EMD UK is the national governing body for group exercise and 2018 we conducted the National Fitness Survey1 which showed that group exercise now attracts 4.86 million participants every week. That’s a growth of 1 million participants compared to the same study conducted in 20161.

What this demonstrates is that group exercise contributes significantly to the fitness sector and the growth shows no signs of slowing down. When you consider that there is still an estimated 11.5 million2 people in England that are inactive, ensuring group exercise delivers a quality experience that engages with all ages, abilities and interests is of major importance.

As professionals that stand at the front of every group exercise class, instructors must know and understand how to plan and prepare a class, give clear instructions on good form and use of various equipment and, just as important, they must know how to effectively engage with participants to encourage and coach to ensure participants keep coming back, class after class.

The qualifications that currently support group exercise have a strong focus on using the beat and phrase of the music to deliver classes to, and whilst this is appropriate for many styles, group exercise formats have evolved, creating a need for a new qualification that more closely aligns to these updated formats that use music as a motivator rather than an integral part of the routine. The 2018 National Fitness Survey reflects the UK change in trend towards this.

Type of Activity % of participants Number of participants
Yoga 26 1.285m
Pilates 18 887k
Spinning® / indoor cycling / RPM  15 745k
Circuits 15 711
Zumba®  12 607k
Aerobics 12 586k
Body conditioning 12 585k
BODYPUMP™  9 414k
Core stability 7 357k
Aqua Aerobics 7 336k

High interval intensity training and group training were also identified as the top two trends in the Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends3 for 2018, providing further evidence that group exercise is shifting away from ‘conventional’ formats. 

It’s not just formats that are changing. The National Fitness Survey also revealed that the age distribution that group exercise attracts is shifting, with people over the age of 45 making up 64% of all participants. What’s more the biggest overall growth in participants came from people aged 45-54, with 1.1 million more people from this age bracket now taking part. This means participation by this group now exceeds the age distribution of the population and other industry reports have produced similar findings.

This shift in age range adds another level of complexity to the delivery of group exercise as risk of injury increases and pre-existing medical conditions become more likely. Communicating and engaging with older populations also requires adjustment as well as understanding their motivations and barriers to taking part. 

Feedback from an EMD UK-led forum held in April this year, which sought opinion from Heads of Group Exercise from leading health club and boutique studio operators revealed that many employers feel there is a skill gap around overall delivery of group exercise. A lack of soft skills to deal with the broad range of members that attend classes was particularly highlighted and an acknowledgement that the old qualification no longer equips instructors with the skills they need to deliver effective and compelling group exercise training.

To address these concerns and fulfil the growing industry demand for a qualification that supports the diversity of group exercise, EMD UK is launching a new Level 2 ‘Group Training’ qualification this autumn. The qualification introduces a new level of learning to equip instructors with the skills needed to support behaviour change and healthy lifestyles. This includes topics such as:

  • Barriers to exercise
  • Influencing behaviour change
  • Goal setting
  • Fitness screening
  • Components of a healthy lifestyle

Developed by EMD UK in partnership with awarding body Active IQ and group training specialists, the new qualification is REPs endorsed and provides a welcome and much needed update to the original Level 2 Exercise to Music qualification. 

Delivered exclusively by EMD UK for the first six months, the qualification will give instructors a dynamic and flexible learning path, combining teaching units based on the type of group training they want to teach. Instructors can complete the ‘Group Training’ qualification (for classes like HIIT, bootcamp and circuits) or Group Training (to Music) which adds on the skills needed to plan and teach classes to the beat and phrase of the music (such as Zumba® or Les Mills BODYATTACK™). 

Emma Forward, chief operating officer of EMD UK and contributor to the new qualification commented: “EMD UK recognised the need to update the core group exercise qualification and at the same time address the ever-evolving range of group exercise formats on the market. In addition to comprehensive coaching and instructional skills, the new qualification includes essential content for instructors to run their own successful businesses. The qualification also encompasses the soft skills needed to engage and retain participants such as understanding behavioural change and barriers to exercise along with delivering a great customer experience.”

Fastrack options are available for instructors or PTs who already hold a relevant qualification. Training bursaries and payment plans are also available.

Click here to find out more


1 EMD UK, 2018, National Fitness Survey

2 Sport England, 2017, Active Lives Survey

3 American College of Sports Medicine, 2017, Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2018, CREP Edition, Walter R. Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM

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