As assistant director of Fitness, one of the greatest challenges I face in terms of group fitness and personal training staff development is navigating the fine line between standardizing fitness service delivery practices and allowing space for individual coaching freedom and expression.
When evaluating my staff development procedures, I consistently find myself weighing the cost-benefit of these polarizing approaches.
On one hand, standardization of fitness instructional practices breeds quality control for the operation and patrons. On the other hand, individual expression potentially brings out the best in your staff, and this can trickle down to the member experience.
So which approach yields the greatest success in fitness service delivery?
To answer that question, let’s consider both sides of the coin.
Benefits and Drawbacks
One benefit of standardizing fitness service delivery practices is that fitness area leaders can ensure all members receive a consistent and top-quality fitness experience.
Specifically, members and management can rest assured whether you attend Tina’s 5 p.m. cycling class or Tony’s 7 a.m. Zumba class, you’re going to have an overall positive and professional experience.
In my experience working as a fitness coach in locations with standardized coaching protocols, this high level of standardization added structure and ease for me as I knew exactly what elements I needed to include in each session for success.
However, I also found working in these highly standardized locations to be less exciting and engaging long term because I did not have the freedom to explore and try new things with my clients.
In fact, some of my most beautiful fitness moments arose from having the freedom to conduct my sessions exactly as I saw fit.
From a leadership standpoint, fitness service delivery standardization can also be very time consuming and labor intensive to enforce. Managers must constantly evaluate, monitor and reinforce staff to ensure they are successfully staying within your location’s standardized protocols.
But these additional measures can ultimately save time for leadership as you no longer must retroactively resolve the issues that a lack of standardized protocols can invite.
So, this leads us back to the original question: Which approach yields the greatest success in fitness service delivery?
In my operation, I’ve found a combination of both approaches to be most impactful.
For best results, I recommend fitness area leaders start by creating a list of their non-negotiables when it comes to fitness service delivery procedures.
Non-negotiables include elements such as safety protocols, communication strategies, brand consistency and class/session formatting structure that must be firmly standardized for greatest impact.
These non-negotiables serve as the concrete elemental boundaries for which your staff cannot omit or adjust when conducting their sessions and classes. This also serves as a consistent standard of evaluation for your staff, regardless of their position as a trainer or instructor.
For example, in my current position as assistant director of Fitness at Florida International University, a general overview of my non-negotiable elements are as follows:
- Every group fitness class or personal training session must begin with a formal introduction and welcome, an overview of the day’s workout and explanation of any safety information.
- The session then must transition into a dynamic warmup lasting a minimum of five minutes including movements specific to the workout focus for the day.
- The main body of the workout must feature music with appropriate content, tempo and volume for environment, population and space.
- After the main portion of the workout is completed, staff must transition into a cool down lasting a minimum of five minutes.
- The session or class must conclude with a formal sign off thanking the participant(s) and providing additional post-workout recovery information.
All new hires on my team are trained in-depth on this protocol, and regular staff evaluations are conducted to ensure compliance on these non-negotiable elements.
Once you’ve established your non-negotiables, the space for staff personalization can be identified.
Specifically, everything else related to fitness service delivery that cleanly fits within the boundaries of your non-negotiable elements is open for your staff to incorporate their individuality and creative expression.
For example, if Jenny includes all the non-negotiable elements into her boot camp class, she is free to construct the course delivery according to her best professional judgment. Meaning, she may select her own playlist and develop her own workout with whatever session structure she sees fit.
The most important thing for fitness managers to consider when establishing service delivery protocols is the style of communication the population you serve best responds and what procedural conditions bring out the greatest success in your staff’s performance.
Using this information, managers can tailor their fitness service delivery protocols to best suite everyone’s needs.