Oh January. That magical time of year when the rest of the world joins the gym and our regulars complain to us about “that new person” stealing their spot in the studio (just me?). For Instructors, this is the biggest opportunity of the year to grow our class numbers and transform those nervous back of the room rookies into front row regulars. So how do you nurture those new members and keep them coming back?
- INCLUDE AN INTRODUCTION FOR NEW PEOPLE
Faced with a group of people we recognize, it’s easy to forget that there might be at least one person who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Adding a line in for that new person can help them to feel safe in an unknown environment.
“I always include an introduction for brand new people,” says Texas-based Katie Kattner (US). “I provide a quick summary of the class and what we'll be doing, including the SMART START option, even if no one says ‘I'm new’! I never told the Instructor when I was new (too shy) but I would have liked to hear it at the start of class.”
“I tell newcomers to try the program three times,” adds BODYPUMP™ Instructor Kristine Newman of Arizona (US). “The first will be a little shaky because you’re learning new moves and language; the second you’re more familiar and starting to find your groove; and on the third class you either love it or you don’t! I equate it with trying a new wine. The first sip is the shock to the palate, the second your taste buds are evaluating and your third is where you decide if you like it.”
- HELP THEM GET SET UP
If you’re teaching equipment-based classes, arrive early to help new people with weight selection.
“Yesterday I started teaching a brand new BODYPUMP class and was expecting at least new one person to arrive late,” says Libby Joyce from Victoria (Australia). “I set up a place with light weights and bench ready to go, to let these late arrivals know what they might need. I was totally correct in my assumptions. I was able to start the class on time, and the late first-timers felt welcomed and looked after. They said they'd come back.”
“I usually set up the bar for a newcomer,” adds Lisa Mercer Jones of Oklahoma (US). “I tell them that the weights will be much lighter than they’re probably used to, but that the focus of the day will be proper execution and technique. I advise they can add weight if they want to, or wait until the next class.”
- FOCUS ON CONNECTION
At the end of the day, if we can make people feel welcomed and special this will go a long way to ensuring they enjoy our classes and are more likely to return.
“Personally greet every newcomer with a welcome and introduction,” suggests Missouri-based Lisa Pullen Kent (US). “Learn names and use them. Removing the intimidation and creating an inclusive environment goes a long way toward retention, especially with new members.”
Les Mills Ambassador Reagan Kang (Malaysia) says that his ability to connect is the reason people keep coming back to his classes: “I focus on making people feel like they’re the only person in the room. I learn names and I try to talk to everyone in the room, to make them feel connected so that the next hour is just you, me, the music and the workout. I want them to forget everything else that’s going on in their lives so we can just focus on what we're doing. Then when they leave the class, they feel a lot better about themselves.”
- SHARE THE IMMEDIATE BENEFITS WE GET FROM EXERCISE
The people in front of you are likely driven by a wide variety of motives. While some goals can take longer to achieve, it’s worth celebrating the immediate wins we get from exercising. Things like: better mood, improved sleep, de-stress, the endorphin high. The cool-down is the perfect opportunity to celebrate everybody’s efforts and remind them of the instant benefits they will receive from the workout.
For example, adding just 20 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise to our morning routine is a well-recognized formula for instant mood enhancement – and not only will it quickly spark an endorphin high, but the positive effects can last for up to 12 hours. According to scientists exploring how exercise eases negativity, it takes just four aerobic exercise sessions a week to reap significant psychological benefits, such as reduced depression and feelings of hostility. And the mood-enhancing benefits are long-lasting, they can still be in our system for weeks following your exercise!
If early morning cardio isn't their thing, they can still enjoy exercise-induced happiness. Another set of researchers evaluated 23 published studies and established all manner of exercise is consistently linked to happiness. They found that as little as 10 minutes of physical exercise per week can result in increased levels of happiness. Those who accumulated at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days were 30 percent more likely to report being ‘happy’ than those who didn’t get their fitness fix.
- PUT YOURSELF IN THEIR SHOES
If you’ve been exercising for a long time (or your whole life) it can be difficult to imagine how it feels to be that new person who ISN’T super excited about the new release. I had one member confess she hadn’t been able to sleep the night before my class because she was so terrified about trying LES MILLS GRIT™ for the first time. I've never forgotten that.
Having empathy for that new person in the room can change how you teach the class. My sister joined her local gym a few years ago after an 8-year hiatus and this is how she felt going to do her first class: “Like I couldn’t be bothered. Had a shower and gave myself a pep talk of: ‘You might be the worst but you might not be… the gym is literally a 20 second walk away and if you don’t go today, you are taking laziness to a whole new level…you’ve told people you’re going and they’ll ask… If you hate it, you don’t have to go again…’
“I stood at the very back of the studio and hoped to go unnoticed, but stupidly raised my hand when the Instructor asked: 'Anyone new to class?' – I didn’t think I’d be the only one so felt highly embarrassed in drawing attention to myself.”
For some, it’s an ordeal to even get through the front door of the club. It’s worth remembering that while we may be stressing about forgetting the choreography or whether we’re jumping high enough in our Burpee Tuck, some people might have had to give themselves a pep talk just to get out of the car. As the hosts of their fitness experience, it's on all of us to ensure that – whatever their reason for joining our class – we make people feel welcomed, successful, and ultimately excited for their next workout.