Joy Prouty is an industry innovator and has mentored many group fitness instructors over the years. She was a 2005 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year finalist and is president and owner of Fitness Programming Inc., an education and training program for instructors of the 50-plus, deconditioned and rehabilitative markets. Prouty is zealous about health, fitness and wellness and draws from her many years of experience to educate, inspire and motivate others.

What have been the biggest changes in the fitness industry since you started?

When I started, the word aerobics wasn’t even in vogue. There has been a lot of change since then. We’ve gone from Jack La Lanne and calisthenics to high-impact classes on cement floors to well-designed programs based on science and research. Instructors are highly trained and certified. Here are some other changes I’ve noticed:

  • For those who put in the time and effort, it’s possible to make fitness a full-time career.
  • There’s been a huge surge in the popularity of yoga and Pilates classes.
  • Core and stability training are on everyone’s schedules, and we are using all types of equipment to teach these programs.
  • Fusion classes are popular.
  • Weight training classes have taken on a different focus.
  • Dance is coming back!

What sources do you tap for new ideas for classes and programs?

Having a business partner (Josie Gardiner) has been a huge benefit. We talk and share ideas almost daily. Coming together with someone who is a “kindred spirit” has helped me stretch and expand my creativity. We have developed so many programs together that it’s difficult to list them. It’s a fun way to expand horizons. One area that we’ve really focused on is fitness for the 50-plus market. We made our first videos about 20 years ago. I also enjoy attending industry conferences and workshops. They are inspirational and educational, and I always get lots of ideas from other instructors.

My students are another big resource for me. Watching the way they react and move has given me great ideas for classes, exercise choices, training and teaching techniques, and programming. Very often, students show and tell me what they need for their workouts without even realizing it. They are my best “laboratory.”

Can you relate the story of a student who particularly exemplifies the Inspire the World to Fitness® call to action?

I’ve been privileged to teach thousands of people during my career. So many have inspired me as I’ve watched them evolve into healthy, fit, strong individuals. One story that I’d like to share is about a very special friend of mine. I first met Don and his wife, Sally, through my fitness classes about 20 years ago. Don was an avid runner and decided to broaden his focus and training to include triathlons. Last year, while out for his morning run on Christmas Eve, he was hit by a car. He hung on to life by a shoestring for about 6 weeks. As a result of his injuries he is now a quadriplegic. I have the privilege of “supplementing” Don’s at-home physical therapy. There is never a day that I work with him that I don’t come away smiling and feeling great. He has that effect on people! His life, faith, will, drive, commitment and love pour out to everyone he has contact with. He is determined to work again (hospital administration) and to get stronger every day. He definitely exemplifies the essence of Inspire the World to Fitness.

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

This is an easy question to answer.

  • I became certified.
  • I continued my education at every opportunity.
  • I realized that I have only just begun to learn.
  • I became absolutely fearless in stepping out and learning, trying new things and taking on challenges.
  • I know to always go back to the basics.

How do you teach to a multilevel class?

It’s rare that a class isn’t multilevel! The trick is to plan and choose exercises and movement patterns that set people up for success. Then it’s a matter of building—whether it’s choreography, weight increments, equipment or class complexity. Give people permission to choose what’s best for them.

First teach the basic move, then add a bit more, then a bit more, then back off and do something in the middle. The advanced students will “take off” and do the most advanced move. The beginning participants need to see what to do and to feel they are part of class. Praise keeps everyone motivated.

What advice do you have for new instructors?

Find your passion!

  • Study, read, and go to workshops that interest you.
  • Continue to learn at every opportunity.
  • Get certified.
  • Experiment, and push yourself to find what feels right for you.
  • Be true to yourself, not just the latest trend.
  • Find a mentor.
  • Get active in organizations like IDEA that give you an opportunity to share with instructors of all levels.
  • Apply to present at fitness conferences.
  • Develop training programs and share them as much as possible.

How do you avoid injuries?

This seems easy to answer, but avoiding injuries is often challenging. What I do [to protect myself] is “cross-teach.” When I set up my teaching schedule, I try to vary classes. This keeps me physically, mentally and emotionally healthy. I listen to my body, eat right, stay hydrated and get enough sleep! The most challenging thing is to say no. There are times when saying no to others is a big yes to myself. Taking care of myself keeps me healthy and injury free so that I can give my best to the people I teach and love.

What’s the best way for fitness professionals to get involved in their communities?

  • Talk to local charity groups and find out what fundraising activities they have planned for the year.
  • Contact your local chamber of commerce and learn about events in your area that you may be able to turn into a warm-up, a workout, etc.
  • If you like working with older people, visit nursing homes. The residents enjoy having someone come in to lead a fun class.
  • Contact schools or local Parent Teacher Associations to see if you can organize an event for children (“Walk Around the World,” Fitness Awareness Day, etc.).
  • Most civic groups (Rotary Club, Kiwanis, etc.) are looking for speakers. Find out who the program chairpersons are in your area and volunteer to give a fitness talk.
  • Contact your local and/or cable television stations. They sometimes look for interesting stories on the “latest” fitness trends. Offer to do a “weekly update”!

There are so many opportunities to get involved. Remember that in giving to your community you receive so much more in return!