Fundamentals of Class Leadership
When instructing a group of participants, it can be hard for the instructor to ensure everyone is performing each and every repetition of every exercise with correct form and body alignment. As such an instructor must constantly scan the room watching individual’s form and technique and make general announcements to the class about the correct technique of exercises. This should be done without pointing out individual clients, but by using the correction technique.
Remember this is not the instructor’s workout, the instructor is there to ensure the participants have the best experience possible.
Some exercises performed in the programmes may seem shortened or limited in range, this is due to safety considerations in the group exercise format compared to the equivalent exercise when performed one on one with a personal trainer.
When it comes to correcting technique or perceived issues within a group there are several steps to go through, assuming the witnessed issues is not causing immediate danger to the participant or those surrounding the participant.
Provide verbal instruction to the whole group, in more than one way.
Turn to face 50% of the room, including the person you wish to correct, and provide further corrective guidance.
Make direct eye contact with the individual and offer further guidance instructions.
Move closer to the individual and offer guidance instructions.
Stand directly next to the individual and offer guidance instructions.
Without the microphone speak with the individual in question
Hands on correction is permitted should you consider the client is in immediate danger, or those nearby to them are. You can also inform the client that you are going to touch them and then physically correct any issues.
The key is to remember you are not glued to the spot, you can move and interact with the group. As previously stated, this is their workout, their class and as such you should make it as enjoyable and safe for them as possible. The trick is to not lose track of your choreography whilst doing this.
Instructor or Teacher
When it comes to class instruction would you want to be an instructor or a teacher?
And more importantly what is the difference?
To paraphrase the various dictionaries available:
“a teacher educates where as an instructor provides instruction”
With this in mind, we aim to educate our participants so they can take something away from the session that they will remember and use in their other sessions or just in everyday life to offer them a better quality of life.
After all you can provide your clients with essential knowledge and awareness of:
• Body Awareness
• Postural Awareness
• Good Technique
• Body Confidence
Whilst the choreography is pre-set it is still key to let your personality shine through. The person at the front of a class can make or break any class. The participants will come to a class for you! Especially if you make them feel welcome and appreciated. A smile, a nod or a small comment to let them know you have seen them goes a long way.
There is an old saying in fitness, and indeed theatre world: “You are on before you are on”
Basically, from exiting your car in the car park to walking across and into the venue you are teaching people can see you and hear you, so it is key they see the YOU that you want to portray to them.
Learning styles were developed by Peter Honey and Alan Mumford, based upon the work of Kolb, and they identified four distinct learning styles or preferences:
These are the learning approaches that individuals naturally prefer, and they recommend that in order to maximise one's own personal learning each learner ought to:
Understand their learning style
Seek out opportunities to learn using that style
To understand your particular learning style Honey and Mumford have developed a Learning Style Questionnaire and with this information you will be in a far better position to do three really useful things, according to Peter Honey:
"Become smarter at getting a better fit between learning opportunities and the way you learn best. This makes your learning easier, more effective and more enjoyable. It saves you tackling your learning on a hit-and-miss basis. Equipped with information about your learning preferences, you'll have many more hits and fewer misses."
"Expand the 'band width' of experiences from which you derive benefit. Becoming an all-round learner, increases your versatility and helps you learn from a wide variety of different experiences - some formal, some informal, some planned and some spontaneous."
"Improve your learning skills and processes. Increased awareness of how you learn, opens up the whole process to self-scrutiny and improvement. Learning to learn is your most important capability since it provides the gateway to everything else you want to develop."
However, to be an effective learner you should also develop the ability to learn in other styles too.
Learning Styles Characteristics
The characteristics of the four learning styles are summarised below:
Activist - are those people who learn by doing. Activists need to get their hands dirty, to dive in with both feet first. Have an open-minded approach to learning, involving themselves fully and without bias in new experiences.
Theorist - these learners like to understand the theory behind the actions. They need models, concepts and facts in order to engage in the learning process. Prefer to analyse and synthesise, drawing new information into a systematic and logical 'theory'.
Pragmatist - these people need to be able to see how to put the learning into practice in the real world. Abstract concepts and games are of limited use unless they can see a way to put the ideas into action in their lives. Experimenters, trying out new ideas, theories and techniques to see if they work.
Reflector - these people learn by observing and thinking about what happened. They may avoid leaping in and prefer to watch from the side-lines. Prefer to stand back and view experiences from several different perspectives, collecting data and taking the time to work towards an appropriate conclusion.
There is no time limit to this questionnaire. It will probably take you 10-15 minutes. The accuracy of the results depends on how honest you can be. There are no right or wrong answers. If you agree more than you disagree with a statement put a tick. If you disagree more than you agree put a cross by it. Be sure to mark each item with either a tick or cross. When you have completed the questionnaire, continue this task by responding to the points that follow.
The full questionnaire can be seen in the Appendix of the physical manual.
