Posted in Advice for Fitness Instructors, Class Engagement, Confidence, Dealing with Students, Gaining Experience, Subbing Classes

Embarrassing Moments in Group Fitness: My First Walkout

As I entered into my career as a group fitness instructor, I was blissfully unaware of all of the things that might go wrong while teaching, especially while subbing another instructor’s class. That’s why I feel compelled to share with you one of my most embarrassing moments in group fitness: my first walkout.

The Setup

I was asked by a colleague of mine to sub a group strength and cardio class that met right before my regular dance fitness session. Since I was already teaching indoor bootcamps at Method3 Fitness (then Fast Action Training), I knew it would be a piece of cake!

I planned a workout I just knew would be challenging and fun! Then I showed up ready to deliver.

Enter Antagonist: The Disgruntled Regular

Most of the class was super friendly and grateful to be met with something different (as opposed to a class cancellation). But there was one woman whom I noticed was struggling with workload. She moved slowly from one exercise to the next and I can only describe her form during the moves as a personal trainer’s nightmare.

Just know that I’m not trying to belittle her. I was truly worried that she would injure herself! So I happily approached her for form corrections and suggested modifications. She was not impressed, but rather, she ignored me and continued to do her thing.

The Tipping Point

As we moved into the next block of exercises, I gave the class a break while I demonstrated the next set of moves. As the other students watched intently, I heard a gasp from far right side of the room “UGH!”

EVERYONE turned to look. The woman shook her head and as I continued to demonstrate, she began to pick up her equipment and put it away… one piece at a time. First her mat. Then her weights. Then the bench.

Important side note: She had chosen a spot on the right side of the room, in the front. The equipment was on the left, in the back. So she walked past the group about 6 times 😐 😅 😮

My Reaction

Truth be told, I was shocked at her blatant disruption of class. At the same time, as an older woman who had probably been attending the class regularly for years, I could see that it was just her frustration boiling over. So…

  • As she put away her equipment, I went on teaching as if there were no disruptions (despite the eyes of several students following her)
  • When she finally made her way toward the door to leave, I smiled, waved, and said “Thank you so much for coming!”
  • At the end of class, I apologized to the remaining students on her behalf. They expressed that although it was different than they were used to, they really enjoyed the class.

My guidance compass: Be kind. Be confident. Be professional.

Lesson Learned: Don’t Take Things Personally

My first walkout taught me quite a bit about having a career in group fitness:

  1. Different students like different formats. Just because a student doesn’t like your class, it doesn’t mean it isn’t great. It just means it’s not for them.
  2. It’s not about me. How a student reacts on any given day is a reflection of their attitude and emotional state. A daily workout may be the only opportunity someone has to feel great in their day. Some people are really bad with change.
  3. It will likely happen again, because subbing is tough!

You never know what you’re going to get when you get hired for a new class or sub someone else’s. There’s always an adjustment. As long as you know that you brought your best stuff and worked hard to keep the class engaged, you’ve done your due diligence.

Did you find this piece funny? Helpful? Scary? Let me know in the comments below! And if you’re an instructor who has had an experience like this, share that too! We can commiserate together 😉

Till next time,


Posted in Advice for Fitness Instructors, Class Engagement

7 Tips to Create an Engaging Class Experience

I see it all the time. An instructor consistently has challenging, effective workouts, but class numbers aren’t building. Even if you have the BEST workouts, if you aren’t holding students’ attention from the start of the session to the end of it, you have to get them more interested and engaged. Here are 7 tips to create an engaging class experience, so students leave loving your workouts and want to come back for more.

Introduce Yourself Every Time

Whether you’re new to a certain time slot or not, a dedicated introduction can serve you in many ways:

  1. It let’s students know that class is about to begin. A simple “Good morning everyone! As you know, my name is…” can quiet the room and prep their minds for what is to come.
  2. It gives you an opportunity to set expectations. You summarize the workout, encourage students to challenge themselves, and give permission to take modifications (and ask for them) whenever necessary.
  3. It’s the perfect time to find out if there are new students in your class. Have them raise their hands. Even experienced students can feel a little lost in a new class. This will allow you to pinpoint them and give them extra attention.

Bring TONS of Energy

Students feed off the energy of their instructors. If you show up tired or laid back, they’ll feel it. So make it a point be…well… EXTRA. That means:

  • Making movements big. For all intensive purposes, think of your class as an interactive performance. So even if you’re demoing with a set of 5 pound weights, when you squat and press, make it look like you’re crushing 50s with full range of motion.
  • Get LOUD. Speak with a firm tone at a high volume, as if you are shouting to someone across the room. This communicates authority and intensity to your students. Remember, they feed off of your energy. Your level of intensity will raise theirs.

