How to Be a Great Fitness Instructor

Are you envious of other instructors that just walk in and seem to rock their classes? The ones that have hoards of followers and that everyone sings the praises of? Do you wonder if she has some kind of secret move in her classes? I used to feel like that too! In fact, when I first started teaching group fitness classes, I would have given anything for the class design of the top instructors.

fitness, sport, dance and lifestyle concept - group of smiling p

Years later and thousands of dollars poured into training and certification and I can finally say that I am a great fitness instructor  although I am continuing to learn and progress everyday. Here are the basics of what I have learned over the years to help you be and even more awesome fitness instructor.

  1. Make connections with your clients- Your clients could choose a million ways to exercise but they chose to be with you. Chances are if you don’t care about them, they won’t care about you. Making connections is simple it just takes a little time and genuine interest in your class participants:
      • Instead of fiddling with your phone or music before class, arrive early and introduce yourself to new clients
      • Remember clients names and use them during class. Remembering a client’s names show them that you care about them and not just your paycheck.
      • Ask questions about your clients and get to know them. You would be surprised at what you will learn and how what you learn will help you develop classes that your clients love.
      • When you are feeling doubt or fear teach from love. There is a saying that goes “You can’t be nervous when your heart is of service.” When you need an extra jolt of confidence, just remember why you started teaching in the first place and deliver your message with love. It may sound cheesy but it totally works.
      • SMILE- This is a big one. You’d be surprised how many instructors just don’t smile and it changes the entire dynamic of the class. If you don’t feel like smiling (and trust me we all have those days) try to fake it until you make it. Think of something funny, tell a joke, turn on your favorite playlist, just try to get in the “smiling mood” because your students will notice. Smiling makes other people perceive you as more likable, which is important for building your classes.
    1. Learn the art of cuing- Cuing is a lot like business writing. You need to be concise, use the active voice and choose your words carefully. Here are some cuing tips to get you started:
      • Know left and right or leave it out- One of my biggest pet peeves is instructors who “accidentally” cue the wrong side of the body. To me its not an accident, its just careless and unfocused. To make it easier for you to remember, always cue one side first and the other side second. If you get confused, try to describe what you want without using the words left and right. For example you could say “step your back foot forward” instead of “step your left foot forward.”
      • Personal cuing- I don’t mean calling out peoples names (although that is definitely a good tactic to use at times). What I really mean is to use the words “you” and “your” instead of “that” and “those.” When you say something like “lift those legs” it depersonalizes the cue and disconnects the student from their body part whereas saying “lift your legs” is more personal and gives the student an actionable command for their body.
      • Active cuing- When cuing, use an active voice rather than a passive voice. This goes back to “economy of words.” Passive cuing also adds an extra layer to the cue that can make it sound foggier to the person listening. Say “Pull your abs up and in” Rather than “Your abs should be pulled up and in” Starting the sentence with the command word “pull” sets your client up to take action.
      • Motivational cuing- Motivational cuing can be difficult if it doesn’t come naturally for you. I have struggled with this a lot. What really works is to be motivational in a way that feels authentic to you. If it would annoy you to have some one shouting in your face “pain is weakness leaving your body” don’t do it. For me, I find that acknowledging my students hard work by calling out their name and “Good Job” works well. I also like the phrases “you got this,” “keep breathing through it,” “stay strong,” “push.” Take other classes, listen to motivational speakers, find the power phrases that feel authentic to you. You don’t have to be Shaun T to motivate people, do what works for you.
      • Words to use and words not to use- Words are very powerful, subtle changes in the connotations similar words can change they way your students react to them. For example, your student will like respond differently if you say “drop your heels” verses “lower your heels.” Thus I recommend using words that have connotations aligned with what you would like your students to get from your class. Here are some great words you can use when cuing:
      • Cue in the Positive- If you are a parent you know kids respond better to reprimands in the positive vs. in the negative (Walk! vs. Don’t Run!). The same theory applies to your students. Instead of saying “don’t shrug” say “slide your shoulders down your back.” Not only will this help your students respond better, but it will also help you create a more positive environment.
      • Learn to use a mic- You could be using your best cues and if your students can’t hear you you are wasting your breath. If available, learn to use a mic in a way that you sound clear.
    2. Create Better Classes- After a while creating a great class will feel like assembling a recipe, you will know the components to add to make your classes great. Here are the parts to this recipe for a successful class:
      • Structure- Your class should build and then recede just like your music. Start with a warm-up then build up to your hardest exercises and finish with a cool down.
      • Make transitions smooth and quick- Make sure your exercise order makes sense. Try to minimize changing props and positions. Exercises should flow. For example don’t have students lie down for one exercise then stand up for the next exercise then lie down again. Not only will this make the class flow better, but it will make your teaching more efficient and as a result students will feel like they have gotten a better workout.
      • Work the entire body- Ok so if you teach an “Arms Class” by all means knock yourself out on arm exercises, but otherwise, most people coming to classes want a well rounded workout. For some, it may be the only workout they do all week. Make sure your class is balanced and works the entire body evenly. I always have a running checklist in my mind of body parts that have been worked during the class and I let that help me decided what exercises to choose next.
      • Work in multiple planes of motion- Just like you want to work the entire body, you want to make sure you work in multiple planes. This ensures that your clients leave with a body that is balanced and functional. That means you should include things like twists, extensions, ad and abduction. There are three main planes of motion Sagittal, Frontal, Transverse. Make sure you do movements all of them.
      • Take people to their edge- Want to make a great class? Push your students to their edge. Have you ever left a really challenging class and thought “Man, that was really tough I can’t believe I made it through that.” If you can push students to a place where they are almost at their limit but encourage them through it, you will make students stronger, not only physically, but mentally as well. This will have a domino effect on your students lives, making them feel strong and capable not only in your class, but also at work, at home and in their other activities. When you encourage your students to make that kind of a transformation, you create life long fans.
      • Make students feel capable- Feeding right off the last tip, make sure that you are not pushing your students to failure in every single exercise. Give options for people who are just getting started or who have injuries in a way that doesn’t make them feel less than. The way you cue and talk makes a big difference. For example say “You can do your push-up on your knees, and build strength there.” instead of “If you need to modify, do your push-up on your knees.” If your students leave your class feeling capable rather than feeling like a failure, they are more likely to come back.
      • Safety- Sometimes in the interest of trying some cool new move, we forget about the basics: Safety. Keep safety in mind throughout your class. Make sure props are out of the way during exercises, make sure you are not asking clients to do something that puts them at a high risk for injury. Encourage your clients to listen to their bodies and to back off if they need to. Check form and don’t be afraid to correct someone if they look like they are about to hurt themselves or someone else.

What burning questions do you have about being a great fitness instructor? What are your tips and struggles?

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