Seven Steps to Group Exercise Greatness
Seven Traits To Make Daily Habits And Become a Thriver
By: Ellen Barrett
Editor's Note: Ellen speaks to being a thriver and "walking the talk". If you ever get to meet her, you will see that she naturally emanates the positive energy that she speaks of. This is probably why she has multiple top selling fitness videos on the stands. A highly skilled instructor, she is quick to share her knowledge.
Do you know the difference between surviving and thriving? Surviving is just getting by and, at best, maintaining whatever it is you've acquired. Thriving, on the other hand, is reaching your potential everyday. Think of a flower - a thriving one is glorious! It radiates light and people can't help but be drawn to it. Thriving fitness instructors are no different - they truly inspire people and in turn, get exactly what they go for. Seven traits separate the thrivers from the mere survivors. After analyzing the truly successful group exercise instructor, I've drawn the conclusion that these seven traits are learned (as opposed to innate) and can easily become a part of your daily habits. Here's your chance to start thriving as a fitness instructor.
"Succeeding as a fitness instructor means understanding, accepting and thriving on change."
#1. Be Open to Change
If only one word could be used to describe the fitness industry I would opt for capricious. Like east coast weather, our industry changes constantly, so we absolutely must be open to change. If consistency is what you're looking for, find another industry! Succeeding as a fitness instructor means understanding, accepting and thriving on change - for this is a prerequisite to all other things.
In 1989, I was wearing pink leotards and leg warmers, using homemade musical tapes (the same music every time), doing jumping jacks for 20 minutes straight. Thank God I changed. Seriously though, everything - terminology, class format, music, clothing - changes, and lucky us!, because we get to do different things. There is no opportunity for boredom. " Versatile" becomes our middle names. Step™ showcased how openness to change was necessary in order to be a viable instructor. Clubs, all over the country, erased "aerobics" from their schedules. If you weren't open to learning Step™ as a new class format, well, say la vie.
#2. Walk Your Talk
How many fitness instructors do you know either smoke, do drugs, have eating disorders and/or are compulsive over-exercisers? Too many. We are in the business of being self-PRO-ductive, not self-destructive. You don't want your class participants to self-destruct, so why should you? You are a model for healthy living, so live healthy. The people that truly succeed in the fitness industry walk their talk. They promote healthy living and live healthy lives. If you are on the path to self-destruction, you need to make corrections now. Destructive behavior is possibly your only obstacle in achieving your goals as an instructor and as a person. Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way. There was a time, when I taught too many classes. Being a college student, I was in desperate
"You need to be a healthy person in order to truly inspire others to be healthy. "
need for money and mistakenly thought I was super-human. Always tired, I resembled a boxer in her tenth round. My shoulders slumped. My feet were blistered and I sounded like a broken record. My body was programmed to autopilot. Like a robot, there was little enthusiasm, energy or personality in my classes and the quality of my work suffered. Take it from me and take care of yourself. Body language speaks volumes. Stand tall, suck in your gut, and relax your neck and shoulders. Take excellent care of your mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health. Get massages. Read inspirational books. Rest. Spend quality time with your friends and family. Turn off the TV.
You need to be a healthy person in order to truly inspire others to be healthy. Make a commitment to yourself to always have one complete day off every week. As I look back on my "20 classes/week" phase, I realize several sad things: I never smiled, my relationships with friends and family were strained, I became pessimistic about fitness and, worst of all, I communicated to the world that I really didn't care about my own well-being.
#3, Perpetually Educate Yourself
You need to keep fresh. Subscribe to fitness journals and magazine, read books and newsletters, go to a lecture series, attend workshops and conferences. Not only does education keep you on your toes, it motivates the people you work for. New studies come out every week - statistics can be fascinating. Even taking a class at your own club can keep you fresh. Make learning a priority. Did you know that workshops can be tax write-offs? The more education, the bigger the salary. If you truly have a passion for fitness, this task shouldn't seem like work. I always return from weekend workshop with major pep in my step, looking forward to, rather than dreading, my next day at work.
