CJ talking to a full class of people wondering if he should play an ice breaker.

Coaches, Should You Use Ice Breakers?
Written by Kirsten Ahrendt

I recently performed a check-in with a new member asking for feedback on how their first 2 months at the gym had gone. Among other things, they mentioned how they appreciated the use of ice-breakers (and specifically the writing down of names on the white board) at the start of class; Stating it was a great way to get to know folks and a helpful reminder for the names of people that they were too embarrassed to re-introduce themselves to. 

This sparked a great conversation amongst our staff – when and how often should we utilize ice breakers? Where does their value and time-commitment lie within an already packed 60-minute class when we want to coach, teach, and do so much already at Invictus? 

Should coaches use ice breakers? 

Here’s my 2-cents… It depends! 

Here’s some thoughts on the value they can bring to your community and when to use them. 

Team Ice-breakers NEVER!

There’s something to be said for getting straight to movement. I have certainly received “thanks and appreciation” in the past when I’ve consciously prioritized getting the class immediately into movement by leaving out an ice breaker and even moving the whiteboard brief to after the warmup. Albeit, that feedback frequently comes from members that are more focused on personal performance gains rather than on any social/emotional health and balance. Or heck, maybe that feedback came from a person who was simply exhausted from a long day and was happy to not have to deal with anymore “people bullsh!t”, ya know? We’ve all been there – “Don’t talk to me. Don’t touch me. Don’t even warm me up. Load up and lift.”

It’s a legitimate vibe and coaches may pick up on it or decide to axe the ice-breaker due to other variables such as:

1) how much is programmed for the day (is every minute already packed?)

2) the presence of “new” or “very technical” movements included in the day’s program that might require extra teaching or demo time 

3) class energy/vibe – are people avoiding eye contact with you and their neighbors, fidgeting, backing away from the group

4) what time of day is it (is everyone already at the end-of-their social-rope?)

When you sense the ants-in-the-pants vibe – you may opt to leave the ice breaker out. You can build camaraderie and connection in other ways,  such as partnering people up in warmups or in strength sessions. Or move the opportunity for social connection to post-workout, by emphasizing communal sharing and reflection in the cool-down and debrief.

Team Ice-Breakers 4EVER+EVER

I don’t always start class with an ice breaker, but when I do, I break it well. Ice breakers should always be serving a purpose:

  • For coaches to know members better
  • For members to know each other better (names/likes/interests)
  • To shake-off the awkwardness of going from looking at screens to looking at actual human beings. (For real. Adults are awkward kids).

Because Invictus is located downtown with a transient city population, our after-work evening classes can experience a higher turn-over rate with many people moving in/out. So, when I notice a few new faces in the crowd that have been a part of the community for less than 3 months, it is worth it to prioritize the ice-breaker at the beginning in the name of building community and making sure people aren’t working out with strangers. If you work at a gym where the population changes very little month to month, there are more effective tools than ice breakers to build connections within your membership.

When I want the ice-breaker to build community I’ll use an open-ended question (rather than “team Britney Spears or team TSwift” – close ended question) but specifically tell people to be ready with their answer so as not to waste time.

  1. what’s a goal you have for this week
  2. a fun fact about yourself
  3. The coolest place you’ve traveled/best band you’ve ever seen live, etc.
  4. How long have you been a member at Invictus? (this is a great way to identify veteran members that can be helpful for newer ones and to celebrate all those who are newer).

Coach Pro Tip:

Strategic use of ice breakers can help coaches easily paint a picture of their members as humans as well as athletes – a core principle from our Invictus University Coach Curriculum. 

Try this!

When coaching at the beginning of the week (Monday/Tuesday) use an icebreaker such as: 

  • “What’s one goal you have for this week?”
  • “What’s something you’re looking forward to this week?”
  • “what’s something you are focused on/excited about this week”

When coaching on a Thursday/Friday ask an ice breaker such as:

  • “What are you excited about this weekend?”

With these two simple questions, I’ve painted a generalized picture of many of my member’s entire week. I’ll follow up with a handful of people on how their focal point went as well as start the next week with a personal check in on how the weekend plans went.  Or if they mentioned something wild like a party, I know to gauge my expectations of how they’ll train on Monday. 

Moral of the story: Ice breakers can be lame; Ice breakers can also be wildly successful. It’s how you use the tool that matters. 


Invictus University 

Ready to level up your coaching? The first 2024 Invictus University cohort begins on Monday January 15, 2024. From December 1st through December 15th you can get 20% off of your enrollment using the code “HOLIDAY”. Don’t wait, sign up before the cohort fills up! 

Invictus University January 15th Cohort

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