It is 5:00 a.m. It is cold and dark outside. Yet, the members at some health clubs pull themselves from the comfort of their bed to make it to a 5:30 a.m. group exercise class. The members at other health clubs just pull the covers over their heads and go back to sleep. Besides a great workout, what motivates one group to get out of bed while the other group sleeps in?
What happens inside the group ex studio can make or break their commitment, and that often is the responsibility of the instructor. An instructor's smile welcoming each person entering this communal sweat session more fun, social and comforting. If members don't feel the love, they are less loyal and committed. If you have not been able to establish a loyal core group of group ex participants or if you are noticing decreasing attendance in your group exercise classes, it may be time to step back and take a look at the heart of the program.
Group fitness can be a great tool in the retention effort. Strategies put in place can move members from feeling like just another participant to making connections and belonging. Here are five things you should ensure your group exercise instructors are doing that will help with retention.
1. You had me at "Hello." Start at the beginning of the relationship. A great core purpose and value statement can be the barometer you measure with. New instructor hires must demonstrate a natural understanding and agreement of expectations. If a potential instructor loves to teach because it's a great way for them to get their workout in, they probably aren't interested in creating relationships with the members. Existing instructors need to be on board and leave egos at the door. If they don't possess a "what can I do for you" mindset, they may struggle with recognizing opportunities to connect with members in an authentic way.
2. Crazy in love. Now that you have a solid base, you can start to build on it. Members can't fall in love with the program unless the instructors are in love with it. Your group fitness team needs to demonstrate mutual respect and support for all instructors and formats. Members love to see instructors as participants in classes; it's a valued endorsement of the program. Instructors who hold members hostage to only their classes are setting them up to fall short from rooting deeper into the program. Spreading the love will increase the value of the club as a whole.
3. Keep it spicy. Variety is the spice of life. A well thought out offering will show you are not focused on pleasing one demographic, but that you are welcoming to all. Group fitness can sometimes feel like a club within a club. Encouraging group participants to step out of their routine can be tricky. They like what they like. Finding something new to mix in can renew their excitement for the program and avoid cliques from forming.
4. It's not you; it's me. If a member is losing interest and thinking about ending the relationship, instructors need to recognize the signs and respond. Taking time to actively listen to members will show they are a valued part of the group. Building a longer transition time between classes gives instructors opportunity to invite members to talk without feeling rushed. Quick transitions often push members out of the studio to make room for the next class, giving the message it is all about the numbers. Instructors who offer their time before and after class are often those who hear a member's discontent and can troubleshoot issues before the cancellation decision is final.
5. Rekindle the flame. Taking those important to us for granted is easy to do. Remind instructors to celebrate their participants and to wear their sneakers once and a while. Feeling comfortable is good, but being lax is not. Instructors should treat each class like it is their first. Have the room ready, greet the members, welcome new members, teach to the middle of the skill level and show modifications for others. Remind instructors not to forget about the back row when making eye contact. Before members leave the studio, thank them for coming, be open and available to talk, and if a new member attended, take time to introduce and connect them to another member. These simple niceties can stretch far when a member is not feeling appreciated.
Group fitness holds one of the opportunities we have to move members from participating to belonging. Start with a team who shares the same purpose and goals. Offer a well thought out and well-rounded schedule of classes. Give instructors the tools they need to create a caring, welcoming and supportive community.
Members who are connected to a group will challenge each other and praise accomplishments that are big and small. Making the trip on a cold and dark morning will become something they look forward to because they know they will find more than just another workout waiting for them.
Rachel O’Dwyer is the group fitness director at Lake Country Racquet and Fitness Club in Hartland, Wisconsin. Her 24-year journey in the fitness field has given her the opportunity to work in corporate wellness as well as lead several group fitness programs. O’Dwyer believes to be successful in a dynamic industry, one must recognize that the rewards outweigh the challenges.You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.