With his dynamic personality, innovative moves and ability to inspire, Len Kravitz, PhD, exemplified the best qualities of a fitness instructor in 1987, when he won the first IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year award. Now he teaches future fitness professionals in his role as program coordinator of exercise science and researcher at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where he recently won the Outstanding Teacher of the Year award. A passion for what he does plus a love of learning has proven to be Kravitz’s formula for success.
What have been the biggest changes in the industry since you won the IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year award?
The industry has grown immensely in the classes, courses and programs we offer. During the 1987 era, so many programs were founded in high/low-impact classes. Today the variety is incredibly expansive. I’m proud to say that we have extensively developed our scientific and professional-application knowledge base as well. The modern-day fitness professional has not only one or more certifications but also advanced education in other areas of interest. Personal training has evolved in the dimensions of business, services and professionalism.
How did you make the transition from a fitness instructor to a well-known academic?
I actually accidentally “fell” into the fitness industry. As a former competitive gymnast, I have always been fascinated with the human body and its movement potential. In my master’s thesis, I wanted to compare different types of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching to static stretching techniques in a large sample population. In a university setting, the big classes for such a study are the aerobic exercise classes. So I learned how to teach high-low as a necessity in order to do my thesis. I enjoyed this experience so much that I focused my career on the fitness industry upon completing my master’s degree.
I taught group fitness for many years, and then the desire to learn and research led me to my doctoral studies. It was during this time that I gradually made the transition from a physical activity instructor to a classroom academic and lecturer. However, each year I teach a group exercise methods class for exercise science students at the University of New Mexico. This class teaches the foundations of instructing small and large classes. I enjoy this, as it reminds me of my “roots” in the industry. I feel very fortunate that we have so many outstanding professionals. It is from these wonderful colleagues—whom I respect and admire—that I tap my ideas.
How do you avoid injuries?
I really like to exercise every day. However, this is not always possible when I travel. I constantly modify and change my workouts. I find this really helps me avoid the overuse injuries I used to experience.
Can you relate a story of a particularly inspiring student who exemplifies the Inspire the World to Fitness® call to action?
In the course of my travels, I have met some unique “turnaround” persons. These fascinating individuals have described their previous lifestyles as ones of inactivity, overweight or obesity, depression and lack of will. Although each had different motivations, I have met them as vibrant, highly active, inspirational persons who have positively turned their lives around to be enormously satisfying and enriching. Lifestyle change is so difficult, and yet to meet people who have gone through such metamorphic life changes re-emphasizes to me that anything is possible.
What was the smartest thing you did to grow your career?
Two things. First, I always follow my passion. I absolutely love what I do. Second, education has opened more doors for me than I could imagine. I love learning and love the formal (BS, MS/MA, PhD) educational system.
What advice do you have for new and existing instructors?
I feel very fortunate to have met the most wonderful friends and mentors from my involvement in the fitness industry. I maintain a “Thoughts and Ideas” ledger and share my Kravitz Top 10 with my colleagues.
1. On self-improvement: The largest room in the world is the room for improvement.
2. On professional development: Capitalize on how you differ from others. Promote these assets to the fullest.
3. On dealing with industry changes: Change is the law of life. Your mind is like a parachute; it functions only when open.
4. On business ventures: Business is like a wheelbarrow; it stands still until you pick it up and push it.
5. On luck: The harder I work, the luckier I get. Remember, triumph is just “umph” added to “try.”
6. On goal setting: If your mind can conceive it and your heart can believe it, then you can achieve it.
7. On breaking out of “ruts”: The toughest form of mountain climbing is getting out of a rut.
8. On life: Life is like riding a bicycle; you don’t fall off unless you stop pedaling.
9. On your professional services: Don’t promise more than you can deliver; deliver more than you can promise.
10. On being a role model: It isn’t good enough to teach a message; be the message.
What can group fitness instructors do on a daily basis to further the positive growth of the industry?
Continually motivate and inspire students and clients to attain their health and fitness goals. Not only will this improve the quality of life of those you teach, but it will also make you feel that much better about who you are and what you do.
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