Prior to 2020, group fitness instructors worked in another world, often governed by metrics. Success was measured by head count and attendance, member feedback, and class (and instructor) comparisons. Add to this the need to stay current with continuing education, the explosion of sometimes undereducated social media influencers, and competition among fitness companies that limits business collaboration, and our end-users—the people we’re trying to help—often got left out in the cold.

Even with sold-out classes and rave reviews, instructors struggled to stay relevant, which often led to rivalries and in-fighting that drained their energy. Let’s put those challenges aside, though, and focus on why we chose to wear the mic and stand in front of a crowd in the first place: to serve movement-hungry consumers.

According to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, only 1 in 5 Americans had a club membership in 2019, leaving a significant portion of the population untapped and brands vying to win the same limited market segment (Dominic 2020). Then, the pandemic took the ground from under us, providing us an opportunity to change the way we teach classes and approach our careers.

What if veteran instructors and fitness leaders who represent business competitors came together to discuss how to work as a team so that everyone could thrive in this new ecosystem? Could we all learn to collaborate so that, as a service-oriented industry, we’d improve the quality of knowledge and programming for everyone?

Business collaboration involves harnessing the power of multiple people or organizations to achieve goals beyond what one person can achieve. Our primary role as fitness instructors is to assist all people with their health and well-being. And it starts with you. Let’s explore the notion that, yes, we can put our differences aside and contribute to moving the health and wellness industry forward.

The Benefit of Sharing Information

How did you start teaching? Were you the front-row fan recruited by your instructor? Did seasoned pros take you under their wing? This industry was built on sharing knowledge through structured training—certification programs or workshops—and through mentor-protégé relationships, which could be formal arrangements or not. Some of us simply absorbed and applied what we learned from other fitness leaders. Others came up through the ranks of strong brands, connected to a particular ethos. One is not better than the other, and fighting is counterproductive.

Cori Parks, MS, a master trainer for Mad Dogg Spinning® in Vienna, Virginia, believes that while brand-specific training affiliates you with your company, your task is to extrapolate knowledge and best practices from others with the intention of passing it on for the greater good—to give what you take. Parks shares what her mentor told her many years ago: “You don’t have to give everyone your greatness. Your job is to help people find their greatness. You are touching the people that you have not and never will meet by helping others learn to be good instructors.”

Apply this to your own career by staying current on trends, equipment and class formats while staying true to your commitments within an organization. They aren’t mutually exclusive.

Fitness Business Collaboration for Competitors

A lot of people think success is a limited resource and sharing space or ideas with others reduces potential. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Multiple companies successfully provide the same product or service. The trick is to understand what drives consumer behavior and not to waste time dissing approaches that differ from yours.

As an international master trainer with Schwinn®, Doris Thews of Laguna Beach, California, 2019 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year, has trained thousands of instructors and witnessed many disruptions, including the boutique cycling studio boom. Despite the differences between traditional and nontraditional cycling classes, Thews says, “we have never sold more bikes.” As boutiques became a major player, both sides got a peek into why people want to “ride a bike in the dark going nowhere.” From there, instructors either doubled down on their pet methods or incorporated aspects of the boutique model that could appeal to the membership base while attracting new participants.

The pandemic leveled the playing field, but new players will continue to challenge the status quo. Take this as a chance to welcome fresh points of view and see if you can learn something that will improve your teaching. As a representative of several brands, Thews believes in respecting others, knowing that one size does not fit all and understanding that the common goal is to get people moving.

See also: 5 Lessons From Virtual Fitness Companies

A Mindset Shift

The fitness industry has always been evolving, albeit much more slowly than it has in the past 18 months. When change happens over time, disruptions are minimized and seem less consequential. Today, the industry continues to move forward and adapt in two main areas: products and services. Examples of this are on-demand, fitness-at-home business models and fitness technology that tracks and measures health indicators. The landscape is continually changing, and we can all win if we work together.

