Quite simply, it is outside the scope of practice of a group fitness instructor (GFI) to put his or her hands on a class participant to manually adjust exercise form. The exception is for GFIs who are also credentialed in manual therapy techniques, such as massage therapy or physical therapy, but even then, manually correcting a participant’s exercise technique is not common practice in the group fitness setting.
One of the most powerful instructional strategies that can be used by a GFI is to observe participants while they are performing a movement and then provide feedback based on those observations. A participant’s posture, exercise form and technique, and tolerance to fatigue should be monitored by the GFI throughout the class.
Generally, a participant’s exercise technique should adhere to a few basic guidelines, and it is the instructor’s responsibility to demonstrate and cue appropriately to ensure proper execution of those guidelines. Overall, the guidelines include the following concepts:
• Controlled, purposeful movements require more muscle involvement, and thus protect the joints better than quick, jerky movements. This is true of both resistance exercise and cardiorespiratory exercise.
• The availability of specific amounts of weight in group strength training is often limited, resulting in some participants lifting loads that are too light for advancing muscular fitness. In these situations, it is important to cue the participant to focus even more on the muscular contraction being performed to move the weight rather than increasing the velocity of the lift. In classes that promote momentum training, such as in kettlebell classes, it is essential for a GFI to have the proper knowledge and training to correctly instruct the technique.
• In load-bearing cardiorespiratory classes, such as traditional aerobics and step training, participants should be cued to control the descent of the lower extremity as it makes contact with the ground (or step) surface by making as little noise as possible with the feet. This practice will ensure a thoughtful impact with the ground and result in muscular deceleration forces that attenuate much of the ground reaction forces that could affect the body’s joints. Coaching a participant to “land quietly” or to “be light on your feet” are helpful cues.
• Regardless of the exercise being performed, participants should be coached to always demonstrate good posture. This typically means that the spine and pelvis should maintain their neutral, or ideal, positions through a mild contraction of the core musculature, the shoulders should be set back and down, and the knees should remain slightly bent.