As a group exercise instructor, you are passionate about helping people on their fitness journeys. You thrive on leading your classes, motivating participants and witnessing their progress. But there’s a catch – the constant stress of finding cover for your classes when you’re sick or need a break. Louise Crossland, head of commercial at CoverMe, takes a look.
A new survey conducted by EMD UK on behalf of group exercise cover app CoverMe, reveals that almost a quarter of group exercise instructors (24%) juggle up to seven different WhatsApp and social groups for the various classes they teach, while half of instructors navigate up to three social groups. In addition to calling in favours from friends and colleagues, these digital networks are a lifeline when seeking last-minute replacements for classes, but it’s a stressful and time-consuming process that keeps many instructors from taking much-needed time off.
Finding class cover often falls squarely on the shoulders of instructors when they are ill or have a holiday booked. It’s such a daunting task that more than half (54%) of instructors admit to avoiding taking time off altogether, impacting on their own wellbeing and work-life balance, while 49% describe the process as stressful.
A whopping 40% of instructors said finding replacement cover is time intensive, while almost a quarter (23%) don’t even know where to get support.
Failing to find cover has significant implications for group exercise instructors. In most cases, classes are simply cancelled, which means instructors lose vital income. But even cancelling classes can be a challenging task.
“I have to spend a significant time contacting all customers who have pre-booked and any walk-ins who would normally or might often attend,” said one instructor.
“Sometimes it is almost more difficult contacting customers to inform them of cancellation than just running the class when poorly,” said another.
More than this, instructors worry that failing to find class cover risks letting participants down, losing customers and damaging their reputation.
Speaking about the reaction they get from clubs when they are forced to cancel classes after failing to find cover, one instructor said, “You have to teach the class even if you’re sick or they are really unsympathetic and it’s basically a huge negative mark against your name.”
Other instructors said: “You get a warning”; “It looks bad on me”; “I don’t know where to source cover”; and “You lose goodwill at the centre”.
Sue Wilkie, head of instructor support at EMD UK, empathises with instructors: “It’s hardly surprising that group exercise instructors feel so stressed about finding cover for their classes when they are sick or go on holiday. Research shows that half of instructors regularly view one to three different social groups when trying to source cover, while 7% keep track of eight to 14 social groups. And almost a quarter of instructors (23%) say they don’t know where to source cover, which increases the risk of class cancellations and is clearly bad news for instructors, clubs and clients.”
On the other side of the spectrum, clubs and studios face a different set of challenges when it comes to finding cover for their group exercise classes. Research commissioned by CoverMe and conducted by Active Insight (formerly Leisure-net Solutions) finds that sourcing high-quality freelance cover when instructors are absent is one of the most significant challenges faced by club managers.
The task is hugely time consuming and often results in class disruptions and cancellations. According to the research, a staggering 63% of leisure operators offering group exercise programmes spend valuable time each week trying to source replacement instructors to cover classes and prevent cancellations that would disappoint their customers.
Even more concerning, nearly one fifth of operators (17%) said they have to allocate time every single day to find class cover. Despite their best efforts, operators often face difficulties in securing adequate replacement instructors, leading to unavoidable class cancellations or changes. In fact, 41% of operators are forced to cancel or change their group exercise classes every week due to their inability to find suitable cover.
The impacts of these disruptions are far-reaching, affecting members who rely on these classes for their physical and mental wellbeing. Researchers surveyed individuals who had participated in group exercise classes within the last six months and found that a third (33%) regularly or quite often experienced disruptions or cancellations in their classes.
In an era where technology has transformed almost every aspect of club management, it’s disheartening to see that sourcing high-quality freelance instructors still relies largely on outdated methods. Happily, new solutions are emerging to tackle this long-standing issue and are streamlining the process of finding cover, improving efficiency, and eliminating the frustration and operational time-consuming activity of class changes to enhance member satisfaction.
Louise Crossland, head of commercial, CoverMe: Louise is highly experienced senior leisure manager with experience in private and public sector roles including sales/business development, fitness operations and group exercise management. With a degree in sport, health and physical education, Louise started out as a fitness instructor and worked her way up in roles including general and regional management to national positions. After her recent post as a national fitness manager, Louise joined CoverMe in August 2023 to help drive the business forward.