Tips for Becoming a Group Exercise Instructor

by Jen on February 8, 2013

I have been teaching group exercise classes for almost five years. There was a time in my life when you couldn’t pay me to attend group classes. There were a few memorable occasions when I decided that it was a good idea to try step classes, most of which ended up with me about 8 counts behind on the choreography and tripping over my own feet. On more than one occasion, I completely gave up and retreated to the safety of the treadmill instead. Or the spin classes I took where I hid in the back of the class, pedaling furiously to try and keep up while my butt ached and I counted down the minutes until class was over.

What changed? I discovered BodyPump. Yes, there was still a step involved but this time it was used as a weightlifting bench for bench pressing, tricep extensions, lunges and more. I was 23 years old and I had never gotten into a consistant strength routine. I quickly got hooked on BodyPump and became one of those people who religiously attended the same classes every week. I’d line up outside of the door 15 minutes before class to make sure I got a spot.

BodyPump gave me results like nothing ever had. I absolutely loved it and sang its praises to anyone who would listen. I remember leaving class one day and seeing a sign announcing a Les Mills BodyPump instructor training. At the time, teaching group fitness wasn’t something that had ever even entered my realm of thinking but after seeing the sign, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I ended up registering for the certification and it was one of the best experiences of my life. Those three days spent in BodyPump instructor training blazed the trail for everything that has happened over the last 5 years for me in regards to teaching group exercise, becoming a yoga teacher, getting my personal training certification and making fitness my career.

I am frequently asked for advice on becoming a group exercise instructor so here are a few of my tried and true tips.

Figure out what you love to do. As I shared above, it took me a while to get into group exercise and I could never seem to get into step or spin. But once I found BodyPump, watch out! Don’t get certified to teach spin just because it seems like there are a lot of opportunities to teach spin out there. Get certified to teach something that you love to do. I guarantee you that I would not have been successful as a group exercise instructor had I started with teaching step. When you love what you do, that energy shines through you. Your participants will feel it. You will feel it.

Seek out the best certification. Not only are reputable, industry-leading certifications good to have from a getting hired perspective but usually these certifications feature the best trainers and instruction that will insure that you feel confident and ready to teach. If you’re looking for a general group exercise certification, look into ACE or AFFA. If you’re looking into specialty certifications like cycle, group strength, barre classes, etc. find out what programs (Les Mills, Spinning, TRX, PiYo, CoreBarre) are offered in your area and what certifications the gyms require. Yes, there are usually cheaper options out there but get the good certs!

Start with the gym where you workout. It’s easier to get hired to teach when you are a regular at the gym/club where you want to teach. Reach out to the group exercise coordinator or general manager about teaching opportunities and express your interest. If there are no permanent classes coming available, ask about being placed on a sub list.

Practice, practice, practice. Practice at home, practice in your car, practice at the gym. I’ve done it all. When I was new to BodyPump I was constantly listening to the music and going over the choreography in my head. To this day I still review most of it in the car driving from place to place. The car is one of the best places to practice your teaching voice and saying everything out loud. One of the hardest things about teaching is finding your voice so that you sound confident and authentic. One of my favorite teachers told me that most new teachers suck for at least the first year of teaching, if not the second as well. I promise it will eventually become second nature.

Take what you can get. Sure we all want to teach the Monday 6 p.m. or Saturday 10 a.m. packed out class but those are usually reserved for veteran teachers. I hate to tell you but you gotta earn your way into prime time classes. I taught more 5:30 a.m. and Sunday afternoon classes than I care to think about when I was coming up the ranks.

Sub whenever possible. Subbing is one of the best ways to gain experience and get your face out there. You’ll be exposed to a wide variety of gym goers. Make sure you try to sub mornings, lunch hours, evenings and weekends whenever possible so that you can build your name and reputation.

Be confident. Even if you’re shaking in your shoes, BE CONFIDENT. I swear to you that some of these hardcore regulars can smell fear from the doorway of the group ex room. Go in there, play your music loud (seriously, weirdly too quiet music and your booming voice on the mic is not a good combination), smile and own it! When you make mistakes, don’t apologize. I promise the class probably has no clue what was supposed to happen anyway. Take the stage and shine.

Fellow group ex instructors, what other advice do you have for those looking to break into group fitness? 

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lindsey Gray February 8, 2013 at 7:57 pm

This was a great post! I’ve been teaching a year and a half (body combat) and I’m going to pump training in two weeks! The one thing I tell new instructors is that I didn’t sign up for this to boost my ego. Nothing has humbles me more than teaching group ex. There is always someone better, more experienced, looks better in the gear, etc. Do it with a humble spirit and a willingness to learn something every time you get on stage. You can always be better and I think you endear yourself more to your participants if you don’t take yourself too seriously. We’re all here to have fun and get a great workout. A few years ago if you told me I’d be doing this stuff I would have laughed in your face. You don’t want to lose touch with that completely and become this intimidating and unapproachable fitness freak :)

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2 Tamira February 8, 2013 at 8:08 pm

This was great!! I love body pump, I have been a dedicated pumper for 3 years. I pump around 3-4 times a week and I even pumped throughout my recent pregnancy. I am totally one of those people that shows up 30 minutes early to get my spot in the front of the class :) I have been thinking about teaching for over a year now but I haven’t have the courage to talk to anyone. Thank you so much for this post. I am definitely going to talk to some instructors. I was looking for a sign and this was it !!

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3 Kristin February 8, 2013 at 8:42 pm

Thanks Jen! I started reading your blog because it is exactly what I want to do with my life ( leave corporate America and start a career in fitness)
I am starting my YTT training in April and am so exited about this being a new start! You are a total inspiration!

