1994 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year Kari Anderson is the owner and director of Pro-Robics Conditioning Clubs in Seattle. Known for her bright attitude and professionalism, Anderson created some of the first dance-inspired routines for The Step. She continues to teach and train and draws inspiration not only from her members but also from her extensive dance background.

The biggest change is the amazing diversity in studio programming and the opportunities it has created for new instructor talent. I’ve had the benefit of watching and participating in this change as both a gym owner and an instructor. It’s exciting to see the variety of options! When you look at total gym space now, there are so many elements competing for a member’s time and attention: great machines, interesting classes and skilled personal trainers.

In the early to mid-1990s instructors focused on teaching just a few formats. This resulted in a larger base of teachers who all led the same types of classes. This [uniformity] isn’t as prevalent today since we now consider every class a “specialty.” It’s a huge plus for instructors (of all ages), since they can stay fresh and motivated simply by moving on to a new interest.

My greatest source for new ideas simply comes from within. My years of dance training have given me a lifetime of inspiration. Also, members are increasingly open and eager to learn new skills. This has made it even more fun to challenge their abilities.

Great music is my single biggest motivator, and diverse mixes inspire me to move in different ways. I spend hours improvising in the studio each week. From there I decide what’s teachable, fun and physically effective in a group setting. If I’m in a creative rut, I’ll watch a few music videos or go to a dance performance. This gets my mind working in a different way. Honestly, I even get some great choreography ideas watching cheerleaders and dance squads at football and basketball games.

A side note: One of the easiest ways to pump up your creativity is to take other classes and then evolve the moves to become uniquely yours. Conventions are gold mines! I wish I had more time to do this.

I’m a believer in a progressive teaching method. Start with the most basic position or movement and develop it from there. In any class I try to integrate options so that members understand the choices they have as they learn. I’ve found that no one, beginner or advanced, wants to feel her time is wasted. You have to be as thorough, precise and succinct as possible.

My single most important message to instructors is to know your “stuff.” Study your craft and know it inside out. Understand the purpose and goal of every choice you make, so that you provide learning beyond the immediate workout. A great instructor has complete understanding of body mechanics and designs classes that connect in some way to all participants, whatever their level. It’s extremely important to watch individual performance and be able to adjust your cues or teaching method on the spot. Affirm great performance, build confidence and take pride in watching members move from one level to the next.

I risked failure. I opened a gym at age 25, which was a major step. Applying to present at IDEA after attending twice was another defining moment. I produced my first fitness video soon after that. Like many other instructors, I doubted I was good enough to step up to the next level. It was too easy to focus on my weaknesses rather than my strengths. If you truly believe you have something more to share, research a way, plan a strategy and give it your best effort. There is no loss greater than not trying.

It’s too hard to choose just one! I am consistently overwhelmed by the stories I hear, even after so many years of teaching. Oddly enough, many are reluctantly shared if not physically evident. I have several class members who have lost between 50 and 150 pounds over time and have discovered the strength and joy within their own bodies. The effect this has had on their families, coworkers and friends is immeasurable. I have numerous cancer survivors, many recovered addicts and several members with metal pins, plates or reconstructions. I teach people who have lost husbands, children, parents and jobs—yet they all find the healing process of movement a resource of hope. I am humbled and inspired to continue teaching—somehow—forever.

Never stop learning. Set the bar high and be a great representative of our profession. We reflect each other and ultimately affect how the industry is perceived. It’s a big responsibility to teach the public about fitness. Take the opportunity seriously and make a difference in your community. Believe it or not, it will have repercussions all over the world.

I change my fitness routine as often as possible and keep my strength and flexibility in a good balance. I teach a variety of formats, which helps. That way I’m not putting the same stresses in the same places all the time. I always try to hear the initial messages my body sends when something’s not right. Then I try to figure out the movement culprit. Ideally, I make changes by simply restructuring a workout. I love to be physical, push hard and participate in all types of semi-extreme sports. I don’t exactly play it safe all the time, so I know the risk of injury is always there. I’m a firm believer in seeing a sports medicine doctor or a physical therapist whenever needed.

If an instructor realizes that—on any given day—his or her class may be the one positive catalyst in a person’s life and approaches it with that importance, our industry will continue to thrive. It can have the opposite effect if quality, effectiveness and inclusiveness aren’t always in the forefront. It doesn’t matter if you’re teaching an advanced, beginner or multilevel class; encourage change and growth in both yourself and your members.

We are a service industry. We should never lose sight of what is important to our clients and then be willing to adapt. We are the best examples of a healthy lifestyle, and for better or worse, our participants watch us. Our gift to the public is long-term, empowering and far-reaching. We must continue to learn and question the choices we make every day.