How to Maximize Group Exercise in Your Health Club

In the end your group exercise instructors will provide you with smiling faces and safe creative class ideas that retain your members Photo by Thinkstock

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Group exercise could be considered the backbone of your membership retention if you are utilizing your club properly. Your members receive the most customer service from your personal trainers and group exercise instructors. These staff members have multiple contacts with the customer in the 30 to 90 minutes they are in your club. Sure, your state-of-the-art equipment makes people walk through the door, but it is the personality, education, creativity and happiness of your staff that maintain daily attendance. So how do you maximize your group exercise program?

Staff and Equipment

1. Compete with the competitor. What sets you apart from your competitor? For most clubs, it is the staff and its use of equipment. Hire competitive and creative staff members who have great ideas about how to accessorize the club and, if you are on a budget, how to make a class enjoyable with minimal equipment. In addition to accessorizing, they will have ideas on how to make the most of the equipment. Hire staff who will take people onto the fitness floor and teach them how to have fun on the equipment. Don't be afraid to take those classes outdoors, but you should bring people back into the club for some arm or abdominal work using equipment. Doing so builds members' confidence to use the equipment on their own.

2. Competition among staff. Create a friendly competition among staff by changing your group exercise schedule on a Saturday. For that Saturday, name each class after a piece of equipment. Give instructors who have the most participants a gift certificate. As long as it is friendly and the staff members participating are on board, the members will catch on to this excitement and talk about it outside the club. This could bring members in, and it will give you an idea of which instructors and equipment people enjoy.

3. Education and safety. Group exercise (and personal training) should branch out and improve education for both accessory classes (props) and equipment-based classes (industrialized equipment). We know it is fun to add equipment to a routine. Research is available on some pieces of equipment, but research is continual and can reveal greater truth about a product over time, so you and your staff must continually keep up with the research. People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. In the fitness industry, caring is providing several smiling, jovial faces to accompany flashy accessories and industrial equipment. Once members look beyond that glamour, they will be curious about education and safety tips. At this point, your club must produce answers because this shows you care. Be prepared for this, and you will stay ahead of your competition.

Accessorize and Industrialize

Pay careful attention to the types of classes you offer. Our industry tends to focus on classes that use accessories rather than equipment. Provide both types of classes and education.

Accessories. Name all of the accessories in your club. I bet you listed at least five of the following: Gliding Discs, BOSU, physio balls, resistance bands, Bender Ball, SmartBells, ropes, kettlebells, Body Bar, medicine balls. Stay ahead by having equipment that you believe in and that your staff can back up by educating proper use.

For example, a research review of instability practices found that BOSU exercises are best at activating the ankle, lumbar spine and abdominal muscles. Another research article found that a physio ball squat produces more force on the knee than a traditional squat. This means the BOSU is best for balancing on one foot, superman or abdominal crunch (to name a few), and ball squats could cause a knee injury.

How would you use this information? In the BOSU example, do a superman and crunch but share a different shoulder exercise (resistance band). If the members question this change in routine, your staff should answer, "New research suggests the BOSU is really good for certain exercises, especially core, but not any more effective for something like a shoulder press." I guarantee your members will be impressed that the instructor had logic behind his or her choreographed class.

Several organizations in the industry provide meta-analysis and peer-reviewed research studies that offer your club insight to create a safer class and encourage instructors to use multiple accessories.

Industry equipment. Do you buy or lease your resistance training and cardio machines? Take a moment and ask yourself if you are using your club equipment to its full potential. Do you have equipment-based classes? Would you consider purchasing a better brand if that equipment brought in more money?

Equipment-based classes have two main advantages: You can charge more money because of the upkeep of machinery, and your clients learn how to use cardio equipment in an active and more beneficial way. They will realize they may get better results (impact or non-impact) with proper understanding provided by your staff.

Resources. Your club can take it one step further by providing resources for the staff. Did you know you can find routines for cardio equipment that have scientific evidence to back it up?

Again, check out research on the most effective workouts for different populations. Perhaps you can make these articles available in your club's break room. Consider inviting an education company to your club. The incentive for staff is earning continuing education credits without having to travel far, and sometimes at a discount or no cost.

If people prefer to educate themselves on their own time, they can choose from many online courses. These types of activities increase the camaraderie among staff and energize their creativity.

In the end, your instructors will provide you with smiling faces and safe, creative class ideas that retain your members.


Paulette Kowalski holds a master's degree in exercise science among several other professional fitness certifications. She writes curriculum for World Instructor Training Schools (W.I.T.S.) and serves on its review board. As a seven-year business owner of Aspire 2 Attain, Kowalski enjoys working one-on-one with baby boomers and others. She also likes speaking at health seminars and writing continuing education.

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