Monthly Archives: July 2009

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