Things to Consider before You Become a Group Fitness Instructor

Becoming a Group Fitness Instructor: Tips & Considerations (real talk!)

I absolutely adore teaching group fitness. I even did a whole post listing 10 (of the countless) reasons I love it. When people express interest in getting into teaching my response is always an enthusiastic, “DO IT!!” Like with any profession though, there are some practical considerations you should mull over when deciding if it’s going to be right for you. I get emails all the time asking for advice about getting into instructing–How much will I make? How do I get a hired? What certifications do I need?–so I thought the topic would make for a good post.

This is a long one because I want it to be as helpful as possible for those seriously considering instructing. Hopefully it doesn’t come across as negative–I just really want to touch upon ALL the aspects of the job and I feel like the good parts are already clear or else you wouldn’t be considering it in the first place. For those of you new to the blog and my story, I did a whole series on my transition from the 9-to-5 world to blogging/teaching group fitness here. As for instructing, I’ve taught spin, rowing and bootcamp-esque interval training classes over the past two and a half years, but now just teach Lagree Fitness (megaformer workouts).

Alright. You’re obsessed with a particular group fitness class. You know the workout like the back of your hand–hell, you’re better at it than your teacher. You envy the instructor’s unconventional work schedule. You’ve heard stories of top instructors making a crazy per-class wage. You fantasize about being able to take classes at the the studio for free once you become a teacher. You’re there.

Now let’s get real …

Things to Consider before You Become a Group Fitness Instructor

Certifications help, but aren’t always necessary.

Sometimes this is because the studio has its own training program tailored to their specific workout and teaching style. Other times this is honestly because a potential hire’s personality and knack for instructing trumps lack of fitness knowledge. I’m not saying this is a good thing–in fact, the trend in many ways is detrimental to the fitness industry–but it’s true that personality is of huge importance with group fitness instructing. You can know a workout and the biomechanics behind it like the back of your hand–if you’re uncomfortable and your personality tends to shrink in front of a group of people, this may not be a fit for you.

**For the record, I’m definitely NOT saying shy people can’t be fantastic instructors! You don’t have to be this large and in charge persona to succeed. I myself can be quiet and a bit introverted but I also enjoy being in front of a group–I think that’s the key. Even being comfortable in that setting though, I’m sure my personality didn’t exactly shine during those first few months of teaching. That’s normal–with practice the nerves die down.**

Always talk to the studio or gym at which you’d like to teach and ask directly what certifications, if any, they require (I would hope they require some training! Haha). If your interest is solely in group fitness, a Personal Training cert most likely isn’t required. There are specific (less expensive!) certifications for general group fitness instruction, but it might be more worthwhile to look into certs in your specific field. If you want to teach a Pilates Fusion class at your favorite studio, for example, a Pilates cert is going to trump a Group Fitness or PT cert. In addition to your Pilates cert, the studio may have its own training program, so be prepared to pay for that as well.

Also keep in mind that entering the training program doesn’t guarantee you’ll get a job–typically you need to audition or do a series of mock classes. That’s where instructing skill/personality comes into play. Fitness knowledge + Instructing skill/personality = a group fitness job.

Planning a class takes time.

And when you’re new to teaching … a lot of time. No exaggeration, it took me four hours to plan my first 45-minute spin class. FOUR HOURS. I remember looking up at the clock after a never-ending rabbit hole of Spotify searching, desperately trying to put together the perfect playlist, and doing a quick ROI calculation in my head. This is not what I signed up for.

I promise you the planning doesn’t take as long as you become more experienced with teaching so first and foremost, fear not! I can plan a full Btone class now in 15 minutes, although often it still does take longer because I’m super Type A and like to switch things up for my clients. Even when I’m putting together a funky routine though, I’d say 30 minutes of planning tops. I also now have a MASSIVE archive of class plans (I use Google docs to store them all) so that I can go back and pull sequences from old classes if my work schedule is crazy and I don’t have the time to plan a totally new class.

