Teamwork – making the dream work …

If my years of fitness instructing have taught me anything, it’s that everyone benefits from teamwork. It really is a case of 2 + 2 = 5: the whole is so much greater than the parts. When I started teaching fitness it came something of a surprise to me – I hated team sports at school, mainly because I had a terrible fear of letting the rest of the team down. Thankfully, I have ‘grown’ out of the feeling.

The importance of teamwork was brought home to me, a couple of weeks ago when I ran a Mumbai Moves training course at Firststep2fitness in Darlington. Watching the trainees work together, choreographing routines, I was impressed with the way they bonded and worked together – and, I think, got so much more out of the training day. I was so glad we’d decided on in-studio training because the experience is quite different with online fitness training courses that have become so popular.

Group exercise definitely brings better results and has so many benefits.

· Increases your internal drive to exercise. You become accountable to your classmates and class instructors which motivates you to participate every week.

· Exercising with a group of people you feel comfortable around encourages you to work your hardest during each and every class.

· In a group exercise class, there’s the possibility of meeting new, like-minded people and making new friends.

· Group exercise helps reduce stress and results in far greater improvements in the mental, physical and emotional health of participants than seen in lone exercisers.

· When you master the routines, your self-confidence gets a boost and its very reassuring when you’re struggling with something and somebody – or everybody – is having the same problem.

In one American study, a behavioural professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Centre (Paul Estabrooks) discovered that ‘exercise’ contents shapes how much effect exercise has on quality of life, social interactions, physical benefits and people sticking with their workouts. Looking at home workouts, standard exercise and ‘true group’ classes where techniques were used to increase social bonding among people in class – true group classes provided the most benefits and working out alone at home came in last.

Generally, the more contact or social support that people have during exercise the greater the benefits. Classes are more effective when they use group dynamics strategies – making people feel like they are part of something.. This isn’t usual in most group exercises classes where people come, work out and go home.

It isn’t always easy to create group dynamics in a studio situation though. I try to do so in a variety of ways. In my SOSA classes, from time to time, I will choreograph a group routine to get class members interacting. At the moment, we are doing a group paso doble. The first week was hilariously disastrous but it’s beginning to work and everyone is getting a sense of satisfaction. In Mumbai Moves we’re working on a couple of routines to demonstrate at our annual party and again, these are coming together and everyone is enjoying the process.

Performance is great for bonding – some of my class members have been performing with me at parties and local charity galas for more than a decade and, in doing so, have formed lifelong friendships with other team members.

The annual party is another bonding experience – we have demonstrations, competitions, quizzes, a free raffle, supper and awards. The awards aren’t all intended for those who are the best at doing the routines: recipients are those who have made most progress, who have battled the odds to get to class, who always give 100%. The party is so successful that one of my members has just paid for 12 tickets, three months in advance. At the Thursday Chichi-Fit class we have a Member of the Month award – again for those who contribute to class and ‘lift the atmosphere.’

Sadly, amongst some fitness instructors, there is an ‘I, Me, Mine’ attitude. They seem to be afraid that if you cover their classes, their participants will migrate to your classes. That just doesn’t happen. If I am covering, I always apologise to the class, knowing that they will miss their usual teacher. Each of us has our own ‘people’ – class members who enjoy our style of teaching, our routines and our personalities. Some of my class members have been attending the various classes I teach for more than 10 years but I encourage them to visit other instructors’ classes – it should be all about the participant and not about the instructor.

One of the golden rules of teaching exercise is that you never approach a venue used by another instructor with a view to teaching the same class but working together in the same area can be a real boon. Planning class timings means that there’s someone to cover when you’re ill or away. I head to the mountains in the winters and am extremely grateful for those instructors who cover whilst I am away. One lovely, recently qualified, Chichi-Fit instructor is travelling from Manchester to Huddersfield with the intention of covering one of my classes whilst I am away and another couple of local instructors are covering the other classes. I hope to be able to repay the favour. As one of my fitness colleagues frequently quoted ‘teamwork makes the dream work.’