There may not be such a thing as a “perfect” class. What quantifies even a “good” class? There are a lot of metrics you can look at as to how well your class went, the most important one being whether or not the people in front of you had a good time and want to come back for more. Safety, efficacy, progress… all those matter, of course. But nothing beats having a good time! This is a rundown of tips and tricks to running the best class possible – start with a bang, the class is over before you know it and everyone is out the door counting down the hours until they can come back again.
First, let’s go over some tips for managing class flow. All we’re talking about here is making sure that we aren’t in choppy waters for 60 minutes straight, and that people have a good experience. Here’s what’s in YOUR control –
Top 8 Tips For Managing Class Flow:
*adapted from TwoBrain Coaching
1. Have a Plan, and Come Prepared
Remember, it’s YOUR class. So you need to be prepared when you come to YOUR class. You need to have a lesson plan – as general or specific as you need it to run a successful class. Show up 10-15 minutes early, make sure the room is setup how you want it. Make sure that equipment is either set out (young kids/teenagers) or staged so that it can be easily grabbed for the workout. Run the workout through your head once or twice, prep your voice (heck, I even do a vocal warmup when I run early morning classes or do big groups) and get ready to rock n’ roll.
2. Be Confident and Give Direction
Again, it’s YOUR class. You need to be in command and the authority figure in your class – don’t give that control up to the music, the wind, or mood. It’s an easy problem to fall into and a delicate balance to be authoritative, confident, and also respect people’s freedom and mental/emotional space.
Being confident doesn’t mean being cocky or arrogant, especially when coaching. But, you have to believe what you say. You have to speak with confidence when you’re telling someone that they can do it (whatever “it” is in that moment) or that you want them to push harder, back off, add weight, etc. You have to believe every word, and mean what you say. That’s confidence. That doesn’t mean you should be closed off and not allow for flexibility, or the possibility that you might be wrong. That’s always possible, and you have to acknowledge that when it’s relevant.
If you don’t know something, don’t say that you know it. Say that you don’t know, and that you’ll get back to them (and then actually get back to them). But if you think that something is a good idea, then believe it and speak it with confidence.
I used to have a problem with being vague with my direction. I started my coaching career with groups of 30-120 athletes at a time for 90+minute sessions of strength and conditioning. With a group that large, and the relative lack of experience I had, it was easy to say “add some weight” to 70 people in a weight room back squatting, or “time yourself for this run route”.
When giving direction, you need to be direct (ahem. Direct. Direction. Get it?) concise and to the point. “My junior and senior aged athletes, add between 10-25 lbs on the bar – my freshman and sophomores, add 5-15 lbs on the bar!” is much more clear. If you’re able, you can also get in there with a bunch of athletes individually and give them weight prescriptions. “I want you to run this route as fast as you possibly can, and then I want you to time it. Run hard. Let’s go!”
When coaching a group, your words matter. And, your lack of words matter. Be direct with what you want your athletes to do!
3. Your Tone Matters
The most common form of communication you’ll use with your clients are words – there’s demonstration and body language and hand gestures, but tone of voice and voice inflection matters a LOT. Want people to move fast and hard? Instruct loudly and with haste. Want people to calm down and slow down? Talk slowly and calmly. Want to be clear and commanding with your instruction? Speak with clarity, less syllables, and in short bursts.
Your tone ties into your energy that you put out. Matching the appropriate tone of voice with the segment of the class that you’re in will help you find best results with your clients.
4. Use a Common Gathering Space
When trying to get people’s attention, having a common gathering space can be crucial for creating a space where people pay attention to what you say (it’s like building a habit). Having a regular place like this where you always go to for certain times/situations will go a long way for building “moments” in the workout, so to speak. The whiteboard is where you brief the class. The front desk or the office is where you talk to first time clients, the center of the room can be where you demonstrate things, etc.
Having a regular, common gathering place that you can utilize at different stages of class will go a long way to bringing people’s attention to what’s happening in front of them.
5. Switch Up Common Gathering Space
In line with #4, switching up this common gathering space is equally important – “Do things differently” is a special ingredient for a happy life. It’s also a great way to keep people on alert, keep things engaging, and allow for people to get used to steady change. It’s also a great way to get people to pay attention who normally don’t!
6. Smooth Transitions Between Segments
You know how you used to give presentations in grade school and people would focus so much on whether or not you said one of the dreaded um/uh/ok constantly throughout your presentation?
There’s a reason for that.
The um/uh/ok is palpable. It’s not generally a problem, but if you’re trying to just fill the air because you don’t know what’s next, let it be quiet instead. It’s ok.
But also, make sure your workout is simple enough where you don’t have to constantly check your notes to know what’s next and avoid the want/need to fill the air.
On top of that, it’s important to consider what your segments are filled with so that this smooth transition can be achieved.
