One of the things I always get asked as a "young person" in fitness, is how I feel about virtual fitness classes. I'm an instructor in my mid twenties, teaching a wide population, and yes, I do teach at the university level. So I always get asked a lot of questions about virtual platforms both as an instructor and as a participant.
Is virtual training what I use in my own personal workouts? Why doesn't my generation (and I'm using that term liberally, because if you know me I'm 50 at heart and loving it) like to come to classes? Is the fitness instructor population aging so much that they cannot relate to new students?
Wow, I don't think I'm qualified to answer some of those questions.
But I can tell you a couple of things about "young people" like me at the university level and people who are in their twenties. That's all I really feel qualified to address. A millennial's take on millennials, if you will.
I'm a busy person. So are so many people in my age bracket. We have so many things going on inside our heads on a daily basis. I need to study for my exam, I'm not sure how big of a grocery bill I can afford this week, my car needs maintenance but I have a water bill to pay. We're learning how to be adults and there is a lot coming at us that we're still trying to figure it out. We're insecure about a lot of things in our lives and the last thing we want to do sometimes is to feel insecure about our bodies next to all the Lululemon-wearing gym-bunnies who seem to have it made.
So do we want to go somewhere, like a gym, where we are going to be judged for how we look? Probably not. Regardless of the fact that everyone around us is worried about the same thing, it feels like all eyes are on you when you walk into a gym, let alone a fitness classes full of people who seem to know exactly what they are doing. It's daunting to put yourself out there, especially for a group of people who are glued to their phones and computers (in general, there are those of us who still don't understand what Twitter is, or why it exists).
So for those people, it's a natural leap to look into virtual platforms.
Now virtual platforms are not one-size fits all. They can be an online membership, paid monthly to be able to view workouts in a specific type of class. They can be Instagram videos, Facebook how-to's, or or social media outlets full of (questionably, true) fitness "coaches" or "instructors". They can be a Skype call with a group of like-minded people who can't pay for a gym membership. Virtual platforms come in all shapes and sizes so it's really not fair to generalize because some can be so meaningful to people. But there are some things that they do have in common.
Easy access. Cheaper rates. Anonymity.
Three huge things that millennials want, right there. Something they can get to easily. Something that fits in a paycheck from most likely a part time job while in school. And the big one: anonymity. The internet and online social media sites give so many people power to say and do what they want without having to show their face or comment, or let people know they are participating. Sure, someone is probably tracking online activity (Big Brother is watching....), but at the end of the day, people feel better if they don't have to actually put themselves out there and be critiqued.
So there's a huge part of it. The desire not to be judged and the desire to have things for a cheap rate when they are wanted. So should we (fitness instructors) be thinking about this more and more? Should we care? What does it mean for getting young people in our class, and even better, keeping them in our classes?
I'm not an expert, but here's what I think works and some things to think about:
Getting Young People into Class and Keeping Them in Class
A guide written by a twenty-something fitness instructor
1.) You are a fitness professional. And young people see you as such. In fact, they probably put you on a higher pedestal than you put yourself. Why? Because they are used to "celebrity" trainer from online platforms, so when they look at you, they see something similar. BE APPROACHABLE. Introduce yourself. How is easy is that? And then learn their name! We're all human and we all want to be treated like we matter, that we are worthy of people's notice. I can't tell you how many classes I have never gone back to (me, as a fitness instructor!!) because the person teaching the class was not personable. Not because they weren't amazing. Because they weren't personable. You could be the next Jane Fonda, but it wouldn't matter to little old me from a small town if you don't care about me being in your class.
And know about different virtual platforms. Do your research! Tell them about your certifications, be proud of how much you know! The more we educate people about our industry, the better response we're going to get from people.
2.) Ask people what they want to get out of your class. Is it abs and glutes? (That's what I always get asked for). Is it an easy class or hard class? If you are delivering something they want, they feel valued because you listened. People want to be listened to.
Here's a trick I use in my barre class. Most of the time I get a request for abs. I don't do a lot of floor work or crunches because that's not my style and I personally find that rather... boring (who's with me?). So do I change my class? NO! I change my CUES. I teach my class how to engage the whole core, how to balance out back and abdominals for core the whole class. Think smarter, not harder, right? You can get so much out of your students without changing your style by changing your words and cues to match what they want to hear.
3.) Learn from your students; never pass up an opportunity to learn more. Do you know an instructor who hasn't done any new certifications, licenses or continuing education workshops in years? Now, you may only want to teach one format, and that's fine! But people change even if what you teach doesn't. It's always worth it to ask your students what they want and work that into your style. And it's always worth it to try something, at least once. You never know what you'll get out of it. Six years ago a sorority sister invited me to try her Zumba class. Six years later, here I am with too many licenses to count and a group fitness certification. But it all started because I tried something new.
4.) Respect other instructors. No matter where you teach, what you teach or how you feel about another instructor, you do your best to find something positive about a situation and to respect other people. I had someone sub my barre class who was not a barre instructor and then tell me the next week that her class was so good she was willing to hand me her notes so I could do as well as her (yikes!). And she said this before I was starting my barre class (deep breathes, deep breathes). I said thank you, that is very kind of you and moved on with my life. My point here is that, sure, I could have set her straight in front of my students but that wouldn't have been a smart move for either of us. I'm there to teach, not compete and I need my students to know that (so they probably aren't my students if I'm not being competitive).
There are a lot of fitness instructors these days (the industry is growing, which is awesome!) and if we want to have a chance at inspiring young people to become fitness instructors and to come to our classes, we have to make sure we are projecting the right environment. If it looks like we're cutthroat and mean and catty, then we really aren't going to keep people around. We are professionals and we are respectful and we are supportive. We have to project those values even if we're struggling with a situation internally.
Come to think of it, are those tips much different than for your other participants? Not really, and I guess that's also one of my points. Younger people (this is a relative term!) want most of the same things other participants want. We just want it slightly differently and we haven't quite figured out the best way to get it.
Now that's just me. I did my research (and it was primary research! I talked to people.) but of course this is a dialogue from someone who is technically a millennial (even if she's always in bed before 9:00pm on a school night). You are welcome to comment; this is meant to spark discussion and thought!
Thank you for reading. If you have any comments, you are always more than welcome to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to write an article for the NSFA Blog? All you have to do is start writing. Send me your final product and we'll get it up.
Happy reading and writing-
NSFA - PR and Communications Director