The Learning Processes and Stages of Learning

From a young age, you will have adopted a process of learning new skills. When you think about it, when it comes to practicing skills which you may have done before, the process is quite different to when attempting a skill for the first time. In a model developed by Fitts and Posner, the process is broken up into three stages:

Cognitive Phase

When a learner is new to a specific task, the primary thought process starts with, “what needs to be done?” Considerable cognitive activity is required so that the learner can determine appropriate strategies to adequately reflect the desired goal. Good strategies are retained and inefficient strategies are discarded. The performance is greatly improved in a short amount of time. In this stage of learning the movements are often uncoordinated and jerky. The ‘Exercise to Music’ instructor should use the “tell, show, do” teaching technique, and provide ample opportunity for practice (many repetitions). It is important that the instructor refrains from giving the participant too many variations during this phase. We should keep both movements and combinations simple during this stage. The warm up is perfect to address this stage.

Associative Phase

The learner has determined the most effective way to do the task and starts to make subtle adjustments in performance. Improvements are more gradual and movements become more consistent. This phase can last for a long time. The skills in this phase are fluent, efficient and aesthetically pleasing. In this phase the instructor can do less commanding and more coaching, connecting and monitoring. This stage complies with the main body of the work out.

Autonomous Phase

This phase may take a long period of time to reach. In this phase the instructor can complete the task without having to pay any attention to thinking about it too much. Examples include walking and talking. In this phase the instructor can do less teaching and more connecting and motivating. Once the skill has been mastered the ‘Exercise to Music’ instructor may add new movements and more advanced combinations, which are more challenging. If we keep the workout the same for some time, this stage of learning is experienced with a feeling of accomplishment, participants are particularly sensitive to motivation and can increase training input.

Inputs and pathways that help participants learn ‘Exercise to Music’

The group exercise instructor may use different forms of input so as to maximise the learning process and overall experience of the workout. Below are some examples of types of feedback that the instructor may provide the participants:

Once the instructor has assessed performance of members of a class, he/she will need to provide feedback on the performance. Feedback can be used to:

• Provide reinforcement of effort
• Correct errors through “CRC” method
• Motivate clients to do even better

Three types of statements can be used when giving acknowledgement of effort to individual participants and the group:

• Corrective statements: Where an error is identified and the participant is told how to correct it, then acknowledge the change with positive comment, CRC

• Value statements: Motivation and general positive compliments. For example, “you’re doing well!”, “keep going, this last set will make a difference” this is a good means of providing motivation throughout the class. Particularly valuable when participants have specific training goals that you as instructor are aware of

• Neutral statement: This involves acknowledgement of completion of a task for example; “well done, you made it” etc, after a section of the class or at the end of the class

Modifications: Regression/Progression

Methods to monitor and modify intensity of exercise/s or movement/s.

In this section we will look at:

• Monitoring of exercise intensity
• Modifications for exercises and exercise scrutiny
• Safety guidelines for exercise
• Exercise variations effecting intensity

Monitoring Exercise Intensity

ETM classes intensity is first regulated by the club timetable. A certain class is labeled a certain level of intensity (i.e. by means of a number system, or number of “drops”). Within this label we need to be aware of the different fitness levels of our participants, some modification may be necessary.

Exercise intensity can be monitored using a variety of methods.

Modification of Intensity, and Exercise Scrutiny

The intensity of an exercise can be manipulated by using a number of methods e.g.:

• Modify the number of reps
• Modify the resistance
• Modify the number of sets performed for the exercise
• Change the length of the lever
• Modify the speed of movement
• Modify the amount of times a muscles group is used in a week
• Modify ROM

In terms of practical application in the ‘Exercise to Music’ class, the instructor can modify intensity by:

  • Manipulating the center of gravity
  • Adding weights increases level of difficulty
  • Increase the tempo (within the safety standards) of the class – by doing the same movement but at a faster speed the participant has to work harder. One should be wary of this where groups contain tall or overweight people as changes of direction at a faster pace may be more challenging for them.
  • Increase the amount of travelling done in a workout – the directional changes result in greater use of muscle fibers.
  • Introducing Plyometric Elements to the Training

When considering modification of the technique of an exercise we should take into account the principle of exercise scrutiny.

When planning an exercise session, one should be able to scrutinise exercises, and assess whether or not they are effective, fulfilling their purpose, and safe.