#4. Build Strong Relationships with Members/ Clients
Good relationships are the cornerstone of all careers, but in fitness, your people skills are ultimately what makes you or breaks you. My friend Elfie is possibly the weakest instructor I know - her cueing is way off, her music is old, she never starts her
"Every time you teach, you have the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends."
class on time and she has been doing the same routine for ten years. In spite of the above mentioned, her classes are packed. Why? Because she has built solid relationships with members. Members see beyond what she does - they see who she is. It took me a long time to figure this out because I was caught up in the "visual" presentation of her classes. I've concluded that one of the most beautiful things about group exercise is the social interaction.
Every time you teach, you have the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. What a great perk! The best way - the only way - to build strong relationships with class participants is to have their best interest in mind. When I come across interesting articles that may be of interest to some of my students, I photocopy it, talk about it briefly, distribute it and perhaps post it. I want them to succeed. I care about them. I have their best interest in mind.
Attempt to remember people's names. Invite them to parties. Some of the coolest people are working out at your gym/studio. You don't have to be tremendously outgoing, you just need to truly care about people. Teaching fitness is not a performance - you are there for them. A few years back, I walked past a women everyday while she pedaled away on a stationary bike. She was on that bike religiously and seemed as thought she were doing housework - bike riding was a chore. I finally approached her and told her about our Spinning ™ classes. I brought her into the studio, set her up on a bike and explained the basics of Spin ™. Ten minutes of my time was all it took. She has since become a devout 4x's/ week spinner and is in the best shape of her life. My attitude wasn't "what's in it for me." On the contrary, it was "how can I help this woman."
#5. Be Positive and Fun
For most human beings, exercise is a drag. People take group exercise classes because they are group exercise. People come back again and again only if they are enjoyable. Your job is to teach a safe, effective and FUN class. As a fitness professional, you are among that 1% of the human race that thinks exercise is great. Your enthusiasm should to be contagious. Elfie also exemplifies this. She not only builds relationships with people, she is a one-woman show! One time, Elfie was taking my class when the power went out. No music, no lights, no microphone! Ugh. While I went in
"As a fitness professional, you are among that 1% of the human race that thinks exercise is great. Your enthusiasm should to be contagious."
search of a fuse box, Elfie was in front of the class singing "We Are Family" and doing a brief lo-impact combo. She held everyone's attention and they had a grand time. Bottom line: Elfie was fun (and she helped me out immensely, which we'll talk about next). Tasteful jokes are always great. Funny stories work well too. Smiling is super -important. We are in such an exciting industry - feel fortunate. Be fun!
#6. Believe in Team Work and Think Win/Win
Many of us are "independent contractors" or we teach at many different places. Often, we walk in to the club, teach, and then leave without saying a word to other staff members. When looked at in this way, our job seems quite lonely, but this should absolutely not be the case. The front desk staff, the sales counselors, your fellow instructors and the trainers are your co-workers. You've got at least one thing in common and most likely, much more, so get to know them. Instructors should speak well of fellow instructors and sub in for each other whenever possible. You can swap music, learn cool new moves and maybe start a business together in the future.
The independence of group exercise instructing can be both good (flexible hours, no bosses looking over your shoulder) and bad (isolation). The bad doesn't have to exist though, and it won't, if you befriend your colleagues. There are people that you will want to quickly run away from, as in all working environments, but they are few and far between. Most of your fellow instructors and staff members are valuable tools and wonderful people, not competition. Attend staff meetings, introduce yourself to others, show up early and stay late.
#7. Say YES!
6:00 A.M. is not my time of day, but when a coordinator at the best gym in town offered me a 6:00 A.M. class I said "Yes". Saying yes gets your foot in the door. It informs the higher ups that you are an enthusiastic, hard-working go-getter. You grow by saying yes. Your comfort zone becomes larger. You meet interesting, wonderful people. You learn what you're made of.
In 1996, a gym I was affiliated with needed someone to do a warm-up for a marathon. When I agreed to do it, they said it was "no big deal." I arrived at the event, was ushered to a stage, hooked up with a microphone, TV cameras zooming in, a sea of runners watching my every move… this is "no big deal?" I ended up being featured on the 6 o'clock news and ever since, my picture has been the visual on the marathon application and press release. Just say yes.
So, are you thriving? Success is inevitable when thriving is your focus. The possibilities are truly endless, so take the time to assess your goals and chart your direction in the fitness industry. Who do you need to become in order to get there?
About Ellen Barrett
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