How to Sub a Group X Class Successfully

Fitness instructor subbing for a Group X class

As a participant, I’ve been to Group X classes where members would walk into the room, take one look at the substitute (sub) and spin 180 degrees right back out the door. Subbing for an exercise class can be scary — many members get irritated when the fitness instructor they’ve been looking forward to seeing all week is a no-show. And when you’re subbing a group fitness class, there’s an extra challenge to providing that stellar experience, since most of the participants aren’t as familiar with your fitness motivation and cueing style.

I’ve had my fair share of subbing mishaps (nothing too traumatic, thankfully), so I was stoked when the spin class I subbed last weekend went really well. It was the kind of class that had an electrifying buzz to it, with everyone in sync, working hard and feeling motivated. After the class, many folks thanked me for teaching, so I knew I wasn’t the only one feeling that spark.

This class got me thinking: what is it about that subbing experience that worked so well?

Here are three tips I pulled from this class to help you provide the best Group X experience when subbing for another fitness instructor.

Acknowledge That You’re a Sub

Sometimes it feels like participants will come into a class that has a sub feeling defensive or judgmental. I’ve found that by acknowledging you’re a sub, it sometimes helps to soften their attitudes a bit.

In the intro for the class, I’ll say:

“Lucy is out today. I know Lucy is awesome, I love taking her class, too. But, I appreciate you being nice to the sub and coming into this class with an open mind, ready to give it your all.”

Usually, that will get at least a few people smiling. I think this helps to remind participants that you’re human, too, and you’re trying your best to make sure everyone gets what they came for.

Keep It Simple

This seems like a no-brainer, but this is something I have trouble implementing sometimes. Some of the intervals I love to do in my weekly spin classes aren’t a good fit when subbing. In your weekly classes, participants are familiar with your style and most of your lesson plans, so adding one or two new, complex drills will be a welcome challenge. But, when you’re a sub, participants are seeing the entire class for the first time, so there’s a lot to learn.

Instead, keep the lesson plan and activities simple, so members can feel successful by the end. Feel free to offer uncomplicated options and progressions to make these drills more challenging for advanced athletes without losing the rest of the pack.

Play Good Group X Music

Subbing is a great opportunity to throw all of your favorite songs into one jam-packed playlist. Oh, your regulars are tired of hearing that new Justin Bieber song every week? When you sub, you can subject the members to every catchy song that you’ve overplayed in your own classes.

The music is also an easy way to win over the participants in the class you’re subbing. Add a bunch of crowd favorites to get them singing along and rocking to the beat.

While all of these tips are helpful when planning your next Group X class as a sub, it’s important to keep in mind that some things are out of your control. There could be low class attendance, angry participants or members that just aren’t a good fit with your teaching style. But with the above tips, you can minimize the risk for a bummer class and provide a good experience for the majority of attendees.

For more tips and tricks, check out the group exercise ideas page.