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While this experience hasn’t been easy on any part of our industry, group exercise instructors have faced unique challenges during this pandemic, as our survey explores.

The closure of gyms and lockdown affected everyone. Group exercise instructors particularly rely heavily on gyms and other spaces and one of the biggest appeals of group training is the energy and competition felt in the classes. This is difficult to translate to a remote set-up and it’s even harder for trainers attempting to connect with and motivate multiple tiny figures on-screen. We reached out to the fitness professionals in our community to find how they have navigated these unprecedented times, who has supported them and what returning to work may look like.

The majority of responses to our survey (78%) came from group exercise instructors, 79% of whom were self-employed. The responses were mixed regarding whether they felt the club or centre they worked in had kept them up to date with the latest developments, with 43% either strongly agreeing or agreeing that clubs and centres had kept them informed. In contrast, 21% disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement, so there is some way to go regarding communication in some facilities and the responses indicate that many venues have been reluctant to communicate updates and potential timelines. While this may be partly due to venues waiting on government guidance, many instructors felt they got no information unless they actively reached out for it. The survey indicated they received as much information from Facebook groups as they did from employers.

When the lockdown was in full effect, group X instructors had the choice to move their classes online or pause instructing. Many moved online. However, almost half of our respondents said they’d been unable to generate an effective revenue stream during lockdown, with some turning to temping jobs to get by.

Many faced issues like the lack of technological literacy of clients and judging when and how to charge clients for online sessions. Some instructors found their clients offered to pay. For example, one respondent created a private Facebook group and delivered free classes, taking money via voluntary donations only. They said, “The result was surprising and people were more generous than I could’ve possibly imagined.” However, some found clients were happy to receive their online classes for free. This has been a hard balancing act for the majority of the industry; however, due to the increase in people working in this way, hopefully it will open up the conversation and develop some industry standards for individual instructors training online.

With no clear roadmap of when or if our industry will return to pre-COVID-19 ways of working, you may think many instructors have started to explore other career options. However, with over 60% of respondents saying they feel safe returning to work, the majority of responses indicate they’ll stay. One respondent said, “No, I love what I do but it has maybe motivated me to do what I do in a different way. In lockdown, I have been able to access more education in the fitness industry.” Many others reflect these sentiments and have either stayed within the group exercise sector, just moving online, or they have looked to expand their fitness knowledge and qualifications so they can offer a wider selection of classes, as well as PT sessions alongside their group training.

Hopefully, this survey and its findings show our group X instructors they are not alone in their experience. Now we have a slightly clearer understanding of the challenges that group X instructors have faced and what life looks like during this pandemic, as an industry we can continue to support our instructors and overcome the new challenges that COVID-19 brings.