Krista Popowych of Vancouver, British Columbia, 2014 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and three-time canfitpro Presenter of the Year, is global director of group education for Keiser®. She believes we now have an incredible opportunity to reach a mass audience and inspire even more people. “Trainers, instructors and fitness organizations can make an impact by coming out of the pandemic stronger than we went into it,” she says. “Each of us needs to focus on what we can do. Ask, ‘How can I make a difference, and how can I support others on this journey?’ Taking stock of the changes within the industry requires thinking about which services we provide that will have the biggest impact.”

Popowych believes it’s no longer about brand: “It is about how we can keep the industry strong and help people move.”

Business Collaboration Creates Opportunity

Graphic of people with puzzle pieces

The best leaders understand that community is an integral part of bringing concepts to reality.

Recently, many instructors have voiced concern that brick-and-mortar offerings will become obsolete with the virtual fitness model on the rise. Perhaps a better perspective is to understand that disrupting old ideas and constraints leads to new ideas and services. Innovation is almost always the result of business collaboration rather than the efforts of a single person. The take-home message is to embrace the hybrid (in-person and virtual) model.

Jesse Thomas, MS, international master trainer for Team ICG®, Life Fitness and Myzone from Livermore, California, understands how cross-brand business collaboration and product multiplicity can create diverse and unique experiences for members. “Affiliate products provide more variety, options and opportunities to appeal to more clients and instructors,” he says. “Diversifying the experiences we provide, both within facilities and virtually, means we have the opportunity to reach even more people.” Thomas encourages the industry to look at how we can use people, tools and products to better reach a majority of people. “The more we can shape our users’ experiences and make movement enjoyable, the more everyone wins,” he says.

Building a Community

A team’s success or failure at collaborating reflects the philosophy at the top. The best leaders understand that community is an integral part of bringing concepts to reality and that this involves building and supporting groups. Belonging to a community means sticking together and caring about the success of others. A thriving community discourages cliques and welcomes people with diverging backgrounds. A true community fosters a free exchange of ideas to help everyone succeed.

Javier Santin, Stages Cycling University education manager and lead international master educator from New York City, believes in empowering and educating fitness professionals, regardless of their backgrounds or the tools available. “Learning is learning, regardless of where it comes from,” says Santin. “We are all on the same journey, which is to elevate the fitness industry as a whole—and we have a daunting task ahead.”

Fitness instructors have many resources to turn to for additional education. While these can include like-minded individuals, being open to meeting people with different views will broaden one’s perspective. With this in mind, Santin offers advice when engaging other fitness professionals through social media: “Ask yourself—how much am I bringing to the table to help others, and how much am I feeding my own ego?”

See also: Creating Inclusivity in Fitness Spaces

Risks Within the Collaborative Process

When companies stake their claim within a shared customer base, isn’t it a risky proposition to share resources and ideas? It all depends on the goal that instructors and brands have in common. If the goal is to benefit the masses by providing quality products and services, we must work together and support the consumer’s right to choose. After all, how do you “win” the entire fitness industry? It isn’t a game with a fixed endpoint; the objective is to stay in the game as long as possible. To remain relevant and impactful, we must learn what will serve our members and serve our own endeavors, as well.

Jennifer Sage of Eagle, Colorado, founder of the Indoor Cycling Association, works with instructors who are certified through different brands. While not affiliated with a specific company, she supports all brands equally and understands that when we endorse continued professional education, we all benefit, as do our participants. “I don’t believe there is a risk in cross-collaboration,” she says. “All ships rise in a high tide.”

Sage encourages the industry not to focus solely on sales but rather to raise the mettle of the industry. To do this, we must work together—the benefits outweigh the risks.

Fitness Business Collaboration: A Worthy Objective

Since early 2020, we have seen an instrumental shift in how we conduct business and in how we come together to serve the population at large. The nuances and particulars of our daily activities have diminished, giving way to a common goal. How do we move forward when everything is so different? We’ve seen new business models emerge, new ways of engaging our members, and partnerships on a global scale that were relatively unheard of prior to COVID-19.

As difficult as this has been for many, it has paved the way for new ventures and progressive skill development with a reinvigorated focus on spreading our passion for health and wellness. Let this serve as a call to action to keep working together and shaping our industry for many years to come.

See also: How to Rebuild Your Fitness Career, Part One