Group fitness class etiquette | instructors appreciate respect too

group fitness class etiquette

I teach a weekly Bootcamp group fitness class. The group is large, enthusiastic, hard working and always appreciative of the workout I create for them. I genuinely look forward to Wednesday mornings 🙂

This class is unique in many ways. There’s no fancy choreography. It’s the only class I teach that’s likely to have a man or two in attendance (often in the back corner, but that’s okay…). The diversity in fitness level is huge. And the participants range in age from late teens to mid-sixties.

Each of the above, on it’s own, makes the class challenging to teach.

For the past few weeks a handful of participants have made the challenge even greater.

I’m a firm believer in giving people a road map to my class. I like to spend the minute or two before the music comes on introducing myself, welcoming newcomers to the class, letting participants know what equipment they’ll be needing, giving a few safety reminders and outlining the format of the day (it changes from week to week).

While I do so, I expect participants to give me their full attention. Their full and QUIET attention.

Now I know that many people come to group fitness classes for the social component. And honestly, while the class is running, particularly if we’re doing circuits, stations or partner work, I ENCOURAGE participants to interact with one another. Doing so makes builds camaraderie, motivates people to work harder and is just plain more fun.

But during those first two or three minutes of the class, the microphone is mine and I expect them to respect my position as the instructor and LISTEN UP.

group fitness class etiquette

NOT the face of a megalomaniac…

This week, the beginning-of-class chit chat was excessive. When I put on my microphone and started my ‘welcome’ spiel, I expected the chatter to taper off. It did not. I spoke louder to be heard over the din. The chatter continued. I stopped speaking, hoping that might send a message. No such luck. I made a joke about needing to clap my hands like the kindergarten teachers do to get the attention of a room full of 5-year olds. Nada.

I gave up trying to speak over the 4 or 5 people who continued to talk, turned the music on and started the class.

Afterwards, several of my regulars came up to speak to me about what had happened. They were upset, annoyed and wanted me to say something to the offenders. At that point, it was too late. People had already left the aerobics studio and I wasn’t completely sure who was even responsible.

I spent much of the remainder of the day thinking about the situation. In all of my years of teaching group fitness, I can honestly say that I’ve never felt so disrespected by members of a class.

Was I being unreasonable expecting silence and attention from the entire group? (I don’t think so; a big part of my job is making sure that my classes are fun and safe and proceeding without instruction undermines those goals)

Is it too much to assume that people behave respectfully in a group learning environment? (Why should it be? We expect our children to behave respectfully in their school classrooms)

Should I have singled out the offenders and admonished them in front of the class? (I’m not a big believer in public shaming; when my children misbehave in public, I take them aside and speak quietly so as not to embarrass them in front of their peers)

After chatting with two fellow instructors, I’ve decided to share my feelings with the class next time we meet.

Not in a judgmental or de-moralizing way, but plainly remind them that I’m a fitness PROFESSIONAL and that my job requires that I create a safe and welcoming environment for them to exercise in.

That other members of the class want and need to hear my opening instructions to get the most out of their group fitness experience.

That once I’m finished with my introductory comments, they’re welcome to chat amongst themselves (although too much chatting tells me that I’m not working them hard enough and need to throw in an extra burpee Tabata interval….).

That I’ll continue treating them in a respectful manner (arriving early and staying late to answer their questions, giving them modifications for exercises when they ask, being friendly, making eye contact with them during class and taking the time to learn their names…), if they’ll only extend me the same courtesy.

And if they can’t conduct themselves in a respectful fashion, they’ll be asked to leave 🙂

P.S. I’ll let you know how it goes…

Group fitness participants; have you ever been to a class where you couldn’t hear the instructor over other participants talking? How did it make you feel? What did your instructor do about it?

Group fitness instructors; has this ever happened to you? How did you respond?






