A Class By Any Other Name…


I am a strong believer in the idea that to keep improving as a teacher you must constantly seek out opportunities to be a student.  I find that the most cost-effective way to pick up new ideas and see first-hand the “how-not-tos” of our profession is to take group fitness classes.  Recently, I attended a “Pilates” class that got me thinking about how honest we are when we name and describe our classes.

What’s your name?

First off, think about the classes that you teach or take.  Have you checked out your gym’s schedule to read the description of what they are telling people to expect in your class?  If a substitute came in to teach the class for you based solely on the description, what are the chances it would turn out similar to the class you teach?

Now before you get all excited and tell me that you have to give wildly interesting names and descriptions so that members will want to try your classes, know that I understand that side of group fitness.  There is some marketing and advertising that has to go into the development of the class description to attract folks to try them.  But are you being honest when you craft that message? 

For instance, that Pilates class I mentioned….  On the schedule it said, “PILATES – A mat class of movements designed to stretch, strengthen, and balance the body.”  That sounded pretty standard, based on all that I have known about Pilates since I started practicing in 2001 and teaching in 2005.  However, the class that I took was not a Pilates class at all!  At best, it was a sculpting class which incorporated the stability ball and balance exercises for more of a functional fitness workout.  Now, I can make excuses for the teacher and forgive her for things like being tasked with filling in this time slot with the best she could do on short notice, or for evolving her class away from traditional mat exercises to using small apparatus for a little more interesting workout.  But there was nothing even remotely resembling the Pilates created by Mr. Joseph Pilates 100 years ago to be found in this class!  So I had to wonder….  Why were they calling this class “Pilates” when it so obviously wasn’t?  Was it because of the brand value of a name like Pilates?  Was it just an oversight that had never been corrected?  No.  A short discussion with the teacher revealed that she was a personal trainer with certifications in functional fitness and that “Pilates” was a class meant to train your core, which she had done.

Hmmm….

I’m not here to bash that teacher or to exculpate her.   I am certain she had no malicious intent nor was she out to dupe her students.  I simply want to use this story as an example of why honesty is just better.  Not only so that we help our members choose the classes that are appropriate and interesting to them, but so we don’t inadvertently lie to them.  The better job we do explaining what to expect, the more they will trust us and want to be in our classes.

There are many other examples of where we go wrong in our descriptions:  Making a sculpting class sound like a pure cardio class because of the cardio effect weight lifting can have when done with little rest; promising a gentle or a beginner’s class, but then getting carried away with our need to push and prod our students; or, using a licensed, proprietary name for a class when the instructor is not certified to teach it, such as Spinning© or Tae Bo©.  Even if our intentions are good, we should make the effort to deliver what we have promised.  If you still aren’t convinced, take this simple analogy:  How unhappy would you be if you bought a Timbaland CD but a U2 disc was in the jewel case? U2 is arguably a decent band with some good music, but is it what you ordered? 

What’s the Solution?

The easiest way to know if you are being honest about what you teach is to read the schedule and ask yourself if it fits.  If there is even the slightest discrepancy, you should do one of two things:  Change the format or change the name/description.  If you really aren’t sure, ask a trusted friend, mentor or your director to shop your class (great way to get other valuable feedback, by the way!) and tell you whether or not you need to tweak.  Try taking other classes that have the same or similar name from your own gym or other gyms in the area and make a comparison.  Every time a new schedule comes out, reread your description and check that it still applies.  Sometimes the director will change things on you and you won’t know unless you look!  Don’t be afraid to be completely honest about whether or not you are delivering what is promised and to make the corrections that need to be made.  Your students will appreciate that you took the time to tell them the truth when you named your class.

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