UACES Facebook Extension Get Fit Program Teaching Resources | Enrolling as an Extension Get Fit leader
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Extension Get Fit Program Structure & Teaching Methods

Are you an Extension Get Fit leader? Use the information below to inform your program.

Program Duration

EGF programs should include at least 2 classes per week for 12 weeks. Using volunteer leaders may enable the program to continue indefinitely. Decisions about the delivery method, agent leader versus volunteer leader and the transition of a group from agent-led to volunteer-led, should be made at the county level.

Program Delivery Options

Agent delivers program for 12 weeks. At least one volunteer leader is recruited from members of the exercise group (more than one leader is better). The volunteer attends EGF Fundamental Training prior to leading the group without supervision by the agent OR attends the next Fundamental Training offered.

 Agent delivers program for 12 weeks and volunteer leaders are recruited and trained as described above. The agent may choose to limit group membership to those attending while he or she conducted the first 12 weeks of the program, which means no new group members will be allowed to join while volunteers lead the class. After a volunteer-led period, agents may choose to instruct the group again for 12 weeks and allow new members to join during that time. After the 12 agent-taught weeks, the group would revert to volunteer instruction and closed enrollment.

 Agent delivers the program for 12 weeks and volunteers are recruited and trained as described above (Option 1). The agent may choose to limit group membership to those attending while he or she conducted the first 12 weeks of the program. The agent may open enrollment to new group members for a period of time (in January, for example), hold an orientation meeting, and collect enrollment paperwork. Volunteers continue to lead the group as before, but enrollment is closed to those who did not enroll during open enrollment, or who had not previously been attending the class.

Agent delivers program for 12 weeks and volunteer leaders are recruited and trained as described above (Option 1). The group continues to be led by one or more volunteers. Enrollment is rolling, meaning new people are allowed to join the group at any time. Volunteer leaders collect enrollment paperwork and enrollment fees and return to the county Extension office.

Tips for Scheduling Classes

EGF Classes should meet a minimum of two days each week, with at least one day between sessions to allow the body to rest and muscles to recover. For example, classes might meet on a Tuesday and Thursday, or a Monday and Wednesday. A third, nonconsecutive day may be added if desired.

Use your knowledge of the target audience to set class times. Many classes meet at 9:00 or 10:00 AM. Successful programs have also been scheduled to meet at noon or immediately after the work day. Classes conducted for teachers may be offered immediately after school.

How long do classes last?

EGF classes will take approximately one hour.

Enrollment Options

You, as the program manager, will decide how to handle program enrollment for new groups. Here are a few options to consider before you promote and set registration deadlines.

Require participants to contact the Extension office to pre-register before the orientation meeting. This allows you to keep tabs on participant numbers, collect contact information, and create a waiting list if more people are interested than can be accommodated. You can determine if a second class should be offered for those wait-listed before the program starts and make arrangements.

Direct interested participants to attend a scheduled orientation meeting without pre-registering beforehand. This approach is less labor intensive for county staff, but allows less room for making adjustments if interest is higher than anticipated. Also, you will not know how many enrollment folders to bring to the orientation meeting and may risk having more people than you can accommodate with a single class.

Program Location

EGF programs may be held at any location where open space is available. Classes have been held at churches, community centers, libraries, senior centers, and community rooms of local organizations. Meeting rooms at county Extension offices have also been used for exercise classes.

Is it better to have classes at my county office or at a community setting?

Although an Extension office meeting space may be most convenient for the agent, sites within the community are preferred for EGF classes.

There are several benefits to using community settings:

  • provide greater visibility for the program.
  • may already be frequented by the target audience.
  • promote partnerships with other organizations.
  • often serve as meeting locations for existing groups, making sustainability more likely.
  • may employ people willing to be trained to sustain the exercise program after the agent-led period.

A study of Extension exercise programs in Arkansas found that groups were more likely to be sustained by volunteers when classes met at locations other than the Extension office. Volunteer-led programs were most often held at churches.

When classes are held at the Extension office, the program is perceived to "belong" to Extension, making it harder for the group to develop ownership of the program.

Ownership is key to transitioning groups to volunteer leadership.

Participants need to see the program as their own. The group needs to develop its own identity. The program will still be an Extension-sponsored program at a community site; group leaders will be Extension volunteers.

Churches may be viable locations for volunteer-led groups to meet, particularly if participants or volunteers are associated with the church site. When Extension exercise programs are implemented at churches and attract congregation members, mechanisms for social support are likely already in place. Groups with pre-existing bonds seem to be more likely to continue independently, and church members often have experience as lay leaders in other capacities.

