by Rachael Newsham
Teaching Les Mills group fitness can be described as "freedom within predictability". The workout is ready to go; all the stress of having to design the class is removed so you can just focus on the delivery.
However, it could be argued that the stress comes later on, when you're vying for a spot on a well-established timetable full of experienced and popular teachers. When everyone has the same music and choreo, how do you prove that your classes are just as awesome as the next Instructor?
This is a scenario many teachers experience during their careers, when they’ve spent so much time seeking feedback that they forget to appreciate the work they’ve already achieved. They go round and round in the "asking for feedback" loops and go nowhere… slowly. They end up dwelling on each piece of feedback, trying to improve upon it, only to find that the next person they consult doesn’t even notice the work they have done and finds something else for them to work on. (I say ‘going nowhere fast’, because that’s the most common metaphor to use, but as I sit and write it, it doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense. If you’re not going anywhere, you’d hardly be moving fast, right?)
Anyway! My point being that if you do want to get on that timetable and teach well attended classes, there are some tips here that have been collected by yours truly over several years of experience.
A healthy timetable is bursting with individuals, not copies. Individualism is in!
Who are you?
Apart from your name, of course, and where you were born, and all that other stuff that Bradley Walsh asks contestants on the game show The Chase, get to the guts of who you are – write a description down. Just a paragraph will do.
If you get stuck doing this yourself, ask:
- three friends
- the receptionist at the club you work out at/work at, or another place you regularly frequent
- family members.
You then collect this info and then write something up that incorporates what everyone has said. Here’s why I suggested those people:
- Your three friends because two will be nice and say nice things, and one will be honest. Haha!
- The receptionist at the club because they're watching you when you don’t know you are being watched, and have built their own impression of who they think you are.
- Kids because they always keep it real and simple.
- Family members because they can use decades of knowledge to paint a comprehensive picture of who you are.
There will be no one else on your club's timetable that’s close to being you. BINGO! Now you know what makes you stand out.
The most successful group fitness teachers know who they are when they begin teaching and teaching helps them share who they are with more people. Sure, they have the nerves and have to learn many new skills, but their sense of self is their anchor.
Show your individuality when you teach
There are many opportunities to connect with your class and display what makes you unique. Here are two easy ones:
Class introduction: Share something that people in the room can relate to. If class sees you as purely "teacher", you are of service to them – that's all. But if they can relate to you on a human level, they will have an experience. If you are rocking your Five Key Elements, that experience will be enjoyable, highly memorable and thus very repeatable. You now have yourself a loyal front row!
In between tracks: A good-cop teacher manages expectations of the upcoming Track by divulging tips on how to survive them! This makes you a friend and not a foe. Why do you need to tell them what's coming up? So that when the workout becomes mega hectic and they have that "I hate you" look on their face, their hate will be fleeting. It's like a toddler who doesn’t want to go to sleep and throws an absolute death stare at you that breaks your heart into little pieces, but within minutes has completely forgotten about it and tells you they "wuv youuuu". You're a friend, so their hate is momentary, only attached only to that 30-second training block.
Once it's over, so is their hate, but ONLY because you warned them and equipped them on how to get through it – which shows you care. Friends care. Foes don’t. HOW you communicate this information is where your personality and character shines through. Your choice of words, tone, body language, facial expressions… pretty much anything you do is a form of communication, which is helping your class build a picture of who they believe you are. Pay attention to what gets attention!
Know who you are before you get on stage
It’s important to address that whilst most people get into teaching group workouts because they personally love them, there are people who want to teach group workouts/fitness because of other reasons, and one of those reasons may be because you get to "be somebody".
My advice to people who fall into that category is to find yourself BEFORE you enter this world, so you can contribute to the lives of others in an authentic way. If you are unsure who you are, this isn’t the place to find out. It can be a rough place when you start out, with lots of self-belief required to keep progressing.
The most successful group fitness teachers know who they are when they begin teaching, and teaching helps them share who they are with more people. Sure, they have the nerves and have to learn many new skills, but their sense of self is their anchor.
