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Why I have an ACE Group Fitness Certification to Teach Group X Classes

ACE Group Fitness Certification handbook

If you want to become a Group X instructor, you’ve likely started researching different fitness certifications that you can get to teach, including the ACE Group Fitness certification. You may have noticed that all you need is a Group X certification and CPR/AED to technically teach group fitness classes; however, some certifications are more impressive and widely-accepted than others.

If you have a specific gym in mind, you’ll want to make sure you ask the group exercise director that runs their program what fitness certifications they’ll accept. It might also be worth emailing the gyms nearby to see what fitness certifications they require in case you decide down the road you want to teach there. Otherwise, you’ll have to decide for yourself what certification to take.

Here’s why I chose the ACE Group Fitness Certification.

When I was taking UCLA’s Fitness Leadership Program back in 2010, we were encouraged to take the ACE Fitness group exercise certification test, because it was one of the most accepted and respected options for Group X instructors. There were other choices, but this one was strongly encouraged. I didn’t think anything of it at the time and just selected the ACE Fitness test, but I was so glad I did.

Moving up to San Francisco Bay Area after college graduation, I started looking for gyms I could teach at, and every single one accepted the ACE Fitness certification. For reference, I’ve been on the group exercise instructor list at more than five gyms. A year in, one of the gyms I taught at ClubSport even changed its policy and required instructors to have either ACE or AFAA nationally-accredited certification. Many instructors were frustrated that they had to go out and get another certification. If you’re just starting out, you can avoid this scenario by choosing ACE or AFAA in the first place.

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

(Image source: ACE Fitness

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How to Find a Mentor to Help You Become a Fitness Instructor

How to Become a Fitness Instructor

If you’re looking to become a fitness instructor, you’re likely already aware that you’ll need to get a certification to teach, like ACE or AFAA. As long as you pass one of these tests and are CPR/AED certified, you can officially teach a class. But, imagine a certified group fitness instructor walking into class on their very first day without having ever taught a fitness class in their life — pretty terrifying for both the instructor and participants. Since it’s not required as part of the certification, how do aspiring fitness instructors get the experience they need to successfully teach a class? My suggestion: find an expert group fitness instructor to be your mentor.

I trained to become a fitness instructor through a year-long program at UCLA, which included getting paired with a mentor and assisting in that person’s group fitness class each week. This had the biggest impact on my actual ability to teach an exercise class. I was able to start by just teaching the warm-up, getting feedback from the instructor each week on how to improve, and building up to teaching more and more of the class.

Since having a mentor was so pivotal to my experience in becoming a fitness instructor, I’d like to offer a few suggestions for anyone looking for a group fitness mentor.

If you want to become a fitness instructor, here’s how to find the right mentor.

Step One: take a ton of group exercise classes with a ton of different instructors.

The best way to get experience with group exercise is to participate in a lot of classes. That way, you’ll start to notice what types of teaching styles resonate with you. I would even suggest taking classes out of your comfort zone — dance, spinning, aqua, boot camp, kickboxing, etc. Normally, we get really excited about one or two formats, and have no idea what goes on in the other classes. Who knows, you may find out you love one of the less popular classes!

Step Two: talk to the group fitness instructors after class.

Once you’ve taken enough classes, start to talk to the instructors that teach the classes you really like. Instructors are usually pretty distracted before class, but after class is the perfect time to chat. You can start by introducing yourself, and talking generally about the class. Build a relationship or rapport with the instructor, so he or she can start to recognize you in class and help you with your workout.

From there, you’ll likely want to let some of the instructors know that you’re interested in teaching, and are planning to take your certification test.

Step Three: ask one to be your mentor as you become a fitness instructor.

After you begin to build a rapport with different instructors, your gut will likely tell you which instructor you should ask to help mentor you. Then, go up and let them know that you’re training to become a group fitness instructor, and ask if they would be open to being a mentor for you.

Specifically, you want to see if you can teach a short segment, like just the warm-up or a lunge routine, in one of their next classes. They may be open to giving you their email address, so you can email them your routine for their input beforehand.

Finally, you’ll want to see if they would be willing to stay after their class for just a few minutes to provide feedback on the segment you taught that day.

If anyone helps mentor you as you become a fitness instructor, make sure to thank them. A handwritten thank you note goes a long way. Depending on how much time they spend helping you, you might also want to consider getting them a small gift card to Starbucks or a frozen yogurt shop.

