Open Heart, Open Mind

Fitness innovator and 1991 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year Gin Miller shares her vision of how the industry will change over the next 25 years.

It was Gin Miller’s love and passion for fitness that led to her stepping up and down on a milk carton to help strengthen her knees after an injury. Shortly thereafter, step training became a fitness phenomenon that has remained popular for almost two decades. She still travels extensively teaching her special brand of creative conceptualism and is a strong advocate for education and integrity. Miller is always looking for novel ways to communicate the message of health and wellness. From her current position in the industry, she has the advantage of 20 years’ experience to help create future successes.

What have been the biggest changes in the industry since you won the 1991 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year award?

I think the biggest overall change is the legitimacy of our profession itself. It used to be more a cultish following centered on dance exercise. Now we are more or less considered health professionals. We are “doctors of exercise.” We gave birth to this baby and we have watched it grow. In the beginning we simply thought it was a lot of fun. However, it turned into something that has changed—and saved—people’s lives. We are much more authentic in the way we approach our craft.

What do you feel is the most pressing issue in group fitness today?

Retention is one big issue, along with finding qualified instructors. Many of the “masters” in the industry are Baby Boomers. We need to help bring in a new, educated generation. We need to create an environment in which people feel comfortable and we can fill classes. It takes a lot of time and energy to do this well, which is why education and integrity are so important. Instructors need to be able to communicate, instruct and entertain all at the same time. This is not an easy or ordinary task. You have to know how to truly connect with people, not just go through the semantics and logistics. As soon as you enter the room and look at the group of individuals who have put their trust in you, it immediately puts things in perspective. You have a larger job than just teaching. You have to find just the right music, know how to teach to multiple levels and do it all on cue.

Group fitness has become a primary social outlet for many people, too. The group exercise studio is a place where you can “leave it all behind.” It provides a respite and adds a level of motivation to the equation. It takes a lot of energy for most people to make it to class after working a full day and juggling family commitments. I don’t take that lightly. It adds weight to our purpose. We must continuously strive to come up with not just good ideas, but innovative ideas. People want to be challenged, and this is something we can do within the parameters of industry safety guidelines.

What inspires and motivates you? How do you keep your “innovation” muscles strong?

People inspire me. My personality type enjoys helping people. People are so kind to me; I have nothing but wonderful participants. Generally, if you simply pay attention to people, they will motivate you.

Internally, I am motivated by wanting to lead a better life. In the early days, I exercised for the same reasons a lot of people did. Gyms were bars and clubs where you went to meet people. Now I think that what motivated me wasn’t the sense of feeling better physically, but of feeling better psychologically. Exercise takes the edge off of stressors.

Another motivation for me is that I genuinely enjoy teaching others who are committed to a better, healthier life. Exercise is still one of the best-kept secrets around. I believe it’s a good thing to “pay it forward”; that’s what life is really about.

Are there any markets or populations you think are underserved? What can group fitness instructors do to help reach them?

There are still plenty of people we are not reaching, including children and older adults. Teenagers need the most help, and this is a great opportunity for fitness professionals. Not everyone can make school sports teams. The populations I believe are the most underserved right now are the underprivileged and the obese. People who live in low-income housing probably don’t have access to fitness facilities and might not be able to afford to buy exercise videos. These people need access, and it is something I’d like to see us all work on together.

What “nonfitness” activities help your fitness career the most?

I rely on meditation and prayer, and I also attend church regularly. I keep a strong social network and stay centered. But I also step outside myself to try new things and meet new people. From time to time I like to just move without any type of “fitness agenda.” I’ll dance around the house, do Nia, etc. It puts me back in touch with my body.

Who is your most inspiring class participant or client?

There are so many people, truly, that it is difficult to choose. However, one boy comes to mind. This 14-year-old was the only male in a room full of women, and he stayed the entire time. I found out later that his parents had just divorced and he was, in his words, just trying to find something that would make him feel better. He actually came up to me after class and asked me how he did. I was very touched by his story and his bravery. At a tender age, he was already trying to improve himself.

I also have a client, a widow in her 80s, who has a laundry list of health issues that would make anyone else give up. But no matter what kind of physical challenges she faces, she always comes back. She tells me she will simply “start again.” I think this is a great message for people to remember. All you have to do is keep starting again until it becomes a habit.

How might the fitness industry change over the next 25 years?

I believe it’s going to be kinder. Instead of fitness professionals setting the pace for everyone else, we are going to look at people and decide what we have to do to meet their needs. In the past, if participants couldn’t keep up or catch on, they were left behind. I am glad those days are over. I think most of us want people to feel like they belong. We want everyone to come back. Our programs are more personalized, relaxed and communal. All the good things about exercise will become better. We will not judge or exclude; we will accept and include. In the next few years, exercise will become a daily habit.

I also think health clubs will be more positive and inviting. People will look forward to fitting the gym into their daily schedules. Overall, people will [be more aware of] the connection to their bodies and of how movement makes them feel better. There will be more comfort associated with the physical sensation of regular exercise.

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April 2007

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

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