Peak-End Rule for Fitness Instructors

Use the Peak-end Rule to reduce your workload and increase participant interest and efficacy

Pleasing a bunch of people all the time can be exhausting if not impossible. But that’s a basic job description of a group fitness teacher. Of course there’s good class planning, participant connection, music selection, injury prevention and thousands more topics of professional advancement, but really, unless a critical mass walk out of your class feeling pleased and pleasant, none of the other stuff matters. 

Consistently pleasing a large number of people with unknown pleasure triggers may seem daunting. But The Peak-end Rule can be employed to make it easy. Just remember that you don’t have to provide everyone’s Pleasant Peak with the same trick. Try offering a few of these techniques in each class and you’ll likely hit one Pleasant Peak for everyone:

  • One short, most intense section of work. Set the stage by saying this should be the hardest work of the class. Be clear about the skill and duration. Use a countdown timer or other prop to add legitimacy. Once finished, be generous with congratulations and impressive adjectives.  
  • Make eye contact and/or personally complement each person at least once so they aren’t just one of many. It only takes one moment to make some magic.
  • Turn up the lights and turn on the competition. Relay races, team trials and personal best challenges are an easy way to inspire the inner competitor. This may not be everyone’s Pleasant Peak, but a fair number of people can be coaxed into the “Go for the Gold” mindset. 
  • Turn down the lights and turn up the freak. Use a track that is noticeably edgy in style or content. Encourage a loner/renegade moment by being obtuse and using only two syllable action words from a comic book targeting puberty-aged teens. Don’t try this unless you can darken the room sufficiently. Nothing destroys the youthful imaginings induced by this technique like a bright, mirrored room.    
  • Put on a show. Use what you’ve got to give them what they want. You may think that using a ‘properly positioned qualification’ or ‘tastefully displayed talent’ to provide a Pleasant Peak is low-brow or crass. But I’ve seen it work far too many times to leave it off the list. Just know your audience before attempting this trick, as it can easily backfire and provide an unintended unpleasant peak. 

The second step is a smooth ending. This should be your most rehearsed class section. Ending with a pleasant observation, a familiar montra and a reminder of the possible pleasant peaks – “I’m so proud of the way you worked during that interval track” – works great. And as hokey as it sounds, ending with a smile and congenial farewell is all it takes to provide the smooth ending for most. This step is not tough, but must seem natural to be effective. So, practice, practice, practice.  

Other than a couple attempts at pleasant peaks and your smooth, rehearsed ending, the goal for the rest of your class should be average. Really, just average. Trying to make every second of your class spectacular has no upside, yet seriously increases the chances of providing an unintended unpleasant peak. I’m not saying you should purposely disappoint during most of your class, but trying to overachieve all the time is not productive. If you must, repeat the montra: The Peak-End Rule rules. 

So as you plan your next class, keep in mind that you will be judged on only one peak experience (pleasant or unpleasant) and the end. Offer a few pleasant peak options, a smooth ending, steer clear of unpleasant possibilities, and you’re golden.