by Melissa Moran
So you want to teach group fitness? Where do you start? In this series, I will take you through a journey into the group fitness business. You’ll learn where to begin, what makes a good instructor, what health clubs and boutiques are looking for, and even how to progress into leadership roles.
Part 1 - I want to teach fitness!
It all sounds so surreal...get paid to teach fitness. Organizations have thrived for years off of this principle; you pay them to become an “expert”, and in the end, you have a piece of paper declaring you as a “certified instructor”. I once witnessed a Zumba certification of over 100 participants dressed head to toe in their gear. In one day, they were pronounced a part of the “ZIN” (Zumba Instructor Network). How many of them will be teaching within the next year? Perhaps 20 of them if they are lucky enough to have what it takes. This isn’t a dig at Zumba - I offer weekly classes at my own studio. It’s a fantastic workout and amazing concept. Getting your feet wet in the world of group fitness takes time, practice, and a hard shell; one that you’ll allow to break down and rebuild stronger.
In this era of group fitness, there are so many choices! Indoor cycling, Yoga, Pilates, boot camp, kickboxing, barre, Aqua. Where to start? Each format generally has it’s own certification, and it’s not cheap! Invest wisely. Here are a few tips on getting your start!
Choose the right format
What is YOUR favorite style class? Chances are, you’re pretty good at it too. You’ve learned from your favorite “mentor” instructors, and in some cases, you’ve got the class memorized. I can remember teaching my first group class - hi lo aerobics (yes, it was 1999 and grapevines were IN!). I took Christian’s hi lo class twice per week. We traveled forwards and backwards, step touched and box stepped the morning away. When I got my certification, she let me copy her cassette tape that she used most every class. Let’s just say, my first hi lo class on my own was pretty much the same class as hers, but I got through it successfully! It’s OK to copy (a little). Every new instructor needs a place to start until they are more comfortable with anatomy, what’s safe and effective, and their own creativity.
Can you keep the beat?
Do you have musicality? It’s by no means a mandatory credential for many classes, but going for a barre certification without being able to hold a 32 count will not begin your career in a positive light. Most people can either count, or they can’t...and those who can’t must practice! For many class formats, music is the glue that makes the class whole. In others, it’s merely background or for motivational purposes. If the musical piece makes you most anxious, be mindful of your format choice.
Can you put on a good show?
How comfortable are you in front of a group of people? Do you have stage fright? If the thought of public speaking or coming out of your shell frightens you, it may be time to rethink this whole thing...or practice, practice, practice until the fear is gone! You have one hour to motivate, inspire, and engage a class - whether 3 people or 70 show up to take it. The smallest bit of fright in your performance will show through times a thousand. First impressions are so important!
Are you getting your money’s worth?
Every fitness certification comes with a price tag these days - and it’s a wide range! There are 1 day indoor cycling certifications for under $200 and there are 200 hour Yoga teacher trainings that can cost thousands of dollars! Some gym chains and small boutiques train their teachers at no cost, and others collect a fee for their rigorous trainings that may include practice and volunteer time. Before you commit to your certification, understand all associated costs, and how many hours of teaching it will take you to make back the money you spend. As a new fitness instructor, you’re looking at an income of under $50 per class. If you spent $1500 on a Yoga training course, that’s at least 30 - 50 classes before just breaking even! Most fitness professionals don’t get into the business to become wealthy, that’s for sure; but we do expect to generate some income. Set your financial plan carefully, and have some extra money aside to ease you into your teaching!
Train your brain and body
Teaching takes a LOT out of a new instructor, and it can be quite overwhelming. There’s the playlist, class preparation, practice, cueing/thinking/doing (at the same time). In addition, there are so many emotions and thoughts running through a new instructor’s head, it can be downright exhausting. Make your own health and wellness your first priority as you prepare on this fitness journey. Be able to get through your own class with ease. Be prepared and timely. You should strive to be a role model to your students. I’m not saying that a 6 pack and 200 pound squat is a prerequisite by any means, but if I’m taking a class regularly, it’s because the instructor motivates me to want to get stronger and fitter. Be that instructor!
Group Fitness is (in my humble opinion), the BEST way to motivate and inspire any client. If done correctly, it takes exercise from work to fun in the first 30 seconds. Best of luck on your new journey! Next month, we’ll take a look at what makes a GREAT instructor - one that any club would be lucky to have on their team.
Melissa Morin-Stewart holds a Masters Degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Rhode Island, and Bachelors in Nutrition from Rutgers University. She has spent the last 15 years leading group exercise programs for companies like Town Sports International, Reebok Sports Club/SCLA, and colleges and universities. She currently teaches group fitness for Equinox Clubs and NYSC in Manhattan, and owns Clarity