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It has happened to all of us group exercise pros at one time or another.  You are starting as a new instructor in an “old” instructor’s time slot OR you are the “old” instructor who hears from former clients about how much they miss you and dislike the newbie.  It’s nice to be on the second half of that conundrum, but how do you advise clients, and your fellow instructors for that matter, about how to handle it?

As a corporate fitness instructor, including yoga, cycling, boot camps, kickboxing and the list goes on…I am often planning to start teaching a series of classes with attendees who really enjoyed their previous instructor.  It can be intimidating, but I found that there are three things to do to put everyone at ease: Acknowledge the previous instructor and show them you did your homework; Remind your class attendees that their minds and their muscles will both grow when challenged in different ways; and, Reassure them that they are in good hands.  I also encourage and thank them for trying something and someone new.  Let’s break it down.

Creating a Bond

As the “newbie,” I always like to introduce myself to the class, give them a few details about what to expect as far as format and my teaching approach or philosophy.  I find that Yogis are the toughest crowd to win-over because they often make a personal connection with their favorite instructor.  So, I always acknowledge the previous instructor and let them know I appreciate her too. 

I share with them that prior to the class, I spoke with their fave instructor, or at least the hiring manager, to get the scoop on her methods of teaching, class format, intensity level and any feedback that attendees previously offered about her.  So, I am starting to build a relationship with them, right from the start by creating a common bond.  Having spoken to the previous, beloved teacher creates an element of trust and is helpful in the beginning.

Increasing Exercise Aptitude

I will also remind the attendees that, because I am a different instructor, there may be ways that I teach a move or pose that could help them make gains in strength, agility or flexibility.  I encourage them to keep an open mind and try to help them realize the possibilities.  I give examples like, “Perhaps the way I describe a pose or teach a kickboxing move will click with you in a different way and allow you to master something that had previously been elusive.” 

I also ask the participants to give me two or three classes before they decide they hate me.  I encourage them to provide feedback at the end of the class either directly to me, to the Fitness Director or person who hired me.

Give them your Creds

I always give my class attendees brief details about my certification, years of experience and other classes I may teach.  I like for them to know this is not my first time at the rodeo and assure them they are in good hands.  I talk about any recent classes I have taken or articles I may have read so they know that I am constantly refreshing my skills and keeping up with the latest trends or advances.

Try to get to your class early if possible.  As people start to show up, introduce yourself and give them a chance to tell you what they liked about the previous classes or instructor.  Also, let them tell you something about themselves, people love to talk about themselves.  Keep in mind, participants are often nervous about a new instructor because they don’t know how intense the class may be or whether they can do everything you tell them to do.  Nothing can put them more at ease than a friendly chat before class.  I mean, if the instructor is nice before class there’s no way she can turn into a beast during it…right?

The most important element is to be confident.  If you make a mistake, it is likely your class will not even know it.  Forget it and move on!  Don’t be afraid to use your notes or cue sheets too.  It can make you seem more human, I mean who can remember all of those kickboxing combinations or yoga sequences anyway?

Finally, be genuine, be yourself.  I will often talk about poses I struggle with, tight spots in my own body or combinations I find challenging.   For me, safety is always a primary concern, both when teaching or training clients and working out myself, so I share pointers for how to safely execute combinations or positions on the bike.  Remember, someone who knows these folks better than you, hired you because she thought you would be a good instructor for them.  Smile!

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