Group fitness is hotter today than ever before. Personal trainers everywhere are beginning to feel the draw to group training due to the financial benefits and diversity. If you have ever thought about adding group ex to your fitness trainer repertoire, now is the perfect time. This article is designed to help personal trainers make a successful move into group fitness.
Since the personal trainer is well certified and trained in both exercise physiology and kinesiology and already knows how to implement an effective and safe fitness program, then the biggest challenge involves the ability to guide a large group of people through a workout using effective teaching techniques. These teaching techniques include music, cuing, choreography design and transitional methods.
Music is the foundation of a group fitness class. Think about your music like a puzzle board without its pieces. The pieces are the physical movements. Each puzzle piece fits perfectly when placed appropriately on the puzzle board. This is how group fitness instructors place movements within the music.
Professional group fitness music is set up in frames of 32 beats. These 32 beats are broken down into four, eight count beat phrases. This means that four, eight count phrases equal one 32 count frame. These 32 count frames are consistent throughout the entire music CD. This consistency allows a group fitness instructor to teach any movement to any music CD, leaving the music to be dictated by personal preference. This is where most group fitness instructors find the joy in teaching – the freedom of using their personal favorite genre of music within their classes. This includes all types of group fitness from step, hi-lo and Latin, to kick boxing and even cycle classes (although in a cycle class, it is not as important to stay on the frames).
Cueing - Using Words to Get Your Class to Follow
When to Cue
There is a location within the music where you have the option to cue. I call it the “cue spot.” Every eight count frame offers you this “cue spot,” but you don’t necessarily want to use them all. The cue spot is used ONLY when you want to change something or add something. If you don’t plan to change or add, then I recommend you don’t speak any words during this particular cue spot location, as it could cause hesitation or confusion in your students. Once the students become aware of your cuing rhythm, they expect to hear only changes during that moment in the music. That moment in the music, or your “cue spot,” is found on beat five of each eight count phrase. For example – 1,2,3,4,CUE,6,7,8. When done correctly, you never say the number five. If you do, you have missed your cue because your mouth cannot say “5” and “step touch” at the same time or “5” and “grapevine” at the same time.
Even though you have an option to cue or change something every eight counts, I don’t recommend it. If you did, this would create a mentally and physically exhausting class of constant changing, creating stress, confusion and mental exhaustion, which would ultimately result in an unsuccessful class. These symptoms would be felt in both the students and the instructor. Instead, I recommend a more calm approach to cuing. This includes using only some of the cue spots and making the class more mentally relaxing, yet physically challenging.
What to Cue
We’ve talked about when we should cue, but if you don’t know what to say, then the “cue spot” is useless. Learning your group fitness terminology is vital to becoming a successful group fitness instructor. Whatever class format you plan to teach, you must learn the common terminology for that format. For example, if you teach step aerobics, then learn the terms “basic,” “over the top,” “turn step,” etc. If you want to teach muscle conditioning, learn the terms that best describe those movements: “squat,” “bicep curls,” lunge back,” etc. The same goes for any other type of group fitness class. Without these terms, you won’t be able to guide your students. Learning terms and getting them to flow from your mouth takes time. You must research the words, memorize them, practice their actions while saying them and, most importantly, learn to be consistent. For example, if you begin cuing, then continue to cue. And if you call it a “step touch” once, always call it a “step touch.” Finally, if you cue on the “cue spot” once, always cue on the cue spot. Your students will rely on your consistency. If you are NOT going to cue well, at least be consistent so your students can comprehend this and begin to learn your ways and know when they should begin thinking on their own. Personally, I recommend cuing... and doing it well. After all, it is your job.
Choreography Design - Creating Puzzle Pieces to Go into Your Puzzle Board
Once you have memorized your class movements and their proper terminology, then it’s time to begin placing these movements within your music. Remember, music is set up in 32 count frames. All movement can be done to music, no matter what the style of class. For example, you can do 32 counts of step touches, or 32 counts of basics, 32 counts of squats or 32 counts of grapevines. It all works within the music.
Designing choreography is as simple as basic math. If you do 32 counts of grapevines, then 32 counts of step touches, you will have done 64 counts within the music. Then, if you divide by two and now do 16 counts of grapevines and 16 counts of step touches, you will have done 32 counts within the music. If you divide by two again, you will do eight counts of grapevines and eight counts of step touches, and you will have done 16 counts within the music. Well, this is only half a frame, so you would want to do this last example twice to get to your 32 count frame. Voila! You are still working in 32 count frames and staying harmoniously with your music. If you found this confusing, you are not alone. Just re-read this paragraph until it becomes a mental picture within your mind. This is, actually, where it all begins – as a picture in your mind. Once you begin to see it clearly in your mind, you will be able to implement it in your body. And once you cue it to your students, you will implement it into their bodies. When do you cue this all? Only within the cue spots, of course!
Transition – Building Your Choreography Combinations
If you have ever driven somewhere with friends following you in their cars, you will understand thoroughly the importance of proper transition in a group fitness class. As you know, when you are the lead driver of a group of cars, there is much accountability and you must take several things into consideration in order to keep your friends behind you safely and effectively. This means driving a little slower and making changes earlier. Basically, you must base all your decisions on what you see from those who are attempting to follow you, not your own personal preferences. Some of these decisions would be how fast you drive, how quickly and frequently you make changes and what roads you choose to take.
If you ask 25 people to write down driving directions on how to get from their home to an airport that is about 25 miles away, you would find that each person’s directions would be different. The reason for this is that people are different. Some might prefer to take local residential streets for as far as possible because they are not comfortable with fast highways. And some might prefer to get on the fast highway as soon as possible. Likewise, in a group fitness class you might find some people who want to take it slowly to get into the final choreography combination and others who want to get there quickly so they can move on to the next one. I deal with this problem in this way: I teach and change movements more slowly for the slower students, but offer a variety of options for those students whose minds want to move fast. In other words, don’t speed and do keep it entertaining!
Putting It All Together
To put the whole group fitness technique package together, you must do the following:
- Memorize and choose your movements (build your repertoire)
- Cue your movements on beat five, one element at a time until you reach your final destination (your combination)
- Keep each movement (puzzle piece) within the 32 count frames
- Divide the movements by two as necessary but not too often
- Move at a slow and entertaining pace
Finally, you should do this all with perfect physiological balance, achieving your ultimate training goals, performing with enthusiastic physical and vocal energy and with a high entertainment factor! Ultimately, you must perform all of these techniques with precision and consistency! Yes, teaching a group fitness class is very challenging and takes much training and practice.
The good news is that anyone can do it. Remember the first time you thought about driving a car and you said to yourself, “How can I think of so many things at once?” Then the next thing you knew, you were doing it, and it was not so difficult. Think of teaching a group fitness class that way – it’s very easy to do with practice. With time and preparation, the flow and rhythm will come, and you will have developed into an effective group exercise instructor. It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it. Group instructors love the job because it is a brilliant way for physically artistic folks to express their love for movement, music and people.
Once you have mastered the above basic techniques, you will be ready to dive into more creative teaching concepts. These include advanced choreography, transition and cuing skills. Good luck, and happy teaching!