Category Archives: group exercise

IHRSA 2012 Trade Show – Aeromat


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Aeromat has a new, dual surface club mat. One side is smooth and the other side is textured, so one mat suits either preference. It is available in a variety of sizes, including 3/8”, 3/4” and 5/8” thicknesses.

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In addition to mats, Aeromat has a full line of balance products. One of the specialty items they offer is an air-filled wedge with a pebble-textured top and smooth bottom. The wedge can be used to ease back pain and reduce the discomfort of prolonged sitting, as well as provide an unstable surface for various standing or seated balance or rehabilitation exercises.

Tomorrow we’ll look at Airex’s BeBalanced products. Stay tuned!

Dealing with Class Disruptions, Part II

Advice from Veteran Instructors

In a previous post, instructors shared strategies for working with Chatty Cathy and her pal Gossip Gal, as well as Tardy Tim. Two other potentially disruptive personalities include “Old School Oscar” and “Ambitious Alice”.

Problem: Old School Oscar has been coming to the gym since you were in diapers. He talks wistfully about “the good old days” when Athletic Conditioning class participants would carry each other piggyback while running up and down several flights of stairs. His idea of a great cardio interval is 10 laps around the track while trying to hold a 25-pound medicine ball overhead, and he insists on pulling the bar up to his nose when doing upright rows. Any time you give him feedback on form or technique, he shrugs off your instructions. You are worried that he is going to hurt himself in class.

Possible Solutions: B.J. from Charlottesville, Virginia, takes an educational approach. “I try to explain to the whole group the rationale and the science behind a controversial exercise and its more appropriate alternative.” If that doesn’t work, she takes a more philosophical approach: “Try it my way and see what your experience is.”

Vicki from Bethesda, Maryland, points out that people usually stick with an old school move because they feel like it is more challenging. She talks up the new methodology by telling the class about an improved way to do an exercise. She emphasizes that it gives even better results than the old way.

Sometimes, even after instructors have given general class feedback or called on individuals, students may continue to perform an exercise improperly or “do their own thing”. Instructors agree that if a participant is doing something that is blatantly unsafe, they are obligated to put a stop to it. Jerome from Charlottesville says that the trick is to take a low-key, one-to-one approach. “Casually move towards the student. Once you are within speaking range, make eye contact. Then remove or mute your mic and give specific cues in a friendly way. ‘Your bar is coming up a little too high. Try stopping it right at chest level.’ Then wait and watch while the student completes a few reps,” he recommends.

If a student continues to ignore your cues, try to catch up outside of class when you can have a more lengthy conversation. In rare instances, you may need to ask a student to refrain from attending classes if he or she is unwilling to accept your instructions or follow the class format; BUT document the problem in writing in advance, and, depending on your club’s protocol, make sure you have the support of your supervisor and/or the general manager FIRST.

Problem: Ambitious Alice is a new member who bounces into your highly choreographed, advanced triple step class. You welcome her and ask if she has ever taken a step class before. She shakes her head no and shares that this is her first time exercising in fifteen years. While you don’t want to crush her enthusiasm, you don’t think this is the best class for her.

It is always a good idea to talk with new students before class begins. While nobody wants to discourage class participation, every instructor hates to see a new student slink out of class in self-defeat.

Vicki says, “I talk to new students about the intensity of the class and ask what they have been doing recently for exercise. That helps me guide the conversation as to what may or may not work for them in this format, and I might suggest another class they’d prefer. If they decide to stay for class, I cue options.”

Students may not realize that some classes, like step, have a unique terminology. Offering to show new students a few steps ahead of time can help smooth the way. A “sneak peak” may help them decide whether to stay or try a different class without having to lose face in front of everyone.

B.J. also encourages students to avoid judging themselves against other participants. “Don’t focus on what others are doing in class,” she reminds them. “Keep this your workout and feel free to walk around the room. Just don’t stop and watch!”

The bottom line: dealing effectively with class disruptions requires compassion, poise and a sense of humor. Our goal is to help students become fitter and healthier while having fun and feeling great.

