Motivation tips for group fitness instructors

Motivation Tips For Group Fitness Instructors

For today’s post, I wanted to talk about motivation tips for group fitness instructors: what I’ve found to work in my years of teaching, what only works for some people, and what falls flat, no matter what. I would love to hear your thoughts and experience as group fitness participants or fellow instructors!! Whether you’re leading through a screen, like many instructors are after Rona, or in person, motivation strategies are super important. You want to transmit energy and inspire individuals and group exercise participants both effectively and authentically.

What works (almost) every time:

Use great music with a diverse playlist.

This is one of my favorite things to do! Include a mix of music in your playlists, because someone in class will love the *weird song* you picked. For example, I’ll throw in a random oldies or country song just to keep things fun, and will also try to mix up top 40s music with more alternative and instrumental styles. If you make an entire playlist based on one genre (like EDM or top 40s) one person in class will love every song, but one person will hate every song and possibly never come back.

Call out participants by their names.

I think it’s so much more meaningful this way and shows participants that you care about them.

Acknowledge their hard work and push them to take it up within a safe level.

I talk more about this here! It’s SO important to encourage participants to listen to their body, modify as needed, and be proud of them for showing up!!!

Demonstrate proper form and ways to modify or progress an exercise.

When participants have confidence in the moves and know they’re not setting themselves up for injury, it’s more motivating. 😉

Emphasizing the muscle group they’re working.

Explain why it’s important (“a strong core helps protect our low back and support everyday movements”), and helping them put their mind to muscle.

Just be quiet.

Sometimes it motivating and powerful to be quiet for a bit and let the energy and music do the talking for you.

What works sometimes, depending on the vibe and your personality:

The more “woo” side of things, like visualizations.

During a spin class, sometimes I’ll say something like, “Imagine the people you love standing on the side of the road right now holding a sign to inspire you. What does the sign say?” Or “For our sprint, we’re riding against your biggest competition. Maybe it’s someone from work, or maybe it’s someone who doesn’t even know who you are.”

Hands-on adjustments.

Some people love these and some people hate them, so it’s good to ask at the beginning of class if there are injuries or if anyone is uncomfortable with adjustments to please let you know. Things naturally tend to be more hands-on in the fitness industry, but it isn’t for everyone. (When you show up early, you can introduce yourself to participants individually to get their name and check in. It’s easier for someone to say they don’t want to be adjusted during class during a one-on-one conversation instead of in front of a large group.)

What falls flat:

What I refer to as empty cheers.

“WOO!” Is my biggest pet peeve ever. It means nothing, it does nothing.

Tell a bunch of personal stories during class.

Usually no one cares and just wants to get on with the workout.

Constantly making participants feel like they’re doing everything wrong.

No one wants to feel like a failure, especially when they’re putting in the effort to reach a fitness goal. Whether you’re a personal trainer or leading a group fitness class, it’s important that you lift your classes members up, not put them down.

A lack of direction.

When you get a feeling that the instructor doesn’t know what they’re going to do next, or if it’s obvious that they’re winging it. It’s motivating to feel like they have a solid plan for what you’re going to do during the workout.

Saying the same thing over and over again.

An example is constantly saying, “Good job!” in between everything else. (“Good job. Ok we’re going to do burpees now! Good job, now we’re going to hold the plank, good job, keep your core tight, good job.” It’s distracting.) Also, I think it’s nice to switch up the way you phrase things. There are SO many ways to say the same thing, so it helps to eliminate the redundant feeling. (For example, there are so many ways to say, “Power up through your legs, engage your glutes as your spring off the ground, jump up towards the ceiling, use your leg power to explode, jump vertically as high as you can.”)

(Gif source. Bonus points if you have Moira Rose’s vocabulary)

So tell me friends: what does your FAVORITE fitness instructor do to motivate you? Have they said or done something that was especially memorable for you?

Fellow fitness instructor friends: what are your favorite ways to motivate your classes and clients, especially in the online fitness world? Things are HARD right now, especially when we’re used to feeding off the live energy of classes, so I’d love to hear your thoughts and what you’re doing!




Let’s connect on social media!

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  1. Erin on January 25, 2021 at 2:36 pm

    Yes!!!! All of this! You are spot on with the motivation. It’s clear that you’re experienced and know what works for group fitness. I was a group ex instructor for years and these ring so true! This is going to be a complain-y comment but there are a LOT of bad instructors out there. I’m adding to the “negatives” list:

    – instructors pushing themselves so hard during a class, that they can’t teach because they are catching their breath. It’s NOT your time to do that.