In order to scrutinise an exercise, you may follow these steps:

• What is the purpose of the movement? In relation to i.e. everyday life?
• What joints, muscles and levers are being utilised?
• What types of muscle contractions are involved in the movement?
• Are there any risks involved in the exercise?
• How can we increase the benefits of the exercise more?

Safety Guidelines for Exercise in General

The American College of Sports Medicine gives the following guidelines as to quality and quantity of exercise recommended for adults:

Cardiorespiratory Exercise

• Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
• Exercise recommendations can be met through 30 – 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (five days per week) or 20 – 60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (three days per week).
• One continuous session and multiple shorter sessions (of at least 10 minutes) are both acceptable to accumulate desired amount of daily exercise.
• Gradual progression of exercise time, frequency and intensity is recommended for best adherence and least injury risk.
• People unable to meet these minimums can still benefit from some activity.

Resistance Exercise

• Adults should train each major muscle group two or three days each week using a variety of exercises and equipment.
• Very light or light intensity is best for older persons or previously sedentary adults starting exercise.
• Two to four sets of each exercise will help adults improve strength and power.
• For each exercise, 8 – 12 repetitions improve strength and power, 10 – 15 repetitions improve strength in middle-age and older persons starting exercise and 15 – 20 (or more i.e. power-pump can have up to 120 reps of the same exercise!) repetitions improve muscular endurance.
• Adults should wait at least 48 hours between resistance training sessions (of the same muscle group).

Flexibility Exercise

• Adults should do flexibility exercises at least two or three days each week to improve range of motion.
• Each stretch should be held for 10 – 30 seconds to the point of tightness or slight discomfort.
• Repeat each stretch two to four times, accumulating 60 seconds per stretch.
• Static, dynamic, ballistic and PNF stretches are all effective.
• Flexibility exercise is most effective when the muscle is warm. Try light aerobic activity or a hot bath to warm the muscles before stretching.

Neuromotor Exercise

Exercises that increase the communication between CNS and muscles, and require focus in execution (neuromuscular training). These are mostly compound exercises that require focus to co-ordinate and execute correctly involving several muscle groups maintaining core stability, or upper and lower body movements simultaneously in different directions.

• Neuromotor exercise (sometimes called “functional fitness training”) is recommended for two or three days per week.
• Exercises should involve motor skills (multiple joint stability, balance, agility, coordination and gait), proprioceptive (“body awareness” in relation to surroundings) exercise training and multifaceted activities (Thai chi, yoga and Pilates) to improve physical function and prevent falls in older adults.
• 20 – 30 minutes per day is appropriate for neuromotor exercise.

Exercise Variations Affecting Intensity

There are a number of ways to vary any given exercise, to make your workout more interesting. Some examples:

• Tempo change:

For example, instead of performing a bicep curl which has 2 counts up, 2 counts down, one can change it to 3 counts up, 1 count down. This will place more emphasis on the concentric contraction. Or, 1 count up and 3 counts down, placing the emphasis on the eccentric contraction. The total duration of a movement, based on tempo, affects the time that the muscle is under tension, which ultimately determines the training effect on that muscle.

• Levers/ROM:

As noted earlier, “Longer is Stronger”! Longer levers increase the intensity as opposed to shorter levers. The instructor should pay careful attention to members of a class who may be shorter or taller, and therefore have naturally longer or shorter levers.

• Resistance:

Use different kinds of resistance such as barbells, resistance bands, stability balls and hand weights.

• Combinations:

Combine movements to work different muscles groups at the same time: Squats with a bicep curl, lunges with lateral raise etc.

• Plane Variations:

Work the muscles through different planes of motion:

Coronal (Frontal): Front & Back; Sagittal: Right & Left; Transfers: Across

Class Design/Preparation

Planning and preparing an ETM class that will conform with the specific class “level” on the time table of the club, and will match the fitness requirements of all participants attending is a challenge.

The differences in a group of participants may be:

• Exercise experience
• Fitness levels
• Movement limiting conditions
• Flexibility, mobility and agility
• Strength differences
• Motivational level

In order to provide classes which are as safe and effective as possible, we need to take into account these individual differences, yet still be able to modify the session where necessary.

Practical challenges when taking a group ‘Exercise to Music’ class as compared to working with individuals:

• A larger group demands more concentration as one needs to focus on all individuals.
• One needs to be careful not to provide too much attention to individuals who demand attention, at the expense of those who are quieter and could possibly need assistance.
• Exercise intensity needs to take into account everyone in the class. Tall people for example may find it more difficult to complete fast movements due to the length of their levers.
• Keep the class format true to the type of class it is, so maintain a fair balance between modifications to accommodate all participants and the type of class/training offered.

