Skip to main content
How To

What Makes a Great Group Fitness Class? Are You Still "Just Winging It?"

Group fitness classes are a great way to build community and even broaden the scope of your programming as an instructor. When you're laying out a class, it’s important to remember that there’s a lot of advance planning required to make the magic happen. If you want to give people an exceptional class, winging it really isn’t an option.

May 17, 2022

Group fitness classes are a great way to build community and even broaden the scope of your programming as an instructor. When you’re laying out a class, it’s important to remember that there’s a lot of advance planning required to make the magic happen.

If you want to give people an exceptional class, winging it really isn’t an option. 

So what makes a great group fitness class? 

  • The attitude, attentiveness and skill of an instructor,
  • A well-structured combination of moves, circuits and exercises,
  • Options for a variety of skill levels,
  • Carefully managed intensity throughout the class,
  • And lets not forget Fun!

How to Plan a Successful Group Fitness Class

Start by choosing an appropriate amount of time – for example, if you’re leading a HIIT bootcamp you may only need, and your participants only be able to hang with you, for 20 or 30 minutes (not including a warmup and cooldown). If you’re leading a yoga class an hour might be more appropriate. 

Next, divide the allotted time into phases and pick how much time you need for each phase:

  1. A warm up
  2. Primary work out
  3. Cool down period

Now you can plan what moves and props or equipment you may need to fill in the rest of the class. 

How you structure your group fitness class is going to depend heavily on the type of class you are leading – dance, yoga, martial arts, boxing, HIIT, cycling, swimming.

Every discipline is going to have its own method and pacing. 

Supporting All Ability Levels

No matter what type of group fitness class you’re leading, there are a variety of ways in which you can make sure that everyone from your brand new beginners to your most loyal advanced practitioners gets something out of their workout. 

Some types of group fitness classes allow for you to split your class up into smaller groups of similar ability or challenge levels who can complete a series of exercise or circuits together.

This helps you to coach to the level of the group, and manage pacing and intensity. One group may do more reps or have a longer time interval, for example. 

In classes where the format doesn’t lend itself to breaking up the group, you can still teach to all levels by giving multiple options for each move or posture and providing supportive props to help newer students or those who want a lower intensity level modify their workout. 

If you are equally encouraging of new students and acknowledging of more advanced students, having different ability levels in the same group fitness class can be inspiring for everyone. 

Attitude and Presence of the Instructor

By planning ahead and being prepared for your class, you can relax at class time. Every time you teach will be different and present its own challenges. So take the time to create a checklist or routine that takes the logistical and technological glitches out of the equation so that you can be ready in the moment to address anything that might come up in your classroom. 

Here are a few tips:

  • Arrive at least 15 to 20 minutes prior to class start time (you’ll always have early bird students who show up ready to go!)
  • Use the time before your class to get your sign in system up and ready to check in students
  • Set the scene by making sure that the lighting, temperature and overall ambiance of your classroom is comfortable and pleasant
  • Play welcome music
  • Have your playlist selected – and plan ahead so that you always have a fresh, new mix of beats
  • Make sure to silence your phone so you don’t get that embarrassing phone call in the middle of your class
  • Give your students a warm welcome at the start of class and introduce yourself enthusiastically
  • Make a point to call students by name during class
  • Acknowledge victories, big and small, from all ability levels
  • Create a culture of celebrating each other’s’ breakthrough moments as a group
  • Walk around the whole room during the class so that students in the front, back and middle feel seen by you
  • Make a point to say goodbye to each student after class and take time to check in with new students

Reflect on Each Class and Actively Solicit Feedback

After your students have left the building, take minute to honestly assess your class.

What worked? What didn’t?

What were the most inspiring moments where the energy felt high? Were there any awkward lows? 

Something that can really help with assessing instructor performance is to have a formal feedback system at your gym or fitness studio.

Ask other instructors, or longtime, loyal students that you know well to participate. Create 3 to 5 questions that they will answer after each class they attend. 

For example:

  • Did you feel seen by and connected to the instructor?
  • Was the intensity level appropriate? 
  • Were the instructor’s cues helpful in advancing your practice/workout? 
  • On a scale of 1-10 how likely would you be to want to return to this class? Why or why not? 

