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To create an exceptional fitness class experience for your members, you need three outstanding aspects: instructors, environment and programming. Focusing on these three components will help with member retention and recruitment, and keep your center ahead of the curve.


At the Heart of the Valley YMCA in Huntsville, Alabama, Sharon Allen, the fitness and corporate wellness director, considers the group exercise instructor the single most important aspect of the member experience.

“This relies not only on their technical knowledge, but also their enthusiasm, their ability to perform to a crowd, and motivate and inspire others with their passion,” said Allen. “This type of instructor has to be there for the members. They have to be driven by giving every single member the best feeling ever while they’re in the class. It’s about kindness, charisma and positive energy.”

Additionally, Allen finds an instructor can achieve rockstar status and create a wonderful experience through the mastery of one or two of the five key elements of successful Group X instruction: choreography, physical execution, coaching, performance and communication.

It’s no secret the Group X culture can be tough to navigate with differing personalities and potential traits not compatible with the goal of changing lives through a positive fitness experience. This is why Allen appreciates confidence but does not tolerate arrogance on her team. “Find the people who love to teach group exercise, but who love changing lives even more,” she elaborated. “You can always coach someone to be a better instructor when they’re truly focused on the member experience. You can’t coach those who can’t see past themselves.”


For some members, walking into a Group X class — or your facility in general — can be stressful and overwhelming. According to Elsie Bennett, the fitness and wellness director at the Alpert JCC Long Beach in Long Beach, California, alleviating stress is all about the environment members are walking into.

“We always try to make sure our members are walking into a class setting that’s a welcoming environment, first and foremost,” said Bennett. “I believe the environment affects the feeling the members walk away with, and I think more than anything they’re looking for a sense of support, a sense of warmth and an inviting environment.”

One of the simplest ways the JCC provides this is by having staff greet each member as they walk into a class. “I try to greet members by name so it’s as personable as it can be,” said Bennett. “If we don’t know a new member and they’re walking in for the first time, it’s always a priority to introduce yourself to that person and get their name.”

By creating this environment for members, you’re increasing member retention, and making room for the possibility of new members. “People seem to be looking for a place to belong, and that’s why they’re involved with community centers,” said Bennett. “If they can find that at their center, I think it’s only going to benefit the organizations in the long run because they’re going to tell their friends. When you find something good, you want to share it; it’s a great way to retain membership overall. Give people a place where they belong and feel as if it’s home away from home.”

An additional way to create a welcoming environment for members is to make yourself available for any feedback — positive or negative. Bennett’s JCC has specifically benefitted from responding to email feedback from aquatics members requesting new weights for their workouts.

To address this concern, Bennett reached out and invited members into her office to discuss exactly what they needed before she made her purchase. Her members were shocked, and felt special and heard. “Be there, run toward the issues and complaints you might be hearing from your members — not away from it,” she said.

Allen reiterated the need for clear and open communication with members to retain a welcoming environment. This is why her Y uses ActivTrax to help build staff-to-member relationships and keep track of member engagement.


Lastly, to create an exceptional fitness class experience for your members, it’s not enough to only have great instructors and a welcoming environment. You also need the latest and greatest programming and equipment to make your classes stand out from the rest.

Allen’s instructors would not be able to provide the best experience for members without the help of fitness equipment from ELIVATE and Power Systems. Without the proper tools at his or her disposal, a fitness instructor can only be a voice of encouragement.

At the Fond du lac Family YMCA in Fond du lac, Wisconsin, members are offered four virtual fitness studios. In two of the studios, Wexer provides over 1,000 virtual fitness classes, and programs by Les Mills are provided in the other two.

“We went away from thinking whether a member has some time to go and pick their classes to really being intentional about scheduling virtual classes as part of our normal schedule,” said J.J. Raflik, the CEO and executive director of the Fond du lac Y. “We didn’t want to have virtual replace our live classes — we just said we think we can fill in the gaps a little.”

Raflik said the goal of offering more virtual fitness classes is to make sure they are accessible to everybody in the community by trying to meet members where they’re at. “It’s been very popular with our young adults and our senior population as well,” he elaborated. “We can offer family fitness classes at different times of the day we haven’t been able to.”

Raflik also described how the virtual classes have even helped within the Fond du lac Y’s daycare, allowing children to participate in a kids’ yoga class as a way of fitting in a form of exercise in the middle of the day. “It’s helped with retention, with member recruitment, and then our ultimate goal is to help with the health of the community, which is, and should always be, the main goal,” he said.

One of the greatest perks of offering virtual fitness to your members is witnessing the way it will open doors to the rest of your fitness programming. These classes offer a way for members to try different workouts first without jumping into a big class with a live instructor — an experience that can deter new or intimidated members.

“Members also do strive to find a live class because the experience is better with a live instructor,” said Raflik. “We don’t feel it’s taken away from our live classes — it’s enhanced them. It’s changed our thinking from the beginning.”

Brittany Howard

Brittany is the editor of Community Rec Magazine. Reach her at brittany@peakemedia.com.

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