Planning of Exercise Sessions

There are different formats of ETM sessions. The latest trend in training and ETM training is to reduce training time, i.e. to 45 minutes or 30 minute workout and even “Tabatha” (10 minutes) style training which target specific participant groups with specific goals. The shorter the workout the higher the intensity, depending on the style of training.

The basic principles and format for all 55 minute classes is similar, and we shall discuss the principles for the format of a typical class.

A general exercise class should:

• Contain a warm up and cool down
• Contain all components of physical fitness according to the type of training i.e. cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, neuromuscular training
• Involve a plan and method for measuring intensity and progress, so that the instructor can progress the class over time
• Ensure progression as participants improve movement mastery and improve fitness level
• Contain a social element and some team spirit
• Lastly, make your classes fun!

In summary a typical general ‘Exercise to Music’ class will include the following:

• A warm up
• Dynamic stretching
• Cardiorespiratory exercise
• Resistance training
• Cool down
• Stretching

The Warm Up

The warm up phase is generally described as preparing the body for physical activity. It can be either general in nature or more specific. A general warm up consists of movements which are not too related to the movements which will be done in the class. A specific warm up is recommended and consists of movements that more closely mimic those of the actual activity to be performed in the session, often referred to as dynamic stretches e.g. squats, side-to-side movements etc. The instructor could use basic versions of movements that will be used in the class to warm the class up. The warm up typically lasts five minutes and 10 minutes. The purpose of the warm up period is to increase heart and respiration rates, increase tissue temperature, joint mobility, and psychologically prepare the individual/group for higher intensities. The warm up is also the time to connect to the class and to “set the scene” for a fun and great experience, away from everyday life.

Dynamic Stretching

The instructor can include a few dynamic stretches after the warm up, although where a gradual warm up is used, the instructor may sometimes use the warm and dynamic movements to prepare participants for exercise i.e. without isolated dynamic stretching. When teaching a step or aerobic hi/lo class the calves should be stretched before the main body of the workout due to the hi impact elements of these type of classes.

Main Body of the Workout: Cardiorespiratory Exercise

The ETM instructor needs to understand and appreciate the fact that no two individuals will respond and adapt to exercise in the same way. In other words, the physiological and perceptual responses to exercise are highly variable. Thus all exercise training recommendations for groups should be determined separate for each participant and should always take into account the FITTR (frequency; intensity; type; time; rest/recovery) principle. In any class where the heart rate is elevated for a sustained period of time, the exercise is deemed to be cardiorespiratory (aerobic).
Different types of ‘Exercise to Music’ classes will have different training principles and require different planning.

Resistance Training

We should have a good understanding of the goals and capabilities of the individual participants before deciding on the modality of exercise, as well as intensity. Classes such as aerobics may utilise resistance training, in the form of body weight, free weights, or other equipment. In most instances body weight, or light free weights are used to develop local muscle endurance. We should ensure that participants use the correct weights for the music tempo, focus on range of movement and correct form, whilst performing the routine.

There is a variety of equipment and training tools that we can make use of. In the ‘Exercise to Music’ setting, studios are usually equipped with resistance equipment such as light hand weights, resistance bands, medicine balls, steps, mats etc.

Cool Down

A cool down is done at the end of an exercise session and provides the body with a smooth transition from exercise back to steady state exercise. In essence the cool down is the opposite of the warm up. The main aim of the cool down is to reduce heart and breathing rate, gradually cool body temperature, return muscles to their optimal length-tension relationships, prevent venous pooling of blood in the lower extremities and restore physiological systems to baseline.

The cool down is a very important part of the ‘Exercise to Music’ class and the instructor can use low intensity movements to reduce the heart rate of the participants over 5 – 10 minutes before the end of the session.


Flexibility training may be included as part of the cool down. Clients may use static stretching or myofascial release techniques to increase flexibility after an exercise session. The instructor may introduce stretching on mats/use foam rollers to improve flexibility training in the class setting.

Determining What Goes Into the ‘Exercise to Music’ Plan

Now that we have established guidelines for basic ‘Exercise to Music’ sessions, we can look at the design of different types of classes. If for example one is aiming to improve flexibility, one would expect more time to be dedicated to flexibility and less to strength. If on the other hand, the participant was aiming to improve strength, very little, if any time would be spent doing cardiorespiratory endurance. In other words, it is up to the instructor to manipulate the variables so as to meet the goals of the exercise session.

