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Creative Education

Candice Copeland Brooks offers advice on how to continually re-invent yourself.

1988 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year Candice Copeland Brooks is fondly remembered by many IDEA members as one of the best (and only) professional resources during the budding days of group exercise. Her unique sequencing, pattern-building techniques, and dedication to inventing new choreography inspired numerous group fitness instructors to develop their careers. The author of many books and manuals, she has produced and starred in lots of fitness videos and continues to educate the industry.

The biggest changes I’ve seen are the increasing levels of education among group fitness instructors and personal trainers and the incredible programming variety. These two things have advanced the fitness movement. I had a degree in physical education when I started teaching, but at that time there were no certifications specific to group fitness or personal training. My “continuing education” was limited. To create classes, I had to either draw from my dance and gymnastics background or go to other instructors’ classes and decide whether their moves would be appropriate for my clientele.

Certifications are now required by most clubs, specialty certificates are available in many areas, and more and more fitness professionals are getting degrees in exercise science–related fields. I believe the higher levels of education are responsible for the growth in programming. The more we seek out new information, the more creative we can be in developing ideas that appeal to all types of clients.

I still love to lead classes, but I have a limited teaching schedule because more of my time is spent training and consulting. However, teaching is my first love. If I’m feeling burned-out or stale, I step up my teaching load and get back to the core of what being a fitness professional means to me—interacting with a class or a personal training client.

The main sources I tap for ideas are my clientele, conventions and different fitness and health publications. I communicate with clients regarding their goals, limitations and personal preferences, and then I strive to meet their needs with creative programming. When I’m leading workshops [at a convention], I try to attend a couple of other sessions and listen to new ideas. My husband, Douglas, is an exercise physiologist who loves to read new research. We work together to combine science and creative, practical ideas. I also stretch out of my comfort zone regularly and try something totally new. You never know what will “ring your bell” and help you move in fresh new directions.

I never put myself in a box or limited what could happen to my career—and it has been one surprise after another! I started teaching “aerobics” classes in Los Angeles, and a client offered me the chance to open my own studio. Instructors came from far away to take classes, which led me to create workshops. I traveled all over the world presenting. Then people started asking for resources, so Douglas and I began our self-publishing and video-production company. We’ve had opportunities to develop programming for exciting products such as the BOSU® Balance Trainer. We try not to look too far ahead, and we eagerly anticipate whatever opportunities come next.

So many people have inspired me that I don’t know where to start! There is Nancy, who slowly lost more than 100 pounds and was so motivated by the encouragement she found in group fitness that she’s now a leader for a fundraising marathon organization. She also leads group runs and completes marathons herself. John is a former rocket scientist who, after retiring at age 60, decided to get into shape in cycling classes. We do outdoor rides in the summer and fall, and he can beat us all on our favorite 9-mile, uphill climb. And then there’s Kendra, who exercised while she went through a year of chemotherapy. She empowers others fighting their own battles. People like these keep me believing in the power that fitness has to improve the quality of everyone’s life. They inspire me to keep learning and teaching as long as I can.

I cross-train with the seasons and try to balance the components of my personal workouts with the classes I teach. Twenty-five years ago I taught four or five classes a day. Several of those were high-impact workouts. I also ran 4–5 miles a day to “clear my head.” After many injuries, I learned the hard way that rest and balance have to be in the equation along with impact and intensity. Since then, I’ve taught a variety of classes that challenge my body in different ways. In my personal workouts I balance cardio activities such as cycling and cross-country skiing with plenty of strength training and stretching. And since I’ve taken up motocross because my husband and sons love it, I also pray to avoid injuries!

Live what you believe. Your priorities dictate your actions, and a healthy lifestyle will say more to your clients than any words. Realize that you can make a difference for someone in every class you teach. The industry will grow in a positive direction as a result of your caring heart, encouraging words and energetic instruction. Be humble about learning, and be willing to change so that you can provide the best service possible to those who value your expertise. Keep your finger on the pulse of society, try to anticipate trends in fitness and health, and move forward with confidence!

Keep learning and challenging yourself to try new sports, activities or workout styles. Be open to new ideas, and don’t resist change. It’s more exciting to be on the front edge of the curve than to wait until everyone else is doing something. Stay passionate about your love for fitness by seeking out opportunities to interact with other fitness and wellness professionals; this can enhance your interaction with clients. Always be aware that your professional conduct reflects on other fitness instructors and the industry as a whole. And be respectful of your own body so you can be teaching, training and inspiring people to fitness for a long time.

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