  1. Can you make your mike screech? That should get their attention!
    Coco recently posted…Five Fitness TruthsMy Profile

    • Hmmm. Likely to their attention, but I don’t wanna punish the other 3/4 of the class who behave 😉

  2. This has happened to me in a similar style class. One of my students brought me a whistle to get their attention. I joked about using it, and one day I did 😉 Now, I just have to mention whistle and they quiet down.

    I tried joking about it, being stern about it and none of it worked with one particular group. They are regulars and very nice, but very chatty.

    I remind them, that it’s my job that everyone get a good workout and be safe 🙂
    Susan recently posted…Saying yes and figuring it outMy Profile

  3. So disrespectful Tamara! Not much different than those who completely ignore the safety message before a flight :(. Let us know how next week goes!

    • Will do Anna! I’ve heard that there’s actually a sign in the spinning studio now that tells people explicitly not to use their cell phones in class… Honestly, is common courtesy an oxymoron?

  4. Oh, man. This subject! I run into this all the time in my Spinning classes. It drives me insane when people chat through class, and I see the faces of those who aren’t talking…it drives them insane, too. I start by turning up the music a bit. Then I say something like “let’s check intensity…if you’re able to chat, then you might not be working hard enough…” Usually they take the hint. In other situations, I’ve upped the charm factor and turned into a jokester…”alright, ladies…let’s focus in…don’t make me dish out burpees HAHA…” or I purposely walk toward the offending group and stand right next to them while I keep talking/instructing. That sort of thing. But once, I got mad and borderline rude…but the chick literally answered a cell phone in the middle of my kettlebell class and proceeded to take the call ON the fitness floor. OH HELL NO. So I stopped, turned to her, and stern-but-politely suggested she leave the class. She did, then came back afterwards and apologized. Bottom line? We need to be polite, stern and in control…even if that means we have to yell and to call out offenders without being rude, rigiht? Can’t wait for the update!!

    • Yep. I agree. It’s important to be an authority figure to ensure that the environment remains enjoyable for EVERYBODY! I’ll let you know how it turns out 😉

    • Answered her phone??? WHY does she have her phone with her in class? Leave it in your locker for pete’s sake. I’m not an instructor and think I would have said something not so very nice!

  5. I feel like this has been getting worse and worse. This issue has also come up at one of the yoga studios where I practice. They sent out an email to people and then teachers have been asked to address it in class too – the chatting and the phones in the studio and instagraming during class. I feel with every group fitness class (and particularly yoga because I feel like the studio is a sacred space in many ways) that etiquette has gone out the window. You absolutely deserve the respect and to create a safe environment for your students.
    Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted…Friday Round-Up: A Life You LoveMy Profile

    • In yoga? That just boggles my mind Christine. I thought everybody turned their phones to silent during yoga class! The only time I can hear phones ringing in my class (over the music) is during the stretching part of the class. Nothing more annoying than somebody’s obnoxious ring tone going over during child’s pose!

  6. Christina says:

    Thank you for sharing this! I’m sorry that that happened to you Tamara! I know how frustrated and disrespected you must feel. I have had this happen to me, perhaps not to that extent, but I have had to talk to participants about it before. More recently I had someone arrive late in my spin class (music already started, halfway thru warmup) and when the person hopped on the bike they proceeded to talk to their friend, while I was running the class/explaining the intervals. I had to call them out over the mike (in a joking way of course) but it definitely made me feel like I had to work them harder – you definitely shouldn’t be able to hold a conversation if you’re working hard enough!

