Group training is a lot of fun, and it’s also a great lower-cost option for folks that can’t afford the higher-end services like semi-private and private training. The caveat is that group training, to be done safely and successfully, needs a solid framework and structure. It also requires a different coaching energy that the other two types of training don’t necessitate (I’m not saying you have to be Richard Simons, but some you need some presence so the room doesn’t fall flat.)
During this dive into group training we’ll cover the structure, function, and flair—that’s right, ladies and gents, flair—that defines a great group-training program.
Let’s start with the eval.
For our group classes, we use the Strength Faction eval with a couple of additives.
For the shoulders we use the scratch test and a shoulder CAR.
For the hips we do an active straight leg raise.
We also do a trunk stability push-up.
In our strength training classes, we place people into either the hips or shoulders group, and the get a wrist band to denote which group they’re in, and we format their programming options to fit the group.
Metabolic isn’t as structured. We just use the information to help our coaches guide the clients through the varying levels of exercise difficulty that they can choose from.
We really just need some basic info to make sure we don’t put people in terrible positions. There’s no programming customization, so we don’t have to go as deep with a movement eval.
First Thing’s First—Format
Here’s the exact document we use with our coaches to guide our group sessions. Have a look, then we’ll chat, k? Ok, see you in a few minutes.
[pdf-embedder url=”http://www.strengthfaction.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/BSP-NOVA-Class-Instructions.pdf” title=”BSP NOVA Class Instructions”]
This structure was born from my time playing, and coaching, football—minus some of the continual goal-setting stuff. Each time we’d work on something at our individual positions, or collectively as a defense (I played safety/linebacker), we’d huddle up, get instructions, then break out again to act. It kept everything orderly, built rest into the practice, and gave us the ability to sever our focus and reorient it on the next task.
It applies nicely to all group-training sessions—folks need rest, they need attention breaks, and they need a chance to re-focus before heading into the next segment of the workout. This pause for instruction is also huge for putting people in the best possible positions to be successful—more on that in just a tick.
I added in the goal setting part of the process during the past year. We G.A.B. for our semi-private and private sessions; why would we sell our group-training clients short on that beautiful opportunity to focus their intent over the next immediate time block of their lives?
Having a structure like this, and sticking to it consistently, makes the process of teaching class, as well as progressing it, much less stressful on you. And it makes it easier for the clients to understand, focus, train hard, and make progress.
Instructing—The Whole Group
Rather than attempting to coach everything on the fly, as people are whizzing about in the class, use those breaks in the format wisely and give people the information they need to be successful. It sets context, it gives people the cues for them to keep in mind as they act, and it gives them the information they need to make the right exercise selection.
Our programming for our group classes is also instructive—we use a one-up, one-down system. You can see that in the pictures below.
We give a solid demonstration, associated cues, and big things to think about.
During the instruction period we give folks information that help them make the right exercise choice for them. This is true for our group strength classes as well, but each person in those classes carries their own programming sheet instead of having the class written on a chalkboard. It’s like semi-private light.
Also, give everyone reminders and bring up salient issues from past classes. When I say that, I mean talk about them as themes, don’t call out person specific actioins. State it like:
“Something to keep in mind about X…”
“I noticed last class that Debbie had a hard time with X, so…” or “Hey, here’s something everyone keeps messing up…”
That’s not to be overly sensitive, it’s just not the best way to get everyone on board and learning.
As you move through each section of the class, you’re going to notice thematic coaching points, things that more than one person seems to struggle with, and also things that only one person is struggling with. You’ll, of course, deal with those in real time, but it’s also helpful to bring them up during breaks and include them in the group instruction.
Here’s a helpful way to frame that:
Individual issue, Group instruction
Again, a great way to state it is, “Hey ladies and gents, here’s something to keep in mind about X…”
Adding this in to group instruction time gives everyone the benefit of learning from the mistakes of one or a few.
A Little More on One-up, One-down: Qualifications
Have you ever been teaching a class and had folks doing exercises at varying levels of difficulty? Say, a couple people are swinging kettlebells while a couple more are relegated to a lower-level hip hinge? Of those folks doing the lower-level hinge, one or more is bound to wonder, and eventually ask why aren’t doing swings, too, with an envious, sometimes resentful air. You know, with one of those poopy looks on their face with their nose all scrunched up.
