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?