How To Teach a Better Class: 5 Tips for Fitness Professionals

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One of the first things that I Google when I’m traveling, aside from locating the nearest Whole Foods, is finding a local gym or training studio to get a workout.  Since I am in Colorado right now helping my little brotha’ move into college, I figured I’d check out a place to take a pilates class.

Always the first pit stop after getting off the plane.

I love visiting new gyms and scoping out what the rest of the industry is doing.  I learn new cues and gain a different perspective on something that has become so routine.  Sometimes you come across amazing instructors and facilities that blow you away and totally re-kindle your love for fitness, and sometimes you leave ashamed to even be part of the industry.

I had somewhat of a mixed experience yesterday.  The facility I went to was GORGEOUS.  Like ridiculously gorgeous.  Fancy equipment, beautiful aesthetics, over-the top amenities like free razors and deodorant, and a spa that could have belonged in a 5-star hotel.

I took a pilates class, and although I believe the instructor knew what she was talking about, she definitely had years under her belt, taking the class did remind of certain things that are often overlooked in delivering an experience.

I’m not writing this post to bash this instructor, rather, I’m writing it to remind us, the fit pro, how we can come across.  I’m a little biased because as an instructor myself I am more sensitive and keen to the tiny details.  But it is the tiny details that can be the difference between a typical gym class, and an unforgettable experience.

It’s very easy for us to forget what it’s like from the student’s or clients point of view, which is why I highly recommend working with a trainer even if you are a trainer, and/or taking classes on a regular basis.  Not only does this help you understand your clients experience, it also keeps you on your game, physically.

Based on my experience yesterday, here are 5 tips that you can use to help you teach a better class:
1. Always ask the class if someone has an injury, or if someone is new before you start teaching.

Not only does this help you modify exercises for the safety of the clients, but it also helps bridge the gap between you and your students.  It creates a feeling of attentiveness and professionalism, like you know what the hell you’re talking about.

2. It also helps if you introduce yourself beforehand instead of just jumping right in.

You don’t have to tell your life story, but a brief introduction, with 1 or 2 bits of information about your background or training style helps create a rapport with your clients, and helps lighten the mood.  It’s easy to forget that not everyone loves exercising.  In fact, most clients are intimidated to be in a class, so lighten the mood, add your personality and maybe a little humor to make a comforting and welcoming atmosphere.

3. Explain a little bit about what you’re going to do, and why you’re doing it.

People like to know why they’re being asked to do certain things.  Yeah, there are those clients who will do just about anything you tell them (God bless them), but there are also clients that like to know the reasons behind why they’re doing what they’re doing.  And frankly those are the clients you want to work with because they tend to take on a more active role in their training.

After your brief introduction, explain to your group what the class is called (you’d be surprised how many people wind up in the wrong class), what the goal of the class is, what they’ll get out of the class, and why they’re doing it.

For instance, if you are teaching an interval style class, explain that they’ll be doing short bursts of exercise followed by a period of rest to help boost their metabolism while cutting down on workout time.

4. Be very mindful of tactile re-enforcement.

If you are going to use tactile re-enforcement i.e. using your hands to help place a client into a better position, please be mindful of your pressure, and your touch. Sometimes a client’s body is just not ready for that position.

And some client’s may not like being touched.  So it always helps if you ask beforehand, especially if it’s a new student.  Something simple like, “Do you mind if I place my hands on your back to help?”

And for pilates instructors – PLEASE do not repeatedly poke your students in the belly with your index finger and tell them to “draw the belly in deeper”, oh, and while you’re at it, do not push their heads down when they are in Saw to get “a deeper stretch”.

5. Use the sandwhich technique when giving constructive feedback.

If a client is clearly struggling with a certain exercise, chances are they are probably feeling a little inadequate.  So, don’t make it worse by barking at them to fix their form.  Cushion your feedback with something positive.

For instance, if you notice a client is just straight up sucking at trying to do full push-ups, but is rocking at doing squats, you could say something like this:

“Your squats are awesome keep it up, now let’s work on those push-ups.  Let’s go to the knees for this set and get a little lower so you can really work those triceps.”

Not only did you prevent your student from receiving the worst push-up form in the world award, you created an even deeper rapport thus strengthening your relationship.

Final Words

Although the workout didn’t blow my mind, my experience yesterday was a great reminder of what it takes to create an exceptional experience for our clients.  It brought me back into my client’s perspective, and helped me feel what they feel, see what they see, and hear what they hear.

If you are a fit pro reading this, I hope this little post serves you well and gives you some food for thought so that your next class is an exceptional experience.  Besides, you never know who’ll be in attendance.

Do you have other tips for teaching a better class?  Let us know down in the comment section below!

5 Responses

  1. This is an excellent post. As somebody that taught numerous group fit classes for years and years I can appreciate (and vehemently agree with) the tips you listed above.
    Like you, I loved to go to group fitness classes to see what they were doing, get a workout, and learn some new cues. I used to keep a little notebook and anytime I’d hear another instructor verbalize something that I loved or incorporate a routine that I liked, I’d jot it down. It really came in handy and helped me evolve as an instructor. 🙂

    1. Hi Jen!

      Thank you for your comment and for your feedback. I’ve found that even experiencing other teaching styles or a format that you’re not use to taking (like Zumba for me lol), helps your teaching repertoire. Some of my best learning experiences came from classes I wouldn’t typically take, so it’s great to keep your mind open as an instructor.

      Congrats on the new GGS site too, it looks fab! 🙂


  2. I think this is a great point for all fitness professionals! It is so important to not loose that view point of your client or potential clients! First impressions last a life time and as everyone knows you “never get a second chance for a first impression.”

    1. Thanks Katie! Even though it wasn’t the best class I’ve ever taken, it was a good reminder about what our clients experience. Look forward to taeching again! Yaaaay! 🙂

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