Being on the Autism Spectrum allows me to perceive the world in a much different way to those who are neurotypical, and thus to think outside the square in some ways. However, Aspies in general (and me included) also think in terms of black and white – shades of grey are anti-thema and mess with our minds much more than they should.
For me, being a neurodiverse group fitness instructor particularly enhances the black-white differential, and I look at things a lot more rigidly than an instructor who is considered neurotypcial, ie. most instructors out there in the fitness world. And it is that rigidity that leads to potentially higher levels of conflict, both internally within the mind, and externally with members and management.
Nowadays though, I find it much easier to navigate with the black and white. My psychologist said to me once that a good way to deal with those pesky grey shades is to see if it is closer in shade to black or to white. And that is a system that helps me to deal with those more complex situations.
It has also allowed me to be more firm in terms of my belief system and to stand up more for those beliefs in the face of any adversity. I know that I am never going to please everyone in a group fitness class, but why should that inhibit me from being the firm but knowledgable instructor that I know I am? I am not a bully or aggressive by any means (at least not intentionally), but there are issues and topics about which I feel very strongly.
Delivering high-quality group fitness classes is one of them.
The Les Mills suite of group fitness programs helps to provide me with a solid framework in which to perform my duties, and they set very clear expectations of the instructor who then teaches those classes. For example:
- All programs are pre-choreographed, and the choreography must be delivered as prescribed.
- Certain technique must be executed and role-modeled at all times, whether it is high-intensity or low-intensity. The instructor is also expected to correct any unsafe technique throughout the class.
- Coaching cues should be delivered in a certain way to maximise member adherence and enhance their experience of the program.
Some programs require a bigger technique and safety focus than others due to their nature and equipment used, eg. BODYPUMP, CXWORX, and BODYSTEP. Instructors of these programs are more than aware of the number of injuries that can occur in one of these classes, and thus are required to have that higher level of diligence in terms of safe movement and execution. On a side note, I am overzealous about technique, and quite frankly other instructors should strive to be the same. The theory goes that when instructors give 100%, the members will only give back 70%. Hence as instructors, we need to be going above and beyond to ensure that our members give it their absolute best. If we do not deliver that role-model technique, how can we expect our members to do the same?
It might sound strange to some people out there, but another consequence of having Aspergers is the need for predictability (remember we see things black and white). Anything that deviates from that has the potential to send our minds into meltdown. Because of this, as an instructor who teaches a lot of equipment-based programs, there are certain things that I expect of members who participate in my classes (and in fact these should be standard for all instructors)…
IF YOU HAVE ANY INJURIES, TELL ME BEFORE THE CLASS STARTS!!
- If there are any pre-existing injuries or other limitations that the member might have, these should be known to the instructor prior to the class starting. I have been in situations where I have attempted to correct technique for a member on multiple occasions during a class, only to find out afterwards (grrr!) that they had injured themselves or were recovering from an injury. This situation could have been avoided if they had mentioned it before the class starting.
EXPECT A BIG FOCUS ON TECHNIQUE, AND DON’T BE SURPRISED IF I CORRECT YOU DURING CLASS!
- All members should be open to technique correction, even if they have done group fitness for years. If I attempt to correct your technique during a class, it is not because I am intentionally being an asshole, but ensuring that you are moving safely and effectively and getting the most out of the routine. There have been a few instances over the last couple of years where members have complained that I pick on them too much during a class. Well, guess what? It’s my job as an instructor to correct people, and sometimes it might take more than one attempt to do so.
On a related topic, I recently had a male member in one of my classes who objected rather loudly during a class to be corrected by me (apparently I was “yelling at him”, and “men shouldn’t be shouting at other men”). It’s amusing actually because I get a few males in my classes and I do not treat them any differently to how I treat females (everyone is considered equal in any class that I teach). I have also never been approached by any other males to say that I yell at them at all. I also make a conscious effort not to yell or scream at any of my members. I will be firm if I need to be (eg. if repeated correction is required), but having been on the tail end of being yelled and screamed at myself in the past, it’s not something I wish to inflict on my members.
IF I KNOW YOUR NAME, I WILL MOST LIKELY MENTION YOU ONCE DURING THE CLASS
- I also use names a lot to connect with people, so if I refer to you by name during a class, it is to establish an individual connection. It is a strength that other instructors and assessors have observed and commented on throughout my years as an instructor. Les Mills have a saying, “Connection is Retention Glue“, and names form a big part of that philosophy. It is something that I will not stop doing unless someone has a genuine issue with having their name called out (and it actually bewilders me sometimes why that is the case with some people).
WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER, FROM START TO FINISH
- A Les Mills class is a journey in itself for a lot of people, particularly those new to group fitness. As such, I am very much a believer of working together and moving together to ensure that we all achieve the results that we come for, no matter which class or program it happens to be.
I AM APPROACHABLE AND OPEN TO POSITIVE AND CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK
- I also have a policy of being open to feedback, whether it is positive or constructive. Constructive feedback can be a powerful learning tool when used correctly, but other times people confuse it for an opportunity to rant about the smallest thing – particularly if it is about something that you are perfectly justified in doing in the first place. And for someone like myself who is commited to delivering a great class and is always looking to improve, those kinds of things do not give me much to go on.
At the end of the day, my overriding principle is to make all my classes a positive experience. The above expectations help both myself and my members to contribute to that. Some people will say that it makes things too predictable, but believe it or not, a lot of people find comfort and feel more relaxed in that predictable setting (myself included). The members who come to my classes regularly know full well that I am quite technique driven, and some of them have told me that they get a better experience because of the fact that I am so focused on delivering that great technique and coaching. Those are the kind of members that I love having in my classes, because they love the program and the results that the program gives them. It also means I can relax more and can have that little bit of fun now and then.
Sadly though, there will be those members who do not share those same principles and beliefs. These are the ones who walk in thinking that they own the room and know everything there is to know (when in fact they know almost nothing). For me personally, it brings a very negative energy into the room, but can also be quite amusing at the same time seeing them just completely flounder, oblivious to how they look around them (they’re also the ones more likely not to take on corrective technique recommendations). As much as we are expected as instructors to welcome everyone and be positive, these are the types of members that I personally just do not want to be teaching to as I know they will not be open to anything.
I always find it intriguing when I get feedback from people saying that I should do this or shouldn’t do that, because this person might get offended or that person feels uncomfortable. For someone like myself, it very often seems to come back to the “unwritten rules of Western Society”, which aim to guide and influence our behaviour. And as a younger male, back in my teens and 20’s, I always used to take it personally whenever I was told something was “inapppropriate”. Because it was a shade of grey that my mind couldn’t process, and I would always beat myself up for not being smart enough to pick up on it.
There is the well known cliche of the simple things in life being the best things. And a black and white approach is, a lot of the time, the simplest yet most fulfilling approach to take on anything. It is certainly what works for me.
As usual, feedback and comments are welcome below (see, I am approachable, even on the Internet).