Do you have any tried-and-true approaches for dealing with class disruptions? Please share them! Leave a comment or e-mail fitnesspro@thegrapevine.info

Dealing with Class Disruptions

Advice from Veteran Instructors

No matter what your gym calls you—coach, trainer, instructor, group leader—you are a TEACHER. It takes far more than simply expertise in health and fitness to effectively manage all of the different personalities and preferences of your class participants. And as with any learning environment, there are disruptions, too. Talking in class. Late arrivals. Failure to follow instructions. Sheesh. It sounds like high school!

Clubs are customer service-based businesses, and the guest is always right. . . to a point. So how do you tactfully call out a participant who is compromising safety or creating a poor experience for other students? Several veteran instructors offer their advice.

Problem: Chatty Cathy and her friend Gossip Gal are having an ongoing conversation while you are trying to cue body alignment. You can tell that other students are distracted and annoyed by the competing conversation. You try to catch their eye, but they are completely oblivious. What do you do next?

Possible Solutions: Vicki, an instructor in Bethesda, Maryland, points out that many people join clubs for the social aspect. It is helpful to have camaraderie and support while working out, but there needs to be balance. She recommends making a lighthearted comment like “Am I going to have to break you two up?” That usually makes the class laugh and the talkers stop.

Ramping up your non-verbal communication is another possibility. While simply making eye contact with the talkers often successfully halts a secondary conversation, you may need to take it a step further—literally. If your class format permits, move closer to the talkers as you continue to instruct the class. Once you reach a certain proximity, the talkers will take notice. Give them a friendly nod and smile. They will get the message!

If talking persists, you may need to adopt a more serious tone. Vicki offers a diplomatic suggestion for framing the problem from your perspective rather than casting blame: “Sometimes I just say, ‘I’m sorry. I can’t concentrate on what I’m trying to teach the class while you are talking.’” If the conversation is urgent, she requests that the talkers step out of the room to continue.

Problem: Tardy Tim comes in after class has begun. Do you say anything to him?

Possible Solutions: Instructors vary on their approach to this one, depending on the type of class and the individual involved. If the latecomer is a “regular” and his or her arrival is not disruptive, most will turn the other cheek. Suzanne, an instructor in Charlottesville, Virginia, remarks, “There is nothing like public humiliation to set the tone for an hour-long class. Also, if that person is new, you want them to come back. What if they had a bad morning just trying to get to the gym with their kids? Making their gym experience stressful is counter-productive.” Vicki agrees. “In most cases they have been held up in traffic, at work or with a kid-related issue. More than anything, they need that class they tried so desperately to get to on time!”

B.J., another instructor from Charlottesville, mentions that at a certain point, however, safety becomes a concern. She jokes with late students about having warmed up as they raced to the gym but asks that they avoid jumping in at full speed. She tells them, “I want to make sure it is safe for you to participate. Spend a little time warming up and take it easy to start with.”

Sometimes it may be necessary to turn someone away from class. Many gyms have signs posted that remind participants not to enter more than 10 minutes after class has begun. The worst-case scenario cited by instructors is a new student who tries to join class 15 or 20 minutes into instruction. The student may have watched through the windows for a while, trying to build up the courage to walk in the door, but he or she has missed the warm up and valuable instruction. “This is a toughie,” says Vicki. “You don’t want to turn someone off, but you also don’t want someone to hurt themselves.” Most instructors agree that they would try to accommodate the student as long as it was safe and did not negatively affect the other students’ class experience.

Stay tuned for the next blog entry: Dealing with Class Disruptions, Part II. Read strategies for helping Old-school Oscar benefit from new exercise research and keeping Ambitious Alice from taking on too much in your class.

Class Participants Share Best (& Worst) Instructor Traits

When I add up the time that I have spent teaching group exercise classes over the last 20 years, it comes to approximately 253,440 minutes. That does not include the 30,000 or so minutes I have spent in continuing education courses or the 60,000 minutes I have spent taking other people’s classes. Why am I counting in minutes? Because when I surveyed a group of regular class participants about what makes an instructor great (or not so great), guess what came up repeatedly. . . time!

Everyone surveyed agreed that overall, their biggest pet peeve about an instructor relates back to a failure to value the participants’ time: lack of preparation, poor time management or not recognizing students as individuals.

