Developing Group X at Portland State

Group X programming

Group X programming has numerous benefits for students, and campus rec centers across the country are implementing group fitness to meet the evolving fitness landscape.

Recently, Campus Rec released a three-part series about developing Group X programming in campus recreation, focusing on planning and implementation basics, challenges to overcome and why Group X is worth offering to students.

Consider this a bonus edition to the series, covering all three aspects of Group X programming from the perspective of Erin Bransford, the coordinator of fitness and health promotion at Portland State University.

Here’s what she had to say about how Portland State successfully built its Group X programming from the ground up:

CR: What are some of your best practices in implementing Group X programming?

EB: One best practice would be to try to ensure all your instructors are certified. A lot of universities are doing that, and I don’t know if it’s necessarily a requirement at all universities, but when I started the Group X program here, that was something I wanted to make sure I made as a requirement for all our instructors. When you’re planning a Group X program, you also need to plan how you’re going to staff it — plan all that together at one time so you can sustain a great program. That was one of the first exercises I did when I was creating our Group X programming.

Another thing was figuring out the types of classes I’d be teaching — that’s critical. Are we going to have specialty classes that require specialty equipment? Or are we going to stick with more traditional classes? How much space do we have to store all that equipment? Are the studios going to be open and multi-purpose, or are they dedicated group fitness spaces? Those questions will then influence the types of classes you put on your schedule. They were also some of the things I initially thought about when establishing our Group X programming.

CR: Do you have any best practices for choosing equipment?

EB: You definitely need a plan for upkeep on equipment. How frequently are you going to inventory the equipment to make sure it stays safe? Over time, equipment starts to break down, so you need to have a plan or system in place to account for that. You need to have a budget for updating and maintaining equipment as needed.

As far as types of equipment, it all depends on the classes you’re offering. I think every group fitness program will need smaller dumbbells and mats to do workouts and stretching. From there, the more you can have, the better variety of workouts you can offer. It starts getting tricky in the specialty formats. There’s so much equipment out there — what you choose is dependent on the classes you’re offering and how much space you have to store it all. We had two group fitness rooms, and initially, I thought we could just program evenly in both rooms, but the reality is we didn’t have a shared storage space for both rooms, so unless I bought double the equipment to put in both rooms, we were really limited. We had to divide the way we stored our equipment accordingly, which was a challenge.

CR: What other challenges did you encounter in getting Group X off the ground at Portland State?

EB: Finding qualified instructors was definitely the hardest thing. We teach a group fitness instructor training course with a national certification the students can take, and we recruit a lot of instructors through that. Fortunately, there are a lot of yoga studios around that do training and certifications, so I’ve been very lucky finding qualified yoga instructors.

The constant turnover in our student staff is challenging, however. As they’re always graduating, you need to have a new group of people coming in, and there have certainly been times I’ve had a limited number of instructors interested in teaching things like water aerobics. At one point, I had no instructors qualified to teach kickboxing, so our schedule reflected that. That’s certainly an ongoing challenge that has to be managed.

Managing the schedule itself can also be challenging. We change our Group X schedule every term because we have most student instructors. When their academic class schedule changes, oftentimes they have to change when they’re available to teach. It’s a puzzle I have to put together each semester — I make it work, but it’s not ideal.

CR: Why is Group X worth offering to students? What are the benefits they can see?

EB: One of the benefits is having someone guide you through an exercise that’s safe, effective and fun. Community is also a really big benefit of Group X classes, especially if you’re able to go to the same classes week after week, get to know the instructor and other participants, and build accountability. I also think a lot of students recognize how much exercising helps them with their studying once they start doing it. When you start being active, there’s a carryover to how well you’re able to pay attention in class or what your energy level is throughout the day.

Bobby Dyer
Bobby is a staff writer at Peake Media. Reach him at

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