The Ongoing Journey

Jan 01, 2007

Carrie Ekins, MA, talks about how the fitness industry has evolved and offers tips on how to generate fresh ideas.

It’s hard to tell which is more pronounced, Carrie Ekins’s smile or her penchant for creativity. Her zeal for exercise and wellness has inspired her to create and participate in many programs over the years. Ekins understands how physical limitations can challenge someone, because she has overcome them herself. In 1993 she underwent a total hip replacement. In 2001 she developed problems and had to have a bone transplant and capsule change in her existing prosthesis and pelvic structure. Despite these physical and mental setbacks, Ekins has followed the beat of her own drum to recovery and created motivating programs for others.

What have been the biggest changes you have seen in the fitness industry since you started as a professional?

My journey began as a small child inspired by my parents’ joy for movement, music and dance. I received my first “aerobic dance” certification in 1979 with my mother and sister. Back then, the industry was in its infancy. We really didn’t have much of anything to work with. Teachers were very creative in designing programming and equipment. We even sewed our own “aerobic” clothing and found shoes that allowed us to move and provided some type of support.

I have seen our profession grow from that infancy stage to become a mature industry. Overall, fitness professionals strive to achieve ideal and versatile programming based on science and research. We have become more conscious of and educated in biomechanics and function. Our industry has evolved to become multilevel and multi-interest, allowing for more individual choices.

You travel quite a bit and are exposed to many different cultures. Have you noticed a common theme or characteristic among fitness instructors?

Different parts of the world have fine nuances or small variations in their teaching approach, but generally the instructions are similar. The choreography can differ from instructor to instructor but not necessarily from country to country. However, the Latin countries seem to lean more toward dance-based choreography. I sometimes just watch in amazement at the difficulty and complexity of the routines.

In the United States, Pilates and yoga are being embraced and integrated into all types of programming. The international market is also full of diverse programming geared to a variety of people. There is a new market opening up in the area of sensory motor, proprioception and medical coordination training. Universities and the medical field are giving us much research and knowledge. I think this information will be an important contribution to our industry in the future.

What sources do you tap for new ideas?

One great source is having inspirational colleagues you can share ideas with. Bouncing ideas or choreography back and forth can broaden your approach to an idea or solidify it into an efficient and useful program. Ideas and creativity are found through many sources. Here are some other suggestions:

  • Look outside and inside the fitness arena.
  • Attend different types of classes and educate yourself on the wide variety of techniques available.
  • Explore your own creative potential and learn to trust your abilities. Movement ideas come from movement exploration.
  • Be open-minded and try a variety of music from other cultures.
  • Go to musicals, operas, dance concerts or the theater.
  • Watch dance clips, DVDs, musicals or DVDs from your colleagues.
  • Read books, gather information, search the Web and attend fitness conventions or symposiums where you can learn and be inspired by others.
  • Step outside of the box and experience something new!

What is the easiest, most practical way for an instructor to take away choreography from a workshop and use it the next day?

Each individual retains information differently. My suggestion is to find out what type of learner you are and then apply the technique that best fits your style. I have seen many instructors at conferences film each other as they perform choreography they just learned in a workshop. This is a great way to record the information. I personally like purchasing a DVD to have as a resource at home anytime I need to refresh my ideas. I think it is best to experience a class with all of your senses, then let it rest or wash over you. Take what you like and what best fits your goals and teaching style, practice it and adapt it to fit your needs. Feeling comfortable with the concepts or choreography will help you present the ideas competently and professionally.

What was the smartest thing you did to grow your career?

I finished my degree and obtained a variety of certifications. I was also privileged to have great mentors and faculty who provided me not only with knowledge but with support and love along my path. The knowledge you gain in your youth provides a base from which you can build your house of knowledge and resources.

What advice do you have for new instructors?
  • Learn, study, practice and acquire knowledge and skills that will help you improve your teaching method.
  • Learn how to modify and adapt for all populations.
  • Appreciate your body and your participants’ bodies.
  • Teach with compassion and understanding.
  • Understand the biomechanics of movement and the physiology of the human body.
  • Never give in to mediocrity.
  • Find a mentor or colleague who will help you along your path.
  • Strive to be the best you can be.
  • Teach not only from your heart but also with your brain.

What’s the easiest way for a fitness professional to get involved in his or her community?

Just try! If you don’t try, it won’t happen! We just need to get out into our communities and ask, “What can I do?” and then do it! We can all make a difference. Even if it seems small, each task we do for the betterment of others will add up to make a big difference in the world. Try contacting schools, chambers of commerce, charity groups, senior homes or media centers in your area. I have never met a teacher who wouldn’t like a qualified fitness instructor to come in and teach her students something that will provide them with a new experience and will improve their overall well-being.

Can you relate the story of a particularly inspiring student who exemplifies the Inspire the World to Fitness® call to action?

I have been privileged to work with so many inspirational students throughout my career. One particular story stands out in my mind. After I finished presenting at IDEA Fitness Fusion—Chicago® last spring, I noticed “Jen” was waiting to talk to me. As the last students began to leave, Jen came up to me and thanked me for inspiring her and giving her such joy. I was touched by her words and her genuine nature. Then she showed me something that brought tears to my eyes. Jen was born with only one hand. She had drummed along with the class using an arm wrap she had devised that enabled her to hold not only a drumstick but weights and anything else she needed. I was so touched by her perseverance. A few months later, after attending my Drums Alive certification, she developed a special drumstick and wrap that will give anyone without hands the ability to drum.

IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 4, Issue 1

© 2007 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.