Articles for Employers, People

Successfully Managing Group Exercise Teams


This article is a guest post from Marietta Mehanni. Marietta is an international presenter with more than 20 years Group Exercise experience under her belt. Marietta has also managed the Group Exercise programs for a number of Melbourne fitness facilities.

Loyalty and commitment to your club are great assets to have among your team of instructors, but these qualities do not develop without the encouragement and support of the aerobic coordinator.

By attaining the respect and loyalty of your instructors you are not only guaranteeing that staff will stay with your club over the long term, but also that they will be more committed to doing a good job. Here are some of the strategies that I have found successful for building this loyalty.

Create a good first impression with the instructor

Before a new group exercise leader is due to start teaching at your club, make an appointment to sit down with them to outline the philosophy and culture of your club, as well as your values and what you expect of them. Take them on a tour of the facility, introduce them to other staff and members who are in the gym at the time, and show them how the sound system and equipment works. It is common practice for instructors to be expected to simply rock up and teach their first class without any kind of induction, but this does little to encourage loyalty and it can even be intimidating, especially if the sound system is on the blink or they run into a problem they don’t know how to fix.

Be on a constant look out for good instructors

Instead of waiting for instructors to contact you, it pays to constantly have your feelers out looking for good instructors. If you hear people talking about a good instructor, for example, don’t hesitate to ask for their contact details. Attend courses or develop relationships with course providers to find out who are the most promising students. The major advantage with choosing instructors straight out of training is that you can often more easily instil professional values in them, as they haven’t had the chance to develop bad habits.

Provide rewards for good performance

Give instructors a job description that outlines exactly what you expect of them and make it clear that good performance will be rewarded. One option is to grade your instructors’ pay, starting off with a base rate for all instructors and reviewing this every 12 months in line with performance standards. Performance standards could include factors like…

  • Not pulling out of classes;
  • Successfully finding subs;
  • Increasing class numbers;
  • Involvement in continuing education;
  • Attending staff meetings;
  • Being involved in master classes; and
  • Showing initiative.

If you are unable to implement this kind of pay system there are other ways to provide incentive, such as paying for instructors to attend conventions, or giving them the opportunity to teach a class they have always wanted to teach.

Verbal appraisals are a great way to find out what makes your instructors want to perform better and be part of a team. These appraisals can be held once a year and you will need to set aside 30 minutes to an hour to sit down individually with each instructor. The verbal appraisal can include questions like… 

  • What have been your successes and achievements over the last 12 months?
  • What have been the constraints on your performance (e.g., family life, shift work etc)?
  • What are the areas you would like to focus on over the next 12 months and what would you like to improve on?

Ask for specific answers so that you can work with the instructor to come up with achievable goals. Follow this up by posing the question: ‘If you could have anything you wanted as far as training is concerned, what would you ask for?’ It’s a great way to get to know your instructors – I’m often surprised by what instructors ask for, such as wanting to hold a workshop for staff, or starting a kids program.

Hold staff training sessions

When the Les Mills programs were first launched, many centres held training sessions after each quarterly workshop, but this practice has become less common over time. We have continued the tradition because staff enjoy the opportunity to get together to practice the routine and have a good workout. The session lasts for an hour, usually on a Friday night and staff need a good excuse not to attend. During the training session we discuss what we’ll do to launch the new program to the club’s members – this is where it is important for instructors to be allowed to follow through on their ideas.

Aerobic masterclasses, where a number of instructors teach a class together, has proved a popular concept because instructors really enjoy the opportunity to connect with each other and have a look at what other instructors are teaching. Only the instructor who is rostered on to teach the class receives payment and the others are volunteers, so we don’t expect them to practice the class routine ahead of time – it’s just an opportunity for them to have some fun with the participants. Often we’ll supply nibbles and drinks after the class for members and instructors, although it’s often the instructors who end up staying the longest.

You may doubt whether your group exercise leaders will turn up to training sessions and masterclasses if they are not being paid, but if you have created a culture of support and appreciation, instructors will welcome the feeling of belonging that comes from being part of a team.

Free in-house training workshops are another good option as most clubs have a wealth of knowledge within their staff base. It is rarely acknowledged that instructors have talents and skills that extend beyond teaching classes – and if they work in a second job like personal training, nursing, physiotherapy or sales, chances are they have a lot of knowledge that could be of great interest to other group exercise leaders. We combine our in-house training workshops with staff meetings, and I have found that most instructors are honoured to be asked to give a 10 minute talk to other staff members. As the aerobic coordinator I also provide workshops for staff, ranging from short educational lectures to masterclasses.

The bottom line is that building loyalty and commitment among staff does take some work, but the rewards are well worth the effort. Look after your staff and they will look after your members.

If you’d like to talk further with Marietta about any of the points raised, she can be contacted via her website,


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