to be perfect. I expect you to progress. I expect you to give yourself your best effort each day. Your best effort today is going to be different than your best effort yesterday. I trust you not to cheat yourself. And know that we all have days where we struggle. The beauty of group fitness, though, is you dont struggle alone. Were in this together.

4. Im not an athlete. Im not training for an Ironman. Im just here to get my body moving.

A good instructor will reach every member where they are. Whether you are training for a marathon or havent seen the inside of a gym since your junior prom, an instructor should not only be able to show modifications for each fitness level, but should make everyone at every level feel successful at the end of a workout.

5. Im frustrated that Im not losing weight. Im not seeing the changes I want to see.

Im frustrated that the scale is the only barometer by which fitness is measured by so many members. Yes, weight is one indicator of good health, but only one. Look for other changes. Are you sleeping better? Are you able to concentrate at work better? Is your overall endurance improving? Can you open a jar easier or carry that baby in a car seat longer? Good health isnt about how you look. Its about how you feel. And when you feel good, you look good. Not the other way around.

When instructors and members are working toward the same goal, incredible things happen. Members successes are my successes. Truly. May we all have a happy and healthy new year.