    • Hi Christina, latecomers are a completely different breed aren’t they? I’ve had people come in late to step class and proceed to set their step up in somebody else’s space, forcing other members of the class to stop what they were doing and move their step. I did have a word with that participant afterwards (and have not seen her since…)

  7. Ugh, thanks for sharing Tamara, I have had this happen in my dog agility classes too! It never ceases to amaze me that adults will behave with a complete lack of manners that they would never tolerate in their children. Fortunately for me, my classes are smaller … so I am sure of who the ‘perps’ are! I am no longer shy about stopping in the middle of class, and pointing out to the group that I am a fairly soft-spoken person and they are making me shout to be heard over them. Once or twice they have been so absorbed in their chitchat that I’ve had to walk right up to them and repeat. I try to be polite but firm, and once I’ve quickly made my point it’s over and we move on. The other students are always appreciative, and have taken it upon themselves to ‘shush’ the talkers after I’ve made my point. I haven’t had any weird vibes afterwards from the talkers, either. Sometimes, being younger and shorter (sorry but those things do count sometimes) than many of my students (the human ones I mean!), I think I sometimes just have to establish myself as the person in charge of the class. I have had to kick one person out of my class over the years, but it wasn’t for disruptive talking … this individual was being a rude, disrespectful jerk all by himself! 🙂

    • YOu’re so right right Lynne. You really do have to establish yourself as the one who’s “in charge”. And you nailed my annoyance completely when you compared it to the expectations we have of how our children should behave in similar circumstances.

  8. You are totally right! When I am participating in a group class I hate it when people are chatting when the instructor is trying to talk. That is so rude! So far I haven’t had too many people do it when I teach. I hope the offenders learn a little something about etiquette.
    Rachelle Q recently posted…Random Thoughts…Getting Old Sucks,Technologically Challenged, Johnny ManzielMy Profile

  9. I thought I commented from my phone this morning but it obviously didn’t “take”.

    I’ve been there more than a few times. It’s especially annoying in Zumba classes when I’m not giving verbal cues so people think it’s a free for all to talk as loudly as possible. As an instructor I try not to single anyone out when I’m correcting form or gives cues, but when it comes to people being disruptive I have no problem singling them out because they have already singled themselves out by being disrespectful and disruptive to everyone in the class.

    One class got so bad that after 3 weeks of trying to politely tell them not to talk I announced that there was to be no speaking while the music was playing unless they were asking mea question or responding to one of my questions. It might seem a bit harsh but my point got across to those who were ignoring me previously. Once the constant talking died I did go back to allowing minor (quiet) chatter during the class.

    The bottom line is, not only is is disrespectful to you, it’s disrespectful to everyone else in the class. Sure it is part of their social time, but it’s social time for the others too and they need to recognize that. Rude people really get my dander up!
    Suzi recently posted…A Different Type of ProgressMy Profile

    • Tamara says:

      Yes! The disrespect to others isn’t acceptable either. You guys have had so many good responses to this situation; can’t wait to try them out next week!

  10. Bonnie says:

    I think it is appropriate for u to ask for quiet, and advise those unwilling to listen they should “take it outside”.. I hate that kind of thing 🙁

  11. Tamara, I wouldn’t get too touchy feeling on this. When I teach classroom facilitators I recommend that they set expectations up front “I need everyone’s attention at the beginning of the class” and then why it is important to listen “I need everyone to listen up and stop talking because it makes if difficult for the rest to hear me”. No need to threaten the entire class when there are only a few culprits. If the few culprits continue to talk move toward them and stand next to them while they are talking, if they continue to talk, take your mic off and politely say “your talking is disrupting the class, could you please stop?” They probably don’t even realize that they are bothering anyone. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!!

    • Tamara says:

      Deanna, I know you’re right. And it’s probably a good thing that I didn’t respond in the moment! I certainly wasn’t implying that I would threaten the class (except perhaps in a joking sort of way…).
      I will definitely take your advice next week as I’m almost sure that it will continue to happen unless I do something about it!

