A Treatise on “Mirroring” (Facing Your Class) While Teaching Group Fitness

When to Mirror

It’s stupid not to mirror the class during cool down, stretch, and the very beginning of warm-up. I almost don’t like saying “stupid.” It’s mean. It’s a rather extreme statement. But it’s true. It MAKES NO SENSE to stand there with your back to the group while marching, taking a few deep breaths, and stretching your quads. You should CONNECT with the group. Greet them, give them an intro, tell a funny or motivating story, etc.

When Not to Mirror

However, all through the rest of class, mirroring can be detrimental; substantially so. It is absolutely MORE WORK for people to TRANSLATE in their brains what they SEE you doing and REVERSE it to what they need to do. I don’t have extensive dance experience, but I believe dance classes are almost never taught that way.

Why Not Mirror?

People come to group fitness for a workout; they sometimes want a bit of mental challenge. I think the mental challenge of an intermediate, or “beginner-mediate” step class is fun and makes the time fly. If the choreo is very simplistic, I’m bored out of my skull and would rather be scrubbing the bathroom. But the average participate doesn’t want to be confused too much. So anytime the choreo gets beyond the simple, and particularly if your step choreo faces sideways or turns around, you need to have your back to the class.

Mirroring in Step vs. Kickboxing

Now, in my cardio kickboxing class, we don’t face sideways often, and when we do, our bodies are generally facing forward while we travel laterally. It isn’t confusing for members to mirror in this case, whereas, in step, straddling the bench facing sideways is much more confusing. I mirror my kickboxing class probably 80% of the time. The only time it really is a problem is when we travel FORWARD and back. Having taught hi-lo, which is something of a dead art; I learned the way to do this properly. It’s actually quite simple. As the group travels forward, you move backwards – so you remain in front of them. (And then, of course, as they travel back, towards the south wall** of the room, you travel in the same way – moving forwards, towards the south wall.)

Well, in my experience, that doesn’t work so well for kickboxing. I think a big part of it is simply that the studios in which I’ve regularly taught KB the past few years are very narrow. So there simply isn’t a lot of space. But the main thing is that moving in this way has to be HABIT that the members become CONDITIONED to. With hi-lo being dead, and many people simply not mirroring, this is just a foreign concept to most members.

But most importantly, YOU HAVE TO PHYSICALLY WORK HARD TO MOTIVATE MEMBERS TO WORK HARD. Time and again, I’ve seen this. (LOL… deserves its own blog post, now that I think of it.) If I’m mirroring, they can’t SEE me traveling far forward and back. Whereas when I’m with them, my movement is obvious. It’s simply more motivating to members to do it that way. I’m part of the group as we move up in my narrow rooms, where there’s no space for me to remain in front. So I honestly just flip my back to the group for combos that move that way, and flip again as we run through.

Cuing Orientation

**In case you’re saying, “’South wall,’ HUH?” I read years ago that it’s helpful to call the front of your studio “north,” back wall “south,” and, of course, corresponding right and left walls “east,” and “west.” Prior to hearing this tip, I always used landmarks as we traveled around, such as door, stereo, or windows. However north/east is superior for a few reasons:

  • It’s the same in every studio you teach.
  • Some studios actually don’t have many landmarks, or possess doors and windows on more than one wall.
  • They’re all one syllable as opposed to ‘windows; and ‘stereo,’ making cuing easier.
  • Finally, members may not realize or remember where one or two of landmarks are, but they get the idea of north/east.
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2 Responses to A Treatise on “Mirroring” (Facing Your Class) While Teaching Group Fitness

  1. Sarah C says:

    I’ve found that they are going to follow whatever side it “looks” like you are using when you are facing them … so I tend to point a lot rather than saying “left” or “right” unless it’s obvious (usually if we’re doing something that stays on one side for an entire combination, then switches to the other). I sometimes feel bad when I have my back to the class – but at the same time, I try my best to make eye contact in the mirror (and let them know I’m still watching them, even if it looks like I can’t see what they’re doing). Great post!

    • Thanks for your comment & I totally agree! Nonverbal cues are so important and I too use them often; to indicate direction as well as other things like spinning my hand to cue ‘revolve’ or ‘reverse turn,’ etc.
      I don’t feel like it’s detrimental to my connection with the class to have my back to them. I see how they’re relieved when I do it because I know it’s tougher for them when I mirror in step. I also get to face them when we do our muscle conditioning intervals, in addition to warm-up and cool-down, and I do make eye contact in the mirror as well.

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