3 mistakes group fitness instructors make
3 things stretching and group fitness instructors should NEVER do! And a solution for each mistake.
1. Never diagnose your participants
You are not a healthcare professional (unless you are, in which case, you can skip to the next mistake). Our participants approach us before and after class with tons of questions. Many times they are related to their physical health. We need to be attentive to our participants and empathetic but we also must stay within our scope of practice. It's tempting to tell them what we think is wrong, especially if it's something very common and something we might have had in the past. However, this is extremely dangerous and frankly illegal, as it sets you up for liability issues. And when it comes down to it, because it's not within our scope of practice our answer is a best guess. Something our clients are not looking for!
So stop trying to guess and instead refer your participants to the proper health professional ( medical doctor, physiotherapist, dietician etc).
Being a fitness professional means knowing your strengths and weaknesses. Your participants will respect you much more if you tell them you are not qualified to provide a diagnosis but you can recommend someone to see, whether it is a physiotherapist, medical doctor etc. It demonstrates that you are taking their situation seriously and that you are invested in helping them find a real solution.
How do you stop this from happening in the first place? You don't. Participants have and always will come to us with their aches and pains. We are the first line of defence. Which makes how we handle the situation extremely important. Think of yourself as part of the process. We play a vital role in helping our participants lead healthy lives, which also includes helping get them the proper treatment for injuries and medical conditions. If we refer them to the proper medical professionals, they will have a better chance of healing. Which means they will be able to continue taking your classes and will also be grateful for the help you provided. They will respect you that much more!
Listen to them. Take in all the information. Provide empathy. Then suggest the appropriate medical professional. This is a great opportunity to build trust with other professionals in other industries. I work with different physiotherapists, athletic therapists, osteopaths and dieticians. We refer each other based off of each persons qualifications and, with the clients permission, we share information when required.
2. Never physically force someone into a position
This might seem obvious, but it happens all the time. Especially in a stretching class (or stretch segment of a class). As instructors, we tend to be more flexible than the majority of our participants and we also tend to pick exercises we can do. And have done many times.
What seems simple to us, might be extremely difficult for someone else. Especially if they are new to exercise. Their body will need time to adapt to the new exercises and if they are forced into a position, they could injury themselves.
Stretching positions can also put people in vulnerable positions. They can also release emotions and built up stress. It's important to always be aware of these things when guiding participants in and out of stretching exercises.
Some people do not like to be touched. You should always ask a participant if you can touch them. Most of the time you shouldn't need to. Touching them should be a last resort. Especially in a group fitness class. There are many other ways to correct poor technique.
Demonstrate the move or how to get into the position beside them. Verbally guide them into the position slowly. Allow them to stop when they feel uncomfortable or pain. If they can't do the move or get into the position safety and comfortably then provide them with a modification (regression).
3. Never create a weight loss (management) plan that accompanies your class or routine
Now, like the first mistake, if you have the qualifications to do this then by all means go right ahead. However, the majority of group fitness and stretching instructors do not. There are many fitness trainers out there that think their certification allows them to create weight loss programs (including meal plans) for their participants. Unless you are a registered dietician or a certified nutritionist (depending on the state) you can not provide meal plans!
Once again, staying within your scope of practice will gain you much more respect than taking on disciplines in which you are not qualified.
You also need to consider the legal consequences, from participants but also from governing bodies.
Even though we can not create meal plans, this doesn't mean we can't share important nutritional advice with our clients. In fact, it's highly encouraged since we are in a position of influence with our participants. I encourage you to take a continuing education nutrition certificate. This will provide you with the knowledge of what you can and are legal able to share. You should be promoting a healthy living plan. No diets (especially any diet that restricts calories or food groups. Major no no). Educate your participants on governmental nutrition guidelines. Ask an RD if you can share some of their recipes and information. There is a lot of information you can share that will have a major impact on your clients health.
We see these 3 mistakes on a regular basis. If you can implement the solutions we have suggested then you're well on your way to maintaining your fitness professional status. Remember, our goal as fitness professionals is to help our clients lead healthy lives.