Group Fitness Teaching Tips During our Trying Times

Posted by AFAA


a class of group fitness participants posing


Group fitness is surviving and even thriving through these trying times. Participants have found various personal reasons to keep attending classes or attend for the first time, whether virtually or in person.

Some of the common reasons are likely in line with needing connection, needing to sweat, feel fit, and needing some form of self-care. Most participants need to step away from their families, responsibilities, and fears to take time for themselves. As fitness instructors, we must provide a safe refuge, a safe workout place to sweat, and connect for the participants.

There are many jokes about how 2020 has been the longest decade ever.

There is no doubt that this year will be one none of us ever forget for numerous reasons. Many generations, especially the younger ones, have never experienced trials or uncertainty quite like this before. Let’s play on this idea of notoriety to help us remember how to create a safe, sweaty connected environment.

Group Fitness and G.O.A.T.

The G.O.A.T. is an acronym for the 'greatest of all time.' It is a reference usually used to describe notable athletes and activists. In fitness, the instructor can bring a G.O.A.T. mindset into class. That is if we change the acronym a little bit.


  • Greet
  • Orient
  • All the things
  • Teach

Here is a breakdown of what each means for your classes.


Greet everyone with energy and enthusiasm. Bring in and engage the community from the first second they enter the class. Greetings will look differently virtually than they do in a gym. In both environments, it is essential to help everyone feel connected.

Virtually- Say hello to each participant using their name and make sure that it is the name they entered on their device. Keep in mind they could be using a family computer set up for a child’s virtual school or a partner’s work. So confirm who you're speaking to. Create personal connections with each participant and encourage connection between the participants as well. A great way to do this is by having each person say one word or phrase about how they are feeling today, what they are excited about for the workout, or even something as simple as their favorite podcast right now. The goal is to get people connected and not feeling like they are alone in their living room.

In-Person- Say hello teach each participant from a safe distance. Even throw in an air high five or even an air chest bump if you're feeling particularly excited. Use people’s names as you welcome them. Be authentic with your connections. Comment on anything from talking about their families and day-to-day to noticing the shoes they are wearing. Tell participants you are glad they made the sacrifice to come to class today, and you will do your best to give them a sweaty workout.


Orient the participants to the virtual program, or the room changes.

Virtually- Depending on which virtual formant you use, orient the class to all the tricks you've learned from leading online classes. Some participants may not be technically savvy, so providing tips will go a long way to making them feel comfortable. Some common tips are: Advising them where to place their camera so you can cue form for them. Guide them through setting their screen so they can best see the instructor as an example. Provide them tips on the best way to listen to the cues or music for the class. It is also a good idea to go over how to ask questions or get the instructor’s attention.

In-Person- Orientation in person looks differently during current times compared to the past. Before it was, "this is the room, this is the front, let's go!" Where do you stand, where does the teacher stand, do I wear a mask. I'm nervous." So with orientation, answer those fears, make them feel safe. Please don't assume that they will know what to do. It helps to have floor markers or guidelines, so everyone stays distanced based upon your community standards.

Inform students where the instructor will stand, whether you will face them or face away. Give them guidelines on whether they should wear a mask. Make sure to orient participants to set things in the environment that should not be changed, like whether the doors need to stay open if fans can be turned on. For information on these, consult your gym manager or your local health department.

All The Things

 Inform the class about all the essentials, including what equipment will be used in the class, where to get it, cleanliness, and if there is a time change.

Virtually- Inform participants of all things they must do before class in an email or social media post. Because they will have to use their own equipment in their home, you will want them to feel prepared. Let them know in advance how much space you will be taking up during the class. Please give them a list of equipment to use and some DIY options. Not everyone has weights, bands, and body bars sitting around their home. If you do not have the availability to communicate beforehand, limit the equipment you use or offer a few extra minutes before getting stated for participants to grab equipment.

In-Person- Start by explaining what equipment they will use in class. Tell them if it is already clean or if they need to sanitize before working out. If sanitization needs to happen, tell everyone where they can find the products to clean the equipment they will use. Inform how the classes may be different than they have been in the past. Some ideas here would be to shorten the class times to allow for that extra cleaning time.

Have the participants wait outside the doors in a safe spaced line and waiting for the previous class to exit. If you have two doors, use one as an entrance and another as an exit. While you have their attention, it's a great idea to tell them what to do after the class. Let them know if they should put the dirty equipment somewhere for staff to clean or if they are responsible for sanitizing what they used.

Teach- Teach the best class, connect and inspire, despite all the restrictions.

Virtually and In Person-Teaching the actual content finally has very few distinctions between virtual and in person. This is why the virtual classes are just as popular as the in-person classes during this time. Here are two tips to help teach and promote safety and connection while participants sweat.

First, go with the flow. Through this pandemic, it's not uncommon for a class to be interrupted by someone coming into sanitizing equipment. Your internet or participants may freeze in an awkward place. People may be coming in late, joining the class late, there’s a lack of child care so that kids may be underfoot, or participants may be late or leave early to care for their children.

The class will not be seamless. That is the only guarantee. Set up to know there will be interruptions and expect them. When you expect something to happen, and it happens, frustration and distraction won't be there. The participants will feel safe and understanding if you give the space for that.

There are new policies and requirements and changes every day based upon National guidelines, State guidelines, all the way to community guidelines. Classes are not the place for an instructor to state their opinions of what is going on. This class is the place to sweat and forget. Follow the rules, but don't comment on the rules. Take the stand to respect and promote safety.

Change up your Choreography. In the past, we love to move forward and back, then shake side to side. In-person and virtually, this can make participants feel unsafe. In the home, there may not be a lot of space to do the big travels. In the gym, the instructor may move participants into each other's safety bubbles. Change the choreography, keep the participants in a smaller space. Instead of moving forward, change directions. Instead of going to the side, take the move straight up. Be creative, be resourceful.

Leave with Hope

Once you’ve shown you’re the G.O.A.T. with teaching, leave participants with hope. Don't comment on all the things going wrong on all the world's changes and frustrations.

Comment on all the things going right. The participants showed up. They are healthy enough for exercise. Classes are still going on and will keep going on. We will continue to find a way to sweat, connect, and self-care.

Topics: Group Fitness

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