Many ‘Exercise to Music’ classes are designed to satisfy all components for fitness i.e. there is equal emphasis on flexibility, cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength and endurance. Some classes are however very specific in what they aim to achieve e.g. Pilates classes focus mostly on core training and strength, whilst yoga classes focus more on stretching.

The following points can help in determining class design:

• What type of class/training
• Time of day
• Type of participant
• Type of facility
• Available equipment

Practical Design and Preparation

Script the Plan! Know your moves and the music! To get the workout “embedded” we have to find a way to learn the plan and keep the flow of the class seamless. A great way is to script your exercise sessions, the moves (choreography), class focus, and also the type of cues you want to use, this way the class stays “fresh” all the time.
One of the most important pieces of equipment for an instructor is the sound system. We need to be familiar with the sound system we use, the basic features such as pitch control, volume, bass and treble. One should keep the music volume considerate to the hearing of the participants.

The Training

Establish programme goals. These should reflect what type of class it is, and what benefits the participants could gain from the class. Each exercise session can have a specific work out focus even is the class remains the same or similar for several weeks.

Planning and class preparation are essential in order to make efficient use of time, ensure smooth transitions and progression of activities, provide variety in the workout, and keep a flow from one exercise or section to the next.

Time management is essential i.e. beginning and ending the class on time is very important. It is unprofessional to start and finish a class late and can result in negative impressions from participants. We should arrive at least 10 minutes (if possible) prior to the start of the class, to meet and connect with participants and to ensure that the music system and microphone are in working order. Arriving early also allows the opportunity to welcome, screen or brief any new-comers to the class.

The Music

One of the most important aspects of taking an ‘Exercise to Music’ class involves the choice of music. The type of music that you choose will impact the intensity of the workout, and of course impact how fun the workout is! Remember music provides us with the frame work for our training plan.

In order to plan the music selection for a class, one should first determine who the target audience is i.e. a song/music choice with a faster beat will be used for an appropriate class, whereas a slower beat will be used for beginner groups or a shape class using equipment.

In order to work with the music we need to understand the following basic music terms:

  • The chorus: is the repeated section of a song, usually the part that gets stuck in your head. For example, in Aerosmith’s song “Walk This Way,” the chorus is “Walk this way! Walk this way! Just Gimme a Kiss! Oooh, ah—like this!” This could be used to lift the intensity level.
  • The verses: consist of passages or lines that usually tell a story. Here we could maintain a lower intensity level, maybe even an active recovery or stretch.
  • The bridge is the secondary melody in a song. It separates the main melody, verse and chorus. Could be used for a transition between exercises, or stretch/rest opportunity.
  • A crescendo (instrumental “build up”) is a gradual instrumental increase, especially in volume or intensity.

One of the best ways to ensure that a song will work for an ‘Exercise to Music’ class is to map out its patterns. This will help you coordinate your script regarding cueing, imagery and intensity changes. It will also motivate your participants and show them that you are prepared. By listening to a song in its entirety and understanding its inherent patterns, you can emphasise its contrasts through the movement intensities.


Once the music has been selected, the instructor needs to choose the appropriate movement patterns. One should ensure that the selected movements are safe and appropriate for the level of the class and adjustable for different levels of participant experience! Keep in mind the following guidelines when selecting choreography:

• Avoid hyperextension of any joints
• Avoid excessive repetitions on one weight-bearing leg, instead alternate legs regularly
• Lateral movements must be controlled to avoid tripping or ankle twisting
• Avoid ballistic stretching whilst performing movement patterns i.e. bouncing heel in step aerobics
• Change direction with caution i.e. not too rapidly
• Avoid continuous movements on the balls of the feet for extended periods of time
• Avoid arms held above the head for extended periods of time, use different ranges
• Balance the routine between both sides of the body
• Change only one variable at a time, to ensure the flow from one movement to the next
• Avoid excessive pivoting of the foot for knee safety consideration

In order to make your choreography more exciting there are a number of variables that can be added to basic moves.

Remember this acronym:

D = Direction change
R = Rhythm change
I = Intensity change
L = Lever change (Arms and legs)
L = Level change (High or low)
S = Style change (Funky, Athletic, Groovy etc.)