Sarah Durnford is the Head Trainer at Les Mills, the world’s leading group exercise provider.
As an instructor herself, Sarah knows the value in keeping on top of industry developments,
investing in her own upskilling to ensure she is always delivering classes to a high standard. She is a
firm advocate for CPD and believes operators should encourage their group exercise instructors to
attend ongoing training. The more knowledgeable the instructor, the greater the chance for packed
We spoke to Sarah about
- The importance of CPD for group exercise instructors and why it isn’t always high on the
- How we can encourage instructors to invest in their own development
- How we can ensure CPD courses deliver effective results for operators and participants
How important is CPD for group exercise instructors and why does it not necessarily seem to be high on the agenda for everyone?
CPD is paramount to the effectiveness of the group exercise instructor. As in every industry, trends
move fast and constantly evolve. We must keep up to date and stay on top of the latest
developments, ensuring the service we provide is as impactful, safe and effective as possible and
importantly, as enjoyable as possible. Only then can we provide a high-quality service which will
truly engage members and keep them coming back for more.
There is a wealth of CPD available, yet there is very little to suggest that exercise instructors must
upskill themselves on an ongoing basis. Whilst many personal trainers add qualifications to their
profile and update their rates accordingly, many group exercise instructors have been paid the same
wage for the last 20 years. Why would you invest your own money in training and development if
you couldn’t see a tangible return from doing so?
How can we help to change this mindset and ensure group exercise instructors invest in development?
We need to see a culture shift – one where group exercise instructors are truly valued and rewarded
for their contribution to an operator’s business.
It is in the interest of the Operator to make group exercise instructors feel part of their team. They
should try inviting them to meetings and events, asking for feedback, and maybe even putting them
forward for internal awards, like ‘staff member of the month’. Members are often more loyal to a
specific instructor than the facility itself. Great group exercise instructor, therefore, plays a huge part
in member retention, but if the instructor does not feel valued or incentivised to teach at a certain
facility, they may take members with them if they move on.
Clubs are often great at praising the work of their personal trainers because it is transactional, and
uptake is easy to measure. However, our research suggests that it is in fact members who attend
group exercise that are more likely to stay longer and have a greater impact on club revenue.
Research we undertook with ukactive found that members who do Les Mills programmes three
times per week have an average length of stay that is 9 months longer. Operators should work closer
with their Instructors, placing more emphasis on encouraging ongoing education and development.
How can we ensure CPD provides group exercise instructors with the most important skills for member engagement?
The key to packing classes comes down to the ability of the group exercise instructor to create a
truly engaging environment for participants. The best group exercise instructors love what they do,
have great communication skills, intuition, and empathy. They connect with all motivational needs,
providing ongoing education so participants understand why they are moving in a certain way and
what the benefits are.
The majority of CPD courses available in the market are practical and focus on physiology,
performance and coaching points. We see greater value in empowering instructors to take control of
their learning, working on personal skills like connection, engagement and motivation. As an
industry, we all need to work together to promote these soft skills which are key to nurturing truly
great instructors. That way, we can provide longevity and pack classes, ensuring a loyal stream of
attendees to clubs week after week.
We place a significant focus on upskilling Les Mills group exercise Instructors and take pride in
pushing the standards forward. Our latest Advanced Training programme places an emphasis on
bringing natural talents to the forefront, encouraging instructors to teach from a place that is
completely authentic. We look at personality profiling, leadership styles, how to connect and bring
out your own enjoyment to in turn create an inspiring experience. The aim of the training is to
enable instructors to feel more fulfilled and derive more enjoyment from teaching classes. The result
is an improved member experience and increased retention for clubs.
We also provide regular opportunities for development in the form of live events every quarter and
the opportunity to submit videos for feedback on up to 60 minutes’ worth of material. These are a
great opportunity for clubs to maintain a pulse on how much time their instructors are investing in
making themselves better for their membership base and also use them as a tool for encouraging