Short story – I used to have a U.S. History teacher in high school, Don Timm. Don Timm was a great teacher. He was old fashioned, and lectured his classes. He always did this thing during his lectures where when he tied things together in his lessons, he would point out “Notice that smooth transition” and would make a gesture with his hand to demonstrate a smooooth transition. I loved that. Anyways.
If your warmup involves a jump rope, your skill work involves sprints and running and rowing, and your workout is the snatch (which you would conceivably have to warmup) then there is no chance that you can achieve that smooooth transition. So, simplify, and switch the order and equipment relative to the day’s workout and objectives so that you can achieve (pause for effect) that smooooth transition.
7. Allow for Wiggle Room
With your lesson plan, as important as it is to have a plan and be prepared and account for everything, you also need to allow for flexibility and deviations. Maybe you write your plan down to the minute, and you find that you have to take an extra 5 minutes to work on developing people’s overhead squat before you start the workout. Awesome. Do it. It’s probably important. Do you have to cut stuff from your plan? Or did you leave some room to where you don’t have to cut anything? Or what if everyone in class has to use the bathroom and you didn’t account for that time?
Say that the warmup was too much as planned (oops) and you need to cut it down by a round, so you stop early. Do you now not have enough work to fit into the hour? Or did you leave room where you can easily add some additional drills and skill work into the practice or specific warmup? Or more stretching in the cooldown?
So long as you take some time to account for having possibly not enough time AND too much time left over, and have a backup plan or two for each, you’re good to go.
8. Make it Fun!
There are three areas that make any workout experience worth going through again – Energy, Simplicity, and Community!
What makes any workout fun is the energy you bring to it. Really, the energy you bring to the class environment should match the energy you want out of your athletes. Are you the drill sergeant, the cheerleader, or the technician? In reality, you want the best version of all three of these. I call this, The Fitness Party. The Fitness Party involves positive and bubbly energy, standards and boundaries to ensure safety and efficacy with your program, and also proper cues and correction to ensure progress with your clients. All of that, plus some sick beats or killer jams that speak to the demographic of your audience.
How to Cheerlead properly:
You can talk with people as they go through the warmup and workout at their own pace. I believe in the real world they call this “small talk”… that’s all it takes! Chat with people, ask how they’re doing, and engage with them on a personal level. You have to actually care how they’re doing, of course, otherwise the energy will be fake and it’ll run out. Get to know your people, check in with them, and have some good ol’ fashioned conversation.
In order to evolve beyond a $20/hr coach, you have to be really good at connecting with people on a 1:1 level and in a group dynamic. You have to know how to make them feel good, how to make them feel valued, appreciated, held accountable, believed in, and at the end of the day – loved and cared for.
How to Drill Sergeant properly:
When you’re coaching a movement, and you say “this is how you do this” and your client does something different, that’s your fault. Correct it. Scale appropriately, meet them where they’re at, modify as needed, but hold a standard. Don’t be an asshole, but hold a standard. People have come to you for accountability and the guidance of an expert – you need to give them that!
How to do the Technician stuff properly:
You need to know how to break down complexities into their simplest form – that’s what makes any great or effective teacher. Breaking down the Snatch (which people spend their whole athletic careers mastering) into digestible material is just as important as being able to take all the nuances of the Burpee and the Air Squat and apply them into lessons for your athletes. Being able to operate at both ends of the spectrum is important for helping all athletes – from world class to average Joes and Janes – in reaching their full athletic and human potential.
The Fitness Party is when you combine all three of those avatars/personas, and you can flow between each of them effortlessly. This requires being connected to the material and your skills as a coach by practicing and living within the material that you use to coach. It needs to be effortless. That’s how good you have to be in order to bring The Fitness Party. You need to be dreaming about burpees, wake up with ideas of new and destructive workouts, and daydream about new ways to teach health habits and movement. The Fitness Party is high level stuff, and it also requires a massive amount of empathy. That’s how you end up playing music that people enjoy or learn to love rather than your personal favorite death metal for all the 50 year old moms in the room.
People’s day to day lives are hard, busy, and stressful. Maybe they talk to people all day in meetings, maybe they have been in school all day, maybe they have family stress, or work stress, or “stuff”. Everyone has “stuff” going on. So, more often than not, simplicity in how you deliver workouts and setup the class environment will make people feel better than otherwise. That being said, prioritizing simplicity will also allow you to manage energy and flow of a class much better than if you’re trying to sift through your 37-step warmup to the point where you’re checking your lesson plan every 10 seconds and you completely miss everyone’s social cues that THEY ARE BORED.
