What It’s Like To Be A Fitness Instructor

Often when thinking of what a fitness instructor does, people will envision fitness guru Jane Fonda or one of the trainers off The Biggest Loser TV show. For the average fitness instructor, the profession is quite different and not something they go into seeking Hollywood fame . While all good fitness instructors work to motivate and support clients in their fitness goals, how this is done varies greatly. Class sizes, types and styles of class and client goals can make the role of a fitness instructor very different. If you’re looking at getting into teaching group fitness, or just want to know what the lives of fitness instructors are like this article will review some of the best and the worst parts of working as a group fitness instructor.

As a fitness instructor you should obviously have some interest in fitness. More importantly than that though you should have an interest in helping other people reach their health and fitness goals. Realizing that participating in fitness activities can be difficult for a lot of people is important. For many people, they are self-conscious about their body or have injuries/different pains that make exercise difficult. Dealing with this and helping people succeed is both one of the hardest and most rewarding aspects of the job. Just as it is difficult to see people struggle and give up, it is also amazing to see people that succeed and improve their health.  I think one of the neatest improvements I have ever had someone tell me was that due to improving their health they were able to start playing the trumpet in a band with their friends again (which was something they hadn’t been able to do for years). As a fitness instructor, your goal is to help people and so hearing that you have done that successfully is an amazing feeling.

While signing up for a certification course can be relatively easy depending on where you take it, there can be a large learning curve as you take your certification from the classroom to a studio. Similar to a teacher, you are going to be doing a lot of prep work during your first few months. For me personally, I was most surprised by how much time I spent practicing different exercises before presenting them in front of clients. While I had been active all my life, I had never attended a traditional fitness class or personal training session. For those that are well versed in group fitness classes the learning curve for this is likely going to be a lot smaller. Something that is a struggle for almost all fitness instructors starting out though is getting used to performing the exercises while also cueing and instructing. Having a volunteer to lead who isn’t familiar with the classes can be great so you can practice cueing and see if your instructions make sense. In my case, I used my mom.  

As a beginner instructor you will also need to spend a lot of time creating lesson plans and music playlists. While this is something that you will need to do throughout your fitness instructor career, it takes a little more time when you’re just starting out. 

No matter how much you prepare, there will be times that your class will go wonderful and times that you will want to cringe at things that happen during it.  Unlike personal training, there are many different types of people you can end up teaching in the same class. They may vary greatly in fitness level, fitness goals and the type of music that they like. This means that while you may please 90% of the class, there may also be people that are not completely satisfied by what exercises or music was used in the class. It is possible that these people will approach you to politely or impolitely express frustration about the class or just leave and never return. Unfortunately, as a fitness instructor (as is the same with many professions) it is not always possible to please everyone or teach a perfect class.

In terms of logistics, teaching fitness is not an especially lucrative field. Unless, you are working full time somewhere or make it Jane Fonda level big, in many cases you essentially end up working for minimum wage often without benefits.  While, you may make between $20-$50 per hour long class, you must consider travel time, class planning time and the fact that most places expect you to arrive 15 min before class and stay 15 min after. Teaching more classes does reduce this as you can stay in the same location or reuse lesson plans, however your body has a limited capacity. While most classes that you teach you only partially participate in, there are others such as Zumba and Step where you end up doing most of the class. As the hours are pretty flexible and short though, pairing up teaching with a part time job or teaching one or two nights a week when working a full time job or going to school can also be a good balance.

While teaching fitness is not a perfect job, overall it has been a great experience.  I have enjoyed the flexibility of the job, met many amazing people (both clients and other instructors) and gained confidence in my ability to instruct and present to others. Plus, at the end of the day, the job is fun. When you get a great group of clients it doesn’t seem like work to go to a studio, crank up the music, and inspire people to live a healthier life.  

If you pursue working as a fitness instructor, you may find the tips below helpful.  

Fitness Instructor Tips

  1. You will be better at teaching some types of classes and some types of people than others. For example, some people will be better at teaching fitness to beginners, whereas others may be better at creating that hardcore fitness atmosphere boot campers love. At one place I teach at, they have both private corporate classes as well as classes open to the public. For the most part, different instructors excel at teaching at these two different locations.
  2. Only offer advice that you are qualified to give.  Often the trainings associated with becoming a fitness instructor are not particularly substantial. This however, does not stop clients from asking you to diagnose the different things that are ailing them. It is important both to protect the health of the client as well as your own liability that you only offer advice within the scope of your training.
  3. Diversify the style of classes you teach.  This is not only important to reduce repetitive injury in the body, but also because it makes you more employable.  Fitness is a field that is constantly evolving. What was trendy 10 years ago (e.g. Step Class) is not necessarily popular today (e.g. CrossFit). Therefore, it is important to always be learning to keep your classes current and appealing to your clientele.
  4. Don’t be discouraged when you first start teaching if you mess up. A lot of teaching fitness is practice and even then, you are only human.  I still see people that have been teaching fitness for over 30 years who make a mistake, but what makes them different from new teachers is it doesn’t fluster them.  They just keep teaching.

Make sure to check out next week to see the different types of fitness instructor certifications you can do to become a fitness instructor.

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