Burnout: Old topic for many instructors, but new to me! What can I do to overcome the burned-out feeling I’ve had lately when teaching? I can’t afford to take a break from instructing fitness classes. Plus, my club is facing a real instructor shortage right now. So, what else can I do to get out of my blah rut and be excited again about my classes?

Lisa Wheeler

New York, New York

First, recognize that variety is the spice of life and a great way to keep motivated. I have had success with many of the following tips:

  • First thing to consider—and easiest to do—is to change your music. New music should alleviate boredom immediately.
  • Depending on your facility’s schedule and setup, try to add variety by teaching a range of classes. If you are in a rut teaching a lot of step classes, for example, then give up a few step classes in exchange for a different type. Maybe another instructor will trade for a yoga class.
  • In addition to teaching new formats, look for ways to make changes within the classes you have. For example,
    if you always have your participants face forward, then turn them to the back or side. Or consider new locations: Can you go outdoors for some or all of a class?
  • Have regulars lead part of a combo
    or exercise.
  • Break the class into groups instead
    of always working as one unit.
  • Look at ways to make money in our industry outside of teaching weekly classes. For example, conduct teacher-training programs in your area or club.
  • Become a student again. I get so
    motivated when I attend someone else’s workshop or go through an
    intense training. Find something that really interests you, whether
    it is yoga, Pilates, dance or athletic training. See if your club will
    sponsor or subsidize you to attend
    a training intensive and bring back all those wonderful ideas for the
    rest of the staff.

Even though you say you cannot
afford to take a break, the reality is we sometimes need to do exactly that. In our line of work, it is very hard to take time out for ourselves, but it is so important. We advise our students to take care of themselves, and we should listen to our own advice.


Traci Bacon

Tecate, Mexico

As a full-time fitness instructor at a
destination spa, I teach a lot of classes every day, over and over. Monday through Friday, I am submerged in
the hospitality environment: teaching, assisting and personal training. Every week brings a new group of eager, excited, deconditioned folks here to take it all in. And every week I start with the same basics and can only progress the group so far in the short time (usually one week) that attendees spend with me. Through the years, I have learned several valuable techniques to “battle the burnout.”

1. Look at the Class From a “Beginner’s Mind.” That is, imagine this is your first time as a student in a fitness class. Remember that feeling? I do. Everything was foreign, and I relied
on every word the instructor said and honed in on every look that was given. But I was excited and eager to learn what the heck a step-touch was. My
instructor was so enthusiastic about
the class that, like a sponge, I soaked in the energy and just tried to have fun. Approach every class as though it were the only one that mattered.

2. Vary the Class Format. Same room, same teaching platform, same faces, same equipment, same blah, blah, blah. So change it. Change anything! Change your position in the room, change the angle, team teach, use a different piece of equipment. Not only will you be embracing the change, but your students will be ecstatic about doing something new. Whenever I get that feeling of, “Oh no, not another water class,” I stop sniffling and vow to make one simple change that will create new energy. I have made a deal with myself to change at least one thing about a class every time I teach it. And it really does help.

3. Increase Time Spent on Your Own Workouts. Feeling as though you never work out for yourself anymore? That you are always giving and rarely receiving? Then try out a new class from a colleague, or better yet, arrange a one-on-one private session on a trade basis. You’d be surprised what your coworkers have to offer that will spice up not only your life but the lives of your participants. I do that with Pilates, a class that I don’t teach. Once I realized that I was missing the joy of taking classes, since
I was always teaching, I began private Pilates sessions. Now I am incorporating Pilates cues into my repertoire and also reaping the benefits of personal satisfaction.

4. Choreograph Less Choreography. Sound scary? Try it. Approach your next step class with just a vague outline. Go back to the basics. Create moves based on what your participants are
already doing. Maybe it’s a different arm move, a turn, something flashy, something funky. Encourage your students to do the work, without having you dictate every move. In a salsa-
aerobics class that I teach, we do the whole routine through several times. Toward the end, I give everyone a
number. All the “number ones” come
to the front and face the “twos.” The “twos” become the “teaching group on stage,” performing the whole routine (with my help) for the “ones.” Everyone cheers, claps, hoots and hollers,
and it’s no longer a regular “workout.” Instead, it’s just dancing and having
a great time. Relieve yourself of the “Do, cue, always new” mentality. This approach also works for cycling, water or boot camp. Keep it simple, and
keep them moving.

Remember that teaching fitness is about having fun. And that fun should include you, too!