Friday, July 13, 2012

Rule 1 of Fitness Classes: Good Instructor = Good Class

Recently, I saw a someone on twitter, saying basically that a fitness instructor should look like they are in great shape, otherwise they can't inspire people to work hard.  The comment seemed silly to me more than anything, but it did make me think about what I valued most in an instructor, which motivated me to go to a class that I hadn't attended while Friday's were my rest day. However, I moved my rest day to Monday, so I have no excuse other than not wanting to take a 5:30am class.  The class is taught by the person I think of as the best instructor at my gym, so during today's class I really paid attention to the things that I thought made her the best.

Good Fitness Instructors = Good Class is pretty much a no-brainer, but considering how many classes I have taken with instructors that were just crap for various reason, it is always refreshing when you take a class with a good instructor.  This morning I took a butt-kicking circuit and spin combination class at my gym with Holly.  I have multiple reasons why I think she is a good instructor:
  • Her classes are fun and her attitude is engaging (even at 5:30am).
  • She provides detailed instructions about the exercises, breaking it down and not only explaining how things will feel if were are doing something right or wrong, but also explaining how the exercise works if done correctly and what happens if done incorrectly.
  • She'll exercise along with us, but also stop to make sure we are doing things properly and give people individual instruction when needed.  She is almost always scanning the class making sure that people are doing things correctly.
  • Most importantly -- she is able to make you want to push yourself without pressuring you or make you feel intimidated.  This is a tightrope that most instructors struggle to deal with because either they come off overly perky and cracked-out or overbearing like the DI from Full Metal Jacket.  Holly seems to realize that the most powerful form of motivation is internal and not external.  It is hard to describe, but instead of just telling the class to push harder, she'll motivate you to chose to push harder, which to me, seems like a much more skilled approach.  And, is much more effective because I won't have her running beside me during long run telling me to keep going.
Over time, I have come to understand what I am looking for in an instructor and have gotten picky about which classes I take.  I used to take classes based upon the type of activity, but I am now much more likely to take a class based upon the instructor rather than the activity.  Here are some examples of what I think makes a bad instructor and the type of things that I want to avoid:

  1. Paying no attention to form -- Sadly, over 90% of the fitness classes I have taken have been with instructors that do not demonstrate or explain proper form to the class, nor do they correct the form of the participants. 
  2. Treating the class as your own personal workout -- Can't tell you how often I been in classes where the instructor pays no attention to the class, the level of the students, but instead is just trying to get in a "paid" workout. 
  3. Never changing up the class:  Boring.  There is one class at my gym that I have not taken in a year, but I could tell you the whole routine right now.  It NEVER changes.  Ever!
  4. Inappropriate exercises for the level of the class:  Just because your personal trainer taught you a killer exercise, doesn't mean that you should incorporated it in to the classes you teach.  I took a class with an instructor that did this and hurt people.  Her trainer was paid to evaluate her level of fitness and gave her exercises that were appropriate for her, but she mistakenly tried to do the same exercise in a group fitness class and routinely caused injuries to her students.  It is also possible to have and instructor who doesn't challenge a class as well, but that is usually a much less serious problem. 
  5.   Getting too chummy or cliquish with students: We all want to build a good feeling of community in these classes, or we would be working out on our own or with trainers.  But sometimes, a good community can become insular and begin to make people feel excluded.  Early morning workout classes and spin seem to spawn this type of thing,  Spin because of territorialism and early classes because it is usually the same small group of people, who attend consistently.   
What do you think makes a good instructor or a bad one?  I would love to hear what other people think!

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