Many churches consider hosting a program like EGF to be an outreach effort. Access to church buildings may be easier to secure than Extension or other government-owned buildings when volunteers are responsible for instruction and locking up the building after the session. Partnering with churches at the local level to conduct EGF situates the program in a setting that allows for sustainability beyond the agent-led period.

Physical Space

Space required depends on the number of participants and the type of activity. For strength training routines using weights or other resistance equipment, a minimum of 200 square feet for a class of eight, or 400 square feet for a class of 16 to 18 people is recommended. The room should be large enough to accommodate chairs (if used) and allow enough space between chairs so that participants can move arms and legs out to sides without touching one

Floor exercises using mats will require about 21 square feet per person. This space guideline takes into account the average 2 x 6 foot mat and allows an extra one to two feet per person. For a class of twenty people, about 420 square feet of space is ideal. If in a pinch for space, about 16 to 18 square feet per person, or 320-360 square feet total, would tightly accommodate a class of twenty people.

Be sure there is enough space for exercise AND for participants to store their personal belongings (purses, jackets, etc.) during sessions. These items should be stored away from the exercise area (not at participant’s feet or under their chairs).

Teaching Techniques

Effective Cueing and Learning Styles

Cueing is anything an exercise instructor uses to lead a class. Cueing may be visual, verbal, or kinesthetic, which corresponds to the three learning styles.

 Visual learners learn best when they can see what is being taught. To visually cue an exercise class, demonstrate the exercise movement.

Visual learners need to see the exercise cues. Good visual cues are also beneficial for those who are hearing impaired or who speak a different primary language. Visual cues need to be logical and clearly visible to participants. Here are a few pointers for effective visual cueing:

  • Point to the primary muscle you are working. For example, when telling participants they
    are going to do the biceps curl, point to the biceps.
  • Point in the direction you want participants to move. For example, if you are going to step to the left, stretch your arm out to the left.
  • Hold up fingers to show how many repetitions are left. For example, if you say “four more”,
    hold up four fingers.
  • If a joint could be at risk for injury, point to the joint and demonstrate the correct and incorrect form. For example, when demonstrating the lunge exercise, hold the pose with the knee at a 90° angle and run your hand from the thigh, to the knee, and down the calf. Then, lower to where the knee is less than a 90° angle.

Verbal learners learn best when they can hear what is being taught. To verbally cue an exercise class, speak the instructions on how to perform an exercise movement.

Verbal learners need to hear instructions and sound-specific cues. Many times, participants will wait until all instructions have been verbalized before they will begin the movement. Good verbal cues are also beneficial for those who are visually impaired. Verbal cues should be specific, positive, transitional, and goal or process oriented. Here are a few pointers for effective verbal cueing:

  • Avoid cues that are non-specific. For example, instead of saying, “Go this way,” say, “Go to the right;” or instead of saying, “We are going to work this muscle,” say, “We are going to work the triceps.”
  • Avoid negative language by omitting the word “don’t.” For example, instead of saying, “Don’t let your knees go past your toes” when performing the squat exercise, say, “Keep your weight in your heels and your knees lined up over your ankles.” Instead of saying, “Don’t forget to breathe,” say, “Remember to breathe.”
  • Count down, rather than up, so participants can predict when a change is coming or when an exercise move will be over.
  • Make sure to speak loud and clear enough for everyone to hear.
  • Give cues before an exercise move rather than after the move has started.

Kinesthetic learners learn best when they can do or feel what is being taught. Kinesthetic cues should tell a participant which muscles are being worked and how they should feel.

Kinesthetic learners need to feel and do the exercise cues. Many times, participants will wait to see what everyone else is doing before they begin. Kinesthetic learners also like equipment because it gives them something to touch. Here are a few pointers for effective kinesthetic cueing:

  • Have a participant perform an exercise move with both correct form and incorrect form. This will allow the participant the feel the difference between the two positions.
  • Tell participants which muscle should feel the exercise. For example, when performing the overhead press say, “You should feel this exercise in your shoulders.”
  • Tell participants how muscles should feel. For example, when performing the overhead press say, “If you feel discomfort in your lower back, slightly bend your knees to properly align your hips.”
  • Typically, kinesthetic learners do not mind being touched, but if you notice a participant performing an exercise move incorrectly, ask permission to move them into the correct form before touching them.

The best instructors use all three methods when leading a class. Most people have a dominant learning style, but everyone uses all three styles in some way. The learning styles are explained in more detail below.

Types of Effective Cues Using S.T.E.M

In addition to combining the three learning styles, cueing should follow the acronym STEMS.