The benefits of exercise outweigh the risks for most people, and as fitness professionals, our core goal is to encourage people to be active. However, it’s still important that you pre-screen all new clients before launching into a fitness program, to ensure the exercise you prescribe accommodates any medical issues, injuries or other risk factors.
Obviously if you are teaching within a health club or gym environment then the pre-screening is completed before we see our attendees, but we should still carry out a verbal screen prior to all classes.
The pre-activity questionnaire or PAR-Q should ask pertinent questions that will enable you to get to know your client and conduct an initial assessment of their health status and medical history.
By the end point you should have gathered enough information to determine if they are ready to start training or if based on the information given it is advisable for them to seek qualified medical advice prior to exercise participation.
There are a variety of templates used by different gyms, leisure centres and fitness organisations that fulfil the purpose of the PAR-Q. Whilst the layout and content of these will differ the overriding purpose will be to enable you to easily gather facts about your client focused on their occupation, objectives, medical history and lifestyle.
The medical history section of the PAR-Q is the litmus test for whether your client is able to participate in exercise and if so whether there are any contraindications you need to be aware of.
It will enable you to:
Identify medical conditions that may place a client or gym member at risk when participating in certain activities.
Identify possible contraindicated activities.
Assist in designing an exercise programme that includes safe activities and/or appropriate modifications.
It is akin to a traffic light. If you conclude there is sufficient detail to stop (red) then you should be considering a medical referral and seeking G.P. consent before assisting your client further. If you feel it’s ok to continue but with caution (amber) then you need to keep any possible exercise contraindications at the forefront of your mind. Finally, if the PAR-Q shows all is well (green) then you can start to discuss exercise programme design and next steps.
An example PAR-Q can be seen in the Appendix of the physical manual.
Class Set Up & Welcome
As the teacher of a class it is your responsibly to ensure that class attendees are safe. As such you should be checking, but not limited to, the following:
The area in which the class is taking place: Slip or trip hazards, temperature control etc’
Is any equipment to be used safe for use: The mats are ripped or dirty etc’
Attendees are suitable attired and have the ability to rehydrate
Fire exits are clear
Should any faulty equipment be identified it should be separated and highlighted to duty manager of the centre you are working in, or if it is your own equipment it should be removed until repaired or replaced.
Even prior to the class commencing it is key that you identify yourself as the teacher of the class and also offer a verbal check to see if anyone is new or requires assistance. It is also a good time to offer guidance on the lifting, moving or setting up of any equipment.
Once you have your attendees ready to start then a simple and quick introduction to the group should be performed. Mention the class they are attending and what it involves, after all they may have walked into the wrong studio. It is also the time to remind them on re-hydrating during and after the session, and what physical experiences they may be about to encounter. As this will, potentially, be the first time, they will lift any equipment fully loaded it is crucial you identify the correct lifting manner and stance, not forgetting any modifications or variations you may wish them to utilise.
Each track utilised can effectively be broken down into the following structure:
A repetitive pulsing sound in music. This is the sound usually made by the bass line and is what we normally tap along with when listening to music.
A group of 8 beats. To count a phrase, start at “1” and progress through to “8”. The first count in a phrase, commonly referred to as count 1, is normally the heaviest or loudest beat.
A group of 4 phrases adding up to 32 counts (4 x 8 = 32). In many songs, a chorus or verse will make up a block. At the beginning of a block, the music may dramatically change in comparison to the previous one. Listening for this change is an easy way of finding count 1.
Changing the rhythm of a move not only adds variety but can also increase the challenge. For example, to move on an even rhythm, 2/2, is much easier for all to control than moving slower in one direction and quicker in the other, 3/1.
Each style of music lends itself to differing rhythms. These rhythms are used by programme designers to set the speed at which exercises are performed, as such if you know your music you can feel the movement and speed more appropriately.
The pitch, speed or BPM of music sets the pace at which exercises are performed. All releases are pre-set to the correct speed for the designated movements, therefore it is essential that you do not personally alter the pitch of the music.
Music volume is a very emotive subject in exercise classes, let alone in life. As class teachers we often use the music as a major part of the motivation journey for participants, however set it too loud and it can cause discomfort to the participant. Similarly, have it to low and it will not be “felt” by the attendees so zero motivation will be achieved. As a rough guide it is best to set the volume before class and stand in the centre of your room to see if it is suitable for all.
Effective Cueing Structure
As a group exercise teacher your cueing can be one of the most important things in a class. It keeps the participants working together, focused and most importantly looking like a team. It is important that you create a fun environment, and safe, whereby your participants want to come back to your classes again and again. Let’s be honest, the higher the number of participants the better the atmosphere; the better the atmosphere the more people want to work; the more people work the quicker they will see results.
So, what is Cueing? Cueing is making sure your participants know what the next move is before it actually happens. You also have to make sure you allow your participants enough time to register their ‘cue’ to allow them enough time for their body to initiate the move.
