What part does group exercise play in getting people more active?

On Friday I attended the FitGroup UK Summit in London. The group is made up of key stakeholders who are currently exploring the potential of the group fitness sector and the challenges facing those working in the fitness industry. In association with EMDP (the NGB for for group exercise and dance fitness) the FitGroup UK hosted two summits covering the South and North of the country.    

The aim of the summit discussions were based around how to double participation in group exercise which is currently 5 million regular weekly attendees. The target market is the inactive.

The day started with the general wants and fears, which did not present any surprises. Generally people were looking for a united front. The professionals in the room represented a couple of employers, training providers, Active IQ (AIQ) were there representing Awarding Organisations. Encouragingly instructors and small businesses were present; Individuals who actually teach group exercise within community settings, leisure centers and open spaces. For the first time in along time the agenda was not around what the employer wants.  UK Active were present and did acknowledge that independent instructors and the self employed do have expertise and did not disagree that the instructor views should be taken into account and represented as well as the employer at policy level.  The general wants of the attendees were a united front and an end to working in silos. A strong fear was nothing will come of the discussions. The industry has spent a lot of time discussing the issues that represent our industry and participation, yet we have had little impact on getting more people active.

A recurring theme of the day was the fact that many of the 15 million currently not exercising are not ready to participate in exercise. They are not motivated or interested. It would be good to know how many are in that category; I feel it would be more realistic to know how many people we can realistically target. If people don't want to change they won't. Why spend time focusing in areas we will have no impact?

It was made obvious by discussion that many felt the right products or types of classes were not available for the inactive. A 45-minute or hour-long class is impossible for many inactive people; we might as well tell them to run a marathon. My thoughts are we should provide realistic taster sessions followed by carefully designed programmes which get participants ready to join regular activity. It's a pre exercise programme where time is spent on social interaction, behaviour change, addressing individual needs and having fun. This approach could easily be adopted for all forms of group exercise but it must be at popular times and accessible like other classes. For some reason beginners sessions are often put on a timetable at times when no one can attend!

Instructors are not trained to work with the totally inactive. Training is based around teaching classes for a general level and giving alternatives.  The honest truth is the majority of inactive people need something tailored and a lot more support. If we truly want to make an impact we need to attract new instructors who enter the industry with the aim to work with inactive people. We give them the tools on how to actively work within local communities, setting up sessions and activities that address the needs of the inactive individual who is ready to change. This is a niche area, not all instructors are cut out to work with this market. I wonder if we are looking at a different qualification to the current Level 2 (But that is another discussion!)

I particularly agreed with a comment made relating to the plethora of Campaigns designed to get more people active. It was pointed out that although they are well thought out are we ready as an industry to welcome them in? If the sessions are not designed for the inactive where do they go – back to the couch!!!   

As many of you are aware I will often jump into social media discussions correcting individuals identifying REPS as being our lead body. The truth of the matter is we do not have a leading body who represents group exercise, that is not the role of the register. Little can be achieved without a central point and leadership. The newly formed FitGroup UK will not play the role of a lead body but hopefully they will have a voice and give direction.

#PhysicalActivity Let’s get the Inactive Active!

By Denise Page (Founder of AdLib Training)