STEMS stands for:

  • safety
  • timing
  • education
  • motivation
  • structure

Safety cueing helps to ensure proper alignment, breathing, and use of equipment. Alignment cues should include exercise form and body posture both before and during an exercise movement. Breathing cues should indicate when to inhale and exhale and also how to breathe.

Time cueing is for rhythm, tempo, and counting. Many timing cues are numerical. This tells participants how many repetitions or sets they will be doing or how many are left.

Education cueing gives general instruction such as relevance, function and progression. Educational cues are good for informing participants about the muscle groups they are working during each exercise or for letting participants know when they need to progress to a heavier weight.

Motivation cueing is used to encourage participants. Tell participants they are doing a good job, that you are glad to see them, and/or that you recognize progress they have made.

Structure cueing directs movement and describes type of equipment being used. Instruct participants to do something specific by using the room or the participant’s body as reference points. For example, say things like, “Place your hand weights completely under your chair,” “Raise your arms until they are parallel to the floor,” or “Take three steps toward the window with the blue curtain.”

Over time, most leaders develop their own teaching style. Keep in mind that no teaching style is perfect, and there is always room for improvement. Be flexible enough to adapt to your participants’ needs, and be aware of participant feedback. Feedback is not always verbal so look for non-verbal communication such as facial expressions. Also, don’t feel like you have to speak for the entire class time. Quiet time allows participants time to focus on themselves, their performance, and how their muscles and joints feel.

Providing Positive Feedback

One of the most important roles of Extension Get Fit leaders is helping participants feel successful in the group exercise setting. Increased confidence (or self-efficacy) makes participants more likely to continue strength training.

Feedback and encouragement foster a positive, supportive environment and help to develop cohesion among group members. The following are guidelines to ensure the feedback you provide is effective and positive.

  • Ask for permission before touching a participant to correct form. Ask, “May I touch you?”
  • Provide plenty of positive reassurance and eye contact.
  • Focus on positive behaviors, not negative. To do this, use positive language. Instead of saying, “Don’t point the toe toward the ceiling,” instruct participants to “Keep the toe pointed forward.” Tell participants to remember to breathe instead of saying, “Don’t hold your breath.”
  • Do not expect perfection from participants. Verbal cuing can be used to provide group instructions to help participants avoid injury. If you observe behaviors that increase injury risk, address the participant individually.
  • Provide encouragement, not criticism.

Exercise Leader Behaviors

Behaviors to Adopt Behaviors to Avoid
Address participants by name Not addressing participants by name  
Engage in general conversation with the participants before, during, and after class Avoiding conversation unrelated to the exercise class
Provide specific reinforcement for positive behaviors to each participant at some point during the exercise session (e.g., "Good form, Mary. You're getting the hang of it.") Not directing individualized praise or attention: direction comments to the group in general
Give encouragement before and after a skill and after mistakes Failing to follow-up with praise or comment after a skill
Focus on positive comments during instruction Focusing on negative comments during instruction
Give specific instructions

Giving vague instructions (e.g., "Okay, now follow what I do next.")

Ignore mistakes (i.e. no verbal punishment of mistakes)

Not giving encouragement and not reinforcing positive behaviors

Verbally reward effort and ability immediately after exercise

Verbally noting mistakes; not rewarding effort and ability immediately after the exercise


Change is Hard: Use health behavior theory to help participants!

People attend exercise classes for various reasons. When people decide to start exercising, or to begin participating in an Extension Get Fit class, they have gone through several stages in the decision-making process. As the program leader, you can learn to recognize these stages and use them to help people continue their exercise habits.

Stages of Change

The Stages of Change Model describes the process of change in five stages: Pre-contemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, and Maintenance. Relapse is also part of the model; preventing relapse to maintain changes is important to success.

This model can be helpful when trying to change your own behavior. It can also help to guide efforts to help others adopt healthy behaviors or quit unhealthy ones.

The Stages of Change Model evolved from work with smoking cessation and the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction. It has been applied to a variety of other health behaviors. The basic premise is that behavior change is a process and not an event, and that individuals are at varying levels of motivation, or readiness, to change. People at different points in the process of change respond best to efforts tailored to their particular stage.

In the pre-contemplation stage, people are not thinking seriously about changing. People in this stage may defend their current bad habit(s) or lack of good habit(s) when other people pressure them to change. They do not see their behavior as a problem, and may be unaware that a problem exists.

Example: Ginger has no desire, thought, or intention of starting an exercise program.

In pre-contemplation, the person:

  • Does not see behavior as a problem.
  • Is not interested in discussing behavior with others that do see the behavior as a problem.
  • Has no intention of changing behavior.
  • Is unaware of the risks or easily rationalizes them.
  • May have made previous attempts to change and feels hopeless about change.

