How teaching group fitness helped me be a better facilitator

Fitness and Facilitation
Fitness and Facilitation – Photo by Clayton Cardinalli on Unsplash

In the 20 years I was working my way up and through the corporate communication world, I studied, travelled and fell in love with teaching group fitness. In fact, I have Ioved it so much that I decided to started teaching fitness classes and eventually ended up co-owning my own gym.


I am what writer and artist Emilie Wapnick exquisitely describes as someone with multiple potentialities or ‘multipotentialites’.

These are people who are drawn to more than one career or interest at any time, with many ‘interlocking potentials’.

I used to think it was just that I lacked focus, but I like this idea better!

My typical day looked like: teaching a class at 5am, going into the office until 5pm, back to the studio for a 6pm class (and sometimes a 7pm class as well), and then rinse and repeat.

Two jobs I love

Here in Australia, teaching group fitness doesn’t make you a great deal of money – it’s a job you do because you love it.

So having another full-time or part-time job is the norm for most of us. 

The benefit of this arrangement is that I get to do two jobs that I love.

As a fitness instructor, I get to help people to develop a love of fitness.

As a workshop facilitator, I help leaders and teams to communicate and engage with each other more effectively.

Parallels in fitness and facilitation

Throughout my corporate career, I was frequently given the opportunity to develop my own facilitation and training programs.

I fell in love with designing and delivering workshops. So much so, I’ve now started my own training and communication consulting business.

As I started to delve further into the craft of facilitation, I realised there were many parallels between teaching group fitness and delivering engaging workshops.

Here are the 6 things I’ve discovered as a fitness instructor and facilitator

1. Go big, or go home!

When you become a fitness instructor, you learn pretty quickly that the people in front of you are only going to do about 80 per cent (if you’re lucky) of the range you do.

So you need to go even bigger than how you’d normally train.

That’s the energy I’ve found I need to bring to facilitating a workshop – ‘Facilitator Me’ has to be bigger than the ‘Me’ I’d be in a meeting or conversation.

It’s not about being obnoxiously loud, but rather about bring a great deal of energy through body language, tone of voice, and palpable enthusiasm.

2. Make connections

The number-one thing that keeps members coming back to our gym is the sense of community we’ve built through developing meaningful connections with each person.

It might be a cheeky shout-out during class, checking in on my clients outside of class, or even just showing an interest in what’s happening in their lives.

Getting repeat work from the same client – whether that’s facilitation, one-on-one coaching, or consulting services – has taken that same approach.

Building rapport, demonstrating that you understand their challenges, and that you’re there to support them every step of the way helps to build client-retention.

3. Know your boundaries

Apart from being a group fitness instructor, I’m also a Personal Trainer (PT).

In a PT session – and sometimes after a group fitness class – people really unload a lot of their worries and emotions on you, and it can be incredibly draining.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that I’m not a counsellor or psychologist, and I need to be able to either divert the conversation or link a person up with some professional help. 

Similarly in a workshop situation, there are times where people will take it as an opportunity to air all their grievances, and expect you to have all the answers.

I’ve had to remember to divert these conversations in ways that make people still feel valued and heard, but without taking the workshop off track or lowering the tone.

4. Expect the unexpected

Early on in my fitness and in my communication careers, if something unexpected happen I’d either freeze or flip out.

But as I’ve relaxed into my expertise and built resilience, I’ve come to expect that anything can and will probably happen, and how you respond in that moment is the most important thing.

Whether that’s a technology failure, someone becoming unwell, forgetting a vital piece of equipment or collateral, you need to be ready to respond quickly

That means you always need a Plan B or a way to improvise on the spot!

5. Adapt your teaching style

When I teach a fitness class, I use a variety of different cues to help different people understand what they should be doing. I may start with naming the move (‘let’s squat, two-by-two’).

– Phonetic cues (‘up, up, down, down’)

– Technical cues (‘make sure your knees are in line with your toes’),

– Kinaesthetic cues (‘you should feel…’).

Similarly, in a facilitated training workshop, you have to be mindful of needing to explain things in different ways.

This means not only explaining it verbally in different ways, but using visuals and analogies to help make the concept meaningful for different learning styles.

The point is that if people still aren’t getting it, you need to quickly think of another way of transferring knowledge.

6. Delight but don’t forget

Whether in a gym class or personal training session, it’s important to keep things interesting – new moves, new tracks, new ways of using equipment to help keep people engaged.

But it’s important not to go too crazy and risk your clients not getting the results they intended.

You need to make sure whatever you’re doing is aligned to the outcome you’re trying to achieve.

When it comes to designing facilitated workshops, there’s so much out there to draw from and integrate into your workshop design.

However creativity needs to have purpose. Your workshop can still surprise and delight, but everything you do needs to align with the learning outcomes you’ve promised.

Concluding thoughts

Whether in the gym, or in a workshop, there’s a lot to think about and we certainly need to give a lot of ourselves and inject energy into every session! 

While building meaningful connections is important, we also important to set some boundaries around those connections.

It’s important to be able to ‘pivot’ when the unexpected happens – which it constantly does, and typically at the worst possible times!

Just like being a fitness instructor, adaptability, innovation, and flexibility are the keys to being a great facilitator.

What lessons learned from your own lives and hobbies have you been able to apply to your facilitation practice?

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