What we can learn from the exercise classes

Spin class

How do they do it? Spinning on stationary bikes is a bit of a weird thing to be doing anyway. Yet I do it, in classes, called “Group Cycle” or “Spin”. What I have noticed is that the instructor makes a difference. So I start thinking.

What can we, who deliver business training to groups, learn from the exercise instructors?

You might think it is a totally different environment. But there are similarities:

  • the age group is more or less the same: mainly late twenties to late forties
  • it’s a mixed ability group, including both men and women, novices and experienced
  • people come with different objectives, and different objectives on different days
  • the people don’t have to be there: they can leave at any time
  • usually they’ve paid for it, in some way or other, or it costs them
  • the class requires effort: it’s not easy

So what can we learn? Here’s what I’ve noticed, that we could apply as we deliver business training:

  • The instructor participates: the exercise class instructor is a “guide by the side, not a sage on the stage”. In all cases, Cycle class, weights class, cardiac exercise class, the instructor does the work too, usually with heavier weights, faster cycling and more vigorous movements.
  • The instructor is always enthusiastic and upbeat: they transmit commitment and belief in what they are doing – at least, the good ones do. We understand this from the fact that they do the exercises themselves, that they are present and not distracted during the class, and that they smile.
  • The best instructors say why we are doing this. Memorably, Adrian at Virgin Active says, with a grin, “You want good legs, don’t you?” or “This is the high calorie burn part”. I may not have the same objectives as the instructor, but I like to know why he thinks we do it. At the most demanding part of the workout, Carl shouted: “You came to this class today for a reason. Remember that reason NOW. Make a difference! Is it endurance? Is it strength? Is it technique? Whatever it is, give it all you’ve got – NOW!”
  • The instructors give very clear instructions and signpost where we are. Mark, who leads a whole hour class on the stationery bikes, somehow manages to give us a truly memorable experience by explaining that we will do so some speed work, climb three mountains, and then do a really tough work out, before the race to the end. And then he keeps referring to this story throughout the hour.
  • We are given a very clear idea what “good” looks like – even if we don’t achieve it. In the weights class we are told, repeatedly, to keep our backs straight, or our chests up. The right way to lift the heavy bar is demonstrated, again and again. The good instructors make eye contact and repeat the instruction if they feel you need a particular reminder, as I often do.
  • Our physical well-being is cared for, routinely, in every class. The instructors always ask: “Does anyone have any injuries…Is anyone new to this class.. is anyone pregnant..”. They check that the floor is clear, and that the guys at the back aren’t going to bash the air conditioning when they lift weights overhead. They routinely do stretches at the end. They do all this, every time, probably enforced by the gym, but the effect is that we feel cared for. Well, I do anyway.
  • Most importantly, we are constantly encouraged and congratulated. Mark in the cycle class says “Well done team, you are looking good.” We are not feeling good – we are sweaty, exhausted, nauseous and we are wondering if our hearts can stick much more of this. I speak of myself here. But Mark’s words have a magical effect, and miraculously, we make it to the end of the track. Rob and Nikki in the aerobics class say “Awesome guys!” and look as though they mean it. Adrian in the Body Conditioning says “Keep it up, we’re nearly there. Give me 8, 7, 6…”.
  • Then at the end, the best instructors tell us what we’ve achieved. Rob says “You’ve exercised every muscle group, you’ve burned 500 to 600 calories. You are ready for the week. Well done everyone!”  

So in our training to business people, I shall

  • Participate, be a role model, and do the work alongside, rather than instruct from the front;
  • Maintain and demonstrate enthusiasm for the subject, keep the energy level high;
  • Explain the purpose of every exercise and every session;
  • Remember that people come for their own reasons, and enable them to connect the work to those reasons;
  • Give participants a storyline or outline for the course and say where we are in the story;
  • Make sure people know what good looks like, and how it’s different from what they are doing, so they see what there is to learn;
  • Routinely care for people’s well-being, by giving safety instructions, checking for trailing wires, removing debris and ensuring that everyone has enough water, breaks and space;
  • Enthusiastically encourage and congratulate, praising both effort and achievement;
  •  At the end, tell people what we have achieved together.

Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that. But I was amazed how much I could learn from watching these physical instructors, men and women, in action.

There’s more to an exercise class than just going through the motions, and there’s more to business training than simply covering the material.

Categories: Learning, training, and enhancing capability

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