Motivating the Fitness Newbie

Another great contribution by guest blogger, Biray Alsac!

Biray Alsac

 It’s refreshing to meet a gym member who is a ‘first-timer’ to a health club or a newbie to our group exercise classes. You know the ones – they aren’t very fitness-savvy, are overwhelmed by the classes available on the schedule, and aren’t entirely familiar with gym culture. But, bless their hearts, they are open to trying something new.

As instructors, we love these people. Why? Because it gives us an opportunity to dispel any myths about group exercise and a chance to create an experience that will hopefully motivate them to come back for more – not scare them away.

In addition to the techniques on presenting a successful class, there are 5 newbie-specific considerations instructors can make to encourage first-timers to keep coming back.

1.       Minimize the use of the word ‘exercise’. Wasn’t it Shakespeare who wrote “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”? Even if you call it physical activity, a dance party, or a good time… it will still be exercise. By definition, exercise is ‘a planned, repetitive form of physical activity.’ For a newbie, there is nothing repetitive or planned about what they are doing in your class. This may sound like a quibble over semantics, but psychologically, words like ‘exercise’ and ‘fitness’ may conjure up preconceived notions about working out. Let’s encourage new associations.

2.       Explain concepts using real-world analogies. Some newbies may not respond to exercise terminology. Group fitness ‘language’ may sound foreign to a first-timer. Saying ‘ham curls’ might flash images of an IHOP breakfast. Instead, link concepts to life experiences. For instance, I find it helpful to use car analogies to explain heart rate zones and substrate utilization. “Imagine you’re driving a car, as you start to accelerate…” Be creative!

3.       Avoid using statements like ‘Isn’t this easy?’ during class. Initially, nothing comes easily. Even if a move or combination is simple to perform, the psychological and emotional challenges may consume a lot more energy. Hearing statements such as “see, this isn’t so bad” or “keep it up, you’re doing just fine!” may sound more condescending than encouraging. Try reinforcing behaviors non-verbally. Give a newbie a high-five during class or a ‘thumbs up’ for excellence. Or just shoot them one of your fabulous smiles!

4.       Think in terms of four 15-minute workouts, instead of one 60-minute class. If newbies perceive your class to be four short activities instead of one long one, it might seem more attainable to them. Therefore, subtly narrate your class every 10-15 minutes (not to be confused by general cueing). Statements like “We’ve made it through the warm-up, now let’s transition into our first activity” or “Let’s complete a few more moves on the floor before finishing with a final relaxing stretch” are helpful in segmenting your class into phases.

5.       Start a conversation with a newcomer on a non-fitness related topic. Sometimes following-up before or after a class with questions like “So, how did you do?” or “Do you have any questions about the class?” might be a bit intimidating for a newbie. If you discuss topics that are more general, you’re bound to learn something about them that will create an opportunity for a follow-up interaction (hopefully, during the next class – hint, hint). Do they have a favorite song? Offer to play it next week during the workout. Are you mutual fans of a TV show? American Idol, perhaps? Place a wager on who you think will be the next to be voted off! If you’re authentic in your attempts to get to know newbie participants, you’re bound to find a creative incentive that will get them back into the next class.

Unfortunately, trying a class once is not the problem for most new members who come into the gym. Adherence to an exercise routine is often the real ongoing struggle (no pun intended). But with a few simple techniques, you can finesse the fitness newbie into becoming a fitness enthusiast!



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