3 Tips for Motivating Small Group Fitness Classes

Whether it be the beauty of the outdoors or the craziness of the holiday season, inevitably there will be times when group fitness class attendance starts to dwindle. When this happens instructors start to question their skills or fear management cutting classes – because class sizes have always been the hallmark of a good class. But you know what – size DOESN’T MATTER! You can be an amazing instructor and inspire lives regardless of how many are in the room. So, stop getting bummed by those who aren’t there, and become INSPIRED by those who do show up! 


We’ve all been there. You create this awesome class plan, spend time memorizing it, show up early to set up for class, and even download some new tunes to get the class really pumped. Minutes before class starts the gym is dead and you notice that your regulars aren’t there. Negative thoughts start swarming through your mind – is it you? Maybe your last class was too hard or too easy. Maybe you should have been more encouraging throughout the class. You start wondering if your class is going to be cut from the schedule and what you can do to stop it from happening.

Sound familiar?

Like or not we’ve all been there as group fitness instructors. We’ve built up the idea that larger classes equate to greater levels of success as an instructor. And thus we get bummed when the class is smaller than we anticipate. But you know what??? There is more to a good class than a lot of people. Yup, you heard that right. Class size is not all that makes for a good class. And while many coordinators and studio managers may disagree, some of the best classes may actually happen when the numbers are smaller.

So next time you teach a class that has fewer people than you originally had anticipated, get excited for those who are there and aim to….

  1. Be a Coach
  2. Create a Community
  3. Try New Things

1. Be a Coach

When my classes are low I shift my mindset and think about being a personal trainer and coach. I focus on the needs of the people in the room and stop thinking about all those who aren’t there. Because the reality is that most personal trainers only work with 1-4 people at a time, and everyone gets amazing workouts with only a few people surrounding them. So instead of thinking that a packed room is what builds energy and gets people to push harder, consider what good coaches do to get people to achieve their best.

Use smaller classes as an opportunity to learn new methods of coaching and be willing to adapt to your classes. Instead of doing everything with members, get off the stage and help them fix their form and technique. Because sometimes your best self happens when you step off the stage and out into the room to push a few members to new limits.

Don’t forget the value of showing variations that will allow everyone to be successful. Instead of assuming anything about those who attended, get out and give them the options that are best for them on that specific day. 

2. Create a Community

Ever wonder why CrossFit exploded in popularity – it’s not because the workouts are earth shattering or new – it’s because they figured out how to build a community (and a bit of a cult following) around the joint workout experience.

We all want to build community in our group fitness classes, and sometimes we feel it has to be done with large numbers. But in many cases the smaller classes might allow those who typically hide in the back to come closer to the front. It may be just the push that person needs to grow and flourish in your class. 

A smaller class can also help people feel more comfortable talking to each other and joking during class. Group fitness should be fun, and if conversation is what the people need, don’t be afraid to let people talk during class (obviously not sacrificing the workout for too many chatty-Cathy’s!). I often will joke with those who are there and suggest they tell their friends about the fun they missed in class that day. By doing this I’m building a community and getting them to inspire others to come to class.

You can also use this opportunity to learn people’s names, remember a small fact, and encourage them to follow you on social media. You could then create social media groups and remind members about class schedules and give previews of what class will be.

One of My Favorite Classes…A Story

“One of the best classes I’ve ever taught was a Tuesday evening bootcamp class that I took over for an instructor when numbers where low. The class averaged 2-3 people when I took it over. I was bummed at first, but what I soon found out was those few people who were showing up were AWESOME! I got to know each of them on a personal level and was able to create workouts that were super unique to their needs. 

Shortly after taking over the class, we all started to connect on Facebook and discuss class. Soon after I started to see them tag friends and encourage others to come to the class because we were a small family. By the time I left there were 6-8 regulars in that class. By no means was it big, but it was a family. I knew their life stories, and to this day I am still friends with many of them.

I could have been discouraged by the numbers, but instead I taught it like a small group training session and built a community of dedicated members. This was more valuable to me than having a class of 40 who didn’t know anything about each other.”

 This is from my last day teaching this group. 

3. Try New Things

A small class can be a great opportunity for you to try something you’ve been thinking about, but didn’t want to throw out to a large group. You can experiment with a piece of equipment you may not have enough of for a large group; or you can simply push the regular choreography to new limits.

I actually developed the Barre Connect format by experimenting in one of my smaller barre classes. I played and tried new things and got individualized feedback in a way that allowed me to develop a barre class that became a specialty certification for NETA.

Share Your Methods of Motivation

By keeping these tips in mind I am focused on my participants and not on me — which takes me back to my WHY as a group fit pro.  

How do you motivate small classes? How do you react when you expect a big class only to find out a few people showed up? Remember even when we think no-one is watching there always is. So be excited for anyone who shows up and grateful that we get to go to work in sweatpants and inspire people to move their bodies.


Summer N. Sides, M.S.

Founder, GXunited

Summer Sides (MS, CSCS, RYT-200) is a self-proclaimed exercise science geek. She loves exploring human movement and finding ways to help people stand taller, move easier, and perform better. Her training methodology includes a mixture of movement pattern training, yoga philosophies, Pilates technique, and aerobic endurance training.

Her fitness career began almost 20 years ago and has provided her with some great opportunities to train athletes, create certifications and CEC courses, and teach group exercise classes. Most recently she worked as a full time Lecturer of Exercise Science at Metropolitan State University of Denver and is the owner of GXunited.

Summer loves learning and has furthered her career by obtaining an MS in Kinesiology & BS in Exercise Science. She is an NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist, 200-hr Registered Yoga Teacher, ACE Certified Group Exercise Instructor, Balance Body Pilates Reformer Coach, RRCA Certified Running Coach, and holds many specialty certifications.

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MS: Kinesiology
BS: Exercise & Sports Science
BA: Dance

NSCA: Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS)
ACSM: Certified Exercise Physiologist (EP-C)
Yoga Alliance: 200-hr RYT
ACE: Group Fitness Instructor
Balanced Body: Reformer Level 1 Coach
Schwinn: Indoor Cycle Instructor
RRCA: Running Coach

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3 Tips for Motivating Small Group Fitness Classes

by Summer N. Sides, M.S. Time to Read: 5 min
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