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What to Look for in a Group Exercise Instructor

Jan 20, 2012

Written by Joy Prouty

Group fitness has undergone many changes since the surge of the popular “aerobic”-based classes of the early 1980s. The role and responsibilities of the fitness professional, or group instructor, have also changed from that of the stereotypical aerobic instructor with little or no training (but a “great personality”), to one that is expected to have knowledge of the basic sciences as they apply to group exercise. Great energy and motivation still attract participants, but these are now only part of the total package. A higher level of knowledge and the expectation of creative — but sound — application skills have significantly raised the bar and increased the demands placed on the group fitness instructor. These are important considerations to keep in mind when looking for a qualified group instructor. The list below may serve as a guide to help you focus on some things to consider when looking for the best group trainer for you.

1. Education is essential, either through a formal science-related degree and/or through a nationally recognized certifying organization such as the American College of Sports Medicine. A base level of knowledge in science and theory as it applies to class design and teaching is important because it assures not only safe, but effective, workouts. Continuing education is also important, bringing together the latest research and trends as they apply to the fitness industry. To stay current, there are a number of areas where instructors can get up-to-date information: local workshops, national and regional conferences, and professional journals and publications, to name a few. A willingness to learn, and to implement new information and classes if appropriate, is vital to staying on top of an ever-changing and growing profession.

2. Communication skills are necessary for a successful connection between the participant and the group trainer. These skills bring the instructor and student together through the transfer of information, whether verbal or non-verbal, and help build rapport, establish a bond, and in turn, contribute to the successful implementation of classes and class adherence. Communication keeps us “on the same page,” making sure our goals and the goals of the classes we have signed up for are all headed in the same direction.

3. Leadership is shown in every area that brings you into contact with the group instructor. It includes everything from being welcomed to a class to keeping order and discipline throughout the workout. A group exercise leader is in charge, while at the same time has the skill to involve each individual, making everyone feel important and successful. The leader is prepared (classes are organized, start and end on time, music and equipment are in order) but can also adapt and shift gears, giving people options, modifications, and challenges when appropriate. An effective leader is also a role model. Dressing appropriately for the class, looking clean and neat, and reflecting a healthy lifestyle, realizing this is important for themselves as well as their students, all contributing to setting a good example and establishing leadership.

4. Motivation of class students is another important trait of the group instructor, and one that will keep class members coming back time after time. When meeting an instructor or taking a class for the first time, take notice of the energy, consideration, commitment and excitement of the instructor. A passion for teaching and working with people to help them change their lives will come through loud and clear, and will separate the average instructor from that special one who excels in her/his profession and brings you back to class time after time!

Finding the right group fitness instructor may take a little time and patience. Trust your intuition, but also realize that sometimes fitness needs change, and this may be reflected in our choice of classes and instructors. If fitness is new to you, or your current program just doesn’t seem to be working for you, be willing to get out of your comfort zone and make some changes or take some risks; try a class and/or an instructor you don’t know — you just might find a situation and person that will challenge, motivate and help lead you to a healthier lifestyle! The bottom line: pay attention. Use this list as a general guide, but trust that using your mind and “gut,” in addition to this knowledge, will tell you how to select the best instructors and classes for you.

View the full winter 2008 issue of the ACSM Fit Society® Page online.

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