World Cycle class with masks

Group Exercise (GroupX) programs are the jewel of the gym—an opportunity to build community as members motivate one another. But in the current COVID environment, the thought of “group” anything can make consumers wary. The good news is that you can still offer GroupX classes in an environment that’s both safe and supportive, says World Gym’s National Director of Group Fitness Tiffany Hamlin.

Here are some tips for helping your GroupX offering thrive.

1. Communicate with members.
Have you noticed that almost every post we write mentions communication? Yep, it’s the No. 1 thing you must do to inspire confidence in your members. You want them to know that you take their safety (and that of your employees’) seriously, and that includes your GroupX configuration. Describe your protocols, such as putting indicators on the floor to promote social distancing, cleaning equipment after every use, airing out the room between classes…whatever measures you are taking.

And be sure to let members know about guidelines they must follow, such as wearing masks or avoiding before-class mingling. If you are numbering reservations to minimize foot traffic, explain the system; i.e. the first person to sign up gets bike No. 1, etc.

Hamlin suggests using social media to further communicate protocols. “Nothing beats the visuals of actually showing the equipment being sanitized and members working out with plenty of space between them.”

2. Get the instructors on board.
There’s bound to be that one scofflaw who wants to take off their mask or begs to squeeze in in the back. But making exceptions can put the whole program in jeopardy if members don’t believe you are practicing what you preach. Remind instructors to follow through on protocols by insisting on face coverings (and wearing one themselves) and asking participants to leave their gear so they can spray it down. “If you do everything at a high standard, you will win over your members and assure them they can feel safe coming back,” Hamlin explains.

3. Offer a good mix of formats, adapting the classes as necessary.
When you’re building your class schedule, prioritize the formats that have been your high performers, but make sure to offer a mix of class types. “Remember that not everyone wants to lose weight or build muscle; some are coming to relax and restore their mental energy so you need to make sure each person’s goal is being met, even with a reduced schedule,” says Hamlin. She recommends a balance of the three main categories: mind/body, strength and cardio. Make modifications as needed, such as switching up a circuit class so members have personal stations, rather than circling through.

4. Embrace digital as a complement.
Nothing can replace the in-person connection of a gym, but Hamlin notes that streaming class have taken a big leap forward in creating community. “You can replicate much of that group experience digitally,” she says. If the class is virtual, encourage instructors to ask members to use their cameras (if they feel comfortable) for that “in person” vibe. Or if you find there’s more interest in a class than room, have the instructor set up a camera so those at home can feel like they are part of the live action.

While in-person visits are ideal, a virtual class can be the next best thing to keep members connected and hopefully entice them to return. “These hybrid classes can be a baby step to get people back,” says Hamlin. “There is so much we can do to make the GroupX experience positive and fun, even with limitations in place.”