Communication/Voice/Coaching Skills

Group of happy women doing aerobics

To lead our participants through an effective and safe workout we should be able to assess the fitness levels of the participants and teach accordingly.
So how can we evaluate participant ability level and modify the exercise session if required and give appropriate feedback?


Evaluating performance and instructor feedback is vital for participants to be able to monitor their progress. Through class design in a longer-term planning, we can offer specific progress to our participants. Some participants will be encouraged by this, but some will not… our participants still have their own individual goals, and reasons for attending our classes. Though encouragement, concern, praise and support will also ensure long-term participation, it is a great challenge to find out the specific participant/s goals to incorporate these into your class design or longer term progress planning. If participants are not showing the required progress, it is the instructor’s responsibility to determine what is causing this, and offer appropriate advice. Regression/Progression options of exercises or a different type of training principle could be a solution.

Individual Differences

In any group class, there are likely to be individuals with different limitations relating to exercise ability, and fitness levels. As instructors we should be aware of specific participant circumstances. One way to evaluate this is by asking the group before commencing the session if there is anything you need to know regarding injury or other special circumstances. Further we have to keep a keen eye on what is happening in the group throughout the session. It is essential for us instructors to provide various options for specific exercises to accommodate the differences. Knowledge and preparation are vital in this regard.
Planning and preparing for each class is the key for successfully offering all participants an all-round safe and effective workout.


Clear communication between two people can be challenging! Sending and receiving information in a group setting is even more so. It is up to us to ensure our messages come across to all participants. In one spoken language different people can interpret the same words differently, or associate with other words or emotions.

Verbal Cueing

Cueing is the art of communication or informing our participants what they need to do before they do it. Successful cueing of an aerobics class results in participants doing the same thing at the same time and for up to an hour at a time. Not an easy task!

As an instructor, we should always start a routine facing the class. As the class progresses and direction is introduced, it is acceptable to turn your back on the class, as long as you continue making eye contact through the mirrors. In case of a studio without mirrors, we remain facing the participants.

As an instructor, we develop simple and effective cueing techniques so that participants will be able to follow and understand instructions. We must become proficient in using both verbal and non-verbal cueing techniques, as these communication skills will greatly influence the success of the class, and experience of the participants!

To capture the participants from the first to the last minute of the ETM workout, we have to step into a “coaching role”. Becoming more involved on a connection level with all participants through various layers of coaching techniques can help us achieve this:

Layer 1:

• Basic class introduction and expectations; set up phase: starting positions, names of the moves, first safety cues, body part directions
• Role model perfect technique
• “What” (do I want them to do) and “When” (do I want them to do it?) timely and clearly by naming the moves, and showing direction

Layer 2:

• Role model and coach perfect technique
• “How” (can I make them move safer and even better?)
• Timing, “training is time under tension” and move “on the beat”
• Technical cues about the moves, clear, short, to the point
• Follow up cues, i.e.: “feels like”, or describe the move differently but say the same
• Correction-method: CRC – Connect/recommend/commend

Layer 3:

• Creating the experience
• “Why”(motivation) by sharing the benefits of the exercise
• “Push the boundaries”
• Fun/magic creating a “vibe” by using the energy in the room, the music, and the emotion of participants
• Motivational cues: time related; compliment related; no. of reps till finished

Script to Prepare!

Before an instructor has learnt to cue effectively, he/she must first master the ‘Exercise to Music’ routine i.e. learn your moves and role model perfect technique and then rehearse coaching techniques to suit the work out. 100% knowledge of the work out is required to ensure full focus on the participants, instead of on the choreography.

If an instructor forgets the routine during a class environment, it is usually a good indication that the instructor lacks preparation, this can lead to loss of focus and can influence the experience of the participants.

Scripting will ensure knowledge of the work out, and is a tool to perfect preparation for each class. This professional approach will ensure an effective, well-balanced session delivered with contrast, great structure and lots of connection opportunity.

Using your Voice!

Voice projection for contrast, linking in with the music intensity and supporting the coaching layers:

1) Conversation voice
2) Build-up voice
3) Big voice
4) Intense voice
5) Silence

To be an authentic professional coach in an ETM class we use the microphone. This way we spare our voice and ensure the participants can hear our information that will keep them safe and motivated. Some fitness centers do not have this as their basic equipment. It is then advised to keep the music at such a level that you can still be heard with your own natural voice by all participants. It is recommended to protect your voice by using a microphone.

Non-Verbal Cueing

As ETM instructors we support our verbal cueing with non-verbal cueing. Role modeling perfect technique is by far the most important to keep our participants safe while working out.

Participants will always copy the way the instructor moves.

It is important to note that when communicating during a class, participants will receive 70% of information through visual reception. The importance of non-verbal communication must therefore never be underestimated.

Examples of non-verbal communication cues which can be effective may include:

• Role modeling perfect technique
• Signs and symbols
• Facial expressions
• Body language
• Quality of movement/ROM

Signs or Symbols by Hand

These cues can represent direction, intensity, number of repetitions, the count down to a change, moves or patterns.

Facial Expressions

Facial expressions are an important aspect in determining an instructor’s style. A smile, nod of the head, or other positive gestures are all facial expressions that will help to encourage participants. One should ensure that gestures are genuine and sincere.

Body Language

Role model perfect posture. We should remember that first impressions are extremely important. The first 15 seconds are lasting in the first impression. So with every introduction of ourselves in a class we should appear confident, open, friendly and skilled. It is vital that we look and act confident, even if we may not feel that way! Quality of movement during the class should be clear and easy to follow, this means moving “bigger” and at times in profile to show detailed techniques.

Quality of Movement/ROM

As role models we move “bigger” than what we can expect from participants. In order to receive 100% effort we have to give 200%! So the quality and range of movement need to be as perfect as possible.

What is Motivation?

As ETM coaches we also need to motivate, but first we need to understand motivation:

Motivation is the psychological feature that arouses an organism to action toward a desired goal and elicits, controls, and sustains certain goal directed behaviours. It can be considered a driving force, a psychological drive that compels or reinforces an action toward a desired goal. For example, hunger is a motivation that elicits a desire to eat. Motivation has been shown to have roots in physiological, behavioural, cognitive, and social areas.

  • Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation that is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself, and exists within the individual rather than relying on any external pressure. Intrinsic motivation is based on taking pleasure in an activity rather than working towards an external reward. Intrinsic motivation has been studied since the early 1970s. An example of intrinsic motivation in the fitness setting could be: a businessman going to gym at lunch because he enjoys the feeling that he gets from exercising.
  • Extrinsic motivation refers to the performance of an activity in order to attain an outcome, which then contradicts intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation comes from outside of the individual. An example of extrinsic motivation in the exercise setting would be a client who is motivated by a competition running at a gym to lose weight.

It is a common mistake for ‘Exercise to Music’ instructors to classify participants in terms of being either “motivated” or “unmotivated.” The real issue at stake however is actually the instructor’s ability to identify what motivates the participants and addressing those needs.

There are many ways to motivate participants during the class, at different moments of the workout we motivate differently:

• Sharing the benefits of exercises
• Giving the last eight repetition of the exercise
• Drawing out feedback from the group
• To hold on for the last 30 seconds

Self-efficacy/belief is the measure of one’s own ability to complete tasks and reach goals. Self-efficacy is an important concept for the ‘Exercise to Music’ instructor to understand as it deals with a person’s belief in his/her own capabilities to successfully take part in an exercise class. Basically, if one does not believe that you can do an exercise class, you would have negative thoughts about the class, therefore have a negative attitude and give less effort. The opposite could be said for someone with high self-efficacy.