Cueing is really important for the ‘pre-choreographed classes’ so the first thing you need to do is listen to the music and learn the music.
How do you do this? Well you can’t just listen to a track once and think that you have learnt it. Your body needs to embodied the music so you know exactly what comes next in the song, where the high points are and the low points. If you don’t know what is coming next in the song how do you expect to have enough time to motivate your participants and give coaching points? So, listen to the music, learn the music so it becomes completely second nature.
Once you have embodied the music then you can start to learn when to pre-cue the moves. Remember, you need to allow enough time for your participants to register the cues so make sure you give it with plenty of time. If they don’t have enough time to register and learn the move then they may get put off and become de-motivated because they feel like they can’t do it with the rest of the class. Remember your job is to encourage participants, which ultimately leads to growth in numbers.
There are two different types of cues, spoken cues and visual cues. With spoken cues it is important to be audible. Make sure you are clear and precise with your cues, be loud and confident with and know exactly what you are going to say.
This comes from learning the music so that you know when you need to use your voice to pre-cue. With visual cues remember you also have to be clear and precise with what they are. For example, if you want a class to move to their left make sure you indicate it strongly with your right arm, make it long and direct so that everybody can see clearly the direction of the movement. Visual cueing can be really effective if you want to let the music do the talking.
If the track has a strong beat and it is up-tempo then there is no need to drown out the track with your voice. Use strong visual cues; an attitude on your face and you will have your entire class moving to the same beat of the music!
If you get a cue wrong don’t show it. Remember only you know the choreography. Who is to say that the participant’s previous instructor didn’t get it wrong? Definitely don’t apologise if you get the choreography wrong. Say it confidently, proudly and clearly.
If you have learnt the music and the moves, you know that you can easily get it back on track. So, take a breath and move onto the next move. If you are confident with what you are saying the participants will never know.
Remember effective cueing doesn’t just come from the choreography. It also links to coaching points and motivational cues. If you know you are doing a difficult move or challenging move for example; bottom half squats, make sure you give a coaching pre-cue point i.e. brace your abs!
This also works with motivational pre-cue points. If you know it’s starting to get difficult and near the end of a track, then perhaps pre-cue the bottom half squats with ‘Stay strong’ ‘We are nearly there’ “Let’s get through this together’. Knowing when these difficult sections are within songs are important so it is important you learn when you might need to use motivating and coaching point cues.
Engage with your participants. You may need to adapt choreography if the participants are finding it difficult. By adapting the choreography or the moves then you will need to in turn adapt your cues and what you are going to say. This links all the way back to learning the music and it’s important to always have options as an instructor.
After all, we want our classes to be unique to us and as much as possible new and fresh every time. Even with pre-choreographed classes you can still make it unique and special to the individual teacher. So, learn the music and learn what you are going to say. Really effective cueing can be the difference between a good class and a great class.
Make your classes fun and enjoyable so your participants just keep coming back!
Marketing your class and YOU
If you are fortunate enough to work within a health club or gym environment then hopefully, they will advertise and market your class to its members for you – however, you shouldn’t rely on this. Also, if you work for yourself hiring a venue or working in your own venue then the advertising and marketing of your sessions comes down to YOU.
When approaching health clubs, it can be useful to make initial contact direct to the manager by letter and or email. In this correspondence as well as listing the benefits of your class, it is also a good idea to let them know you will be calling them in 48 hours, to discuss your correspondence and discuss any questions they may have. Obviously, all correspondence should be polite and informative, and if you have a web site then list this so they can see you.
With regards the health club you could potentially save them money compared to other classes, after all your class offers:
No venue licence to pay – you are the qualified person
No PPL licence to pay – all our releases are PPL free
Your releases are choreographed to superb music that participants will know
The choreography and music change quarterly to keep the classes fresh
You have the ability to “medley” your mixes to create themed classes or just to keep it feeling fresh.
Good group exercise classes have been proven to increase and assist in member retention
If you are utilising a privately hired venue or your own venue, then this changes your marketing strategy somewhat. Social media is one of the greatest advertising opportunities to the “freelance” teacher. Obviously if you are opening up your social media to the world it is best practice to keep it separate from your personal pages, this way anything you have shared in the past cannot create upset to anyone who peruses. It can also allow you to potential create several pages attract the right people in the right area.
When doing any adverts keep them simple, clean and easy to understand. Like the social media pages, it may be necessary, all be it costlier, to say the same thing in two or more different ways in differing advertising.
Whilst social media is amazing it still doesn’t remove the options of:
Contacting previous attendees to highlight the new class
Provide free sessions, this is also useful when getting into health clubs
Invite local radio station presenters to class
Carry out a big launch day so people can sample the class
Network with local businesses, they push you and you push them
Walk around in logo’s clothing so people can see it and think – What’s that all about?