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

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7 Surprising Qualities of a Great Group Fitness Instructor

Group fitness instructor leading ab exercises

What are some qualities of a great group fitness instructor? I’m sure it’s a no-brainer that group fitness instructors should like to work out. They also need to have a pretty good grasp of biomechanics and body functions, or at least a desire to learn all of those things. But, what about the qualities that aren’t so obvious? Do group fitness instructors need to be extroverted or rhythmically inclined? My short answer is not necessarily. In my experience, some of the best Group X instructors are shy outside of the studio and some were even born with two left feet.

But, there are common characteristics that make for fantastic group fitness instructors. Here are a handful of the qualities important to the job.

Great Group Fitness Instructor Quality #1: Adaptability

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve showed up to teach a Group X class only to find the stereo not working, the mic out of batteries or my pants have a hole in them. The best group fitness instructors have learned to roll with the punches, and always have a backup plan. It’s also the reason we all have those sexy raspy voices — is the mic ever working?! 🙂

While it’s great to be able to go with the flow from Day 1, this one gets easier with time. After enough classes under your belt, you’ll start to know exactly what you’ll do when the stereo is out or when you run out of equipment for participants, etc.

Great Group Fitness Instructor Quality #2: Preparation

It’s certainly important to be flexible when challenges arise, but it’s just as important to put time into planning your class in advance. Nothing is worse than coming into class and sitting around for a few extra minutes as the instructor figures out what to do.

Make sure you’re finding ways to mix up your fitness routines and workout playlists, so your participants don’t get bored. Also, preparing a lesson plan is a great way to make sure the workout will take up the whole hour and balance out each muscle group involved.

Great Group Fitness Instructor Quality #3: Eloquence

Since fitness is all about movement, it would seem like it would matter more for instructors to be able to perform the exercises well in front of the class. But, it’s even more important for group fitness instructors to be able to describe the exercises clearly. On top of that, group fitness instructors should be able to accurately explain form cues, so that participants can understand how to self-adjust their form all from one to two sentences of instruction.

I’ve seen stellar group fitness instructors come in with a taped ankle, sit in front of the room and lead an amazing workout because they are able to provide instructions, cues and motivation all verbally.

Great Group Fitness Instructor Quality #4: Thick Skin

I wish I could say that every participant is a pleasure to work with, but unfortunately there will be people that are mean to you as a group fitness instructor. Some will blame you for their problems, whether it’s their fitness plateau or overworking injuries. Others will “jokingly” tell you that your Group X class, the music or lesson plan sucked.

As a group fitness instructor, you’ll have to find ways to handle these situations and try not to let these comments affect you in the long term. You’ll also deal with wonderful, passionate, friendly participants, so I hope you won’t let the one or two outliers distract you from the great work you’re doing.

Great Group Fitness Instructor Quality #5: Quirkiness

I’ve taken a lot of group fitness classes over the years, and the one thing I don’t like to see is an instructor that tries to be perfect to a point where it comes across as disingenuous. That’s why I much prefer instructors that have a quirky uniqueness about them. Find whatever makes you special and own it. All those times we mess up or are a little off make us more interesting, relatable and just plain fun to be around.

Great Group Fitness Instructor Quality #6: Persistence

Working in the fitness industry and maintaining group fitness certifications requires a lot of time and upkeep. If you think about how much the industry has changed, you’ll be glad that we’re required to keep up-to-date on our certifications in order to teach. For example, new research suggests static stretches are not helpful during a warm-up, which is why we’ve replaced them with dynamic exercises that warm the body and actively prepare our muscles for the workout. Yet, even recently I’ve gone to other activities, like sporting events or casual workouts, where folks are still stretching before they exercise. It’s because the people leading those activities aren’t required to keep updated on the latest findings in fitness and wellness.

If you want to be a great group fitness instructor, you’ll have to be persistent in your fitness education, and always seek new industry insight.

Great Group Fitness Instructor Quality #7: Multi-tasker

When you teach a Group X class, you need to be able to keep the class working through each exercise without any awkward breaks, share modifications and progressions to accommodate every fitness level and provide form cues to make sure folks are doing it right. The list goes on. When you first start teaching group fitness, it will feel almost impossible to say everything you want in between each exercise. It’s a good idea to practice leading certain exercises while listening to your playlist, so you can work on the best ways to phrase each cue and how it will fit within the timeframe.

As you get more comfortable teaching group fitness classes, the multi-tasking will come naturally, and you’ll be able to lead the class through an exercise, perform it in front of the room and walk around to correct form — all in an hour’s work.