To help those in the pre-contemplation stage, leave the door open for communication. To help people in the pre- contemplation stage move to contemplation, try to ask questions, listen, and provide unbiased information. They may also benefit from awareness activities to acknowledge a need for behavior change.

Those in the pre-contemplation stage may seem:

  • naïve
  • impatient
  • closed minded

In the contemplation stage, people are more aware of the personal consequences of their habits. They may spend time thinking about the problem, such as needing to exercise, but have not made a commitment to take action. Although they are able to consider the possibility of changing, they tend to be hesitant about it and may weigh the pros and cons of changing their behavior. They may be unsure if the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term costs. People in the contemplation stage may be more open to receiving information about behavior change than before. They are more likely to take advantage of education opportunities. This stage may last a few weeks or forever. Some people spend a lifetime thinking about a change but never take action.

Example: Ginger is considering starting an exercise program but is not ready to begin yet.

In contemplation, the person:

  • Has some awareness of the need to change behavior.
  • Begins to realize the risks of the behavior.
  • Is actively weighing the pros and cons of the behavior.
  • Expresses awareness of need for change but may waver in willingness to change.

To help those in the contemplation stage, provide information to assist in decision-making. Discuss the benefits and drawbacks of behavior change, with an emphasis on positive aspects. Give them information to take home.

Those in the contemplation stage may seem: 

  • unsure or go back and forth between a decision to change
  • willing to listen but describe barriers or reasons why change is not possible

In the preparation stage, a commitment to change has been made with change intended within the next month. Research on making the change, such as gathering information, developing strategies, and identifying resources is typical. Preparation is an important stage to make action more successful. Skipping from the contemplation stage to action without the necessary preparation will make maintaining the change less likely.

Example: Ginger wants to start exercising. She buys a new pair of tennis shoes and workout clothes. She also researches several nearby gyms and Extension Get Fit classes to find out their cost and benefits.

In preparation, the person: 

  • Believes that the behavior can be changed, and she/he can manage the change.
  • Has mad some successful attempts to change in the past.
  • Expresses intent to change.
  • Clearly see the benefits of changing the behavior.

Those in the preparation stage may need help in implementing a plan to change behavior. Support them by discussing barriers, providing referrals to others who can help, and helping them form strategies to overcome obstacles. 

Those in the preparation stage may:

  • start planning
  • set dates
  • look for support

This stage involves the most time and energy. Relapse risk is greatest in the action stage. To be successful in this stage, which can last from three to six months, one must think about barriers they might encounter and strategies to overcome them. Setting short-term goals can be helpful. motivation can be sustained by rewarding success and asking family and friends to help with accountability. People in this stage are likely to see support from others. An environment supportive of the new behavior is essential.

Example: Ginger makes it her goal to exercise 3-5 days/week for 20-60 minutes/day.

In action, a person:

  • Has begun to make the behavior change (1st day to 6 months).
  • Is emotionally, intellectually, and behaviorally prepared to make the change consistently.
  • Has expressed commitment to change.
  • Has developed plans to maintain change.

To help those in the action stage, provide encouragement, congratulate success, and offer reminders of the end goal. People in the action stage can also be supported through assistance with handling tempting situations and coping skills.

Those in the action stage may: 

  • struggle with habits and the change process
  • complete goals but may need help mastering them

In the maintenance stage, the focus is on maintaining the new behavior and resisting temptation to return to old habits. During this stage, it is important to anticipate situations and barriers that could lead to relapse. Coping strategies should be planned in advance to avoid relapse when barriers are present.

Example: Exercise is now a habit for Ginger and will continue to be included in her schedule for the long-term.

In maintenance, the:

  • New behavior is practiced consistently for over six months.
  • New behavior is becoming habitual.
  • Person expresses confidence in ability to continue change.

In the maintenance stage, people may need reminders of support systems in place. They may also need encouragement to stick with their plan. Allow them to discuss their successes and challenges. Listen and provide support, and address possible relapse and how to avoid relapse.

Those in the maintenance stage may:

  • feel like they have everything under control
  • have an improved quality of life

Relapse is common when trying to change behavior. When a person relapses, they fall out of their new habits and return to old, unhealthy behaviors. While relapse can be discouraging, it is important to consider what triggered a relapse and to restart the process again at the preparation, action or maintenance stage.

Example: Ginger went of vacation for a week and had difficulty getting back into an exercise routine. Rather than count this as a failure and giving up, she reviewed he goals and determined how she could start exercising again.

