The short answer is: (1) pre-participation health screen and (2) liability waiver. The following explains why:
The safety of participants is always the first and most important issue to consider when teaching a group fitness class. For most people, becoming more physically active is a safe and effective means to improve health and fitness. However, there are certain instances when embarking on a new physical-activity program is contraindicated without a prior medical clearance. A person with cardiac disease has an increased risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack, during exercise compared to an otherwise healthy person. Thus, to prevent dangerous cardiovascular events from occurring, appropriate screening and evaluation are necessary to identify and counsel those with underlying cardiac disease before they start moderate or vigorous exercise programs.
In a typical commercial fitness center setting, a group fitness instructor (GFI) teaches participants of various conditioning levels, skills, and abilities. Often, members who have just joined the facility will sample the different types of group fitness classes, which means that not only are these participants new to the gym, but they are also experiencing a variety of exercise modalities to which their bodies are unaccustomed. How can a GFI in this situation be sure that his or her class participants have been appropriately screened for safe participation in an exercise program? It is common practice for commercial fitness centers to require new members to complete a self-guided minimal pre-participation screen that instructs those who have indicated that they have cardiovascular disease risk factors to visit their physicians before engaging in vigorous-intensity exercise. Thus, GFIs can reasonably assume that their participants have been screened
for low-to-moderate intensity exercise. All
GFIs should investigate their employer’s pre-participation screening policies to ensure that a minimal health appraisal assessment is being conducted on each member.
Another document that offers protection for the GFI is a release of liability (or waiver) for injuries that might occur as a result of participating in a group fitness class. If a GFI is teaching at a facility as a staff employee, it is likely that participants have signed a waiver as part of their initial documents when they joined the gym. If a GFI is teaching as an independent contractor (for example, leading an outdoor boot camp class or instructing corporate fitness classes at various locations), having class participants sign a release of liability is an important and wise business practice.