These are a few qualities of a great group fitness instructor. Many of these can be learned, so if you don’t feel confident in your ability to multi-task in the first class, that’s okay. Over the years, teaching Group X classes has improved my ability to adapt and have thick skin. I remember those first few group fitness classes being awfully scary to teach. If you’re persistent and prepared, the rest will come naturally and you’ll be a great group fitness instructor in no time!

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

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My Favorite Tweets from the @IDEAfit World Convention

@IDEAfit Group Exercise Class

One of the biggest fitness conventions in the U.S. happened over the weekend. The IDEA Fitness World Convention was in Los Angeles, bringing together fitness experts and enthusiasts from all over the country. I, unfortunately, was not able to make it this year, but that didn’t stop me from keeping up with the #ideaworld hashtag and @IDEAfit Twitter handle for the past few days to see all the fun I missed. Although I couldn’t be there in person, I’d like to think I was there in spirit, getting to experience the event through the eyes of the attendees and presenters on social media.

For my fellow fitness instructors that weren’t able to make the trip, I pulled together some of my favorite tweets and quotes from the @IDEAfit convention to help you feel like you were right there in the action, too.

“You’ve got to get to the point where you’re comfortable in your own skin.” — Randy Hetrick // @ideafit

"You've got to get to the point where you're comfortable in your own skin."

“A bad day for your ego is a great day for your soul.” — Jillian Michaels // @AshliMcKee

"A bad day for your ego is a great day for your soul"

“Forget what hurt you, don’t forget what it taught you.” — Jenna Wolfe // @lizwilsonyoga

"Forget what hurt you, don't forget what it taught you."

Keiser Fitness’ glow stick cycle party. // @ideafit

Glow Stick Cycle Party

“There are two times in life. Now and too late.” — Jenna Wolfe // @apstyle

"There are two times in life. Now and too late"

“People know what to do for wellness, but they don’t do it. People need to know HOW to do it and WHY to do it.” — Dr. Holly Wyatt // @FitnessEditor

"People know what to do for wellness, but they don't do it. People need to know HOW to do it and WHY to do it."

“We have to go out of our way to make healthful choices in this food environment” — Yoni Freedhoff // @LGfit

"We have to go out of our way to make healthful choices in this food environment"

So inspiring! If you’d like to check out more of the action from the Idea World Convention, check out the #IdeaWorld hashtag live feed. And, if you need continuing education credits, there are other fitness conventions coming up around the country that might work with your schedule.

For more fitness industry happenings, check out the group exercise ideas page.

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How Can Fitness Instructors Help Prevent Body Shaming?

Welcoming group fitness class without any body shaming

Body shaming is widespread in the history of the fitness industry — many professionals have earned their fortunes by making people feel bad about their bodies. Last week, 2015 Playmate of the Year Dani Mathers posted an inappropriate and invasive Snapchat shaming the body of another woman changing in the locker room at her gym. As with the rest of the internet, this story got me boiling mad. We are smack dap in the middle of a body positive revolution, and yet, some people are too slow to embrace this new way of thinking.

Especially frustrating for me is that this takes place in a gym – what I consider a safe haven and my personal stomping grounds, but for so many others what feels more like a fun house bursting with distorting mirrors and scary clowns. Folks are finally starting to face their fears and step foot in the gym, in part because of the new wave of body positive mentality. But, Mathers’ Snapchat proves we still have so far to go before everyone can have the same experience I do at a gym.

My fellow group fitness instructors and personal trainers, we are role models at our respective gyms, so it’s our responsibility to create an inclusive environment for everyone that wants to work out.

Here are a few ways we can help create an atmosphere in our classes and on the gym floor that will stifle body shaming and allow everyone to feel welcome.

Don’t use body image as a motivational technique.

Most of us work out for many different reasons, including our desire to achieve a healthy lifestyle, be able to do activities we love, prolong our lives, and look a certain way. While it’s perfectly okay to exercise to achieve a certain look, it doesn’t have to be a motivation that we focus on as leaders.

For example, you can encourage participants in your spin class during a sprint by telling them this effort will make them faster and stronger, instead of talking about how great their butt will look after they’re done.

Don’t talk about food.

Most of the time when I hear a fitness instructor or personal trainer talking about food, it’s associated with being overweight.

For example, I’ve heard someone say, “After this class, you can go eat that burger.” But if you read between the lines, what they’re actually saying is, “After this class, you can go eat that burger and not get fat.” I’ve also heard remarks like, “Let’s burn off all the extra calories from that 4th of July BBQ last weekend.”

