Overheard in the Locker Room

by Joy Keller on Feb 21, 2013

You just finished teaching what felt like a seamless kickboxing class. You’re feeling that post-teaching buzz that comes from your own endorphins and the added high of inspiring others to move their bodies and have fun.

As you pass through the locker room to freshen up, you overhear a conversation that kills your buzz. “Can you believe she taught that same tired, old routine?” says an unfamiliar voice from behind an open locker door. “I know, right?” echoes another voice. “And she could also stand to lose a pound or two. She doesn’t look that fit to me.”


You duck into an open bathroom stall and think about what to do. Should you confront them? Tell them you’ve been teaching for 13 years and how dare they question your expertise? Furthermore, you just had a baby 10 months ago--and so what if you’re carrying a few extra pounds? No, you can’t do that. Not only is it unprofessional, but you’re feeling too reactive right now. So you sit and wait for them to leave, and you spend the next several hours feeling like a failure. Your confidence has taken a severe blow.

However, you don’t have to let participants’ negative talk annihilate your enthusiasm. Whether you’re a smart veteran with an offbeat sense of humor that doesn’t sit well with some people, or a newbie who struggles from time to time with which foot is leading, at some point you will learn that you’re not everyone’s cup of tea. Unfortunately you may hear it indirectly instead of directly, which can make it hard to address.

Read on to learn what other group fitness instructors chose to do when they heard negative comments either inside and outside the locker room.

Moving Forward and Beyond

The key to dealing with challenges is in how you react. “The more energy you put into a response or thought about a negative situation, the more pushback you’ll get,” says Danielle Vindez, a health and fitness professional from Redondo Beach, California. “Be curious about what you heard and ask questions to learn the perspective of others. This may diffuse [the situation] and teach you more about yourself.”

Jabez Gibson, a conditioning coach from Knoxville, Tennessee, also sees negative commentary as a learning opportunity. He suggests letting the words settle and then deciding if any of what was said was true or if there is a consensus. If so, he says, find ways to get better. “Feedback is needed for improvement,” he adds. “Listen to what's being said and put your pride in your pocket. Embrace the fact that anything can be improved upon.”

Victoria Ganieany, a fitness professional from Monson, Massachusetts, recommends being receptive and approachable. Let participants know you have an “open door” policy and encourage them to interact with you. The onus is on you, however, to offer a safe place for people to express less-than-positive thoughts. “I ask if anyone has any questions before class, [and I solicit] suggestions or feedback after class,” says Ganieany. “This gives them an outlet to bring issues to me instead of making negative remarks elsewhere.”

Tips on Transmuting Trash Talk

What should you do if you’re in the locker room and you overhear someone talking negatively about you? Here are some tips to help:

  • If you have a rapport with the person and you’re not feeling emotionally reactive about the comment, calmly ask for more information, listen, thank the student and offer suggestions on how you will address the situation.
  • Consider whether the comment contains a kernel of truth or whether the speaker simply has a personal agenda. If it’s the latter, let it go. If the former, ask a colleague or another class participant for his or her perspective.
  • A comment about your personal appearance can be very painful. Fitness professionals are held to a higher standard when it comes to physical fitness and beauty. This type of comment is petty. Vent to a trusted friend or loved one and focus on reinforcing your self-esteem.

For more tips on handling negative criticism, please visit the online IDEA Library and look for “Overheard in the Locker Room” in the January 2013 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.

IDEA Fit Tips, Volume 11, Issue 3

© 2013 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Joy Keller

Joy Keller IDEA Author/Presenter

Joy Keller is executive editor of IDEA Fitness Journal and is also a certified personal trainer, indoor cycling instructor, yoga teacher (RYT 200) and Reiki level 3 practitioner.


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  • Ashlie Pechin

    This article came along at the perfect time for me, and I completely agree with Linsey. I instruct outdoor bootcamp classes 6 days a week and currently I am the only instructor, which can be tough. I do my best to come up with new and effective workouts for each class, and I know that not everyone is going to like every single workout, but I really try to remind myself that I am working to please the largest part of the group as I can. If one person has a bad day or didn't like a particular workout as much as they have liked others, I am not a failure, it is just part of the job and I will make sure to have the next workout be more to their liking. I am also working on not taking things so personally, it can really wear on you!
    Commented Mar 07, 2013
  • Linsey Cheshire

    I have had the most trouble with Zumba. I feel like I put so much time and effort into my song choices and choreography, when I hear a negative comment, it has the potential to ruin my day. On the flip side, when I'm on, and I hear the positive, I love life. So my personal philosophy has been to try to remember and harness that positive when I hear the negative. Usually it's coming from someone who had a bad day, isn't able to keep up with the class or is just a general complainer...sometimes, it's because *I* was having a bad day or wasn't quite "on"...and I'm willing to accept that I'm not perfect and I'm not everyone's cup of tea.
    Commented Mar 07, 2013
  • John Macgowan

    Hey Joy, I would sure love the chance to explore your ideas and findings on effectively handling negative criticism on the Indoor Cycle Instructor Podcast.
    Commented Mar 05, 2013

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