Teaching group fitness classes can be physically demanding on the body, especially if an instructor is teaching a high volume of classes weekly. Instructors need to keep their own physical self-care in mind while providing class participants with a high-quality, safe, and effective workout. Most group exercise instructors are familiar with the recommendation to minimize the physical impact of teaching frequently.
However, I believe this topic needs to be readdressed and applied to the virtual group exercise setting. The question becomes, can we uphold the same level of self-care as the instructor while teaching on Zoom, Instagram Live, or other online platforms? I believe this question is essential to consider as more and more instructors are teaching virtually.
Let's explore 7 steps you can take to assure you are taking care of yourself while you teach your group classes.
7 Steps Towards Self-Care While Teaching Group Fitness:
1. Utilize The Webcam Effectively
If you are using a platform where webcams are used, encourage students to turn their webcam videos on (if they are comfortable), and place their devices in a location where you can see their movement if possible. Start to share this disclaimer as part of a regular class welcome and introduction. Explain to students that having the webcam turned on can help you as the instructor help them do the exercises safely and effectively.
This can save you a lot of effort and energy when teaching your amazing classes!
2. Give Great Feedback to All Group Fitness Participants
Take a few moments throughout the class to observe class participants that DO have their webcams turned on so that you can give feedback. Tell students what you are doing and when so that class participants know why you are stopping what you are doing to look at the screen. Consider the example shown here: “Great job. I am going to take a look at the screen now and watch the next set. If you don’t have your camera turned on, and would like some feedback, feel free to turn your camera on”. Depending on the rapport with the class participants, it might motivate and encourage more participants to keep their cameras turned on more regularly.
3. Make Plenty of Time for Water Breaks
Incorporate water breaks throughout the class. This is important to do regardless of virtual vs. in-person teaching since hydration during exercise is essential. Just like you would do this while in –person, make sure to incorporate these breaks throughout your virtual classes.
The added benefit being that everyone is hydrated and well-rested throughout the session.
4. Verbally Cue Participants and Physically Demonstrate Group Exercise Movements
Verbally cue and /or quickly demonstrate higher intensity or challenging option(s), but choose to perform the lower-intensity or moderate option instead throughout the duration of the set or movement timeframe. This strategy reduces the amount of physical demand for the instructor. It also allows beginner students to follow along more easily and not feel like they have to do the harder variation. Often, class participants want to always do what the instructor does.
5. Structure Your Schedule Around Rest Days, Instruction, and Your Personal Workouts
Structure your workouts and rest days around the combination of both your workouts and class instruction. Consider the best time for you to take a rest day or two after looking holistically at all of the physical movement being done throughout an entire week. Try to space out the higher intensity workouts and work-related classes as best you can to reduce the physical demand.
6. Vary The Types of Classes You Teach Throughout the Week
If possible, incorporate more variety in the class formats you teach throughout the week, and/or the exercises or movements chosen in your similar weekly classes. If you find that you are doing the same exercises, change up what you are doing and how you are doing them so that the movement patterns involve less repetition. Remember, you can do too much of a good thing, even with exercise. One way to approach this is to split the muscle groups or movement patterns that you are teaching in sculpting and strength-based formats.
7. Take Regular Time Off of Instructing
Take time off from exercising or teaching (if possible), if you start noticing overtraining symptoms like muscular fatigue, and/or pain or discomfort from repetitive movement. The advice to not push through the pain and take breaks that we provide to class participants is the same advice we need to take ourselves as the instructor.
Reduce Physical Teaching Demands!
During in-person classes, skillful group exercise instructors mindfully pay attention to the entire group and provide real-time feedback to participants while maintaining high motivation and energy. For some formats, effective instructors demonstrate and/or cue a new movement or exercise, walk around the room to ensure safety and proper form, and help those participants who need it without skipping a beat.
For some group exercise formats (e.g., Zumba, spin, other choreographed class formats, etc.), there might be less opportunity to walk around the room and/or not perform the movements full out with the class. However, it is still highly recommended to take measures to reduce one's physical demands from teaching regardless of the class format.
Some Limitations of Group Fitness
One issue that presents itself with virtual platforms like Zoom is that not all students have their videos turned on. This changes the group exercise setting since instructors might be unable to see class participants, correct form, or provide real-time feedback in the same way as an in-person class. This decrease in interactive class engagement can influence the instructor feeling the need to fill that absence with showing more, and/or doing more movement full-out. This is not the same experience while teaching virtually. More specifically, instructors are doing more of the physical movements of class with the class participants.
With virtual offerings, there is not the same opportunity to help all students virtually or cue the class while walking around the classroom, which can put more physical strain on the instructor. This observation has helped me define and incorporate specific self-care strategies to better manage the increased physical demand of virtual instruction.
Virtual instruction is new territory for many group exercise instructors. It is essential to be mindful of how best to incorporate self-care strategies while upholding high-quality instruction. Self-care is essential as virtual teaching becomes a new norm for the fitness field.