  12. I don’t take classes any more but I really disliked rude participants like this! I think the suggestions you got were great & how you approach it next time will be perfect. If you have this happen again, you may have to walk up to whoever is doing it if you can’t get the attention of them… 🙁

    PS: I am only telling you this cause I know you care BUT ME, this is typical for me & I do it all the time, 🙂 .. a spelling error on here vs. hear: That other members of the class want and need to here my opening instructions to get the most out of their group fitness experience.
    Jody – Fit at 56 recently posted…Friday Truths on Emotional Eating; Hoka OneOne InfoMy Profile

    • Tamara says:

      Jody, so many great suggestions in this thread, right? I love that I belong to a helpful, supportive community!
      Fixed the typo. Thank you!

  13. When I have students who keep talking, I just stand there and wait if whispering doesn’t work. In your case, when that still didn’t work, I probably would have turned off the lights to get their attention. My students (the non-talkers) need to know that I’m in control, so I know I have to do something. The few times when I really have had issues with talking, I just have walked right up to them and used my humor and a smile to say, “Since only one can talk at a time during class, would you like my microphone to make an announcement?” That has worked. I wish you well. So rude.
    AlexandraFunFit recently posted…5 Worrisome Challenges Facing Older AdultsMy Profile

  14. Well gosh if you aren’t describing my older adults’ classes. Given that the social aspect is even more significant for them, I give a lot of chit chat leeway. And we still need to start on time and be able to hear announcements. Factor in that many of my peeps are hard of hearing, and I have had to implement several tactics: 1) flick the lights on and off. No ear hurting, and they get the point 2) I tell them their feet have to be moving more than their mouths so either hesh up, or start moving 3) when subtle does not work I look right at the perpetrators, or actually call them by name and say “if you’re going to talk during class, talk with the music beat. 4) appoint ahead of time a leader/ regular/ big personality to be your talk monitor. I had a retired teacher who took it upon herself to monitor the oblivious chatterers. She had no qualms about going up to them and getting them to pay attention. When I “officially” asked her to be my helper, she loved it! And I was saved as the heavy. Let us know how this goes.
    Kymberly (@KymberlyFunFit) recently posted…5 Worrisome Challenges Facing Older AdultsMy Profile

  15. Talk about twin power! I was writing my comment as my sis was writing hers. We both talk about lights. As in seeing the light…….
    Kymberly (@KymberlyFunFit) recently posted…5 Worrisome Challenges Facing Older AdultsMy Profile

  16. I can’t say I have ever been in a class where this happened… not a LOT of experience with classes the past few years… but if I were a participant I would be annoyed for sure, and EXPECT the leader to do something about it. I like Deanna’s suggestion of walking over to them and standing by them and perhaps LOOKING at them. And if it doesn’t cease, you may have to speak to them privately. At least by then you will know who you are dealing with.

    Good luck. And good for you for posting about it. Who knows? Perhaps they read your blog and that will be the end of it.
    Elle recently posted…Trying Some New…. and My Friday Faves and RavesMy Profile

  17. This does not happen in England, at least not at any class I ever attend. People are quiet, respectful and work hard. Not to sound too harsh, but I have noticed that Americans are very rarely be quiet in any situation.

  18. So sad that our society has gotten so self involved… I see rude behavior at the gym (everywhere really) all the time. Especially in group fitness classes I guess because we can all see everyone on stage in group fitness classes. I don’t have any great advise. I just try to show respect and lead by example in hopes that the rude folks will follow. Good luck! Great post.

  19. Interesting that you would write about this as I had an incident in your class a few weeks ago when someone was talking to me while you were talking. I felt torn between being rude and shushing then and not listening to you. Some people speak quietly enough that it is not an issue but others just don’t realize how loud they are.

  20. wow, that is just rude. I think it is perfectly in your right to tell people to stop talking so that everyone can hear the instructions!
    Lea recently posted…Social Media Sunday: The Unspoken Rules of Blogging EtiquetteMy Profile

  21. I have been a participant in this kind of situation and one of the ‘talkers’ who disrespected the instructor (and other members of the group) is now a GF instructor. No need to say I do not attend her sessions.

    • Interesting! I don’t go to a lot of other group classes, so am not sure who the talkers are…


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