Our small community is grieving over a recent tragedy. The members of the local fitness center where I work are friends and relatives of the numerous victims.
Searching the Internet for recommendations on workout intensity level or other guidelines for participants impacted by grief found a limited body of knowledge for group fitness instructor guidance. The gist of the information acknowledges that grief may have a physiological impact and exercise is recommended for dealing with grief.
This limited availability of information for group fitness instructors was the impetus for my writing about this experience, so I could share my thought process and encourage a dialogue so that others will have information to draw upon if faced with a similar situation.
The week following the tragedy, registration for the Saturday cycling class hovered at just four people. The studio has fifteen bikes and at this time of year we begin to experience capacity classes. With four participants in a grieving community, class design questions emerged in my mind: What type of class should this be? Should the tragedy be acknowledged? If so, what would be the mental/emotional impact on the class? Would they find the mental strength and tenacity to carry them through the workout?
Serendipitously, ICA had just published the Quick Profile “Let’s Go!” and it was a perfect uplifting theme. With a recurring mantra and repeating intervals, the participants could easily follow each interval even if they weren’t fully engaged. The next and important step I took was to carefully review all the songs and eliminate any tracks with lyrics that would trigger thoughts of the tragedy. The key was to keep this class as upbeat as possible. For example, the song “Emergency” by Icona Pop was changed. While the beat of the music was ideal, the words wouldn’t have been appropriate at this time.
Concerned that the participants may be experiencing stress-related physiological fatigue, I developed a backup plan; a lower-intensity aerobic “Recovery” ride was designed with soothing, mellow music. My determination of which class profile to use would be made in the moment, after greeting the participants and assessing the overall needs of the class.
At the last minute there was a surge in class registration. There were now ten participants. Greeting each person, it was clear to me that the ICA profile would be used for this class although there were a couple of participants struggling emotionally. I paid particular attention to those participants by acknowledging positive things like form, cadence, and effort—anything to make eye contact and distract their thoughts. Intermittently teaching off the bike facilitated individual communications. As the instructor, it was imperative that my countenance be positive, transcending any personal feelings of grief for the duration of that class.
The cool-down songs I selected were intended to finally acknowledge the tragedy. “Together We Are Strong” by Jools Holland, Sam Moore, and Sam Brown and “Friend Medley: Stand by Me / Lean on Me / Time after Time / I’ll Be There for You” by Anthem Lights helped to transition the tone to one of gratitude and thankfulness; that in spite of their grief they came together, much like a team, to support one another during this difficult time. Hugs were exchanged and the participants expressed their gratefulness that class was held.
As we experience more worldwide natural disasters and other human tragedies, mine is just one scenario that may provide some guidance should you find yourself in a situation where you need to coach through a tragedy.