No matter how much training you have under your belt, there’s no wisdom quite like the kind that comes with experience — and that goes tenfold when you’re starting your career as a fitness instructor. You’ve gone through the process of getting certified, and may have even spent time focusing on a specialty. You’re well-versed on the best practices of modifying for injuries, know how to spot improper form and ways to correct it in order to provide your students with a workout that’s safe and effective.
But despite all that preparation and knowledge, getting up in front of a room full of students for the first time can still be overwhelming — especially when issues arise that you hadn’t considered during your formal training.
To help navigate these issues, we asked a few veteran fitness instructors for their best pieces of advice that they wish they had known when they were first starting out. Here’s what they had to say about what to keep top of mind when you’re a new instructor teaching class.
Don’t try to please everyone
“When I began teaching group fitness, I felt caught off guard by participants who came up to me after class with special requests that conflicted with the requests of other participants. For example, if I played new pop music in class, somebody would say, ‘Can you please play oldies?’ While another participant would overhear and say, ‘No! Please play rock music!’ Another example is a participant who requests more stretching at the beginning of class, while somebody else requests less stretching so that we have more time for cardio. Eventually, I learned to use my own judgement regarding everything from choreography to atmosphere. It is truly impossible to teach a group fitness class as if it were a personal training session geared toward one client’s unique tastes. More importantly, the instructor is more energized, and hence teaches a better class, if she believes in the music and the routine she is cueing. Trying to please too many people will leave you exhausted. Participants will be turned off by your negative energy, and in turn your class size will shrink. In contrast, if you teach what you love, participants will find the aura in your class to be motivating and infectious!”
Grace Albin, fitness instructor for 10+ years
Focus on building relationships
“When you are just starting out, your focus should be to deliver a safe and effective class — but also to connect with your students. Act confident and interact with those who are attending your classes. Help them to have a great workout, and show up a little bit early for class to chat with people (write down their names and a describing factor about them in a little book, so you can remember people), and stay after class to connect as well. You should also go to more established instructor’s classes and watch how they do, and ask if you can sub their class in order to promote yourself. Do your best work, don’t worry about being perfect, and make it all about the participants!”
Ashley Pitt, fitness instructor for 8 years
Practice makes perfect
“My best advice for new fitness instructors just starting out is you must practice teaching. Teaching of any kind is an art, and only gets better with practice and time. I advise new instructors to take a bunch of classes with an instructor that they really like and use this instructor as a mentor. A lot of times, new instructors think they are being clear because they understand what they are teaching — but to a novice the information is not clear, simple or explained enough. New instructors must also be highly conservative of their clients while trying to teach at the same time, and this also takes a lot of practice. You must be watching your students for signs of injury, pain, overexertion and many other tell tale warning signs. The objective of a fitness instructor is to help our clients improve their health, and in order to do this we must closely observe our client’s behavior and form. So my advice is to practice teaching and be sure to have a wise fitness mentor to watch, learn from and take positive critique from.”
Peter Cirolia, personal trainer and health consultant for 10 years
Introductions are key
“Greet each student and introduce yourself. That way, you connect with them individually. When the class starts that connection will continue. Work at remembering each student’s name if you can. It will help you feel more comfortable as well. And remember to take your time — nerves can make us feel rushed and move quickly. Just like your student, focus on your breath and get grounded by doing a few yoga poses before class starts.”
Jacqui Burge, yoga and fitness instructor for over 20 years
Find your voice
“Vocal projection is key! Most people have a lack of confidence when it comes to public speaking. The energy of a teacher’s voice means everything in a class. You are in essence are the orchestrator of the classes experience, so carving out time to work on articulation, vocabulary and projection will only help you get your message get across properly and determine how people respond to you.”
Jolie Manza, veteran yoga instructor and CEO of Yoga Koh