5 questions to ask yourself before your next group class

Group classes. We love them, we hate them. They are so fun when they’re great and they’re so terrible when they’re not. Maria and I have spent thousands of dollars and hundred hours learning systems and approaches to teach better group classes. Today we’re giving you the shortcut, so you can start teaching better group classes now. This is an article for teachers but if you are a dedicated student, I included a paragraph for you under each step.


1. Is your intent for the class realistic?

"Automatically, we take our goals as trainers and we insert them into our student's goals (...) It's not the exercise that is important, it's the person that's important."

I'll never forget the first group class Maria and I taught after hearing Andreo Spina say that before an FRC event. We used to teach group classes thinking of them as a good place to teach new things and progress our regular students. And while it is possible to have people progress in a group class, a lot of people need 1-on-1 coaching instead of attending more drop-in classes. Make sure you are honest with your students about what group classes - especially drop in classes - can and cannot do. For instance drop in classes are a great place to move together and build community, in a set group class you have a higher chance of being able to teach new things. But group classes are not a place to work on individual problems, pains and aches, so let’s stop marketing them as such.

As a student Maria and I made a similar mistake. We thought we could progress in our training and learn new things almost exclusively through group classes. We recommend: be really clear about why you are going to a particular class and focus on that aspect. For instance if I’m going to a group class to have fun, I don’t have to push over my limit and do things that make me uncomfortable. It’s great to remind yourself during class why you are here.

2. Does your warm up work for everyone?

Just like it's impossible to make the perfect meal for people with different dietary restrictions, it's impossible to teach a perfect class for a group of people at different levels. In an ideal world we’d have a system that determines who is ready for which class. In the real world we don’t. So it’s best to assume people don’t have the same background in fitness and they don’t spend their days focusing on movement. Set your crew up for success by bringing them up to speed with a specific warm-up. Our favorite warm-up drills include: CARS, breathing drills and task specific warm-ups with less load.

If you are joining a class assume that there will be no warm-up or a real shitty one. Come early and warm up so that your body feels ready to jump straight into a workout. If you are unsure what will be taught, you can always reach out and ask the teacher. We love chatting about our classes.

3. Are you providing enough options?

The number one mistake I see teachers make during their group classes, is they assume everyone has the same capabilities. Having to offer variations of the same exercise should not be the exception, it should be the norm. If everyone in your class is doing the same thing, we have a problem. Instead of making class as difficult as possible, pretend no one has any prerequisites. Even if you are teaching advanced classes, assume that people do not have what it takes to do these exercises. Maria and I see many rotational athletes who can’t rotate, overhead athletes with poor shoulder flexion, etc. You are never too advanced to master the basics. And no, “just sitting this one out“ is not a long term strategy to manage your student’s problems.

As someone who attends classes, be aware of your own limitations and let the teacher know beforehand. However: in big classes it is hard to keep track of who needs alternative options. Don’t ever feel bad about asking for more options, if something feels uncomfortable or painful. You might be helping someone else with a similar issue.

4. Are my basics covered?

The idea that the basic movements like deadlifts, planks, and crunches are EASY, is incorrect. In fact, the "basic" movements are usually the most difficult. Don't assume your class knows how to do them correctly. Actually, assume they DON'T. You’d be astonished if you knew how many people tell me that their squat, plank or deadlift that looks fine from the outside doesn’t feel good. Don't be afraid to break down the basics. Don’t be afraid of really nerding out on how exactly you can cue and demo basic poses/exercises so it becomes impossible to get them wrong.

If you are joining a class, pay attention to where you feel different exercises in your body. Does it line up with what the teacher is saying? Or do you feel your lower back getting sore and your neck tensing up? These are not normal byproducts of training. Please, please go and talk to your teacher so you don’t get better at strategies that cause discomfort.

5. Do I have a plan to encourage stability throughout class?

A common complaint I hear from my movement teachers, is that their students struggle to create stability. If you ever see a student holding their breath or struggling to breathe in a position, they don't have the stability for it. If your students complain about lower back and neck pain, review the basics with them. It is easier to reference a stack (of diaphragm and pelvic floor) in a more advanced pose, if they have practiced it in a less challenging position before. We tend to think of the body as a container, storing movement patterns or we think of it as the sum of our muscles and bones. What we ignore is that our body is actually a pressure system. The position of our diaphragm and pelvic floor matters so much when it comes to the ability to pressurize your core. Do you know how to address this problem? Just a five minute breathing drill at the beginning of class could make a huge difference for your students.

As a student the most important thing I want you to know is this: if you can’t breathe in a position you don’t own the position. Just going through the motions is not gonna get you the results you are looking for. There are breathing drills to address this. And the best part is, they’ll feel like ab work because the first function of our abs is to support our breathing.

Maria and I teach all of these things in our classes - but we didn’t come up with them. Like I said in the beginning we love sorting through new movement trends for you to decide what works and what is BS. Yes, sometimes we get completely lost in a system and nerd out hard (it ain’t pretty). But it’s for a good cause: distilling the most valuable information and breaking it down so the average movement trainer or fitness enthusiast can put the knowledge to good use.

If you wanna know more about each point, you can now get the free bonus version of this article. For each point we have either recorded short videos or collected postings and lectures of our favorite colleagues and teachers. Once you sign up you'll get the login for this minicourse via email.

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