Keep planning time in mind when figuring out how many classes you want to teach a week. If you teach multiple classes in one day, you can use the same routine for all of them, but if the same clients will be coming to you several days throughout the week, you’ll probably want to switch it up. It’ll vary by instructor and with studio policy, but here’s what I do:

I teach three classes on Tuesday at the North End studio (same class plan for all three). I teach three classes on Wednesday morning at the Back Bay studio and check the roster the night before. If any clients who took my class in the North End will be in a class at Back Bay the next morning, I plan a new class. Otherwise, I just teach the same routine. Thursday mornings I teach two classes in the Back Bay and always plan a new routine so that regulars at the studio get something different from Wednesday. Because I teach the same time slots every day, I see a lot of the same clients throughout the week so it’s not uncommon for me to plan three class routines a week.

There’s a physical/emotional limit to how many classes you can teach a week.

This may seem obvious, but when you start out it’s easy to underestimate the toll teaching takes on you–even if you don’t do the workout as you teach. You’re being physical, yes, but it’s also a lot of energy to be “on” like that: high-energy, motivating, alert, constantly talking (/yelling haha), adjusting form, keeping count–it’s a lot going on at once.

I remember when I first joined Btone, Jody (owns the studios) asked me how many classes I ideally wanted to teach each week and I replied “20.” LOLLOLOLLLLZZZZZZZZZ.

No.

In my head, I was like 20 classes = about 20 hours = a part-time job. But teaching hours don’t equal normal hours. At Btone, I don’t do the workout with the class–I demo moves, but the majority of the 45 minutes is spent adjusting form and walking around the room assisting clients or setting up the machines. Even without doing the workout, I have found that I can’t happily and healthily teach more than 12 classes in a week (my current schedule is 8 classes per week so I have some wiggle room to sub if needed). That number will be different for everyone–keep in mind teaching isn’t my full-time job; it supplements running the blog. The number will also depend on the type of workout you teach. I suppose a yoga instructor, for example, may be able to handle more classes in a week than a spin instructor who does the entire workout with the class.

I advise starting with fewer classes than you think you can handle and slowly building up from there because burn-out sucks. Signs you’re teaching too much: 1. You’re so exhausted from teaching that you don’t have energy for your own workouts. 2. It’s harder and harder to bring that upbeat energy as the week drags on and the quality of your classes declines.

Keep this physical/emotional limit in mind when calculating how much you can earn from teaching. Trust me, the burn-out you’ll feel from teaching too many classes is NOT worth the added income. Once in a while I’ll volunteer to sub a ton in a week if I have an upcoming trip or event, but I’ve learned my lesson not to do that consistently.

You’ll be publicly reviewed.

Reviews are a part of any profession, but there’s a big difference between a quarterly review with your boss or manager in the privacy of a meeting room and anonymous reviews from anyone and everyone with internet access. Feedback and constructive criticism are how we improve–it’s all necessary and a good thing! But with Yelp, ClassPass reviews and countless other Internet forums, that feedback–the good and the bad–is visible for all to see when you’re a group fitness instructor. And people can be mean when they’re hidden behind the anonymity of the web. Like, really mean. You’ll get 99 great (or at least constructive) reviews and one unnecessarily cruel one from some asshole who has no idea what he/she is talking about and it’ll be that one that sticks with you.

You need a bit of a thick skin and an understanding that a mean review is more of a reflection of the reviewer than you. A constructively critical review is different from a mean review, and you should treat it as an opportunity to improve. Yes, in an ideal world, that feedback would be given to you in person or privately via email rather than publicly shared, but welcome to 2016. Yayyyy Internet. 😉

When you’re new to teaching, I would actually recommend you avoid reading online reviews of your class. No one is a rockstar when they first start out and negative reviews can break your spirit if you’re just starting. Instead ask clients for feedback in person after your class. Ask other instructors to take your class and give suggestions. Feedback, feedback, feedback from your regular clients and coworkers.

Teaching a workout is completely different from doing a workout.

If your sole motivation for becoming a group fitness instructor is to kill two birds with one stone–I’d love to get paid for my daily workout!–then you may be disappointed. Even teaching spin, where you’re doing the entire workout with the class, is nothing like taking a spin class. It’s not about you. It’s not your workout. It’s just different. And your relationship with a workout can change when you start teaching it. With spin, I found that while I loved doing the workout, I didn’t enjoy teaching it. Lagree Fitness, on the other hand, is something I can teach without losing any enthusiasm for doing the workout myself–that’s why Btone is stuck with me. 😉

If you are doing this in addition to a full-time job, you’ll probably be teaching when you’d normally be working out.

