Creating a Successful Group Exercise Schedule

Wendy Jett earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky in therapeutic recreation. She has been teaching group fitness classes for 19 years and holds various fitness-related certifications. She has served as the corporate group fitness director for Global Fitness Holdings/Gold's Gym since 2000. She previously served as the group fitness director for Shapes Fitness Centers in Lexington, KY, for five years.

Creating a successful and diverse group fitness schedule can be the ultimate challenge for even the most experienced director. Budgets, member needs and wants, instructor skill level/availability and current trends in the industry all need to be taken into consideration. A strong, consistent group fitness program can be the deciding factor for a potential member, who is unsure about making the leap into the club. It can also become the connection that current members need to feel like they are successful, acknowledged and part of a large fitness family. A dynamic group fitness program can spread enthusiasm and energy from the front desk to the locker room. While developing a successful group fitness program may be a challenge, it can happen in any health club with a little creativity mixed with common sense, flexibility and organization. Here are seven steps to help guide you.

1. Determine your budget
Group fitness directors must have a designated budget for instructor salaries, equipment, continuing education and in- house marketing to be successful. In regards to class schedule development, you must know the numbers: how many days does my payroll cover, what are instructors being paid, how many classes can I put on the schedule for that budget amount and what days actually fall within my pay period? Glance over past check-in/participation numbers to see just what the busiest days in the club are.

2. Survey your members
Many times the most creative ideas will come from the members. They are also the perfect people to ask just what times/days fit their busy lives. Don’t forget to survey those members who don’t presently attend class. Find out why they don’t participate in the classes, and use that information to your advantage to draw them in.

3. Create a mock schedule
After reviewing member surveys, check-ins and previous class participation numbers, researching local competitor’s offerings and reading professional journals for new trends, create a template for your class schedule. Develop this schedule with your members’ needs and wants in mind. Take the following points into consideration as you fill your slots with classes.( Be sure to look over your check- in/participation numbers as regions vary in the following information.)

Busiest Days: Monday, Tuesday and Saturday morning
Slowest Days: Thursday and Friday
Busiest months: January to April
Slowest Months: June to September, Nov. 15-Dec. 31
Develop a “typical member” profile: find out just who your members are and program to meet their needs. Is child care an issue? What age are the members? What is their education level?
Use your schedule time wisely. Combine cardio and resistance classes to get the most out of the timeframe. A resistance class sandwiched between two cardio classes will encourage members to stick around for the next class. Transitioning between classes an issue? Try a designated 15-minute abdominal segment between classes so members can enter and leave the studio efficiently.

4. Place your instructors
After you have your mock class schedule outlined, begin placing your instructors into those timeslots. Do this prior to speaking with them. When placing instructors, keep in mind the following:

Place strong instructors toward the end of the week or in time slots that are typically slower. Why? This gives the members a reason to visit the club on a Thursday or Friday. A dynamic instructor placed toward the end of the week, in a typically slow time frame, will help bring your overall participation up. (Unfortunately many new instructors are placed in slow time frames at the end of the week in a class format that targets a small group and then are criticized because participation numbers are low.)

Do not allow one instructor to dominate a timeframe/class style. Offering a diverse schedule with a diverse staff will encourage your members to be more accepting of substitutes and allow them to experience a cross-training effect in the same style workout.

Set up the instructor to be successful. Many times instructors are placed into a class simply because there is no one else who can teach at that time. Be sure the instructor you are placing in a class can walk away from each class feeling successful.

5. Contact your instructors
Create an open, positive dialogue with your instructors. Everyone has an opinion and you may find wonderful creative ideas when discussing your plans. But remember your obligation is to the member first, in providing them with the best group fitness program possible. Many instructors have a difficult time looking past themselves and into the bigger picture. Be persistent. Follow your gut feeling. If you’ve done your homework, you do know the best thing to do.

6. Plug them in and print it up
Plug those instructor names into your schedule. Print it up and distribute to your members. If you are changing an existing class schedule, opt for 10 days advance notice of changes. Any longer and you may open yourself up for a barrage of comment, complaints and suggestions regarding the changes. Any less and the members may not realize a change is underway.

7. Watch your hard work pay off and get ready to make adjustments
Allow six to eight weeks for the schedule to establish itself. Review each class, the instructor and the participation numbers. Make adjustments accordingly.

Successful group fitness programs are always a work in progress. Members’ needs and wants vary, instructor availability changes and budgets go up and down. But the one consistency throughout can be the director’s vision to stay at the front of the pack and point everyone in the right direction. It may be the ultimate challenge, but there’s nothing better than seeing class after class packed with happy members.