Sarah Durnford

Returning to Teaching Group Fitness: How to Prepare

When gyms were closed during multiple national lockdowns, many fitness instructors were furloughed or forced to switch to online classes until they could return to in-person teaching. After a long absence, indoor group fitness can finally resume as of May 17th at gyms across the UK. While this is welcome news for operators and fitness professionals, the return to in person teaching is also being met with a bit of trepidation. For the first time, many instructors are nervous with concerns about being out of practice. We spoke to Sarah Durnford, Head Trainer at Les Mills about: 

  • What operators can do to help their instructors prepare
  • How to effectively reconnect with both instructors and members
  • Whether instructors should continue teaching online
  • Advice for instructors who might be nervous about returning 

How can operators help get their instructors ready to return to in-person teaching?

One of the key things is to start making instructors feel like part of the team. It’s important to make sure they know how important they are in the future success of your club. Group exercise has been one of the things people have missed the most about their gym so make sure your instructors know how much you value them. Include instructors in any training that you might be doing to educate staff about new COVID-related health and safety rules. This will help them feel really confident and connected. Don’t just call them up a week before and ask them to come in and teach. Give them time to adequately prepare. The success of your group exercise timetable will depend on how well you are connected to your instructors.

What can operators be doing to reconnect with instructors?

To connect with your instructors, use all the available channels you have and make sure there is someone leading and owning the responsibility of reaching out and seeing what your instructor team might need. Communicate your timetable and how you plan to run it.

A lot of instructors have done a great job staying connected to their loyal members over the last year, so think about how to utilise that. Many members will feel more connected to their favourite instructor than the club itself.

After a year of online fitness, more people are up for trying something new, so think about how you can use instructors to reach new members too. If someone has been exercising regularly within their own four walls, they’ll have likely connected with something online. How can you get them in the gym now?

Social media will be another avenue to reconnect. There’s a big opportunity to connect with both instructors and with members through online groups, Instagram or Facebook to build buzz and drive awareness.

For instructors looking for a bit of guidance, Les Mills has launched a whole range of resources to help instructors prepare for the return to work.

Should operators be encouraging instructors to continue teaching online even when classes can start again in person?

Absolutely. The evolution of fitness is all about how we bridge the gap between the physical and digital offering. The future is very much an integrated fitness solution. The challenge will be finding ways to capitalise on all these people who have connected with fitness online but maintain that convenience of being able to workout anytime, at home. For many operators, a hybrid timetable will be key.

Operators have a big opportunity now to connect with the huge numbers of people who tried new things in lockdown and now feel more confident about joining a club. It’s important for operators to realise that their club is no longer just their four walls. How can you stay connected with your members whether they are physically there or not? It’s a huge opportunity to reach more people.

Any tips for taking classes outdoors?

Taking classes outdoors is a great idea, but there are many practicalities to consider. First, picking an appropriate space is important. Even though it’s outdoors, it’s important to make sure that it is safe and there is enough space to move around. Make sure you test the space before holding any new classes there. Sound carries differently outdoors and some kit may not be appropriate for outdoor use. Be conscious of uneven or slippery surfaces and be mindful of how the weather could impact safety.

To test an outdoor space, gather employees or other instructors and run a test class or new class concept to gather feedback. You could even select some members and send exclusive invitations to try the new classes in return for their feedback. It’s a great way to reconnect with both instructors and members.

Try to get creative with space. Think about using car parks or perhaps putting bikes around an outdoor pool and doing spin classes from there. Try to think a bit differently to create new spaces.

These new outdoor classes can also form part of your new, hybrid timetable – one that includes studio, digital and outdoor classes. In a timetable like this, there is something for everyone.

Any advice for instructors who might be nervous about returning? How can they build their confidence after a long absence from teaching?

Preparation is key. Give yourself time to prepare.

That said, don’t over prepare! It’s OK to want to have it perfect, but remember to focus on your “Why.” For many instructors, a big part of our why is that we love what we do and we love helping others. Think about what you want your members to feel. Remember: they’re excited to be back, so don’t overthink things.

Be kind to yourself. You probably won’t be perfect the first time back and that’s OK. Try to be present with your members and pay attention to their needs. A lot of them will come back not feeling as fit as they once were and they might have anxiety. It’s important to pay attention and respond to what’s going on in the moment. If you’re too focused on your own performance, you might miss these important cues from your class.

Allow yourself the freedom to connect back with your members and have a shared experience. Ahead of your first class back, spend some time thinking about what you need to get back into the best mindset for teaching both physically and mentally.

If you’re a fitness instructor, make sure you check out Les Mills collection of tools, articles and resources to help you prepare to come back stronger than ever: 

Posted in Gyms & Clubs.