Making a Strong First Impression

Before I became an instructor, and I was simply in aerobics class (back when it was still called aerobics) my least favorite parts of class were the warm up and the cooldown.  They were boring, contrived and very unhelpful.  And probably unhealthy too, looking back on trends we used to follow but now avoid completely.  I would often show up late and/or leave early just to avoid this painful part of an otherwise great workout.  Later on, when I became an instructor, escaping the elements I disdained was no longer a choice.  In fact, my AFAA workshop really put the fear of lawsuit in me.  Even though I hated it, I squeezed in the bare minimum required of each and rushed to get to the “good stuff.”  You know what I noticed?  Many of my students were showing up late and leaving early.   Some were showing up, leaving early, and never returning.  I told myself that they just couldn’t hang, my workouts must be too tough or they were just too stuck up to know a good class when they were in one.  I thought I was all that.  And then, I got “shopped.”

You might be familiar with secret shoppers.  Disguised as a regular customer, they enter a store, restaurant, or other business and critique the service  These people will tell your managers completely honestly how they felt about you and the service you provided them.  Fortunately, my performance wasn’t completely unmeritorious, but the bottom line was that I was denying my students of the opportunity to get excited about being there, and I wasn’t giving them a good reason to want to come back by the end.  Performers know that as long as you have a strong start and solid ending, that your audience will more likely remember you favorably.  The audience and your class are less likely to remember what happened in the middle as they will the first and last impressions they received. 

Make a Strong First Impression

I decided to start putting some thought and effort into my warm-ups.  I choreographed them, lengthened them a little, and reminded myself why they are so essential to having a good class.  And it was an improvement, but it still lacked something.  It was still contrived and forced and it felt very fake.  Even though I was working harder on them, I still wasn’t providing my students with any reason to be excited that they came to my class.  This may be an issue that you are facing as well.  What we need, as instructors, to try to accomplish in the first 5-7 minutes of our class goes beyond elevated heart rates and lower back stretches.  We need to inspire our students to give 100% for the next hour.  We are there to help them forget about the rest of their worlds and forget that they “have” to be there to reach their goals.   Making a strong first impression will be one of many steps you’ll take to reach your students and help them fall in love with you as their instructor.

But how on earth do you do that?  I have tried a variety of methods, and taken workshops that explain how you are supposed to do it.  Reading Group Fitness publications and taking those courses are certainly a great start to finding the method that works best for you.  Here is one more idea you can try to motivate your class:

Forget about your perfect 32-beat mix that you just bought from John Sines.  Pick the one or two GREATEST songs you can think of for getting excited about something.  What do they play at sporting events while the teams are warming up?  What do you hear in car commercials?  What makes you want to drive your car faster or run harder?  Think on this and audition as many songs as it takes to find the most inspiring songs you know.  It doesn’t matter if they are newly played on the radio or everybody’s favorite song.  As long as *YOU* love it, you will create an energy that will show on your face and will be contagious to the room.  They’ll be inspired because you are inspired.  Play this song as loud as you comfortably can, being respectful of your students and also mindful of their tastes.  I do not recommend “Smack My Bitch Up” for your middle-aged Evangelical Christian group.  But here are a few that I enjoy, in no particular order:

“Smack My Bitch Up” – The Prodigy 

“Pump It” – Black Eyed Peas

“Kernkraft 400” – Zombie Nation

“Heart Full of Black” – Burning Brides

“Do You Love Me?” – The Contours

“You Can’t Stop the Beat” – Broadway Cast of Hairspray

Now that you have the greatest song imaginable, what do you do with it?  Simply put, HAVE FUN.  Of course, you’ll want to think along the lines of the class you’ll be teaching, but the idea here is to just let loose and get excited — like a party starter.  For my step, kickboxing, sculpting and dance classes, I almost always have a good booty shake before we get started.  People love to dance, even if they think they hate it or can’t, so in between the leg curls, and the step touches, I use a little twist or body rolling or whatever fits the song and the company.  When there are men present, the idea of using a loose structure of “moves” that have no set choreography is an excellent idea.  Just get them moving without concern for “steps” or “the beat.”  I’ll even make my guys shake their tushes with abandon.  But if wildly gyrating with your class doesn’t sound like a good first start for you, then pick a move that really gets you going.  It can be a walk/jog around the room while you provide streams of encouragement or a series of squats and punches that just seems more fun because the song is inspiring.  Whatever you choose and however you format it, your success will boil down to two main elements:  The song you pick, and the energy you exude.

Once I started doing warm ups that I found fun and interesting, I recieved a much more favorable response.  Your students want to enjoy being there, and they want to enjoy you.  Take advantage of your opportunity to make a good first impression and keep your students coming back for more!  Even better, your managers will be impressed with your numbers and I can almost guarantee that your secret shopper will give you A’s in the warm up department.


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