Give members group exercise classes that they won't want to miss

Let's face it. Every club offers group exercise classes — and most of the classes are the same club to club. So what can you do to set yourself apart from the crowd? How can you make everyone want to participate in “your” group exercise program?

The answer is simple: Offer variety in your programming, hire talented/energized instructors and have fun! Here's how.

  • Add a little spice. At Crunch Fitness in New York City, Donna Cyrus, national group fitness director, likes to think of group exercise programming as a meal. You have your meat and potato classes (regular aerobics, step, body sculpt, group cycling, etc.) surrounded by your dessert classes. A good recipe to follow is two-thirds meat and potato classes to one-third dessert classes.

    “What we do is try to find interesting ways to present some of these classes in the dessert formula,” explains Cyrus. “For example, we have classes like Ballet Boot Camp that uses ballet exercises in a fitness format. We also have Hoops, which is a collaboration with the WNBA. You can compare it to a sculpt class, but we use exercises from the WNBA.”

    Another Crunch class classified as dessert is Karaoke Ride. “We have karaoke machines and while doing group cycling you do karaoke, which when you sing you have better use of oxygen which adds an extra level of difficulty,” Cyrus says. If this class sounds a little off the wall (or off-key), it is, but it's fun and people swarm to it.

  • Keep them talking. A key way to find out what energizes your members is to ask them about their programming preferences, emphasizes Lashaun Dale, group fitness manager at 76th Street Equinox in New York City. “You need to be talking and listening to your market so you know when the energy is getting low. You need to find out why they are showing up, why they like certain instructor. I spend a lot of time watching classes, the instructors and the members.”

  • Bring them up through the ranks. Your group fitness instructors can make or break your classes. Finding good ones can be a huge undertaking in some locations and a piece of cake in others (New York City has an abundance of out-of-work performers/entertainers who are also fitness buffs looking for work).

    One way to guarantee good instructors is to mentor them. Have your instructors pay special attention to members who seem to have a flair for group exercise. When members show an interest in instructing, start them off with subbing and see how they do. By mentoring members, you will always have fresh, enthusiastic instructors.

  • Give them something to play with. Want to add a little something special to your class? How about a prop? Or devise a class around a prop. 76th Street Equinox offers Surf Flex, a balance-training class that combines physio balls with Beach Boy music. “Props are a great way to make people pay more attention,” notes Dale. “It makes them open their eyes.”

    “I think props add to specific types of classes and they give it a theatrical mentality,” adds Cyrus. “We have a Broadway Dance Series class quarterly where we have an instructor coupled with people from a Broadway show teach members the choreography of the show. When we did a Chorus Line, we gave the participants top hats and all of the sudden they weren't lawyers and [businesspeople] anymore — they were Broadway dancers. It's an escape for them, which makes it fun!”

  • Give members a challenge. Diehard group exercisers love to show off their stamina. So let them.

    This fall 76th Street Equinox is holding an Urban Warrior Challenge, an event consisting of different Equinox teams competing against each other in a cross-city physical endurance test. The teams run from one Equinox club to another. Once they arrive at a club, they compete in a fitness challenge such as a cardio kickboxing class or a group cycling class, then they run to the next club and do another fitness challenge. This goes on until they reach the last club. Oh yeah, each sprint has a time limit. If you don't make it in the time frame, you're eliminated.

    To promote the Urban Warrior Challenge, Equinox is holding pre-challenges every month leading up to the event. While promotional, the pre-challenges are a way to help the members train. The pre-challenges may consist of a lecture, motivational work and then a workout. All pre-challenge participants are entered into a lottery from which the teams will be picked for the Urban Warrior Challenge.


What Makes an Instructor Good?

  • Infectious enthusiasm
  • The ability to entertain, as well as educate
  • Diversity (can teach a wide variety of classes)
  • Driven to update skills
  • Fresh ideas
  • The ability to create experience/escape for class participants
  • Caring personality (wants what's best for members)
  • Outgoing (builds relationships with members)
  • Knowledge of members (knows their names and goals)
  • Skilled at developing new choreography