Well, here’s something you can do about that—have everyone run through qualifications each time to reinforce the progression and that they are being put in the best position to be successful.
If you can do this, then you get to do that.
For example, let’s look at the kettlebell swing.
Have everyone demonstrate a belly swing. Nailed it? Cool. Move on.
Then a kettlebell RDL. Good? Ok, next step.
How about a kettlebell deadlift? Good? Moving on!
The hike? How’s that looking? Solid. Great.
Dead stop swing? Splendid. You’re good to go for swings.
If people break down at any level, that’s where they hang out—or they do an exercise that would stress them appropriately that would be a lateralization from a kettlebell swing. For example, we have people do vertical jumps instead of swings if they can’t demonstrate all of the necessary swinging prerequisites.
You can do this for every complex exercise in your group programming. This may seem like a long process but it can literally be done in a minute or two. Another reasons that the breaks built into the structure are so important.
Individual Instruction: Crossing Faces
If you take a gander back up at our class guide, you’ll see this line:
Cross face at as many stations during each round as possible
That’s a gentle reminder to keep moving during class. Even though it’s a group class, we want as much individual interaction as possible. At a base level, this keeps people connected. From a movement coaching perspective it gives us the chance to see, and correct, more issues.
As you move about, clean up the little issues that you can and take mental notes to check in on them during the break. It’s important to think in terms of priorities. You aren’t going to get to everything, even though everything may seem important. So, you have to set a hierarchy in your mind that looks something like this:
-Dangerous shit gets attention first
-Then potentially dangerous shit
-Then form flaws that could cumulatively lead to dangerous shit
-Then little tweaks
If you don’t have a hierarchy like this, you’re going to try to fix everything all of the time as you do your individual coaching and you’re going to get really frustrated because that’s super fucking hard to do. Or you’re going to slow the pace of class so much that people get pissed off. Construct your hierarchy and follow it.
In the case that there’s nothing to coach with a given person, still cross their face and engage them in some way during each round—if possible. It’s tough if you’re working with super short intervals, but make your best effort.
Engage! Engage! Engage!
What About the Basics?
By now you know how crazy we are about nailing the basics. But, how in the name everything holy can we do that, and get people practicing good exercise execution, before they hit the group class running? It’s a lot simpler than you think. We use the warm-up.
Each day during the warm-up the basic movement patterns are reinforced and taught—especially for the hinge and squat. This gives us a chance to teach new comers without having to do an entire onboarding or orientation class, and it’s a constant reinforcement for class vets.
Build practice into the warm-up and you can ensure that people are nailing the basics before jumping into loaded, or intensely executed, movements. This is also a great extension of the evaluation—you get to consistently see where someone’s movement is progressing, regressing, or stagnating. That’s gold for coaching and programming—even in the group setting.
Firm But Fun
Group training is centered on fun, graded exercise—that means group classes need to have energy; lots of folks join group training because they like the environment, the shared struggle, the cooperative competition. Being a stick in the mud without any personality will Johnny Raincloud that environment into submission in a damn hurry. But being an overly firm cock produces the same result.
It’s about being firm but fun.
Stated simply, that means preparing yourself as much as possible so you can be confident in your coaching and in the execution of the class. If there are any holes in your preparation, they will show through, and you won’t be as confident as you need to be to be a presence and manage the environment. That means use your grown up voice when addressing everyone.
Project. Stand tall. Move. Be a presence. Demonstrate that you have command over the situation.
This all comes from preparation—both in understanding the class and what should happen, but also in getting your head to the right place before getting rolling.
But shit needs to be fun, too. That’s why we play a game after each warm-up during metabolic class and we end each Friday strength class with a game. Beyond the games, however, you need to be fun. While everyone will feed off of the energy of the others in the class, your energy sets the tone. If you’re not enjoying yourself, no one else will have as much fun as they should. (Maybe that’s not true. Lots of folks have fun regardless, but you know what I’m getting at.)
Kick Ass with Your Group Class
First, you’re welcome for that rhyme. Second, develop a structure that allows you to prepare, teach, and program consistently for your group classes—that way you can instruct effectively and be relaxed enough to create a firm but fun environment. Go kick some ass!