8 Tips for Becoming a Group Fitness Instructor

I’m officially the worst worst worst worst worst in the world!! I think I had writers block, or rather writers word vomit. I’ve been wanting to tell you all how I became a fitness instructor (besides my plant-based diet, it’s probably the thing I get asked most about), but every time I sat down to write, a novel came out, like it would probably take you a solid 2 months to read because that’s how damn long it is. So instead, I present to you my top 8 tips for people becoming group fitness instructors or people interested in becoming a group fitness instructor! 

1.     BE PREPARED TO LIVE BELOW THE POVERTY LINE: I wish I was kidding. When I first started teaching, I still worked my “normal job” part-time making decent money. When my “normal job” was no longer tolerable and I knew that I had to make the jump, I taught enough classes and made just enough money to barely get by. I had a little bit in savings, still nothing that could hold me over for long. But I knew it was time, I didn’t know where I was headed or what would happen but my gut told me to take the jump and I trusted it. The truth is, most studios don’t pay you shit, there are a handful of studios where you can actually make some good money and those are also going to be the hardest to get hired at. That being said, if you’re getting into the fitness industry with hopes of making some serious cash, you’re getting into the wrong industry.

2.     YOU’RE GOING TO SUCK: Yep, and you’re going to know it (unless you’re totally delusional). Teaching classes is hard, it takes time and practice to know what works for you and what doesn’t. There are going to be days where you seriously doubt your ability and think maybe you’re just not cut out for it. You will get better, and it will get easier, but you’re going to have to dedicate unpaid time and energy to make it happen. I’m still learning every single day and self critique every class I teach, what could have gone better? What went well? You have to be hard on yourself and you have to be open to growth. Sucking is part of the process.

3.     NOT EVERYONE WILL LIKE YOU: And that’s ok. Doesn’t being an instructor sound fun? You suck, no one likes you, you’re poor, it’s awesome! Everyone has people they vibe with and others they don’t, so some people are going to love you and others won’t. Those that you vibe with will lift you up, you just have to remember to focus on them. It’s impossible to please everyone, but you can take the critique with an open mind and see if maybe there’s something to it that will allow you to become a better instructor. That being said, you gotta do you, so stay true to yourself first and foremost.

4.     WALK THE WALK: There is nothing worse then when and instructor asks you to do something that you know damn well they couldn’t do themselves. Practice your class, know what it feels like, it makes ALL the difference in the world. If you’re going to ask people to sprint at 12.5 MPH, you better be able to jump on that treadmill and do it yourself. I’m not saying you have to be a pillar of perfection, but you most certainly need to hold yourself to the same standard. One of my main motivators is the clients I see kicking ass in class, every time I want to cheat myself in a workout, I remind myself that if you want to teach the best you have to be the best. It sounds so fucking corny, but we see incredible humans every single day, and if I’m going to ask them to sprint fast and lift heavy, I know I need to be able to do so myself. 

5.     SHOW UP: If there is a particular studio/gym that you love and want to work at, go there, as much as possible. Introduce yourself to people, connect to the clients and the community, make yourself known and work your ass off in class. The first time I ever stepped foot in Barry’s, I was totally in love. I knew I wanted to work there one day (that day felt VERY far away, I wasn’t even sure that that day existed), it was in my small word, my dream job. So I went to class as often as possible, I would ask for Barry’s gift certificates for my birthday and Christmas (it ain’t cheap, yo) and I would prioritize my day so that taking class there was possible.

6.     FIND A MENTOR: This is also where showing up makes a difference. The first fitness class I ever fell in love with was at this sub-par gym (that I would later work at) in San Francisco, but it was taught by the most rockstar instructor I’ve ever met. The minute class started and Erica Stenz started leading us through our workout, I was hooked. It was the first time that I loved a class so much I would peel myself off the couch after work and drag my ass there. I was working a job at the time that killed me a little bit on the inside, and her class allowed me to sweat out that frustration and feel alive. She inspired me and made me want to push myself as hard as I could, so I went back. Over and over and over. Erica helped me get certified and right after I got certified, she left the sub-par gym she was teaching at to work at Barry’s. I ended up taking over her classes at said sub-par gym, and got my first job in the fitness industry. I worked for a little over 1.5 years at different studios in San Francisco before getting the call to audition at Barry’s. None of it would have happened without her. To this day she is the best mentor a girl could ask for and the most badass instructor I know. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help.

7.     YOU ARE A MAGICAL UNICORN: What?!?  Just go with me here. Because in the beginning you’re going to suck, people won’t like you, and you’re going to be poor (lolololol), it’s going to be very tempting to doubt yourself. So you have to remember what you’re made of, you have to toughen up and pull yourself together. I find that in my moments of total self-doubt, a killer workout can put me back on track. You started this journey for a reason; some force of nature brought you to this point and dammit you better make it good. Difficult moments, difficult situations and difficult people only make you stronger. You will get knocked down, and only you will be able to pick yourself up. So listen to the feedback and the critique with a totally open mind, implement where is appropriate, but remember at the end of the day that you have to stay true to you.

8.     BE PREPARED TO FALL IN LOVE: Everyday. Because people are amazing and because hard work exposes your heart and soul. When clients are sprinting on the treadmill and lifting heavy weights I can see their hardships, I can see their love, their darkness, their light and the fight within them that allows them to grow. For that hour I see a room full of perfect humans who have shown up and committed to the unknown (every day and every workout at Barry’s is different) despite the crazy things life may have thrown at them. You will build beautiful friendships with perfect strangers and you will get the opportunity to be part of a community that totally supports one another. There is truly nothing else like it.

My most obvious tip and one that most likely goes without saying (which is why I didn’t add it to my official list) is get certified. You have to have the proper education and knowledge in order to even get started. I would recommend checking out ACE or NASM to get an idea of where you’re headed. It’s a pretty straightforward process and you will continue to learn throughout your entire career.