Keep Your Group Fitness Classes Fresh and Varied

It’s easy – too easy – to get in the habit of teaching the same group fitness class sequence every class.

Students can just as easily grow bored or not feel that they are progressing in their fitness journey when a teacher doesn’t offer new challenges. 

So how you do stay inspired and find new ideas for group fitness classes?

There are may online resources including other instructor’s blogs and social media feeds where other fitness professionals share their workouts of the week or new, creative circuit combos or yoga sequencing, for example. 

You can also take time to think about what would feel good in your body if you were going through your own workout, and from there bring new moves, poses, sequences and routines into your repertoire.

A great way to get your creative juices flowing is to attend other group fitness classes at your gym or studio or other fitness spots around town.

This also happens to be a great way to build good-will and community. 

How to Structure a Group Fitness Class

Now that you know you’re ready to start a group fitness class or revamp your existing classes, it’s time to plan out the nitty gritty details of your class from start to finish.

Buzz-worthy group fitness classes and workout programs are generally built around a few key elements. 

When incorporated effectively, these components can make for a fun, exhilarating experience that builds big class sizes and keeps people coming back for more. You want to build not just a solid structure for physical movement, challenge and fitness progression, but create with your class structure opportunities for engagement and creating moments of inspiration – the “wow factor.” 

According to the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), an instructor who is competent in delivering a well-structured class and creates an opportunity for participants to change in an atmosphere of unconditional acceptance will ultimately provide a workout that is exceptional and transformative.

Five components work together to create a connected, holistic workout experience.

AFAA recommends that every class include the following components:

  1. Introduction
  2. Movement Prep
  3. Body of Workout
  4. Transition
  5. Outro

Let’s quickly break them down:

Introduction: This part is all in the set up. As we mentioned earlier you build rapport with your students by creating a welcoming pre-class environment, including lighting, music, aroma, an easeful check in process and encouraging and accepting attitude. Remember that as the instructor, no matter what might be going on in your life or behind the scenes at your studio, it is your job to present an attitude of “all is well and everyone is welcome,” to your students. 

Movement Prep: Here is where your students will begin to warm up their bodies and minds for their group fitness class experience. Gradually and mindfully increase the intensity level, remembering to look closely at your class participants to gauge their fitness and ability level as well as familiarity with your class and format. By including movements that will be performed later in the body of the workout, but at a lower intensity, participants get a “preview” of what’s to come, a chance to rehearse it, and increase individual confidence in the process.

Body of Workout. This is the main course, where intensity will steadily increase to reach its peak and stay there. Typically in group fitness classes this is where you will introduce a series of core moves which are done first more slowly and with specific alignment and “how-to” instructions and then are repeated a series of times, often with increasing speed. 

Or, you may introduce your circuits and go over how many reps or for how long each circuit is to be performed, how much rest is taken in between and the specific exercise within each. 

Transition/Cool Down. In this part of the workout you’ll guide participants to go from a higher heart rate and intensity down through relaxation and cool down. Typically this portion of class takes about 5-10 minutes and involves more conscious breathing, muscle stretching and relaxation and a period of reflection on the class where accomplishments are acknowledged. This time a perfect for reminding participants to notice how good they feel and to savor the fruits of their efforts. 

Outro/Goodbye’s. Class isn’t over for the instructor when it’s time for the students to pack up and leave. This is an important time for you to connect with your group, acknowledge them, remind them of how to connect with you after class or between classes, invite enrollment in any special events or workshops and to be mindful of your post-class environment. 

Play a well-thought-out after class playlist for inspiration on the way out the door. Be sure to say goodbye and mention student’s by name. Let them know you look forward to seeing them at your next class. Encourage community by staying visible and available after your classes. 

The Best Part of Starting a Group Fitness Class

In the end, all your time and effort put in to planning a group fitness class program will generate long-lasting and satisfying rewards. Group fitness classes are one of the best ways for fitness-minded people to come together and support each other in facing and overcoming challenges and holding each other accountable in a positive way. 

Over time you will inevitably find that supporting your group fitness class participants in their fitness journey will have a profound impact on their lives – in and out of the classroom. The bonds between fellow students and their instructors are sometimes lifelong. Teaching group fitness classes can be a potent reminder of the power of fitness and the not-so-obvious mental and emotional benefits of being a fitness professional.