13 ways to teach a good group fitness class

I’m a group fitness lover. I’m a group fitness instructor. I have a few things that I expect to experience when I attend any type of group fitness class. I trained to teach my first Les Mills group fitness class, BODYPUMP, a few years ago while living in Orlando, and my second, CXWORX, a few months ago in San Francisco.

On the West Coast, the principles of teaching a good class are the same as they were back home. In my explorations of local gyms in this big city, I’ve encountered some high-quality presentations as well as some that were sub-par at best.

Bay Club

How to teach an effective group fitness class

Here is my list of the must-dos for an instructor to create a welcoming environment and a good class:

  1. Start some music before the class begins, so when people come in they get excited and pumped up about the workout.
  2. Turn on the microphone, set up early and let the class know who the instructor is right away when they walk in.  Ask the class if there is anyone brand new to see if they want help with setup.
  3. Introduce yourself.  Never start teaching a class before telling the members your name and reminding them the name of the program they are attending that day.
  4. Before you start, ask people if they are ready and make a point of saying the class is going to begin.  Don’t just push play and start barking orders.
  5. Make eye contact with your members and give them both verbal and visual cues so that they know what to do during class.
  6. Make eye contact with your members and give them tips about how they should be moving.  If they aren’t doing it properly, let them know in a constructive and positive way.  They are there to learn from you and get a good workout, so they need to know how to do it right.  If they don’t correct themselves after you offer help, don’t badger.
  7. Change the tone of your voice every once in a while.  An hour of whispering is not fun.  An hour of straight yelling is not fun.  Think about being diverse with your vocal inflection to keep people engaged.
  8. Have a sense of humor.  Don’t be too serious the whole time.
  9. Drop a fun fact about yourself every once in a while — that way they feel like they know you.
  10. Be motivating.
  11. Don’t forget to be motivating.  People come to group fitness classes to feel the social element and push themselves harder in a sanctioned environment with others.  They aren’t there because they love to workout alone, so give them the reinforcement they came for.
  12. Let your members know how much longer they have to push hard during the highs and let them know how long they have to recover during the lows.
  13. Congratulate your members at the end of the workout, let them know you are happy to answer their questions and ask them to come back again.

It sounds like a lot, but people go to group fitness classes for the “people” who teach them.

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Question of the day

If you teach or take group fitness classes, what are some of the things you look for?

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  1. Great post! I could relate to just about every one of your “points” on group classes. A couple things I would add (from a participant’s point of view):

    1) I initially take a class based upon my schedule, but I continue to attend that class because of the instructor! If I don’t like the instructor, I’ll re-arrange my schedule to find one I like! If you are a fun teacher people will make a point to return.

    2) Staying on time is IMPORTANT! Especially for Bodypump! I have one teacher who always goes late, and we often get shortchanged on both the core-work and stretching. Move from one exercise to the next fairly quickly to get all the tracks in!

    3) I really agree with #12 about letting people know how much longer they have for highs and lows. When you are maxing out your weight on a track, you are pushing yourself to the limit, and it helps to know how much longer you have to push! Sometimes I’ll feel like passing out in 30 seconds, but if I know there’s only 15 seconds left on the track I’ll push through to the end.

    4) Humor and Stories are good to share. It goes along with my first point, but people view Group Exercise as the poor man’s Personal Training. Sharing fun facts or stories help develop that personal connection with the participants, and as the relationship grows so does the accountability (i.e. when I miss a class the teacher knows!)

    Thanks for the read!

    1. Hi Dan,

      You are so incredibly right about staying on time. I hate to cut short the cool-down, because it is so important to complete the stretching after an intense BODYPUMP session. You bring up some great points that I just may need to add to my list for the future.

      Thanks for reading! 🙂

    2. Great post, I have an instructor who I love her classes means well but is so negative during class. Always barking that some of you are doing it incorrectly, if your coming to my class do it right, always roaring out loud negative crap, more of a military exercise! It just makes me so angry for the whole class and I love the workouts but I go into class happy leave angry. My question is how does one have that conversation with the instructor? A fun positive environment would be so much healthier!

      1. Hi Vick, I think it would be okay to tell the instructor after class that you LOVE when she gives positive reinforcement and that you love her class so much. I would suggest instead of bringing up negative to her, you bring a positive, so that it makes her feel good and doesn’t make her feel like she is receiving bad feedback! Give this a try, and if it doesn’t work, find a new instructor and try them out. You definitely don’t want to be angry in your group fitness class.

    1. Hi Alexa, Do you currently take group fitness classes at a gym where you want to teach? Yes, sometimes gyms will as you to be an “independent contractor” and that’s not an issue at all — just remember to report it on your taxes. I’m not totally sure what you’re asking, but I’ve always had jobs secured at gyms before pursuing additional certifications, but it’s not required. If you want to teach your own bootcamps and such, you may want to get some experience in a gym setting before going off on your own. Good luck to you!! 🙂

  2. These are great tips! There is one thing I think is super important that’s not listed here that I truly like with instructors…. when you see new participants the instructor should ask “Does anyone have any injuries I need to know about?” I had a hurt shoulder and the instructor didn’t ask about injuries and I started doing a movement that injured it more 🙁 It could have been avoided if only they had asked

    1. Hi Josh! Yes, I think very large choreographed classes really don’t have the flexibility for an instructor to modify on the fly, but it’s great for the participant to ask about options before class so they can make modifications or avoid a move. In smaller bootcamp or other classes with more freedom, I definitely like to see a teacher ask about injuries. Thanks for weighing in! Hope your shoulder is okay now!

  3. We want to do a Tour de France contest. Any ideas on how to map out how many classes people have attended. Something that will not cut into class time to much.

  4. Hiya ther great post thanks for that iv got a question…i running my own classes at monment just started up my problem is im not getting enough people or retaning them
    im qualified gym instructor n etm instructor fr past 10years n im very much liked bubbley energetic but left work to concentrate on my littl girl whos now in school so been out if work fr 5 years im up to date with my qualifications hence i looking to get back in iv got some old regulars who come but hit and a miss how to i advertise n bring members in i hire a hall n get 3 people not even enough to cover hall fees somtimes
    friend have put it up on soical media aswelll where am i going wrong

    1. Hi Maz, do you have consistent class times each week? Are you always showing up early and staying late to chat with members and asking them to bring friends? Try that! Good luck!

    2. I have the same problem, I think it takes time. I also am not very good at selling myself , they don’t teach that unfortunately and I dont like to demand people come to try my class, which doesn’t help lol

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