a well designed fitness class
from evy's notebook
Teaching is a complicated and fascinating craft - designing the lesson plan, communicating ideas clearly, interacting with students in an engaging way. Teaching a fitness class is no exception. I've been attending fitness classes regularly for about seven years with countless instructors, and I recently realized just how many opinions I have about what makes a good fitness class.
This list is made with a "bootcamp" type workout in mind (cardio and strength exercises like burpees or squats), but a lot of the same ideas apply to other classes I've attended frequently like yoga and zumba.
- Bias towards simple but effective exercises. An exercise can be simpler if it requires fewer body parts moving at once, or if it involves minimal range of motion (which is less relevant for cardio). It's easier to push my muscles to their limit if there's less complexity in keeping good form to avoid injury. If an exercise is more complicated, have us to do it for longer or repeat it more frequently over the class.
- Repeat exercises throughout the class. One great format I've seen is a class that involved nine exercises - three were instructed at a time, and we repeated each set of exercises three times before learning the next set. Repeating exercises reduces the cognitive overload of figuring out what's going on all the time, and helps me focus on doing the exercise well.
- If a complex exercise is coming next, demonstrate it for several repetitions before transitioning to that exercise. Continue to occasionally demonstrate any exercise as we do it. It's easy to get confused or forget something, and it's important to regularly have a visual reference.
- Provide modifications and alternatives for exercises. Tell me how I can make it harder, and how I can make it easier if I need to. Help me figure out how to push myself a healthy amount, so that I'm less likely to hurt myself or give up.
- Explain proper form in detail. Encourage people to move slower to be able to do an exercise properly. It is not a given that everyone has learned how to do exercises properly, or that they remember these things while they're consumed by a difficult workout. Give frequent reminders to engage the core, keep the back flat, etc.
- No talking about exercising as a way to "deserve" a meal, no talking about how giving up would set the wrong pace for my whole day, just fuck no. There are ways to motivate people without guilt and shame. Talk about exercise as self-care, help us explore how we can healthily push ourselves.
It's been fun thinking about what I enjoy in a fitness class, and I bet a lot of these strategies could be adapted to other non-fitness teaching environments. Noticing what I enjoy as a student has helped me be a lot more deliberate about which classes I've attended over the years, and has helped me find the joy in fitness that has kept me coming back.