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Design the ideal fitness class and learn the proper warm-up format

By Simona Pajaujiene.

This is an excerpt from EuropeActive’s Essentials for Fitness Instructors edited by Rita Santos-Rocha, Alfonso Jiménez, and Thomas Rieger.

Core Concepts in Class Design

For the most favourable conditions, each GF workout, regardless of its type, should maintain the recommended structure. This allows instructors to include all health-related fitness components in a single workout. A GFC should consist of four parts:

● Warm-up (7 to 15 minutes)
● Cardiorespiratory activity (20 to 30 minutes)
● Muscular conditioning (10 to 20 minutes)
● Flexibility exercises and cool-down (7 to 10 minutes)

These segments are aligned with the health-related fitness components provided by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM 2009), and they apply to most types of GF classes. However, there is no strict standard or workout format because different exercises may vary in duration, order, choice of exercises and their constitutive parts. Different movements and equipment can be used to warm up depending on the class (techniques for step, Fitball, indoor cycling, aqua and Pilates all differ). Cardiorespiratory activity is not performed in stretching or in yoga classes and muscular conditioning is not performed in dance classes. The nature of the cool-down and flexibility portion also depends on the class. Body toning classes require longer sessions of more serious stretching. In water classes, the cool-down and stretching portion should be short because of the water temperature and body thermoregulation. GF instructors can determine their own rules for the duration, intensity and choice of exercises in their classes.


A warm-up should do the following:

● Psychologically prepare for the workout (motivate the participants and help them focus their attention)
● Physiologically prepare for the workout (increase cardiac activity and prepare body systems for a more intensive workout)
● Prevent injuries

For gradual progression, the programme should begin with low-impact movements and dynamic stretching for the whole body (Howley and Franks 2007). Participants do various well-known, simple exercises for the hands, shoulders, waist and legs. Warm-up exercises should be repeated more than once. Movements are small at the beginning, but range of movement increases as the body warms up. Instructors often use this time to introduce rehearsal moves, or movements that will be included during the aerobic part of the workout (Appel 2007). Instructors should lead participants through exercises at a moderate pace, gradually increasing load intensity (up to 60 percent of maximum cardiac system activity) to increase muscle and core temperatures without causing fatigue (Baechle and Earle 2008).

The following factors determine duration and choice of exercises as well as intensity of the warm-up:

● Fitness level and age of the group (advanced or beginners; adults or young people)
● Ambient temperature (cold or hot)
● Time of the day (morning or evening)

Beginners, participants in morning classes and those working out in a cool environment will benefit from a longer, more intentional warm-up. The following errors may contribute to a poor warm-up:

● The instructor does not make contact with the group.
● Participants try to warm up as quickly as possible instead of gradually increasing load intensity.
● Movements are too intense (hops) or complex (with twists).
● Movements involve changes of direction or long combinations.
● Instructor does not provide rehearsal moves.
● The warm-up is too intense, leading to group fatigue.
● Stretching is improperly carried out or is incomplete.
● Music is too fast.

Learn more about EuropeActive’s Essentials for Fitness Instructors.

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EuropeActive's Essentials for Fitness Instructors

EuropeActive's Essentials for Fitness Instructors

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