Instead of comments like these, let’s allow us all to enjoy our treats and celebrations without linking it to some sacrifice (read: exercise). Ultimately, this just makes us feel guilty and gives us a negative relationship with food and fitness.

Try to work on changing your mindset to think of eating and exercising as a privilege instead. As something that you enjoy doing as two separate, wonderful entities of life. And personally, I just avoid talking about food in my fitness classes entirely, because it’s such a tricky topic to navigate.

Offer modifications that are easy and inconspicuous.

In my experience, participants will take advantage of modifications most often when they’re not able to see themselves in the mirror. For example, once we all lay on our backs to do chest press or supine bridges, nobody can see each other unless they get out of position and look around the room. This is the perfect time for members to make those modifications you suggest without feeling embarrassed.

I look forward to a time where everyone feels comfortable coming to a gym to exercise and body shaming is dead. Until then, fitness instructors and personal trainers will need to be extra conscious of the environment they create and how they are leading participants through safe, effective exercises.

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

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What Do You Do When Someone Complains About A Fellow Fitness Instructor?

Fitness instructor talking to participant

If you’ve been in the fitness industry for a few years, more than likely you’ve been in the uncomfortable situation where someone starts telling you critiques about another fitness instructor. For the most part, participants will keep their comments to themselves, but every once in a while one will come up to you to say negative things about another instructor that puts you in an awkward situation. It’s unprofessional for you to engage in conversation talking trash about your coworkers, but you also don’t want to scold your members for sharing their opinion.

So, how do you respond when a participant complains about another fitness instructor?

First, if the participant tells you that a colleague is teaching something dangerous or unsafe in their class, then you do have a responsibility to act. You can tell the member to notify the Group X director or front desk staff to make sure that it is reported. If you know the instructor, you may want to reach out to them to let them know your concern. Otherwise, you can bring it up with your director, as well.

If that’s not the case, then you get to decide how you’d like to respond. And for the most part, these comments usually have nothing to do with safety and everything to do with the participant’s preferences. When a participant complains to me about another instructor, I’ll respond with something like,

“I’m glad you’re starting to figure out what types of Group X classes you like. That’s the reason we have so many different classes and instructors: so that everyone can find something they like. More than likely you won’t like all of the classes and instructors, and that’s okay. That’s why we offer so many options.”

What I like about this response is that it doesn’t discount their opinion – everyone has a right to prefer certain classes and teaching styles over others. I know I personally have my favorite classes and instructors, so why can’t my participants have the same thing? But, at the same time it doesn’t contribute any negative sentiment about your colleagues.

There are many ways to address this conversation and you have to go with a response that feels authentic to you. It’s a good idea to think about how you would respond to a comment like this, so that you don’t feel flustered if it ever comes up.

For more fitness instructor advice, check out the group exercise ideas and tips page.


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June Links I Love for Fitness Instructors

June Links I Love for Fitness Instructors

Each day, fitness articles pop up sharing new Group X classes, industry research and fresh exercise ideas. As someone who works as a Group X instructor, I read a lot of health and wellness articles, because it’s important to stay on top of the happenings and new research findings. Keeping an eye on the trends allows fitness instructors to personalize their classes based on the latest research or workout ideas, so that they can keep their participants engaged, motivated and safe.

In June, unique fitness classes, like mermaid swim classes and aerial yoga, got some time in the spotlight. And, many publications profiled the world’s oldest bodybuilder who happens to be 80 years old and has no interest in slowing down. Quite a few advice articles caught my eye that helped to remind me what it takes to be a great fitness instructor no matter how long you’ve been teaching. Of course, I always like to look at a few posts sharing creative workouts or fitness motivation that I can introduce in my Group X classes.

While I can’t include every article from last month, here’s a look at some of my favorite fitness, Group X, health and wellness articles from June.

  1. Nine things fitness instructors should not do (with hilarious GIFs).
  2. Tips for new yoga instructors to start teaching on the right foot.
  3. Have you ever heard of mermaid fitness classes you can do in the pool?
  4. A look at why participants turn to yoga.
  5. Creative dumbbell exercises to mix up your group fitness classes.
  6. The world’s oldest bodybuilder is 80 years old.
  7. Seven benefits of doing aerial yoga that make it worth trying at least once.
  8. Eleven reasons to work out that have nothing to do with weight loss.
  9. How to take your fitness routine on the road during a vacation.
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3 Reasons to Work Out, As Told By Pug Puppies

3 Reasons to Work Out

There are a million different reasons people work out. Many people, myself included, exercise in order to achieve a desired appearance, in addition to a host of other objectives. However, working out just to look a certain way can cause us to have a toxic relationship with exercise and our bodies. So, when I’m teaching Group X classes, I prefer to focus on other motivations that don’t rely on appearance. By tapping into other reasons we work out, fitness instructors can help to provide a positive experience that keeps members coming back.

