How to Be a Coach in Your Group Fitness Class

Three tips from Leslee Bender on how to transition from being a performer to being a coach in your group exercise classes.
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In a recent social media post, I offered a reminder to fitness professionals that we should be coaching and not performing. I loved the feedback, comments and questions. The post’s interactions has inspired me to share my own story, as well as more of what I have learned from teaching for over two decades. Also, I want to share with you three tips on how to be a coach in your group fitness class and not a performer.

I Was a Performer, Too

When I first began teaching aerobics decades ago, I always faced the mirror with my back to the class. Of course, I wasn’t really watching my students but rather how well I was moving and looking. Inevitably, I learned a VALUABLE lesson when a student fell off the step and really hurt herself. I was too busy getting my own workout accomplished than notice my students were struggling with a combination. My ego was in the way, as I was bring a performer more than a coach.

Now, I rarely face away from my class; I realize that I have the job of helping my students improve their skills. It is never MY workout. In any class, whether step or yoga, it is the instructor’s obligation to make sure the students are moving within his or her ability and safely. If we are staring at ourselves in the mirror or lying on the floor performing, we cannot see bad alignment. And we cannot correct what we cannot see.

It took me a long time to become a coach and not a performer. And this issue isn’t just my problem. Our industry began with performance driven classes and many instructors hold tight to their habits of making the class their workout. As an industry, we should realize that we are a service industry; we are here to serve our class participants and clients. While we instruct fitness classes for others’ workouts, we shouldn’t be instructing our own personal workout at that time.

The yoga studio I attend has some of the finest teachers I have ever experienced. The instructors demonstrate a movement once or twice and then move to verbal and tactile cueing. The instructors’ mission is to ensure that everyone executes the postures correctly and to their ability. As a student, I appreciate that my instructors are watching me, my movements, and my form instead of their own; I trust that they are there to correct me, improve my skills, help me get stronger and keep my body safe.

How to Be a Coach in Your Group Fitness Class

Here are three of my recommendations to help you master the task of being a coach not a performer.

  1. Practice, practice, practice, because this aspect of teaching does not come overnight.
  2. Take a class like toastmaster so you can learn how to address an audience. It helped me tremendously in my speaking to audiences!
  3. Practice your form in front of a mirror to ensure that you will not need to check your own form in the mirror when you turn your back to it. While practicing your form, also practice using right/left in reverse so that you can communicate those directions to your class.

How to Be a Coach in Your Group Fitness Class 1

Leslee Bender

Leslee Bender

Leslee Bender has been in the fitness industry for over 25 years. She is the creator of the Bender Ball method of training and co-creator of Barre Above. Leslee has filmed over 25 DVD’s, has been on national TV as a fitness expert, and presents internationally at several educational conferences. Leslee is a trainer to professional athletes in Orlando, Florida, where she is also the fitness adviser of Club True Barre. Leslee is the co-creator and education director for True Bar Fitness Systems. Leslee’s field of expertise is Functional movement analysis with an emphasis on flexibility. Leslee has had the experience in working in a Cadaver lab of which gives an understanding of the complexity of fascia. Leslee also works to help trainers learn the purpose of exercise and why they are performing movements and not simply memorizing them. She believes that the fitness industry need to have higher standards of education, requiring trainers to truly understand human movement, as it applies to science.

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