So, some tips:
- Write in all caps, print
- Write big
- Make it a KISS workout (keep it simple, stupid) ***examples below
***More complex example:
***More simple example:
These workouts above are meant to be done in 20 minutes. Of course, they don’t include the part where you teach someone how to do all the movements, practice them, brief the workout, modify peoples workout for relative intensity, do some additional accessories and skill work, etc. That can take it into 45-60 minutes pretty quick.
Again, what makes things fun is the energy you bring to it. Energy can be felt. If everyone in the room is silent, does that mean they aren’t having fun? Maybe – or maybe they have heavy weight in the front rack. But if they don’t have heavy weight in the front rack and nobody is talking to anybody, fill that gap. Start a conversation with someone. A caring, deep conversation. Recruit people to your classes, and fill this place up. Give a damn about people on a personal level and show them with your actions. They should be able to feel that you care! Build a connection amongst everyone in your group – that is the most important thing always in a class setting at a gym, more important than technique and safety. It has to be fun, energizing, engaging, and makes you want to come back. That’ll always matter more than a “better” workout.
Top 10 Tips for Running the “Perfect” Group Class
*adapted from TwoBrain Coaching
1. Smile, and greet everyone with their name
In our style of gym, people want the personal touch. That’s why they’re here! You also need to get to know your clients, make them feel welcome. Smile! Your job is awesome, and people are excited to be at the gym. Show them that you’re excited too, make eye contact, and say hello by using their name.
2. Use a “bridge-back”
Along with that personal touch is showing that you pay attention to each individual. A bridge back is simply bringing something up that you talked about last time you saw them, or that you saw them post on social media, etc. Just another great way to connect with the many individuals that you work with.
3. Session starts precisely on time, and you ask for injuries during the briefing
If it’s a 6 AM class, and someone constantly shows up at 6:03, then take that up with them 1:1 if need be – but start the class at 6 AM. Everyone’s time is valuable!
4. Smile often
Again, people are excited to be here. Show them that you are, too! Smile, laugh, bring good energy, and make people feel welcome. A good trainer is able to elevate the energy in the room – smiling goes a long way!
5. Show up early and prepared
This ties in with #1 of the Top 8 Tips for Managing Class Flow – It’s in here twice for a reason!
6. Be mindful of class flow
Be aware of hitting your time stamps (within your margins) as you go through the workout, be mindful of your energy and tempo as you go through the different segments of the class, and keep things moving. Avoid getting off track and distracted with chatter and miscellaneous instruction.
7. Your energy level should match what you want out of the group
If you want intensity, you need to bring intensity. Nobody busted their butt for someone sitting in a chair (I actually lied – a lot of old school weightlifting coaches sit in chairs when their athletes lift. Whatever works for them, but that’s not this).
Your tone, your demeanor, your energy, should all match what you want out of your athletes in that given time. Warmup, workout, skill or play, cooldown, etc. It all changes as you go through the day’s workout, and is more fluid than anything else.
8. Coach Everyone.
Any given class will be full of unique individuals – not just a group of people. They all have different backgrounds, needs (by degree not kind), wants, feelings and preferences. You have to be able to coach someone who has never air squatted before and someone who can squat 400 lbs with perfection at the same time. If you aren’t able to, you need to educate yourself accordingly. You need to be able to teach someone who is brand new how to snatch at the same time as the national level lifter is prepping their bar, and be able to give them actionable advice to improve their chances of success. If you aren’t able to, you need to educate yourself accordingly.
Everyone comes to the gym to be coached – so coach them! Keep things helpful, relevant, and positive.
9. Highlight bright spots
A Bright Spot is intended to get clients to focus on positivity. Often times, we get ourselves stuck in a rut, and feel like there is no way out. We focus on the few negatives in our week rather than the many positives. We have much to be grateful for. By focusing on the positives, we’re able to find more positives. More positives turns into more happy, more happy turns into more motivation, and more motivation turns into more action. More action means more results!
When a client feels like they are closer to their goals, regardless of how close or far away they really are, they take more action towards their goals. This is the whole point behind calling out bright spots – for clients to see others making it happen, to look at themselves and see that they’re making it happen, and spread positivity, build connection, and eventually turn that into action.
In the real world of course, this is known as a compliment. Duh. I put it here though because it is often forgotten, and many coaches and trainers go through sessions like a robot who lives on graph paper and never points out the progress that people are making – remember that your clients don’t always know that they’re making progress! People have their own ways to measure progress that may or may not have any bearing on reality or be relevant to the actual thing they’re comparing to. It’s your job to call that out and put them on a pedestal – make them feel awesome! Do this for each person, and be genuine.
10. Thank them for coming!
People show up for many reasons, but it can never be overlooked that often it can be hard to show up to the gym. Hard days, intimidating workouts, the list goes on and on. It’s hard. But, anytime people show up to participate in what you’re putting out there, thank them for being here. It’s important. It also might be the only time they hear it all day. Plus, we love our people. Show them your appreciation!