Keep Exercises Simple

It can be fun to create complicated combinations, but more often than not, you lose half of your students. They’ll waste 1/2 the interval trying to figure out what they heck they’re doing. The KISS (keep it simple stupid) rule is essential. In practice, it looks like this:

  1. Pick an exercise.
  2. Demonstrate a modification.
  3. If students get it and are keeping great form, give them a progression.

It’s as simple as that. Many students and some instructors make the mistake of thinking that more complicated equals more effective. False! It changes the focus of the exercise. For example, one thing I see often is students choosing to do a bent over row in a single leg hing position (rather than having 2 feet on the floor). I usually tell them that if they have enough energy to take that position, their weights aren’t heavy enough. They appreciate the tip!

Keep Students Moving

It’s unfortunate that fitness center classes have become so streamlined that most students expect a 45-60 minute all-out sweatfest, without even a minute “wasted” on rest or recovery. I won’t go off on a tangent now, except to say that a well-rounded workout for most should not leave students exhausted by the end of it. But alas, this type of class is expected from instructors, especially those who teach during high traffic time slots. Here’s how you can sneak in more movement for the students who need it:

  • Give your warm-ups an energy boost. Ramp up the class more quickly with quick-paced, dynamic warm-up exercises. The exercises should recruit more muscle groups and get clients moving through multiple planes of motion. My favorites are alternating hand touch squats, side lunge and reach, reverse lunge twist, and down dog to plank.
  • Place recovery AFTER cardio intervals. Nothing says “Thank god for this break!” Like 1-2 minutes of intense cardio. About 95% of your students will be grateful for it. The other 5% needs a distraction. For them, you can…
  • Give them something to do during recovery periods. Tell them to grab some water, towel off, and make sure their next piece of equipment is ready for the next set. When in doubt, say, “Don’t need the break? Jumping jacks or burpees.” In a class of 40, I’ve only ever seen ONE person take advantage of that offer 😉

Give Students Personal Attention

Students keep coming back to your classes because they trust that they will not only get a great workout, but that you will lead them through it in a way that is safe, effective, and fun. They love it when you

  • Give them corrections. Small adjustments will help them work muscles more efficiently and alleviate pain that’s caused by bad posture or dysfunctional movement patterns.
  • Check in. A simple “How does that resistance feel for you?” or “Is this okay for your knee?” to someone you know has recurring issues in the joint helps them feel seen. It also gives them permission to share if something doesn’t feel right and ask for modifications in the future if needed.
  • Challenge them to go harder. Can’t forget the regulars! If you know someone can lift heavier weights or take a more intense progression, put it out there. They can always say no, but more likely, they will feel honored that you recognize their strength and rise to the challenge.

Facilitate Interaction

Last, but certainly not least, encourage students to interact with one another. Here are 3 things I ask students to do during every class:

  1. Say hello to one person before class begins. On a practical level, this gives me a bit of time to fiddle with my mic and my music. On an emotional level, students now know at least one person in the class they can look to if they missed an exercise or empathize with when their thighs are in full burn mode.
  2. Share a high five or fist bump. It doesn’t require any words, so this is perfect after a cardio set.
  3. Point to someone across the room and shout “You Rock”/”You’re Awesome/”Crushing It….” You get the idea. Students love this one the most. They get to give AND receive a encouragement. I swear, this gets every single person in the room to smile, even after burpees 😉

Deliver Motivation & Support

Each and every one of us craves approval in one way or another. Your students want to feel successful during class and after it has ended. Be generous with words of encouragement and words of wisdom throughout class.

  • Recognize and acknowledge good form. We tend to focus on what’s going wrong during class, so we can make corrections, but there are often quite a few people doing everything right! Notice and vocally applaud both the group and individuals.
  • Praise corrections. If you correct someone and she makes a shift (even if it’s not perfect), say “Yes! So much better” or something to that effect. That way, they know they are making progress.
  • Drop knowledge bombs. Be the coach who encourages students to work hard through positive quotes and nuggets of truth. One of my favorites is “If you want to get stronger, you must be willing to get uncomfortable.”

Do you incorporate any of these methods in your classes now? Let me know in the comments below! Also, be sure to share any of your own tips as well.


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