How to please group fitness participants

Can you make everyone happy?

Recently I received an email from an aqua instructor asking ‘Are you able to share ideas with me on how I can keep everyone happy in a class? The participants are of different ages, have different abilities and fitness levels and injuries and I am finding it a little hard to keep everyone happy’.

My response was that I don’t know how to make everyone happy. If I surveyed my clients, I am sure that most would have feedback about how the class could be better, and it would all conflict. Some would like it harder, some would like it easier, some would like more suspension, others would like none at all. I don’t know of any instructor that has successfully kept everyone happy. It is impossible to try to suit the needs of each individual in a group setting.

Coincidently, this instructor had asked for notes for my The Chocolate Box DVD and found her answer in the summary that I had written so many years ago.

Develop an acceptance of change

See if you can make your aqua time slot a ‘Chocolate Box’ full of favourite and sweet surprises. Not everyone will love every chocolate, but will be happy to eat them anyway. Try different class concepts regularly, so that your loyal cliental do not develop a mind set of what should be delivered each week. Make them familiar with trying new ideas, so that they develop an acceptance of change.

There it was… the answer that had alluded me in that moment, but had wisdom to know a few years ago. The initial concept of The Chocolate Box had come from being inspired by the movie Forest Gump and in a scene, Forest says to a lady sitting on the same park bench, ‘My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’ That quote has stayed with me throughout my career and personal life. The exciting thing about chocolate boxes, is that you don’t know what to expect as you choose one. Sometimes that they amazing, other times they are ok, but you are happy to eat them anyway. I figured that if I could focus on this with my classes, I could detach myself from any personal interpretations from feedback offered by well-meaning members. Having gone down that rabbit hole a few times, fulfilling individual expectations is impossible. You make a change that they have requested, to then get more feedback that it wasn’t what they wanted. Back and forth until you feel that you are losing your mind and motivation to teach the class.

Now moving forward, I am really happy that this quote was brought to my attention and my focus will again shift to appreciating each ‘chocolate surprise’ that my day brings.

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What’s your group fitness why?

Burn out. Such a dirty word and most of us would never want to experience this. Unfortunately it happens to a lot of us and is a major contribution factor to the high instructor attrition rate over the past few years. There are several reasons, but usually it starts with one issue and then we compound it with others, slowly building the case for why teaching group exercise is all too much. Below I have listed the main reasons why most instructors stop teaching and my own personal solutions and justifications that might help you out the burn-out-rut, or at least, help you make a rational decision about staying or leaving.


For as long as I can remember, there has been an ongoing joke about not teaching for the money! It is fairly common knowledge that the group fitness pay rate is varied, and with mounting costs for instructors, can appear inadequate if not completely under paid. It is true that for the time I have spent teaching in the fitness industry, my pay rate per class has not increased that much, but (and this is a big but) it is a question of being happy. This is how I rationalise my class income. Firstly, no one ever said that it was supposed to be enough to live off. How many classes can one person teach every day on an ongoing basis? Well, this is a good question as it also begs another question… how many classes are appropriate for an individual to actually deliver or how many hours of exercise is appropriate for longevity? The fact is that for most people, two classes, or perhaps three is the maximum (depending on intensity) per day as an appropriate amount of stress on the body. So, what would the rate be for 3 hours work? $40, $50, $150? From a group exercise coordinator’s point of view, it comes down to economics. If you have employees, then there is also work cover and superannuation that also needs to be paid for. (more…)

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Do you see poor health or wellness?

Brisbane Gymsticks

Subheading for Yoast

In most group exercise workshops I deliver for both land and water, a familiar question is asked. Initially, when I was first asked about how to deal with people with varying health issues in my classes, I would systematically respond to each health issue. The usual response was to make sure that the individual with the health concern, follows the recommendations of their health care provider and then provide them with modifications during the workout. In fact, when I reflect over the years of those responses, there were many modifications – for heart issues, joint pain, postural challenges, various different forms of cancers and other debilitating diseases. This was particularly evident in water based workshops, as often there are more people with health related issues drawn to exercising in water.

Away from the workshops, I approached my classes very differently and only recently realised this. There was an incongruence between my responses in workshops and what I actually did in my own classes! The penny finally dropped.


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How do you feel about the aqua community?

Love, Passion or both?

Having recently attended the International Aquatic and Fitness Conference (IAFC) in Florida in May, I was struck by one word that I kept hearing over and over again. I thought it was really interesting as I hadn’t heard that word used as ubiquitously before at any other fitness conference – and I have been to many. I often hear words like ‘passionate’, ‘engage’, ‘motivated’ and ‘inspired’ but never this particular word. Fitness professionals use it often to describe how they feel about their individual work, but not about a community. The word? Love.


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