    -Instructors who have their “clique” of fans who stand in the front row, and they ignore everyone else in the room. This is quite a Scottsdale phenomenon but I’ve seen it over the years all over the world. It makes people feel unwelcomed.

    – instructors complaining about their own music that they are teaching to. BodyPump instructors do this sometimes with particular tracks. Don’t tell us you “can’t stand this song!” There’s a spin instructor in Phoenix who is notorious for this- she’s older and her daughter makes her playlists for her and she “hates” some of the songs

    – instructors saying they dislike a particular movement or that it’s unsafe (again, BodyPump). If you have to do a particular move, do it with respect and grace. Don’t complain and if you truly feel it’s unsafe, why are you teaching it?

    – instructors who can’t find the beat and teach off-beat or with total disregard to the beat of the music. If the music has a really strong beat, but you’re doing reps NOT to the beat, it will feel unnatural to any of the participants who feel the beat. Instructors who can’t find the beat at all shouldn’t teach classes that require them to actually find and feel the beat (and it used to be, if you couldn’t teach to the beat for Les Mills or other certifications, you wouldn’t pass the training. Not sure about now).

    -Drill-Sargent instructions for our behaviors outside of class (“You need to commit to coming to BodyStep two times a week in December! You have no excuse to disrespect your body by not showing up! We’re all busy and that’s no excuse…) Um actually I do have a few reasons I can’t make it to class and I’m not disrespecting my body by choosing to honor lots of fun commitments in December.

    -Instructors who laugh at participants’ movements or awkwardness. This should never happen but I’ve seen it multiple times over the years.

    -Instructors who tolerate unsafe behavior (participants doing Zumba in bare feet; years ago I saw someone doing step in high heels and the instructor said nothing). If there’s something blatantly unsafe, it distracts participants.

    I apologize for this length. I was inspired.

    • Fitnessista on January 26, 2021 at 9:15 pm

      SO many great ones here. thank you so much for chiming in – it gives fellow instructors a lot to consider!

    • adrianna on January 30, 2021 at 9:11 am

      my mouth was agape with some of these but SO TRUE! great share girl 🙂

  2. Katie on January 25, 2021 at 2:40 pm

    It’s really motivating and comforting when an instructor is human and imperfect. If they have a fit but achievable-looking body, or they aren’t auditioning for Cirque du Soleil up on that yoga mat, it’s really encouraging. Not that a fitness instructor has to look a certain way or act like they are weaker or less advanced than they really are, but someone who seems real and relatable sends the subliminal message that yes, the average human can complete these exercises and feel good about it. If the BodyPump instructor stacks three 10s on either side of the barbell for their warmup weight, it’s a little discouraging for everyone else. It’s just them showing off and making it *their* workout.

    On the flip side, it is nails on a chalkboard when the instructor tries to sing along to the music. Unless you’re freaking Beyonce, stick to the one thing you’re there to do. That’s a personal preference, I know some people think that makes it more fun, but UGH, no! ;P

    • Fitnessista on January 26, 2021 at 9:14 pm

      hahah that’s one of my pet peeves, too. they didn’t give us a mic to SING haha.

  3. Nicole Dixon on January 25, 2021 at 9:39 pm

    I love fitness classes, fitness instructors, and fitness! My favorite instructors offer options for various fitness levels (modifications for beginners and also for advanced participants).
    We’ve turned to online recorded classes, and love the positive feedback. One recent favorite was an Australian guy who would call us “Mates”.
    Ultimately good content, good music, and positive attitude are most important on my list.

  4. Erin on January 25, 2021 at 10:02 pm

    When I taught spin I would end every class with a Tabata and the last 4 rounds I would have each round dedicated. Round 4) do this for someone you love Round 5) do this for someone who loves you Round 6) do this for someone that inspires you Round 8) do this for you

    • Fitnessista on January 26, 2021 at 9:08 pm

      I LOVE THIS IDEA so so much!

  5. Ashley on January 26, 2021 at 1:12 pm

    I have taught group fitness for over a decade and my biggest pet peeves when I take a class are when instructors say things like “burn off those cookies you ate”… no thanks I exercise because it makes me feel good not as a punishment for eating.

    • Fitnessista on January 26, 2021 at 9:08 pm

      omg this is the WORST! i get so frustrated

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