The most important step in getting a group fitness program off the ground and sustaining it for years to come, is finding the right instructors. You can come up with a long list of amazing class concepts that no other gym has, but unless you have the right people teaching those classes, your members are going to look elsewhere.
When hiring instructors, the first and most obvious criteria that needs to be satisfied is that they have the proper ACE and AFTA certifications. However, the bigger question often becomes, where does one look for these qualified, talented and unique individuals? Finding them means that you first need to know who they are.
In my mind, there are two distinctly different types of instructors, each with their own set of skills, and both are worth pursuing as a part of any dynamic group fitness program. The first types are the ones that come from an athletic background. In many cases they were top athletes in college or high school — not necessarily professional material, but still elite in their physical abilities, and they have a strong desire to make that a part of their professional life.
The second types are the ones that come from a theatrical background. Dancers and live performers can be incredible group fitness instructors. These theatrical types often are more easily able to transition into teaching fitness classes. It may come more naturally to them as to how to engage an audience and how to incorporate musical cues. They also may be more at ease with outlining the structure of the class so it flows and maintains the right level of excitement throughout.
This is not to say that those former athletes can’t be wonderful instructors. I have a former NFL player right now whose class is blowing the doors off the club and members love it. They may however, just need a little more help bringing out their personalities and outlining the structure of the class.
Often, these athletic types can be found in your own backyard, on the personal training teams. And usually the ones with the bigger personalities, who would make a great group instructor, will stand out. Universities are another great place to recruit these athletic types, along with running programs and triathlete clubs.
As far as the theatrical types go, these people are more easily recruited in larger cities where there are targeted publications that theatrical people look for employment, and multiple dance and performance studios to reach out to.
And let’s also not forget our members! So often your next great group fitness instructor is sitting (and sweating) right there in the front row of a popular class. What’s great about recruiting members is that they are already committed to the brand, they understand what students are looking for in a class and they see firsthand what’s required to teach it.
Once you recruit a potentially great instructor, ensuring they get the proper initiation into your branded program is incredibly important. Our new instructors only substitute and/or co-teach with a seasoned instructor for their first three months. Part of this training is to ensure that members get comfortable with them and that they get comfortable with members, before being handed the keys to their own car. The other part, which is equally important, is that they get exposed to as many group fitness genres as possible. The instructors that are “triple threats,” those that teach dance, flexibility and strength-based classes, become your most valuable assets as you grow your program and add more unique offerings.
After you get a base of talented instructors, keeping them happy, continuing to help them grow and adding new faces to the mix for them to work alongside with, are incredibly important. Once they have multiple classes on the schedule in several categories, they are less likely to be building a fan base at another club. The more you invest in your team, the more loyal they are to you and to your program.
Donna Cyrus is the Senior Vice President of Programming for Crunch Fitness.