by Andy Chan, MS, CSCS
The difficulty of teaching an effective, fun, and engaging group class is often underestimated until someone starts teaching one. A group fitness instructor’s career success hinges upon whether the instructor was about to deliver a pleasant experience for the participants. The cruel reality is that participants (and the friends of the participants) will not return if they did not have a pleasant experience. So, where do you start, and how can you improve the overall experience of the class?
I had the pleasure of mentoring my new teammate, Onna Lau, for the past eight weeks. Here in this article, I want to highlight some of her great practices for those who are looking to improve. Whether you are just beginning your group fitness career or you are a seasoned instructor, implementing these three practices will minimize the occurrence of bad experiences. These practices will also ensure that you will consistently deliver effective, fun, and engaging classes.
1. Meticulous planning
2. Three-dimensional exercise selection
Onna plans and writes down her exercises based on the theme and structure that we agreed upon and uses her iPad to preset a timer that includes different sections and rest intervals. Here is an analogy to illustrate why you should plan ahead: say if you have to cook a delicious meal to serve 15 people next Saturday, should you wing it? Probably not. To ensure the quality of the overall dining experience, you should plan ahead and consider the ingredients, respective quantity, and cooking tools that you will need. Master chefs are successful and the best in the business because they can produce fine dishes consistently. They do this by understanding the precise amount of ingredients and cooking style needed. In the same way, a great group class requires the proper amount of different ingredients - exercise selection for different sections of the workout, proper work-to-rest ratios, and music. Planning ahead will ensure that you have maximized your chances of delivering a great class.
Exercise selection is crucial to any fitness program because it directly affects the training outcome. Back to the chef analogy, every chef has their own style of cooking while sticking to an overall structure depending on the cuisine that they are cooking. The same concept can be said about great fitness instructors. They are all unique and different in their own ways, yet they must follow basic movement principles. Onna’s exercise selections followed a principle that is the heart of my training philosophy - exercises must be multi-planar.
When we perform exercises such as lunges, not only should we lunge in the forward and reverse directions, we should lunge from side to side as well. This is because optimum human performance requires the body to move well in different directions. Core exercise selection is similar. Instead of just working on sit ups and reverse crunches where participants are mainly bringing the spine into flexion, we added exercises that brought the spine into lateral flexion and rotation as well as working on the anti-lateral flexion, anti-rotation, and anti-extension functions. The bottom line is simple: the human body is designed to move in an unrestricted manner; it thrives on variety. As health and fitness professionals, we must recognize this critical point and train the body accordingly.
We typically ended each session with a challenge or game - usually a killer TABATA, pyramid training, or partner game. We always want to end the session on a high note. Onna took this one step further by playing a Super Mario Bros themed game. She edited the Mario theme song and added Mario coin sound into it. For one of the games that we did, participants had to do jumping jacks throughout the main theme song and perform a squat jump when they heard the coin sound. Essentially, she exhibited the three practices that we mentioned in this article in one activity: meticulous planning exemplified by spending time in music editing, different planes of motion for jumping jacks (side to side movement) as well as a squat jump (forward and back movement), and creativity for making fitness fun with a game!
If you incorporate these three practices into your habit, I do not doubt that you will deliver many awesome sessions and ultimately take your group coaching career or business to the next level!