Relapse is a part of behavior change and does not mean that you or the individual have done anything "wrong." Relapse can happen in any of the stages. It is natural to feel disappointed when relapse occurs. Sometimes people experience low self-esteem and need reinforcement and support. Some people may need to discuss what has happened to figure out what triggered a relapse and how to overcome relapse and get back on track. People who have relapsed may need help in progressing from their current stage. 

Slips do not necessarily indicate a relapse. Nearly everyone has an occasional slip from time to time. It is important to identify slips when they occur and to resume new, healthy habits as soon as possible.

Slip Examples:

  • I missed a dose of medication.
  • I puffed a cigar at the wedding.
  • I ate an extra slice of cheese cake.
  • I did not complete my exercise routine this week.

Health Belief Model

The health belief model states that people’s beliefs influence their health-related actions or behaviors.

The health belief model proposes that readiness to take action is based on the following beliefs or conditions:

  • I am susceptible to this health risk or problem.
  • The threat to my health is serious.
  • I perceive that the benefits of the recommended action outweigh the barriers or costs.
  • I am confident that I can carry out the action successfully.
  • Cues to action are present to remind me to take action.

When people experience a personal threat about a health condition, they will likely take action, but only if the benefits of taking action outweigh the barriers, actual and psychological. Having the ability to take action is also crucial. 

Perceived susceptibility refers to a person's belief about their chances of getting a given condition. For a person to take action, they must believe they are at risk. When people believe that they are at risk for a disease, they will be more likely to do something to prevent it from happening. The opposite is also true: when people believe they are not at risk or are at low risk, they tend to have less health behaviors. Perceived susceptibility alone is often not enough to cause behavior change. For example, older adults are among those most at risk for food-borne illness, often with serious ill health effects. Older adults may know they are at risk for food borne illness, but still not use safe food handling practices.

Perceived severity refers to a person's belief about the seriousness or severity of a disease. Severity can be based on medical consequences (like death or disability) or personal beliefs about how the condition or disease would affect their life. For example, some people do not get the flu vaccine for various reasons. They likely know they can get the flu, but perhaps believe that getting the flu will not be serious. However, getting the flu severity might also be heightened among those self-employed because missing a week of work means reduced income. When perceived susceptibility and severity are heightened, people are more likely to take action.

Perceived benefits refers to a person's opinion of the value or usefulness of a new behavior in lowering the risk of disease. To make a change, people must believe that the change will have a positive result. For example, people take medication for diabetes believing that it will work to control blood sugar. People quit smoking because they believe it will improve their health. When people get a colonoscopy, they do so believing it will effectively screen for colon cancer. A belief that action will lead to beneficial results makes a person more likely to take action. Sometimes the benefits of changing behavior are not strong enough to cause a change, even when a person believes they are susceptible. The perceived benefits may be outweighed by perceived barriers.

Perceived barriers are the most significant factor in determining behavior change. perceived barriers are a person's view of the obstacles that stand in the way of behavior change. Barriers can be tangible or intangible. Tangible barriers can be a lack of financial resources, lack of transportation, childcare needs, etc. Intangible barriers may be psychological, like fear of pain, embarrassment, or inconvenience. For a new behavior to be adopted, a person needs to believe the benefits of the new behavior outweigh the consequences of continuing the old behavior. If barriers are stronger than benefits, change will not occur. Sometimes people need help to find ways to overcome barriers. 

Cues to action are events, people, or things that trigger people to change behavior. Advice from others, the illness of a family member, or a newspaper article can serve as a cue. Fast food restaurants that post menu items with calories offer a cue to consider calorie content in food choice. Posters in public restrooms offer hand washing cues. Highway signs to "buckle up" provide cues to action. Calendar reminders and cell phone alarms can also trigger action. Cues can also be internal, such as chest pain, discomfort, or fatigue.

Self-efficacy is a person's confidence and belief in their ability to take action or perform a given behavior. Generally, people do not try to adopt new behaviors unless they believe they can do them. If someone thinks altering their behavior is worthwhile (perceived benefit) but is unsure of their ability to make changes, they are unlikely to attempt lifestyle has significant benefits. However, if a person believes they will be unable to address barriers to making changes, they most likely will not alter their current behaviors. Self-efficacy can be increased with encouragement, training, and other support. 


Health Belief Model Chart

Belief Description
Perceived susceptibility An individual's assessment of his or her chances of getting a disease or condition
Perceived severity

An individual's judgment as to the severity of the disease

Perceived benefits An individual's conclusion as to whether the new behavior is better than what he or she is already doing
Perceived barriers An individual's opinion as to what will stop him or her from adopting the new behavior
Cues to action Factors that trigger behavior change
Self-efficacy Personal belief in ability to do something