Intensity vs. Motivation: How to mesh the two together

I’ve been an athlete since I was old enough to have a plastic basketball rim on my parents’ living room wall.

In that amount of time, I’ve had plenty of coaches. They all had different styles of motivating myself and my teammates.

Some, like my high school cross country coach, did it in a laid back sort of way. My high school track coach was the opposite. He was old school, blue-collar and demanded the most out of his athletes, including myself.

Those two guys had different tools to motivate athletes. It worked. If you walk into my high school’s gym, there are more track and cross country championship banners than any other sport.

You might be wondering, how does this pertain to BodyPump and all of group fitness in general? Well, it’s all about meshing those two styles together in conducting a class.

I’ll start off by saying I grew up in a blue-collar family. We were all about hard work, and not taking any shortcuts. My grandfather raised my father that way, and it was passed down to me, and that’s how my children are going to be raised. I wasn’t the fastest runner in the universe nor the brightest student, but worked my ass off for every sub-5 minute mile or above average grades I achieved. I was a very intense athlete.

But when leading a group fitness class, how do you mesh “intensity” with “motivation?”

It’s not easy. In a BodyPump class, every instructor wants to motivate their members for 10 tracks and 60 minutes. They want tons of weight on their barbells. They want to do every push-up on their toes. They want to touch the ceiling when they do a plyometric squat.

But we all have to cater to every participant in the room, whether they’re a front-row diehard who is there at 5:30 in the morning ready to rumble, or the new participant who has never been in a group fitness setting before, and may be intimidated by an extremely intense instructor.

Even as instructors, we have to remember, at one point in our careers we were newbies. Even the top presenters in the world were once newbies. Our journeys all started somewhere. That’s what fitness is all about. The journey.

The bottom line is you always have to consider all of your participants. Don’t be afraid to show options. You only have to show them for a few seconds. It’s merely so the participant knows what the low-intense option is, and that it’s OK to use it. Not everybody can do every single push-up on their toes. If you have to do a rep or two on your knees, just so a new participant can see that it’s OK and just as effective, then absolutely demonstrate it.

As far as the “intimidation” factor is concerned, I’ve been told I’m an intense instructor. It’s how I’ve been for four years. I know how to get the most out of my members. But there’s a fine line between “intense” and “intimidating” that shouldn’t be crossed. You can be intense without sounding like Vince Lombardi or Herb Brooks. An example of a cue I like to use if we finish a track with push-ups: “Whether you’re on your knees or toes, we finish this together and push through it together.” While that is a good mesh of intense and motivating, it’s not over the top, unlike, “push hard until you puke” or something like that.

If you’re too intimidating as an instructor, new people to your class may get scared and not come back. It’s as simple as that. It only does one thing: Hurt your class numbers. You need to find that balance between tough and motivational. Go to an advanced instructor module, and these lessons will be drilled into you constantly. Remember that we are role models, not drill sergeants. We have to take into consideration everybody’s fitness journey, whether it’s somebody who is picking up a barbell for the first time in their lives, or somebody who lives and breathes fitness.

Be intense, push your participants to not give up, but do it in a motivational way that will help them succeed.

Ryan McLaughlin

About Ryan McLaughlin

BDN sports reporter Ryan McLaughlin grew up in Brewer and is a lifelong fan of the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins. In "The Boston Blitz" he'll be sharing his perspective with BDN readers about what's happening on the Boston professional sports scene.