In the respondents’ eyes, the biggest bummer about taking a bad class was having wasted their time. They point out that the time they have invested in taking a class far exceeds the number of minutes actually spent inside the studio. It includes:

Preparation: packing a gym bag, laundering the necessary clothes, organizing their day to fit a class in

Travel: time actually spent in transit and in some cases, time/money spent on child care arrangements

Workout: if they don’t get a good workout from the class, they have to invest even more time somewhere else to make up for it

So when teaching a class, every minute counts—and our students are watching closely! Aside from superior technical skill and knowledge, participants rate the top five qualities in a group exercise instructor.

THE BEST INSTRUCTORS. . .

1) are always prepared for class

Students can tell when an instructor is just “winging it.” Nearly everyone has been faced with filling in at the last minute (especially those of you who work in another department of a club and can be plucked off the floor in the event of an emergency!), but instructors who consistently fail to plan ultimately fail their students.

“It’s obvious when the instructor hasn’t given much thought to class,” remarked a Step class participant. “Everything is choppy and they cannot remember what they just told us to do.”

Another respondent pointed out that while being able to spontaneously modify instruction based on the students’ needs is definitely the mark of an experienced teacher, it is another thing to give random directions. “There is a level of audacity on the instructor’s part to put me through a series of routines without having pondered in advance what it will do to my body,” wrote one athletic class participant.

2) prize punctuality

Back to those minutes! As mundane as it sounds, beginning and ending class on time is really important to our students. Have you ever seen participants become antsy while the instructor fiddles with the stereo? “Once the class start time rolls around, I want to be moving,” said one diehard club member. “Time is money, and we are on the clock. Please give me my money’s worth.”

Also, when it’s time to stop, resist the urge to call out “One more time!” “I am a clock watcher during class,” admits one participant. “I cannot wait for class to finish because I am so tired. Plus, I have a million other things to do. When the instructors say, ‘Let’s do it again!’ and it’s going to put us over class time, I just want to scream.”

While you may think you’re doing your students a favor to get one more round in, stick with the advertised timetable. The next class on the schedule will appreciate it, too.

3) teach the class as it is advertised

Many respondents mentioned that they relied heavily on class descriptions to decide which ones to go to. “Make sure you teach to the audience you’re advertising,” suggests one veteran participant. “Some people follow instructors around no matter what kind of class it is. Regardless of who is in the room, the instructor should teach the class as it is described in the schedule.” If your class is labeled a beginner class, don’t up the ante for the people who are following YOU instead of taking a more appropriate class. While altering your level of instruction may make your “regulars” happy in the short-term, your class will be less successful in the long run because it will scare away your true beginners.

On a related note, while it can be fun to try new things, make sure that what you’re doing fits the scope of your class description. I once received a complaint that an instructor had decided to incorporate a few dumbbell exercises in a class that was advertised as a tubing class. One of the participants had physical limitations that prevented her from being able to use the dumbbells. She was very self-conscious and did not want to be conspicuous in a group setting. She had been so happy to find a resistance training class that she could do, only to have the rug pulled out from under her. While I’m sure the instructor had only the best intentions, it created a very poor experience for the student.

4) focus their attention on the students

Are you watching the class or your reflection in the mirror as you teach? Do you make eye contact with your participants? Respondents gave high marks to instructors who were able to interact and give real-time feedback during class. “I don’t just want to be cued, I want the instructor to watch how I am executing the moves and give me pointers,” writes one respondent.

That means that instructors should be so comfortable with their delivery that they can focus on student output during class. “It must be a crazy juggling act,” said one respondent. “Instructors are part performer, part teacher, but what I really need is to know that I’m being safe and effective in my workout.”

5) deliver great customer service

“I’m not saying that I expect the instructor to be my new BFF,” writes one student, “but I love it when an instructor greets me by name.”

There is sometimes a point when it may seem “too late” to ask for someone’s name. Rest assured, that is NEVER the case! You may worry that after all the times you have chatted that the student will be insulted. Or perhaps you’ve asked before and promptly forgotten. If you don’t feel comfortable asking (you can blame it on a mental block), think of another way to find out. Ask other staff members. Have a nametag day in class. Casually ask for the student’s last name and then search your membership database to find the first name.

Most people who gravitate to group classes enjoy the social aspect. Little things, like saying hello, using names and inviting students to come back to class, show them that you appreciate their attendance.

So, now the students have had their say about their instructors. Next time, instructors get a turn. Please e-mail me at fitnesspro@thegrapevine.info about what makes for an ideal participant–and maybe a few habits that just drive you crazy.