Tips for Teaching Fitness Class

As I’ve mentioned before, I teach a fitness class every Wednesday night, and I absolutely love it! It’s a Women on Weights class, which is a fun environment because the ladies are so supportive of each other, and come to class so motivated and driven to meet their health and fitness goals.

There are varying skill levels throughout the class, so I have to plan a class that everyone will get a good workout, without everyone being expected to do the exact same workout. So here’s a few ways that I accomplish this:

• Dumbbell or Body Bar weight selection: I don’t give them a choice in the weights they use in my class. I pass out dumbbells or body bars to each individual lady according to their skill level. For a lady with a higher fitness level, I’d probably hand her 10 pound dumbbells and a 12 pound body bar. However, for a lady who struggles with exercising might get 5 pound dumbbells and a 6 pound body bar.

• Timing exercises: sometimes I’ll say, “you have 30 seconds to do as many {insert exercise} as you can.” This enables them to push themselves at their own pace. Granted, because I’ve taught them for several months, I can tell when they’re slacking and they’re truly pushing themselves.

• Modifying workouts: When I have participants who aren’t up to the level of the others, or who currently or previously have injuries, I have to be extra cautious to ensure they achieve several things:
      o The participant needs to understand how to correctly do the exercise. Proper form, timing, coordination are among several aspects of what makes a simple move effective. This may mean that while the rest of the class is doing 15 – 20 reps, I’m working with the participant to achieve 3-5 good reps so she gets the most out of every move.
      o The participant needs to be in a position to maintain safety. I recently had a participant who had never done a squat. Now when explaining and demonstrating how to do a proper squat, if unfamiliar with the motion, it often feels like you will fall backward, which is why I encourage participants to hold their arms straight out in front of them to balance the weight towards the back of their bodies. While it may still feel awkward, it enables you to keep the weights on your heels, which engages your leg and butt muscles so the exercise is effective. This participant wasn’t comfortable with this move, so I gave her a stability ball to do wall squats. This enabled her to learn the movement of the exercise, while feeling safe because she could lean into the ball and know that she wouldn’t fall backwards.
      o The participant must never push themselves further than they are comfortable. This generally isn’t the case, as people naturally tend to be mindful and cautious of their injuries. But for good measure, and to show that I care about the participant’s safety, I’ll remind them of the modification when it comes to particular exercises. For example (I’ll use my own name to keep anonymity) I might say, “Next exercise is 30 seconds of walking lunges. Now Kristen, remember not to go too far down your right knee, we don’t want to aggravate your injury any further. Only go as far down as you’re comfortable.”
      o The participant doesn’t have to do as many reps as others in the class. If I plan for everyone to do 15 reps, but I see that someone is struggling with the exercise, I’ll tell them a lower number of reps to do. If they move slower than the other ladies in the class, I don’t want them to feel like everyone else is waiting on them before we move on, and I don’t want the others to feel like they aren’t getting the most out of their time by having to wait.

I often ask the ladies what their favorite exercises are, and I try to incorporate them into the workouts. Then I’ll call their name and say something like, “I know this is one of your favorites exercises!” It shows that I listen, that I care, and that I’m working with them and for them to help achieve their goals.

I’ve noticed that beginners can feel very intimidated of vulnerable when they first attend a class. So I always welcome them with a smile and a handshake, introducing myself as the instructor, and go over the premise of the class. I always mention that everyone has a different fitness level, and no matter what level they’re at, they’ll fit right in with us. Also getting to know their backgrounds, from exercise to their family and work life, also makes them more comfortable, because they feel like they can open up to you. 

I’ve visited other fitness classes where everyone keeps to themselves, works up a good sweat, then parts ways until the next time. But my class is truly like a weekly get-together where friends come to work out, visit about their lives, swap stories, and overall, just have fun with each other! If you can show a participant that you can have fun WHILE exercising, they’re sold, and that’s exactly what I try to do!

What are the most important things for you in a fitness class?
Have you ever had a bad fitness class experience?
What are some things an instructor done to make you feel welcome to their class?


Let me know your thoughts!

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