Members can tell very quickly when a teacher is unsure of themselves. It makes the class experience clunky and a bit uncomfortable. When the teacher has that self-belief anchor, they emit that energy and it helps settle the energy of the room.
Don’t let the feedback get to your heart, or the attention go to your head.
Everyone has an opinion on what you can improve on. If you listen to everyone and please them all, you risk losing yourself in the muddy waters of the pool of people pleasing.
On the contrary, if you think you already know everything and have little left to learn because you’ve got a few classes under your belt, your growth will be stunted. This is the fastest way to self-sabotage your progress.
During your developmental stages, you need a healthy balance of the middle ground. Have the confidence to be able to stand up and do your best work, without feeding your ego so much it convinces you that actually the club should put you on all the peak classes because YOU are far better than the others and, therefore, the solution for the club!
What’s best for the club and the members is variety. Think about bringing not just your plate to the table and taking someone else’s chair, but your own chair to the table and add to the buffet.
The experienced teachers are not necessarily better than you, but they are two things:
- More experienced and knowledgeable
- More established.
They started out just like you. They'll have experienced many of the same wins and losses. They're just a little further down the road.
When I teach, I pour my heart into my work. Every hole I have climbed out of, I make a point of sharing that escape plan with others. I know life can hit hard, and it’s my job to teach people how to stand up and hit back at life.
How I make my class stand out
I've taught the same BODYCOMBAT® time slots at Les Mills Auckland City for years and have regular members who've been coming since my very first class. I know when they turn up to my classes there's an expectation that they'll receive a fun, tough workout. They want to work harder than they would if they did it at home (this goes both ways, haha!) and will feel better, both physically and mentally, after they leave.
A couple of Saturdays ago, I ended up waiting to cross the road with one of the members who'd just attended my class. She thanked me for the bonus content she gets from the way I teach the class. She said (I'm paraphrasing here): "It’s like you're reading my mind. The things you say when you encourage us are exactly what I need to hear. Every week you deliver more than a class – it's like therapy. I always feel I get so much more than a workout when I take your class."
When I teach, I pour my heart into my work. Every hole I have climbed out of, I make a point of sharing that escape plan with others. I know life can hit hard, and it’s my job to teach people how to stand up and hit back at life. I also know how hard getting motivated to exercise is, so finding a fun workout that you ACTUALLY want to do makes staying healthy a real possibility.
Care about what you do
Every year in my role as choreographer, I learn more about the workout that Dan and I are responsible for. My hands are always on the wheel and my feet on the ground. I care deeply about the BODYCOMBAT program and the people who rely on it to provide them with their fitness fix. The same rule applies to you as a teacher. If you care about your work, if you care about your members, and if you care to weather the storms of this crazy industry, you too will grow into the best version of yourself.
For the well-established teachers reading this, who might be questioning their confidence or worrying about losing a time slot to a younger teacher, my advice is this: Stay away from fear and lean towards love. There is no age restriction in coaching. It’s quite the opposite. Your years of experience make you a fountain of knowledge. You can share that knowledge with trainees and help them navigate their first steps onto the stage.
You are also a representation of your generation. By staying active and continuing to teach, you set a fantastic example for the next generation. Go YOU!
I love seeing a mix of age groups in mine and Dan's classes. I know that people of all generations feel safe in our classes. They feel inspired. They feel capable. They feel welcomed. There is room for everyone. They don’t feel they have to leave because they are "old". They aren’t made to feel like they can’t keep up. And you know what? They inspire me every day. I hope Dan and I are still enjoying our workouts in our 80s!
Confidence grows out of trust. First and foremost, you have to trust yourself. Then you have to trust the people around you to have your best interests at hand and heart.
With trust you can do anything, for as long as you wish to. There is a place for everyone in the group fitness world. Bring a plate, bring a chair, bring your style, bring some flair and somewhere down the line, we’ll see you there.
Are you ready to level-up your teaching strengths? It might be time to add a new program to your teaching skillset.