5 Takeaways from IHRSA's Group Exercise Ask Me Anything (AMA)

Group exercise specialist and industry leader Ingrid Knight-Cohee answered user-submitted questions live on the IHRSA Forum about group fitness operations during the coronavirus pandemic. Here are our top five takeaways.

The coronavirus pandemic has presented clubs with a challenge unlike any other they’ve had to undertake. Government-mandated shutdowns at the city, state, and national levels worldwide have impacted group exercise severely. With some degrees of stay-at-home orders, facility closures, and public caution, clubs have been forced to pivot their group fitness strategy.

For a unique perspective on the effects the coronavirus pandemic has had on group fitness, Ingrid Knight-Cohee, director of group fitness for Fitness World in British Columbia, Canada, hosted a live Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on the IHRSA Forum. Here are our top five takeaways from the AMA.

1. Supporting Staff & Instructors Is as Important as Ever

An open line of communication, and offering guidance and direction, have become a big part of group fitness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Consider how staff are feeling. Hold sincere conversations with each staff member, mind everyone is in a different place at the moment and you have to cater to their needs,” Knight-Cohee said. “There is lots of angst and anxiety at this time and it is very important to find out what concerns exist and the reality of what the class structure looks like moving forward. Give space if needed, have an open line of communication, meet people where they are. Above all else, abide by health guidelines to keep members and staff healthy and safe.”

Every individual staff person is dealing with and handling this time period differently. Knight-Cohee’s suggestion for an open line of communication is paramount. During these uncertain times, staff and instructors need to feel comfortable and supported.

2. Safety Guidelines Don’t Have to Dictate Motivational Tactics

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Group fitness often includes lots of high-fives, hugs, and other contact motivational tools. The adjustment to contactless motivation for instructors is necessary as the group fitness world makes adjustments.

Knight-Cohee explained, “Right now it's all about air fist pumps and air virtual hugs! We must convey how much we appreciate members as often as we can while following safety guidelines. For now, hand gestures and facial expressions will convey how much we appreciate people and love our participants in this new fashion, until we can safely get closer.

“To reiterate, the virtual options are the way to go for the time being. Something I've noticed in a couple of the outdoor classes I've attended is there is still a tendency to get into close proximity again, so really stress the importance to staff/instructors of maintaining that two meter/six foot distance for the time being if we're going to successfully enter the reopening phase and stay there.”

3. Group Exercise Must Change as Clubs Reopen

Any change at all is a challenge, but changes must be made if clubs and their facilities are to remain open.

“There are three key factors in my opinion. First, physical distancing is a must. We have to move away from viewing success as a jam-packed studio, because success is now a well-distanced studio.

“Second, we are working to minimize touch points, so our offerings will mostly be body-weight only, or yoga, or Zumba formats in order to limit cleaning and concern of equipment touches.

“And third, scheduling is key. Shorter class durations with bigger windows between will adjust the way that group exercise looks.”

4. Teaching Group Exercise Requires a Different Skillset

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Adapting to virtual instruction has posed its own challenges. Whether instructors no longer sense the same energy from the crowd of members, or technical difficulties that could arise, virtual classes require their very own focus and training for staff.

“Live streaming without an audience is challenging and like any skill takes practice. My first tip is to do just that: practice, practice, and practice some more! Record yourself and study your recording. Self critique in order to get better and increase your comfort level in a virtual environment,” Knight-Cohee suggested.

She continued, “Instructors need our feedback as group fitness managers. Attend a class and provide improvements and positives. For your instructors, getting acclimated to virtual classes is definitely a skill most of us need to practice, and eventually it comes with time. The first time can be clunky with virtual classes, but repetition and practice will only help them to get better.

“It's also so important to get the technology right. It can be frustrating for members for the first few minutes of a virtual class to have an instructor fumbling with music, messing with the camera, etc. Teach that they should get their positioning right in relation to the camera and get the audio at a good volume beforehand. That should help remove the majority of their anxiety of the virtual experience before the class even begins.”

5. Training Staff Begins before Your Clubs Reopen

As she stated throughout the AMA session, Knight-Cohee believes that a constant stream of communication is paramount to making reopening successful, and that involves learning from staff.

Bringing your team back ahead of the club's scheduled reopening has inherent benefits.

“When our clubs reopen, they will first be open to staff only for hands-on training,” Knight-Cohee said. “Help staff members understand the why, with consistent honesty and transparency. Help them understand what needs to be done for everyone's safety. As things evolve, we too will adapt and evolve.

“We'll show them where the cleaning supplies are located, where members enter and exit, and more. To continue to adjust, we'll hold regular touch points with staff on what is working, and what needs to improve.”

For more insight from group fitness specialist and industry leader, Ingrid Knight-Cohee, login to access the entire AMA session on the IHRSA Forum.

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Mike Ulatoski

Mike Ulatoski is the Systems Development Manager for IHRSA. He optimizes IHRSA's software systems and champions efficiency & productivity of staff and members alike. Mike's talents include seeing sounds and juggling, in that order. When he's not working, Mike is either at the gym, navigating Boston as a New York sports fan, or traveling the world with his wife.