GUEST POST: Theme-Build Your Way to Tasty Fitness Feasts

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by Wendy McCormick

From Pandemic Doggie Bags to Full Fitness Feasts With Theme-Building

Since the onset of the pandemic, it is safe to say that the business life of Fitness Professionals has changed in many profound ways. The journey to take my group fitness classes online has included many adventures with basement renovations, wifi signal boosting, soundboards, and web cameras: all things that I had never really had to consider. Fitness Professionals in my community know we have the capacity to sell out every seat in the house and provide delectable fitness feasts for our participants, but to switch to online delivery in a truly delicious and competitive way, without big-budget backing, is a definite challenge.

Compared to pre-pandemic online fitness services, I know how even my best efforts to deliver reliable, professional, high quality classes (where I am not tripping over a sofa or losing my Zoom connection) can make me feel more like I am offering a doggie bag of old leftovers than a Michelin three-star meal. The question is: Once we’ve begun to carve out a niche in our local area and to promote our awesomeness globally, how do we stand out and start to pack the house again? And, my best advice is Theme-Building. 

Construction theme workout - Photo of Wendy McCormick in her themed workout gear

Any Fitness Professional can whip up a class full of squats, pushups, and burpees, but only the top professionals can take those same basic ingredients and produce a delicious gourmet meal full of new flavours and surprises. My 25 years of experience with group fitness and 10 years of fitness management have proven that theme-building always gives participants something extra to look forward to.

On the promotional and conceptual side, I have come to view my online offerings as a form of fitness haute cuisine. I offer a new “Movement Menu” every week and have also used this foodie theme to challenge myself and sample new things, like fitness writing. For my classes, I have based themes on inspirational quotes or a functional, full-body relationship to posture. I have even built fitness experiences out of my children’s MegaBlocks. Every instructor has to find their own ingredients but I reached out to some Theme-Building super-chefs for thoughts and advice.  

Theme-Building Super-Chefs Give Us Some Things to Chew On

Mark Fisher, founder of New York City’s Mark Fisher Fitness (MFF) and fitness business coaching company Business for Unicorns, explains: “When I think of a ‘theme’ class, I’m thinking of something that brings some fun into the experience so you don’t take it too seriously. These can include costumes from the coach, costumes from our clients, decorations, props, music choice and more.” Whether you choose to have a new theme every day or fold the same theme into all your classes over a month or longer depends on what goals you wish to achieve and how big an appetite your clients have.

For Simone Hodgkinson, International Presenter, Group Fitness Supervisor for the Glencoe Club in Calgary Alberta, ViPR Master Trainer, and Director of Physical Yoga: ”themes change week by week and have changed over the years based on current research and my growth as a presenter/instructor. One popular themed yoga class is Yoga for tight Hips and Hamstrings. One popular fitness class is Quality over Quantity.” Hodgkinson emphasizes that you should, “choose a theme that excites you as the instructor and a theme you have knowledge in. Nothing is worse than trying to ‘fudge’ yourself through a class you are not 100% comfortable with. If you are teaching a themed class you really enjoy, your excitement will double the energy; and double the fun and experience for the participants.” Fisher agrees that, “full commitment from the instructor” is the most important ingredient to a successful themed experience and adds: “Your clients can’t have more fun than you’re having!”

More Tasty Theme Possibilities and a Reminder To Always Find Your Best Ingredients

One of the quotations I have used to create a theme was Muhammed Ali’s famous, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” I found it to be perfect for KickBoxing. Through the quote, and my explanation of why I chose it, participants were inspired to picture the strength of the famous boxer. They were encouraged to channel his persona, his focus and energy. Thoughtful, well-timed repetition of the whole quote, or parts of it, tied it to specific drills and combos and helped participants to find fresh drive and sharpen their technique.

When I worked with my children’s MegaBlocks, I used them as a visual aid to help participants think of their bodies as houses that we would build together with weights and step boards as our tools; as structures that have important frames and foundations. I designated myself the “safety inspector” and gave out kudos and reminders when I observed commendable construction. Above all, the key is to work with themes that you are passionate about and that come to you easily. To return to my food, cooking, and restaurant theme, the point is to make something delicious for our participants and for ourselves. We shouldn’t try to make something we’ve never even wanted to taste, aren’t even sure we’ll like, or that has a lot of hard-to-find ingredients! 

Construction theme workout - Photo of mega blocks prop to explain the building blocks of fitness

Is there a short story or poem that you’ve heard or read that could become and/or illustrate the theme you want to work with? Once you have a theme in mind, imagine which parts of it can be shared during class set-up. Which parts can be tied to the program itself? Can you design a playlist that includes songs about your chosen theme? If you like to dress-up, is there something you could wear or a prop you could have nearby to provide visual focus or even just a good laugh? And, can any of your themes also help you with marketing and promotion? 

