GX SKILLS: Class cover protocol

By establishing and following a clear class cover process, you can minimise the problems that come with instructor cancellations and last-minute no-shows.

If you teach group exercise, or manage those who do, the question of what happens when the regular instructor can’t show up to class will be a familiar one. Without an established process in place to address such eventualities, it can also prove to be a continual headache.

Let’s look at the 101’s of group ex cover procedures – as well as some basic team manners in relation to covering classes.

The GFM’s role

If you’re the GFM, you want your timetable to run like a well-oiled machine. This doesn’t mean that you should be frantically running around behind the scenes to sort out everyone’s problems: rather, you should be empowering your team to take responsibility for themselves.

Build a culture of ownership

As the GFM, you need to ensure that everyone on your instructor team knows that if their name is on a class, they are responsible for teaching or covering that class – not you, not anybody else. Reiterate this regularly and make sure all new team members are aware of this.

Build a culture among your team in which their class is gold. Discourage covers and encourage instructors to own their class and their timeslot and be consistent with it. They are not just the instructor that happens to deliver that class: it is their class. Members will come back to a class regularly when they feel the instructor cares enough to turn up for them every week. Occasionally though, whether due to planned holidays or unforeseen circumstances, even the most diligent instructors will require cover.

Let Facebook do the hard yards

Set up a closed Instructor Facebook group for your club’s instructors and relevant staff. Create a protocol whereby this is the primary method for finding covers. All team members should be a part of this group and check it regularly.

When a member of your team posts in the Instructor Facebook group requesting a cover, ask them to tag people who are qualified to teach that program or who have covered the class in the past.

Provide a contact list

Provide an instructor contact list with teaching qualifications, phone numbers and email contacts. Email this to your team and pin it to the Instructor Facebook group so it’s readily available. Keep this updated so all information is current and new members of your team are included.

Follow a process

By establishing a process, and making it known to all team members, you will reduce the problems and confusion that come with instructor cancellations and last-minute no-shows. The following steps form the basis of a very effective cover process.

1. All covers must be confirmed in advance with the GFM in writing.

2. The instructor that is getting their class covered must also confirm with their cover instructor in writing, making sure they note the class, the time, the date and any other pertinent information (e.g. if the cover instructor doesn’t usually teach at that club, let them know where the mic and batteries are, who to speak to if there are any problems on the day, where to write class numbers and so on)

3. Use a covers book, spreadsheet or other system to update your weekly timetable, and issue it to your team weekly in advance, noting all covers in a different colour.

4. Remind your team to check their regular classes and their covers, and reiterate that if their name is on a class they are responsible for teaching or covering that class.

5. Update your online class timetable, in-club screens or class timetable board, so members know who is teaching classes that week. Keeping this updated also acts as an additional reminder for your instructor team.

Instructor Manners 101

As with anything in life, some simple good manners will go a long way when it comes to organising class covers.

Timing is everything

If you pencil someone in to cover for you because you think you may need a cover but aren’t completely certain (e.g. doctors appointment may run late but you should be there in time), ensure you give the cover instructor a time by which you will confirm, e.g. pencil them in to cover tomorrow’s 9.30am class, but confirm with them by 8.30am. This gives your colleague adequate time to get organised or change their plans if you don’t need them to cover.

If you find out at the last minute, e.g. 9am, that you will actually be able to make it, you can offer to do your own class, but if the other person has already put themselves out and reorganised their day to help you, it needs to be their call not yours. Ensure you update your GFM with the final arrangement.

Put it in writing

Remind people who are covering for you in writing, e.g. for a block of holiday covers two months from now, set them up, then the week prior, contact all your cover instructors by text, message or email and remind them of the class, time, gym and any tips or information relevant to that particular cover, and thank them in advance. Always thank them afterwards via a quick text, email or message, and offer to return the favour when they need a cover.

Ensure your GFM is also updated in writing, so that they can keep class information current for the members and pay the right person for the class. This also ensures that any member feedback will go to the right instructor.

Last minute procedures

Plan in advance whenever possible. If you do get stuck at the last minute though, due to sickness, family emergency or getting stuck in traffic for example, contact an instructor who is already in the club or on their way in for a class shortly, to see if they can jump in and cover for you. This is a good time to recruit the help of your GFM in order to avoid a class being cancelled. Your GFM will always be prepared to help you find cover at short notice.

Put the participants and club first

Endeavour to cover your class with high caliber instructors who will maintain your class numbers. Don’t get someone who’s not quite as good as you to cover just so that you look good: it’s bad for business, bad for the club and ultimately bad for your ongoing relationship with your participants.

Look after your class members. If you’re friends with your members on social media, let them know your situation and why you are getting your class covered and promote the instructor covering for you. Encourage the members to attend the class and support the instructor and let them know when you will be back.

Be consistent

Try to use the same person to cover whenever you can. This provides members with consistency and enables them to develop a relationship with your cover instructor. For example, if you are away for three weeks and one instructor can cover your class for the whole time, then take that option rather than have a different instructor each week.

Something’s better than nothing

Think laterally if need be, and cover with a different style of class – making sure to get your GFM’s approval before confirming. If you cannot find a BODYCOMBAT cover, for example, but can find someone who can do a freestyle boxing class, opting for this cover may be preferable to cancelling the class. On the other hand, the GFM may have additional contacts, or have a new team member under consideration that you are unaware of, so always check with them first.

It is advisable to set up a protocol whereby all long term covers or permanent replacement instructors must be selected by the GFM.

An efficient group fitness team will run like clockwork, with clear communication running in all directions, ultimately providing a high quality, consistent timetable of classes for members.


Leisl Klaebe is Group Exercise Manager at Virgin Active Norwest, where she coordinates over 230 classes a week and a team of 90 group exercise instructors and PTs. She is also a Group Exercise Consultant and can be contacted at leislk@me.com