Step By Step

A detailed process for developing engaged instructors and trainers. 

It’s no secret that keeping members engaged with various programs, such as group fitness and personal training, leads to improved retention rates. In fact, 88 percent of group exercise members retained their membership compared to 82 percent of gym-only members. The risk of cancelling is also 56 percent higher in gym-only members when compared to group exercisers.

This proves that instructors and trainers play an integral role in the success of your club. “The treadmill does not talk back and say, ‘thank you for coming,’ but when you workout with someone — whether it is in personal training, small group training or group fitness — you get that relationship, and we know that happy relationships last,” said Maureen (Mo) Hagan, the vice president of operations at GoodLife Fitness in Canada.

In order to ensure your trainers and instructors are of the highest caliber, here is a step-by-step process for keeping instructors engaged and motivated to inspire clients.

Step One: Perfect your hiring process.

Save yourself time. Instead of trying to mold someone to fit the culture of your club, refine your hiring process so each and every employee meets your standards. Look for people who are energetic, professional and willing to learn.

“The hiring process, for me, starts with the very first email I receive from the potential hire,” said Allison Westfahl, the personal training director at Pura Vida Fitness & Spa in Denver, Colorado. “I don’t expect to see writing skills worthy of publishing, but I certainly expect to see proper spelling, grammar and a very professional tone. So much of our communication with our clients is through email and text, which means I look for trainers who can express themselves properly in writing.”

If the initial point of contact impresses you, invite the candidate in for an interview. Westfahl suggests starting with a casual conversation — asking questions like why the potential hire applied, what he or she is looking for in a work environment and why he or she thinks they would be a good fit.

“I look for trainers who have a clear vision of where they want to go with their career, how they will continue to learn and be motivated and how they will fit into the team,” explained Westfahl. “If you don’t have an answer to the question, ‘Where would you like to be in your career in five years?,’ then please don’t apply.”

Lastly, make sure every potential hire exudes passion. Hagan explained passion needs to be engrained, as that distinguishes the instructor who just teaches for the personal benefits, such as a free membership, from someone who really wants to change lives.

Step Two: Help new trainers and instructors get acquainted with the club.

Once hired, don’t simply throw the new trainer or instructor to the wolves. Take time to show them the ins and outs of the club. According to Hayley Hollander, the fitness director at Midtown Athletic Club in Bannockburn, Illinois, the first week of employment is the most crucial.

“We want them to experience what Midtown is all about, from taking a tennis class to a Pilates lesson, to experiencing all of the different services and programs we have to offer,” said Hollander. “They will work at the front desk, at the café, in Kid Town and sometimes in the tennis department, so they know how we function as a whole.”

At Pura Vida, new trainers spend about 10 hours a week working at the fitness concierge desk. Westfahl explains this allows the trainer to have exposure to the members without being pushy. It also helps them learn the basics of the scheduling system at the club.

Step Three: Assign classes and clients. 

Now that the trainer or instructor understands how the club functions on a daily basis, start sending members their way and allow them to put their skills to the test. Each new member at Pura Vida Fitness & Spa receives a complimentary hour with a trainer as part of the Pura Vida Experience. “We try to push these toward the newer trainers,” said Westfahl. “Our conversion rate is right around 55 percent, so this is an excellent opportunity for new trainers.”

Keep instructors engaged by scheduling instructors for multiple classes a week. GoodLife Fitness requires instructors to teach a minimum of two classes per week to ensure they are invested in the club and get to know members.

“That is really important because our business is built on relationships and customer service,” added Hagan. “We know that members quit clubs everyday, but they don’t quit their friends and they don’t quit their community, so we want them to feel that. With the help of instructors being around regularly, there is a sense of community in our clubs.”

Finally, Hagan suggests aligning your instructors to programs and classes that best suit their strengths. “If their passion is to work with strength training, then we will fit them into training sessions that help get them into teaching classes, like [Les Mills] BODYPUMP,” she said. “We fit them wherever their strengths and passions lie.”

Step Four: Foster teamwork among staff. 

Just as your members will stay in your club for the community, so will the trainers and instructors. Take steps to foster teamwork and a collaborative environment within your club.  For example, the Pura Vida personal training team is taking a trip to Vail, Colorado, for a three-day retreat.

“Our trainers do an excellent job of welcoming new colleagues and bringing them into the Pura Vida family,” said Westfahl. “They workout together, hangout together on the weekends and, most importantly, they support each other in athletic endeavors. The trainers at Pura Vida truly walk the walk in terms of fitness — triathlons, physique competitions, epic hikes — you name it.”

Step Five: Support Continuing Education.

Today, consumer expectations are higher than ever. Members want instructors and trainers that are credible and possess an extensive amount of knowledge. Therefore it is essential employees have a desire to learn and grow their skills.

“It comes back to that passion to want to become the best, to further your skill set and help participants,” said Hagan. “I have been around the fitness industry for 34 years and today, more than ever, as the profession is maturing in terms of knowledge, the client’s expectation for working with credible instructors and trainers is greater than ever before. They expect people to deliver the services and skill set, so we really support that ongoing learning.”

In order to ensure instructors and trainers stay on top of the latest trends and skills, endorse continuing education. Midtown Athletic Club supports expanded educational opportunities by paying for 66 percent of any education a trainer or instructor receives.

Hagan explained that GoodLife Fitness also makes encouraging continuing education a priority. “We offer a lot of incentives to grow because we want to fuel their passion to better themselves, to grow their career, earn more money and simply have more fun doing what they are passionate about and to change lives.”


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