Keeping my last point in mind–that teaching is way different than taking the class–know that you may be giving up your own workout time to teach if you already have a full-time job. If you typically go to the studio for a 6AM workout and then head into the office, your choices are to teach at night so that you can still do your own workout early (that’ll make for a really long day) or sacrifice your own workout to teach. That may not be a big deal to you depending on what you want to teach and how often, but it’s important to consider. Teaching on weekends are always an option but make sure you have at least one true day off from all work a week–it’s good for your sanity. 😉

The time of day you teach will determine who you teach and how you teach.

You should always teach a class you’d want to take–keep that in mind when planning. I think I have a reputation for being one of the hard(er) instructors at Btone and that’s because when I take megaformer classes, I like them to really challenge my body.

That being said … it’s not your workout. It’s the clients’. So within the boundaries of a class you’d want to take, consider the demographic you’re teaching and plan accordingly. The time slot you teach will play a big role in who comes to your class. I teach the before-work crowd which is mostly made up of regular clients. A big majority of them are advanced, they’re committed to the workout, they like a challenge. Age range varies but you won’t see a ton of people with flexible or non-traditional work schedules (students, stay-at-home parents, etc.)–that crowd usually comes to the mid-morning classes. The after work crowd is going to be more of a mixed bag–lots of regulars but also lots of new clients. And the weekends are even more mixed–people visiting the city for the weekend, new clients, regulars, all ages, etc.

If you look at your roster the night before teaching and see a ton of new clients, don’t plan some crazy class with nonstop advanced, funky exercises. It won’t be fun to take OR teach. Set yourself up for success by sticking to basics and then giving options to advance so that regular and new clients alike get the workout they need.

Your pay will be determined, in part, by class size.

This is the first thing everyone wants to know–how much money can I expect to make? Is this a realistic career to pursue? It varies SO MUCH by the studio, where you live and the types of classes you’re teaching, so I really can’t answer that. But class size plays a big role in two ways:

The more clients the class can accommodate, the more the studio can pay the instructor. If you’re hearing of instructors making $100+/class, they’re probably teaching spin, yoga or bootcamp at a studio that can fit 40+ clients in a single class. Boutique fitness classes aren’t cheap. If you’re in a major city and a spin class is $28/bike and there are 45 bikes … do the math. The studio crushes it with a full class and it’s financially feasible to give the instructor a larger cut. But that high pay rate is the exception, not the rule.

Lots of studios fit in a full-class incentive to the pay structure. Some studios just pay a fixed per-class or hourly wage. A lot, however, pay–to a certain extent–per head. For example, you’ll have a base pay of $25/class and then will get $2/head for a class that’s over half full. Top instructors who build a big client following will therefore have more earning potential, which is awesome. Class time will also play into that, though. A 6pm class on a weeknight, for example, will probably be consistently full regardless of the instructor because of its convenient after-work time slot.

Alright, congratulations, you’ve survived the longest blog post ever! Leave any questions below in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer quickly. Fellow group fitness instructors–I’d love for you to add your two cents as well!

P.S. I’m moving this week so bear with me if the blog posts are irregular. I’ll do my best to keep up with them but things are a little crazy. 🙂

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Comments

  1. Haha my post from today is titled “10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming A Fitness Instructor.” I love that you wrote from the perspective of your class experience bc mine comes from teaching predominantly HIIT classes. I never do the workouts w members and just demo the moves and correct form. I even wrote that I give mad props to spinning instructors bc making playlists takes WAY longer than other classes (even though they all take a good amount of time to find the right music). These are all great points and I totally agree!

  2. So good! There are so many aspects people do not think of and just jump in before really understanding what it all entails!

  3. Lauren C says:

    I have zero desire to teach fitness classes on top of my 50 hour work week but thought this post was SO interesting! And PS I took a few of your classes at Btone with ClassPass and thought you were a total rockstar – discovered the blog afterward 🙂

  4. LOVE this post!! So many good things to consider here. I love your point about time of day. I’m a night owl as far as energy for teaching or working out myself, so I mainly teach at night because I can keep the class upbeat more so than I can in the morning. Props to you for teaching early AM classes every week!

