If you happened to catch Robert Steigele’s session “Up, Down and All Around” at IDEA Fitness Fusion—Chicago last April, you already know about his keen sense for choreography and multiplanar movement. Steigele is based out of Toronto and draws upon a diverse background and more than 18 years of fitness experience. He is a consummate professional who has enjoyed success as a group exercise instructor, personal fitness trainer and writer. As a fitness educator, he has a strong passion and desire to share his fresh concepts with as many people as possible. Steigele is a master trainer for Resist-A-Ball®, heading up the Canadian team. He was the 2001 Sports Clubs of Canada Instructor of the Year and the novice champion and bronze medalist in the 1994 Canadian National Aerobic Championships.

What sources do
you tap for new ideas?

I read magazines and attend other instructors’ classes. Sometimes all it takes is just seeing or hearing about something that is different from what you do. This can make you realize that you can incorporate this same idea or maybe create a new workout. When I first saw soft medicine balls, they were being used in a mind-body class. I saw the potential for them in my stability ball class and started trying different ways to integrate them into what I was already doing. I particularly appreciate how the medicine balls can be used for tossing and release-and-catch moves. This is a great way to get more core activation while refining hand-eye coordination.

How do you stay motivated?

I stay motivated by keeping things fresh. You’d be surprised how inspiring using new music or putting together new choreography can be. When you are enjoying the class yourself, the participants have more fun and you, in turn, feed off of their energy. Also, it is important to take some downtime to avoid burning out. I take a couple of weeks of vacation a year. During this time I don’t teach classes or give workshops; and no, I won’t even check my e-mails. This is my time to recharge my batteries, and I often come back with renewed energy, motivated to tackle new projects.

What was the smartest thing you did to grow your career?

Networking! I made connections and kept those connections going. My advice is never burn any bridges. Get to know the players in your local area so that they know who you are. Meet people at workshops or conferences, and exchange business cards or e-mail addresses. Get to know people in allied health fields such as chiropractors, naturopaths and massage therapists, as well as personal fitness trainers who might specialize in a different area than you do. You never know when that connection might come in handy.

What is your
favorite ab section?

I like to target the core for both mobility and stability. It’s important to approach the core from different planes and directions. Your typical elbow plank/hover position should also be done as a side plank. Trunk curls/crunches should include diagonal movements for the obliques as well as reverse curls and should be complemented by extension movements for the back. I use the stability ball as often as possible since studies have shown that it promotes greater activation of the core muscles compared with doing exercises on the floor alone.

Who is your most inspiring class participant and why?

I can’t think of just one inspiring person, since I’ve been in this industry for almost 20 years now. It’s very rewarding to turn someone on to fitness. There are people to whom I taught their very first cycle, step or ball class, and they now make it a regular part of their routine. If their initial experience hadn’t been positive, they wouldn’t have stuck with the exercise for very long. I also feel rewarded when I am able to motivate participants to turn fitness into a career.

What advice do you have for new instructors?

New instructors should learn the basics of teaching. This includes clear cuing, positive feedback and understanding group dynamics so that every participant feels included in the class. Also, they should know the proper technique for whatever type of class they’re teaching. Instructors are role models. It’s a good idea for a novice instructor to work with an experienced instructor who is willing to help. Good mentors will allow new instructors to teach small portions of their class at first, like the warm-up or core conditioning, and then provide them with constructive feedback so that they can improve their skills. This can be very helpful for someone just getting started.

How do you avoid injuries?

The best way to avoid injuries is to listen to your body. Minor aches and pains can go from acute to chronic when ignored, requiring 3 weeks or 3 months of recovery rather than 3 days. I also try to make sure there is variety in my schedule to avoid overuse injuries, and I cross train so that I get a balance
between muscular strength and endurance, cardio and flexibility. On a semiregular basis I get massages or chiropractic treatments to keep my body working well.

What can group fitness
instructors do on a daily
basis to further the positive growth of the industry?

It really comes down to two things: how you regard yourself and how you regard others. For yourself: be the best that you can be! Be present, live in the moment. Enjoy what you do! For others: be positive and supportive of all participants,
especially newcomers.