Coming prepared to teach a fitness class as an instructor or trainer allows you to look polished and professional, shows participants you care about them and the class, and gives you confidence that you can successfully fill the hour with a great workout.
There are two kinds of group fitness classes:
Classes that are pre-choreographed or have a pre-determined outline (Body Pump, Pure Barre)
Free-style classes (basically any class that doesn’t have a copyright attached to it)
Some participants like to go into a class and know exactly what they are getting. Others like to have variety every class. Both make for good classes.
As an instructor, I think free-style classes are particularly fun to lead because your class is your canvass and you get to create a masterpiece!
There are so many different ways you could put a group exercise class together. The possibilities are endless. However, if you are teaching multiple classes a week, it is easy to forget what you did yesterday, let alone what you did in class last week.
To make sure I am always adding variety and challenging participants, I like to follow a few general guidelines for each class.
5 ways to Compose a Group Fitness Class
1. Pick a Theme
To give direction and focus, I pick a theme for each class. Participants don’t have to know the theme, although they certainly can. For example, if you were going to really emphasize posture this class and focus on pulling movements, you could explain that concept to them.
A theme can be a concept (like above) or an action, such as focusing on split sets with heavier weights.
Many people are unfamiliar with the variety of ways a person can strength train or use cardio intervals. So a group class may be the only time they are introduced to the many different options they have to work up a good sweat.
Examples of themes: unilateral training, slow reps coupled with fast pulses, high reps with light weights, heavier weights with less reps, compound sets, split sets, drop sets, glute activation exercises, core activation exercises, HR recovery training, cardio interval training, timed circuits
2. Focus on 1 or 2 Major Exercises and add Variety
Major exercises include moves that target big muscles… squats, deadlifts, push ups, rows, etc.
Most likely you do some form of these in almost every class, as you should, but how about picking one to focus on and adding variety to it…
Examples of squat variations: add a torso twist with opposite knee to opposite elbow on up phase of the squat, squats on a BOSU ball, squats against the wall with a stability ball, isometric squat holds, keep knees together during squats, plie squats (toes pointed out), wide stance squats, assisted single leg squats, squat pulses, band squats, squat jumps
You can really do a lot with squats!
Examples of row variations: single arm rows, bent over double arm rows, renegade rows, single arm rows on one leg, bent over rows followed by reverse flies
3. Focus on Core throughout Class
Many classes put abs at the end of class, which you can still do, and many participants look forward to that targeted ab workout at the end. However, incorporating exercises that target the core through out the entire class mimics real life better. People have to think about using their abs with less obvious moves, such as a haybailer or Pallof press.
Ways to incorporate the core: sun salutations into a push up, lunges or squats with torso twists, a variety of planks in the middle of the workout, mountain climbers, spider man push ups, haybailers and chops, a kettle bell circuit with swings and Turkish Get Ups
4. Incorporate Different Formats
Just because you teach a free-style class, doesn’t mean you can’t use some exercises from popular fitness formats.
Examples of formats: kickboxing moves to warm up, Tabata circuits throughout the class, Pilates as an ab session, yoga in the cool down
5. Use Equipment to your Advantage
If you have access to a variety of equipment, don’t be afraid to use it! I typically just choose one or two pieces of equipment per class.
Sure, you could use a whole bunch of equipment, but unless it is a circuit class where participants move from one circuit to another, I think too much equipment feels chaotic. Focusing on just one or two pieces gives participants a chance to really feel comfortable with that piece of equipment and allows them to learn a variety of exercises that can be done on it.
Examples of equipment: ropes, bands, kettle bells, medicine balls, stability balls, sandbags, bars, sliders, foam rollers, etc.
A few other things to remember about composing fitness classes…
The Warm Up
The warm up should mimic some of the major moves you plan to do in your class. So if you are going to really focus on squats and strengthening the glutes today, perhaps include some side step squats and half squats with a high kick into your warm up.
The warm up should be a little fast paced in order to get the muscles warm. Save the slow, static stretching for the end.
I have only taken a handful of spin classes in my life, but I took 2 at my last gym and both times were the same playlist! Maybe it was just be bad luck… I understand instructors will repeat music sometimes, but it turned me off from going back to a class that I don’t REALLY love.
When you have new exercisers who feed off their emotions, it is important to ensure they feel motivated, encouraged, and stay interested. And music can really make or break that sometimes.
On the flip side, you can’t please everyone all the time. If you have been teaching for a little while, you have probably had someone complain about your music at some point.
I pay for the commercial-free Pandora and have been using that for my classes the past 2 years. I usually put on the Pop Fitness station and have not had any complaints yet. It is so much easier than making playlists!
Most people take a class because they like the instructor. You don’t have to be super bubbly and outgoing, unless that is your personality… just be yourself. Smile and greet everyone. Introduce new participants to regulars. Try to look like you want to be there and are enjoying the class. 🙂
The more you can teach and inspire your participants, the better chance they have at being successful in their health and fitness journeys.
What do you enjoy most about teaching or taking group fitness classes?
Do you prefer pre-choreographed or free-style classes?