Take care of yourself – no one else will do a better job.
For the majority of people on this planet, the world went sideways in 2020. The new normal became a concept and words like pivoting and virtual became popular business words. Even words like lockdown, which in the past would have been used in reference to inmates, has been used for everyday life. 2020 was not a year we saw coming or had any way to prepare for, and this has been the topic of most posts, emails, webinars and blogs. Mental health has now moved up in importance to become the most discussed topic globally.
From missing out on seeing friends and family, to not having holidays, celebrating special occasions or attending significant events like funerals, most group fitness instructors have also been impacted with regards to losing the connection with their members. People that they saw on a regular basis, to provide an experience that included movement, sweat, smiles and a physical release, now were not accessible any more. The other loss was in terms to movement and regular exercise. For a lot of group fitness instructors, teaching classes was their regular exercise. When you think about it, a lot of us were paid to exercise and once that option was no longer there, then exercise also went out the window. The obligation and commitment that ties us into being at a venue to deliver a workout (that we get paid for), provided us with structure to our week. We knew when and how to manage our energy levels to ensure that we would be able to deliver to the best of our ability on the day. This of course went up and down each week depending on how we were feeling, but for the first time in most instructor’s careers, this was taken completely away.
At the start of lockdowns in countries around the world, many instructors went online using various social media platforms and other streaming options. This presented a challenge that most instructors had not been exposed to before. What did they look like online? How to teach to camera with no audience? How to deliver a workout that appeals to an unseen client, who may view for only a few seconds and then scroll on. Instructors realised how much they relied on participants for energy and interaction. Many instructors would stand in front of their live stream waiting to see who would join them, hoping to have an audience that would be keen to participate, often going back and forth from the mobile device to see if there was feedback, praise and views. Challenges with music copyright, finding the right space and dealing with internet issues, soon impacted the number of instructors delivering workouts.
A new crisis emerged for group fitness instructors, which was a complete surprise for many. The surprise was that without the need to show up to a class, regular exercise came to a halt. As we know, exercise can happen anywhere and anytime and is not impacted because we don’t have an audience. Having said that, group fitness instructors struggled to make exercise a priority. This has been a trend that defies extensive knowledge of the benefits of regular movement.
Think of what we used to preach to our clients. We often encouraged our participants to make time for exercise. We advocated that with improved health and wellbeing, allowed us to function at our best in all aspects of life and regular exercise was a vital part of this. Maybe it is easier to preach the benefits when it is something that we are earning our income from. So, when that option is no longer available, are we, as fitness pros, still exercising as often as we know we need to?
If this has happened to you, it is time to shift this momentum that could spiral into lethargy and that could become much more difficult to shift with time. We have to become our own personal advocates for regular movement. Going for a walk every day is not sufficient to maintain the benefits that we used to receive from teaching regular classes. Listen to your inner voice. You know, the one that says exercise and movement on a regular basis is important. Pay attention to how easy it is to slip into the excuse of ‘I will start tomorrow’ and fully appreciate that it is not easy to be motivated to move when the obligations to show up to a class is removed. What advice have you given in the past to your clients? Was it, establish a routine, start small and then scale it? Did you suggest that it didn’t have to be one big workout, but instead, smaller shorter movement sections were as effective? Did you suggest to start with low impact and low intensity and gradually build up? Remember, that regardless of how many classes were taught pre Covid, the body will have lost stamina, endurance, strength and balance. Be kind to your body and fully appreciate the struggle that most clients have when they are starting their fitness journey.
Being accountable is a big part of commitment to anything and this includes exercise. If group fitness classes were what kept you moving in the past, find ways now to have accountability to others. Options include posting on social media when you will be delivering your live social media workouts. Receiving feedback and general enthusiasm for when your class will go live, will provide the motivation to fulfil the commitment. Receiving post workout support and feedback may provide the stimulus to continue pursuing this option.
Zoom has been another option for many instructors, as it is inexpensive and provides the opportunity to connect face to face with participants. Even if it is only a small group of people, the opportunity to provide a class that will benefit individuals is the reason why group fitness instructors do what they do. Stay on after the class and talk to the participants. This can be really fulfilling and help fill the void that is created with not having a stage and a room full of people. Creating relationships with people that may not even be able to attend your class normally, is one of the many advantages of teaching online.
Teaching alongside other instructors online can be a lot of fun too. One concept that was very successful in Melbourne Australia, was to raise money for a mental health charity. A timetable was released, a group on Facebook was created and people were able to access a range of different classes once they had made their donation. This could be an ongoing format or a one-off day where everyone teaches a 40-minute class on the hour. In Melbourne, the group fitness instructors came from all over city to raise money for Beyond Blue on a national day called R U OK. It was hugely successful and created awareness around a highly topical issue.
All of these suggestions are options to keep you, the group fitness instructor, active during a time that can be both mentally and physically challenging. Not only does it maintain physical fitness but also ensures that teaching skills are being used and sharpened in readiness to when the opportunity to go back to teaching live classes occurs. Who knows, it may stay as part of your offerings when you realise that you can extend your reach beyond the limitations of distance and accessibility to fulfil your reason for teaching group fitness. Not only are you helping others, but also yourself.
Great article Marietta. How our fitness arena has changed!
Thank you Lorraine for your feedback.
Thanks, Marietta! Regular exercise during the pandemic has indeed been a challenge for everyone, and that includes those of us who are fitness instructors. Without access to a gym for my personal workout, I have had to resort to using the light (1.5 lb.) weights I have at home, filled water bottles, bands, balls, pillows and body weight exercises like squats and bridges. And of course a daily walk was substituted for my water fitness classes. It’s not the same quality of exercise. A lot of people have gained weight while sheltering at home. Many of my class participants have become sedentary waiting for the pandemic to go away. An argument could be made that fitness instructors are essential workers!
Christine, you show resourcefulness that demonstrates your belief and personal commitment to exercise. You are right, a lot of people have gained weight and lost physical conditioning, which will certainly impact their mental health. Thank you for your comments.