    I’d add to the list that instructors really need an outgoing personality, and the ability to be a cheerleader, if you will, for their classes. When I first started, I was so nervous I made the classic mistake of just standing at the front of the room counting. No one wants that – that doesn’t encourage anyone to keep going! Along the same lines, I’d also say that instructors should be mindful of what they use to encourage their classes – saying you “ate like crap over the weekend so we’re going to do X amount of burpees today” is really not a great way to motivate a class. Keep it positive and reinforcing!

  5. GREAT Post! Thank you! I just started a group fitness program designed for mommies and babies and whew (in addition to a full time job) – its been tough! 🙂

  6. Coach Alex says:

    I’ve been asked to start teaching an outdoor bootcamp class and a quick internet search has brought me to this website. Wow. What a wealth of information! Thanks so much Nicole for sharing lots of good points with the fellow fitness enthusiasts.
    I currently teach spin classes and I absolutely agree with your points. Outdoor group exercises is a new thing for me so I will have to watch more of your youtube videos to get something as basic as names of the exercises!

  7. Cynthia says:

    I have no plans or interest in becoming a group fitness instructor but this was an insightful look into what all it entails. Thank you.

  8. Thanks for sharing! I was actually talking with my friend this past weekend about how become a fitness instructor is on my bucket list!

  9. This is so helpful for me to have read! I am thinking to start training at my gym later this year, and was trying to decide between group or personal training. I love group training, but usually i do it for my friends, outdoors. it would take a lot more time coming up with the workouts to cater to allllll types of people, and like you said, handling bad reviews. thanks for sharing this Nicole!!

  10. Great post girl! As a fellow instructor, I definitely understand the need to not take on too many classes!! Ha. Hope I can some day go to one of your classes!

    XO Chloe

  11. This post could not have come at a better time. I recently {as in a week ago} became certified as a personal trainer through ACSM although I don’t have a serious interest in working at a gym with clients one on one. I have been thinking about doing some kind of group fitness and your post has brought up some very good points that I’m going to have to think about!

  12. I’ve been thinking about doing a post like this for some time! Not sure if it’s like this in Boston, but one thing I learned REALLY quickly in NYC is that unfortunately it’s hard to land a job at one of the top paying and “popular” studios. Chances are you’ll start your career running around the boroughs teaching odd classes here and there.

  13. This is a great post! May I ask – what is the best way to start getting experience once you are certified? I just got my AFFA primary group exercise certification, but I don’t have any experience yet so I’m not sure how to break in!

  14. Great post! I have been thinking about becoming a group fitness instructor and you have answered a lot of my questions. Thank you for that! 🙂
    -Brooke
    http://www.beautydecorandmore.com

  15. Love this! The listicle title belies the excellent, insightful content and is way better than similarly titled posts on Rate Your Burn. Great food for thought for teaching math as well 🙂

    Going to get back to your classes soon too! Have missed them so much during my son’s first year (both because of slowly getting back into shape and because of schedule conflicts with school or daycare pickup). Will be the one whimpering during all the ab work or mouthing “what the f*ck$@kajsflaksjf;” during scrambled eggs (though I probably did that when I was in decent shape anyway!).

  16. I wish everyone read this before starting teaching! so true! I love it though and your classes are the hardest one by far :p

  17. Thanks for all the great insight. I just became certified as a GFI through ACE and plan to start instructing at Orangetheory soon. Do you have professional liability insurance? Do you recommend it? Thanks Nicole!

  18. Ivascu Diana says:

    Hey there 🙂 it’s the first day I came accross your blog and I am really really happy that I did. I saw you mention something about shy instructors in the first bit of the post. I am planning on becoming a kangoo jumps instructor and I absolutely love it but I am aware I have a shyness problem. Now don’t get me wrong…I love being around people but there’s something about standing there in front of a class that expects a good workout from you that kinda scares me. Any tips to get me relaxed? I would really appreciate an answer from you on this one 🙂

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