Here are a few other reasons that people exercise, as told by pug puppies — because puppies make everything better, of course. And, what you might not know about me (yet :)) is that I come from a family of pug lovers. A few years ago, my mom decided to breed her pug Zoey, who gave birth to seven adorable, spirited puppies she eventually sold. Before that, we were able to take a bunch of pictures of the pups, and I’m including some here.

I work out to make friends.

Many people will come to Group X classes for the community. Working out in a group encourages folks to work harder and holds them accountable for their workout. It’s also a great way to meet like-minded people in your area that are also interested in a healthy lifestyle.

I work out to make friends. Picture of pug puppies in a row.

I work out to prevent injury.

This may sound counterintuitive, since over-exercising, improper form or unfortunate mistakes can lead to getting hurt, but exercising can also help prevent injury. By increasing flexibility and strength, members can navigate the daily tasks of life, like gardening and carrying groceries, with ease. For example, a better understanding of squats will help people pick up large, heavy items using their legs instead of putting their back at risk.

I work out to prevent injury. Picture of pug in a cone head.

I work out to sleep well.

Getting a good night’s sleep after a tough workout is one of my favorite things about exercise. I sleep noticeably better after a spin class that kicks my butt.

Stress and the glow from our devices are supposed to inhibit our ability to get a good night sleep. But, a good workout can knock you right out when it’s time for bed.

I work out to sleep well. Pugs sleeping on each other.

These are just three of the many reasons we work out that you can use to motivate your Group X class when the time is right. For more ways to pump up your class, check out the fitness motivation and cueing page.

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How to Regroup in the Middle of Group X Classes

A fitness instructor teaching one of her Group X classes

After spending hours crafting the perfect lesson plan, creating a stellar playlist and practicing your cues, sometimes Group X classes still won’t go your way. Maybe the CD keeps skipping, the microphone screeches every time you walk towards the back of the room, or there’s something slightly off in the choreography (yes, all of these things have happened to me at some point :)). With all eyes on you, it’s hard to find a second to gather yourself, address these challenges and carry on through the rest of the class. So, what can you do when you need to regroup?

First, repeat after me: stuff happens. One small mistake is not going to have participants running for the hills. We’re all human and members will usually be understanding when the occasional issue arises. I personally am quick to get down on myself when I make a mistake during a group fitness class, so I’m going to give us all permission, myself included, to cut ourselves some slack next time we mess up.

When something is going awry, you’ll want to try to alleviate the issue as much as possible for members. Your response will of course depend on the problem, but here are a few ideas to get your class moving while also giving you a second to yourself to regroup and address issues.

For Choreographed Group X Classes: Use a holding pattern

In a dance or step class, a “holding pattern” is a move or set of moves that participants can do over and over again, like step touch or a grapevine. If you mess up the choreography or have an emergency in class, you can instruct members into a holding pattern, so they can keep their heart rates up while you are free to move around the studio.

If you’re not in a choreographed class, you can still do a holding pattern by starting an exercise, instructing members to continue to move while you walk around. Preferably, you’ll want an activity that is balanced on both sides, like squats or alternating lunges.

For Spin Group X Classes: Ask folks to close their eyes

Since everyone in a spin class is strapped in to their bike, they can safely close their eyes for a moment or two without putting themselves at risk. You can ask your participants to match their leg speed to the beat of the music. Then, ask them to close their eyes and continue to match the leg speed. If your bikes have monitors, you can use them to check on their speed at the end.

You likely won’t want to do this immediately after an interval when heart rates are especially high or with a particularly fast pace. But, if things are somewhat calm, you can ask everyone to close their eyes for just a few seconds while you play with your notes, the stereo or whatever it is that’s causing the problem.

For Strength Group X Classes: Cue interval training

Intervals are a great way to get participants working hard without needing you to be at the front of the room to demonstrate. Once you’ve started the class on an interval, you’re free to address any issues. You can also divide the class into partners and ask one partner to keep time for the other, so that their attention is focused on each other instead.

If you’re still able to give participants a good workout, they’ll probably end up forgetting all about the problem before the class is even over. After class, you might want to treat yourself to a nice bubble bath or yummy bowl of ice cream to reward yourself for making it through a challenging class. I know you deserve it.

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

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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.