Is Your Group Exercise Instructor Good?

A fitness industry expert explains how to make sure you're getting a good group workout

Flickr/harbour_ridge, Licensed under Creative Commons

The most important part of any group exercise class is the instructor. That, and making sure you arrive early enough to claim a good spot in the studio, right?

Of course, having a good spot (maybe one where you have a good view of the teacher but also where not too many other people in the class can see you) makes for a much better experience, but if the trainer leading the workout isn’t doing a good job, well then it may not even be worth your while to be there in the first place.

From yoga to Zumba and spinning to Pilates, group exercises classes provide gym-goers with a variety of advantages, like the opportunity to learn new exercises and the convenience of a time-specific, scheduled workout.

However, the unfortunate truth is that not all group exercise instructors are equally qualified. So, next time you head to the gym or a studio for a group workout, use these guidelines to make sure that the teacher is leading a safe and effective fitness class.

-How to Tell If Your Group Exercise Instructor is Good-

1. Is he/she excited to be there?
“It sounds basic, but look for an instructor who is excited to be there,” says Sarah Bright,  the Group Fitness Director at Midtown Athletic Club Chicago, number 15 on Club Industry's list of Top 100 Health Clubs of 2014. “If the instructor is bringing personal problems into the studio or complaining about management, her focus is not where it should be, which is on you and your workout!”

2. Does the class have a clear structure?
“The class should have the proper structure,” says Bright. This means your instructor starts off with a warm-up that leads into the main part of the workout and then finishes with a proper cool down that brings your heart rate back to a normal level. “There are a lot of ways to do this, but an instructor who jumps right into high-intensity work is putting your muscles and joints at risk,” Bright continues. “Likewise, at least a few minutes at the end of class should be dedicated to bringing your heart rate down. There is plenty of discussion around the usefulness of stretching after a workout, but your class shouldn't end with a minute of burpees as the instructor sends you on your way.”

3. Are the instructor’s directions and demonstrations easy to understand and follow?
“If you have no idea what you're supposed to do next, you can't do it,” Bright points out. “Good instructors use all three methods of communication: visual, audio, and kinesthetic.”

Bright says that she teaches the instructors she hires to give cues from the ground up, meaning they should explain each part of an exercise to class participants starting at the feet and then all the way up to the head. While providing verbal instructions, Bright says the instructor should also provide a visual demonstration and then finish with providing some suggestions on what the exercise should feel like (e.g., feel the weight in your heels, feel the shoulder blades settle down and back into the spine). “Using these three ways to communicate, nearly everyone gets to experience the class in their preferred style of learning,” says Bright.

4. If your class involves music, does it feel coordinated?
“Coordination with the music for some classes is imperative,” says Bright. A few examples that she mentioned include, Zumba, WERQ, KettleWorX, Les Mills, R.I.P.P.E.D., Spin, and MOI Cycle. “Most pre-choreographed formats go specifically with music, and if the instructor isn't using that tool, you're not getting the workout you came for.”

Bright pointed out that if you’re not musically inclined it might be hard to tell whether or not the music is being incorporated properly, but she said that if you feel like the rhythm and exercises are going too fast or slow, or that you should be changing moves when you’re not, there’s a good chance that your teacher is ignoring the musical cues.

5. Does the instructor make you feel good about coming to class? Do they make you want to come back?
“Even if it was the hardest workout you've ever done and you only got through half of it, a good instructor will leave you feeling positive and encouraged,” says Bright. She mentioned that she likes to introduce her students to other participants so that they can make some new friends and enjoy a bit of added accountability. “One reason group fitness is such a successful way to get fit is the social aspect and a top-notch instructor will help facilitate that,” she said.

And finally, a few more things you should look out for:

  • Your instructor is prepared. They start and end the workout on time.
  • Your instructor walks around the room, evaluates each participant and offers corrections or modifications to anyone who needs help.
  • Your instructor is confident and energetic. 

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