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4 kat February 8, 2013 at 8:47 pm

As a Spin instructor (who, yes, LOVES Spinning!), I echo all of these statements. I think the one thing that was/is toughest for me is getting comfortable enough to not feel like I need every second of every class completely choreographed…just letting go and doing it is difficult. I’m a planner and I need to release the notes!! I appreciate this post b/c I’ve been thinking about doing a Body Pump cert. – major things on the horizon though that will probably put it on the backburner. One day!

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5 Paige @ The Balancing Act February 8, 2013 at 9:04 pm

I’m not a group ex instructor (yet, that is–I hope to teach RPM, yoga, and maybe BodyPump someday!), but my Mom is, and I think she’d say that your advice is spot-on. It seems like she’s always listening to her Les Mills music–in the car, on a walk, even by the pool in the summer! She also felt that she was sort of “robotic” and just going through the motions for the first year or two until she was able to relax and let her personality shine through. She also had to teach at some weird times…I recall a Friday night class in which I was one of only 2-3 attendees! But years later, she’s an incredible instructor (with great time slots) who inspires dozens of participants each day. I can’t wait to follow in her footsteps!

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6 mary February 8, 2013 at 11:09 pm

Do you mean AFAA? do you know what the best certification to get would be to teach Step?

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7 Colleen February 8, 2013 at 11:09 pm

Great post! I’m one of your “silent” readers from the south and have made fitness my career. I teach about 20 group ex classes a week (spin, all Les Mills programs, and many, many more). You are right that you earn your way into prime time spots. Here’s my veteran (12 years) advice… As an instructor you really have to give 100% (or fake it really well) b/c your class will usually only match 60-70% of your effort. Your want people to leave your class happy, exhausted, and sore. Also, the are times that you aren’t going to want to teach class (4:30am….), but remember that those people are taking the time out of your schedule to be worked out by you! What a compliment!

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8 Athena Gu February 9, 2013 at 6:46 am

This is a great post at a great time since I have just passed Bodypump Initial training 2 weeks ago. Being an introvert, it’s hard to find the right voice. I’m scared to see what I look like and sound like in a video…

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9 Kristin February 9, 2013 at 11:18 am

Thank you for this post! I am in the process of getting my NASM PT certification and I am hoping to make fitness my career. I was curious about what was required to teach group classes in addition to training clients so your post couldn’t have come at a better time.

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10 Ashley W February 9, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Thank you for this. I am currently looking into getting my group certification through ACE and this post couldn’t have come at a better time.

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11 Katherine February 9, 2013 at 2:09 pm
12 She Rocks Fitness February 9, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Love these tips! I would love to get certified as a group instructor but still trying to figure out which one I would LOVE to do. I’ve never taken a Body Pump class. I wish I lived closer, because I would totally come and take your class and then of course one of your yoga classes too. ;) Hope you are having a fabulous weekend! XOXO

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13 Cath February 9, 2013 at 4:32 pm

It’s funny, your last post asked about dream jobs and this post talks about group exercise instruction – in early January I wrote down a five year plan, which was to become a personal trainer (I’m currently in the IT field) and that one of the steps to getting there was to get certified to start teaching pump. I lack self-confidence though, so I don’t know if any of it will happen. Like you say, you’ve got to be confident to teach! Did you ever have self doubts when you decided to start teaching pump? You talked about the hard work you put in when you changed careers, but did you have to work on shutting out negative thoughts about your ability to do it as well?

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14 Jessica Baumgardner February 9, 2013 at 4:44 pm

I love this article! Thanks so much for the tips! How long have you been in the health & fitness industry?

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15 Rachel @ For the Love of Chocolate February 9, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Great post, Jen! I was recently certified as a group fitness instructor through AFAA, so this post is very helpful. I am also a CrossFitter, and am really curious to hear about your experience getting certified to teach CrossFit. I hope you write about it soon! It’s definitely in the back of my mind as something I might want to pursue in the future.

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16 Lauren February 9, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Thanks Jen! just broke into the field as a group X instructor. I’m loving it so far but the 530 am time slot is rather brutal. it feels so great to have a (part-time) job that i feel so passionate about! thanks for the tips.

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17 Sara February 9, 2013 at 9:14 pm

I had to laugh at our differences! Spin and step are my favorite classes! I feel uncomfortable in bodypump and me doing yoga is a disaster. So funny. Also the 5:30 am and Sunday afternoon classes are what I’d want to teach the less people watching me the better haha ;)

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18 Lauren E. March 4, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Thanks for the post and your blog. You are very inspiring! I didn’t know someone else loved peanut butter as much as I did! I am also looking to start a fitness career. I’ve being doing every sort of aerobic class since I was 15. I’ve received an AFAA group certification five years ago, but never did anything with it. Now, I’m ready. I thought about getting certified in the Les Mills or Body Training Systems, but how does one learn all that choreography? How long does it take to plan one class? Is the pay good?

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19 Jen October 18, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Hi Jen!! Thanks for this post You def encouraged me to proceed with my group X certification. I looked into AFAA which I’m excited to be part of. After losing my post partum weight I found an interest in fitness. I’ve done workout videos at home from TurboFire, Insanity and now T25. My fear is not being able to come up with a program (choreography) and my voice such as how to use the right terms to lead the class. Is there any traing that teaches how to do warmsups and cool downs? What’s your insight!! I don’t want my tongue tied. Lol. Thank you!!

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20 Kathy February 8, 2014 at 10:15 pm

Thank you for settling my nerves . I am a spinning instructor teaching
For 6 months now in a gym where I also work front desk. I am going
To group-x cert w/AFAA on. 2/23/14. Nervous about
The practical part, but I know everyone will be in the same
Boat. I am somewhat shy, but once I get on the bike to teach. Everything
Happens naturally. I also have. 5:30am , 9:30am Fridays and some shared Sundays. One day I will
Have a Monday!!!’

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