The studio’s pumping with the latest “Top-40” music, getting participants motivated and focused on the task at hand. Everyone’s having fun and the energy in the room is electric. This is often how results are achieved – it’s what encourages participants to come back time and time again.
It’s this environment that many studios and gyms strive to foster in order to create tangible enthusiasm, interest and drive. For many of these classes, it works. Ironically, with so much emphasis placed on the overall health of one’s body, there’s one health factor that’s being overlooked. There’s a growing concern of what this motivating environment can mean for the instructors who create it.
An overlooked concern
It’s easy to overlook the strain placed on the instructor who is tasked to keep everyone motivated throughout an entire workout that includes music decibels that are significantly higher than normal. The combination seems to be creating a recipe for disaster on instructor vocal cords. In a recent New York Times article published last month, this topic was explored in detail. “In 2016, Christine Estes, a speech-language pathologist at the Weill Cornell Medicine Sean Parker Institute for the Voice, noticed that her patients featured a recurring cast of fitness instructors. She decided to conduct a study of them over a two-year period. What she discovered amazed her: They had polyps. They had nodules. They had hemorrhages. Real damage to the vocal cords that needed real treatment. All 24 were referred for behavioral treatment, and 10 opted to have surgery.”
More and more instructors are experiencing the consequences of frequently strained vocal cords. As the demand for fitness classes continues to increase, and the need for instructors mirrors this trend, fitness business owners need to be proactive about keeping their employees healthy – in all aspects. When you think of the typical fitness instructor’s schedule, it’s clear why one would suffer eventually; many teach multiple classes a day, competing with music, studio logistics and the need for continuous instruction and motivation for a straight 30 to 60 minutes.
So, what can be done? As a studio or gym, there are several ways to nurture your instructors’ vocal health — as well as improve instructor retention and longevity.
Make sound quality a priority
Equipping instructors with personal microphones is not uncommon, in fact, it’s becoming more the expectation. However, microphones are only part of the solution. As the New York Times article points out, “…while most instructors do wear microphones, those devices may not help much if the studio has a low-quality sound system, or if the instructors don’t know how to use them to their vocal advantage.” Personal mics need to be a part of a larger sound quality strategy. Take the time to test out the acoustics of your venue and determine optimal volume perimeters based on that. Invest in quality mics and speakers that allow your instructors to hear the impact they have volume-wise so that there isn’t a temptation to strain when it’s unnecessary. Investment in this area will not only take care of your instructors, but it will also enhance your customer’s experience.
Provide soothing supplies and resources for staff
Just as one might consume recovery drinks or supplements for other health-related exercises, provide effective solutions for your instructors to help their vocal cords recover and prevent damage. Consider drinks and foods that encourage vocal health as well as informative materials that help warm-up voices properly before class. While your instructors may not be opera singers, the volume, strain and length of use required from them needs a similar approach to care.
Prioritize “vocal breaks”
Out of necessity, some studios may find it difficult to allow instructors to take significant breaks between classes; however, where possible, allowing for “vocal naps” is best. Encourage your instructors to take quiet breaks in the spaces between classes instead of using that time to socialize or work the desk. Consider creating a quiet space that invites meditation or inspires quiet personal time. When studio/gym management understands the importance of vocal health, they can encourage and require instructors to take the breaks needed to maintain their health. Excitement and intensity are necessary components of a good workout.
Help your instructors provide that experience while maintaining their overall health. Check out this article for more tips on self-care for fitness professionals.