Tough Moments as a Fitness Instructor

I've taught numerous varieties of fitness over the last 10 years, from vinyasa yoga, to SPX Pilates, to stretching classes, toddler ballet and now barre. I've taught in chain gyms, a pole dancing studio, a lululemon store, and various studios from tiny ones on up to upscale boutique studios.

I've been drawn to teaching on and off throughout my creative endeavors. While writing my first novel, while writing my first dessert ebook, while running a small bakery business and even while raising tiny twins, I have taught on and off. With each military move I have started over, working hard to find my niche in a new area, while convincing studio owners that I am worth more than $10 an hour. With each city change so has the rate per class changed, the clientele, the studio owners, the music, the style, the other instructors and the culture. Every time I've started over, it's at the beginning rate with the time slots no other teacher wants.

fitness class picture by Huffington Post

Each new fitness style holds its own challenge: the poses, the workout, the music, the choreography. It is all both fun and challenging and a necessary part of inspiring and motivating clients to push themselves. Though teaching fitness has an overwhelmingly positive aspect (making people sweat, pumping those endorphins, changing bodies and even yes, making close friends), there is also a negative side that I personally have a tough time with.

As a sensitive person, I struggle with any mistake or flaw in a class, especially the more structured, choreographed classes. As a dancer, my body can repeat the moves, but my words trip over themselves at times, when long time regulars stare at me, silently and not-so-silently judging.

After the last class I taught, I walked out feeling confident. The clients were sweet, it was the day after Christmas, and I was feeling good about my teaching abilities, about one month in at a new studio. Despite battling an excruciating sore throat and low energy level from nonstop illnesses, I felt like I was finally fitting in at what had been proven to be the most challenging fitness instructing role I have slipped into yet, and the one at which I most want to succeed.

Right there in the parking lot, a few spaces away from my own car, were two women from class. One, a longtime client, was analyzing my class as if it hadn't just been the fun 45 min minute sweat sesh I had thought it was. Rather, several mistakes were mentioned and the two women loudly discussed my teaching and class in a way that wanted to make me immediately text the studio owner "I can't do this. I'm not good enough."

I wavered, unsure if I should say something. They were close enough that if they had looked over they would have seen me immediately. I slipped into my car, humiliated and angry at myself and my failures.

Then I had to stop.

contemplative woman

I'm NOT a failure. Nobody who makes mistakes is a failure. I'm learning, just as I am in all areas of my life. I'm constantly learning how to be a better mother, a better wife, a better sister, a better friend. And yes, a better fitness instructor. Life gets in the way of practice sometimes. Illnesses, family visits, holidays, date nights, a great book, a sexy early evening in. But I'm trying.

Clients have high standards. They want a great workout, music, motivation and a great physical example in front of them. I know this; when I am in class I find myself mentally critiquing the instructor ("ugh, she made us do like 16 more counts on the left leg than the right. She said 4 more and it was like 8 more, so annoying.."). Even though I KNOW what it's like to be on the other side, I find myself forgetting oh yeah, the instructor is not a robot. Perhaps she is trying to help someone on the other side of the room who is totally not getting it. Perhaps she got distracted when she saw a pool of water on the floor near a pregnant client and immediately panicked that her water had broken (I know, specific, but this happened to me yesterday too).

Remember to give your instructor a break. Especially if she is subbing a class for your fave teacher of all time. And please, from an instructor who also takes a bunch of different types of classes: PLEASE offer feedback. If I'm doing something wrong, I want to know it. If you're not comfortable with face to face feedback, tell it to the manager or studio owner who can pass it along in a constructive way. If you gossip to your friend about the class outside the studio, you're risking a total PTSD moment of high school mean girls.

Fitness instructing has always been my lowest paying job, but the most fun, and often the most rewarding. Chances are, some of your favorite instructors feel this way too. Give us feedback, give us suggestions, and give us a hug. Because we deserve it.


women working out


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