Take a moment and go feast your eyes on Mark Fisher Fitness’ social media. You’ll see that MFF club themes are woven throughout the facility decor, expressed in coach and participant costumes, help define class and special event names, inspire merchandise, and therefore exist in every part of the client experience. Fisher describes how they will often base themes on movies: ”We like to play with the inherent narrative structure in a class. Much like a good story, there’s a beginning, a transition for the protagonist, a middle section where things escalate, a climax, and a denouement. Over the years we’ve explored that progression in Lord of the Rings, Star Wars themed workouts and more.” We do not all want or need to go to these same extremes to make a lasting impression, but – as I’ve said – I definitely encourage you to create themes that use your personal and best secret ingredients and which can help not only in your class-planning but with your marketing and community-building.

Themes Are Fun, Flavourful, and Smart: Just Remember to Follow Your Recipe!

Finding themes that excite you and bring the fun is important, but many of us also see ourselves as instructors with valuable health and fitness knowledge to share. A good theme recipe, if you will, should also leave room for those “smarts.” Fisher explains that in addition to more show-stopping themes, “most of our classes at MFF will have some sort of specific fitness theme we’re looking to have our members play with; a particular movement pattern, a specific energy system or any number of focuses.”

Jessica Power Cyr, M.Sc. Faculty Instructor at Mount Royal University and Lifestyle Director at the Glencoe Club in Calgary, Alberta; beloved for her off-the-charts energy and laugh-out-loud stories and one-liners, rolls it all together: “Everything I personally do includes an edutainment focus. This is where I blend education and entertainment at the same time.” And Hodgkinson provides some practical examples: “In a yoga class it could be a Heart Chakra theme, in a fitness class, the duration of the intervals could be the theme. In a strength class the theme could be driving home a specific technique.” I, myself, turned “posture” into a running theme for Barbell Strength Classes. 

Construction theme workout - Photo of Wendy McCormick in her themed workout gear

Over a three-month span, we worked our way from our crown to our toes. Week one focused on our head and cervical spine. With each set of movements, we carefully examined where our head was, where it should be for optimal alignment, and how its position affected the quality of our movement and breathing. We considered how often we needed to correct our alignment and how our head position relates to our daily movements and quality of life. In the next class, we layered in our shoulder alignment, then our arms, wrists, and so on. Participants were able to actively feel how the strength and alignment of each body part affects other body parts and the overall quality of their motion. Whatever type of theme you choose to work with, the way you choose to mix and present your special balance of education and entertainment is also important. Just like making a complicated dessert, following the recipe is crucial. 

Power Cyr cautions, “instructors have such great intentions for their theme and it flops.” She goes on to say: “I always make a detailed minute by minute class plan and rehearse and review it prior to leading the session so I can work out any issues that may come up during the session. Does the music, environment, equipment and attire all work with the experience I am trying to achieve?” Ultimately, she explains, that the best themed classes happen, “when I am systematically organized, and I deliver what I promised in the marketing. I think about my audience and what their expectations will be of me. I can’t make everyone happy, but I do try to ensure the majority of my audience is walking away with new knowledge and a smile.”

Theme-Building Is Limited Only By Your Imagination

Inspirational quotes, breathing, chakras, MegaBlocks, Frodo and Sam, posture, disco, Darth Vadar and Luke, golden oldies, a set of feather boas, or even a simple choice to emphasize and discuss eccentric movement: Theme-Building possibilities are limited only by your imagination. As Fitness Professionals, we really do all start with the same basic ingredients so how we choose to cook and serve them is what helps participants decide whether or not they’re coming back for seconds. Folding a theme into your fitness classes and sessions, snack-sized or a Mark Fisher full-meal-deal, is a sure way to engage your current and new fitness friends. Even in our overturned lives and without big budgets, a little creativity and commitment can help us find our way back to a full reservation list and a packed (online) house. Choose your own magical ingredients and follow the best recipe for your communities and participants so you can pull all the flavours together into your own sensational fitness feast.

Special Thanks to Mark Fisher, Simone Hodgkinson, and Jessica Power Cyr for sharing their recipes, methods and successful creations!


Create a Sensational Theme Class!
Spice up your classes with 10 ingredients for a successful themed experience.
Mon Feb 22/21 5-7pm MST
$59 early bird, $75 Regular CDN


Barre Above Instructor Certification
Become certified to teach barre using Barre Above’s signature Sequencing, Musicality and Planes of Motion.
Sat Apr 10/21 9am-4pm MST
$299 early bird, $349 Regular CDN

Pre & Postnatal Barre
Learn how to adapt Barre for the pre/postnatal clients in general population classes or create exclusive experiences for these special clients.
Sat May 8/21 8:30am-12:30pm MST
$99 early bird, $129 Regular CDN

Construction theme workout - Photo of Wendy McCormick in her themed workout gear

About The Author

With 25+ years of fitness experience, Wendy has spent equal time creating tasty, nourishing meals and sweet treats for her family of 6 and programming fun, engaging themed movement experiences for participants young and old. Master Trainer for Barre Above, Training Educator for the YMCA of Canada, certified in everything from Pre/Postnatal, Youth, Active Older Adults, and all kinds of portable equipment, pre-choreographed to self created movement experiences, Wendy works with cherished mentors Lawrence Biscontini and Blanche Hold to keep her knowledge-base current and grounded in research. When she’s not in the kitchen or sweating she enjoys snowboarding the green and blue runs, sewing dresses and gowns, and driving kids to and from school.



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