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The Pros and Cons of Being a Hobby Instructor

The fitness industry’s reach extends far and wide. In venues ranging from small fitness studios in large cities to huge recreational health and fitness centers in small towns, scores of people rely on fitness professionals for guidance. While personal trainers bring in considerable revenue, group exercise (GX) instructors, on average, might actually “touch” more people. With this in mind, why aren’t there more opportunities for group exercise instructors to teach full-time? The answer is not that simple.

Many group fitness instructors add personal training to their resumé, take on management duties or become fitness presenters or fitness educators in order to earn a full-time paycheck. Wearing only your group fitness hat, it’s nearly impossible to accomplish this unless you’re in a big city and make more than the average hourly rate. So welcome to the wonderful world of the hobby instructor. You love fitness, and you’re passionate about inspiring others, but you end up saying, “I don’t do it for the money.”

It’s admirable that so many people are willing to become certified, spend hours practicing their teaching skills and dish out money for fitness equipment without the promise of a return on investment. On the other hand, teaching “for the fun of it” (and not as a career) can create issues for managers and fellow staff members at health and fitness facilities. Conversely, there are several ways that maintaining part-time status actually serves fitness professionals. Let’s take a look at both sides of the issue and determine how to raise professional standards for all.

The Downside

While being a part-time group exercise instructor has several advantages (see “The Upside”), issues can arise when there are more part-time employees than not. There are, however, ways to turn these challenges around.

Turnover. When a job doesn’t pay the bills, it’s much easier to come and go without concern. From a business and management standpoint, turnover is a killer. Replacing a group exercise instructor costs time and money, and compromises consistent customer care.

Tip #1: Take on group fitness classes only if you know you can stay awhile. Think long and hard before accepting new classes. Keep sub requests to a minimum so managers don’t have to maintain a long list of revolving subs. Volunteer to sub when you can. This will help other group exercise instructors keep their commitments to the facility.

Lack of dedication. Maybe, like many others, you became a fitness professional because you were a fitness enthusiast who could motivate others. While you take your relationship with members seriously and focus on providing the best experiences, sometimes you may forget that your relationship with supervisors, club management and the organization as a whole is equally important.

Tip #2: Regardless of how infrequently you interact with the fitness facilities management, remember that your job exists inside and outside the classroom. Read communications you receive, stay up-to-date on club happenings and remember that you work for the fitness facility, not the members!

Lapsed certifications. Most health and fitness clubs have a minimal certification requirement for teaching. However, depending on how diligently this is managed, it’s not uncommon for instructors to let certifications lapse. It then becomes a large part of the manager’s job to track certifications and remind staff when renewals are due.

Tip #3: Do your manager (and yourself) a favor and be proactive with your certification renewals. Organizations send out notices well in advance or help you track online. Give yourself plenty of time, remind yourself frequently and update your manager in a timely fashion.

Staying educated. Given the fluctuations of supply and demand, managers may sometimes give you classes that don’t match your skill set. These can be great learning opportunities. On the other hand, if you get too comfortable in your routine and are not proactive, you may let time, expense and life get in the way of increasing your knowledge. This is a trap.

Tip #4: Remember that the fitness industry changes constantly. Determine your budget and game plan for fitness education at the start of each year. Never settle. Teaching to a packed room doesn’t mean you can’t learn more! Education is an ongoing process for everyone. Do it because you want to, seek out your own opportunities and help others by sharing your knowledge.

The Upside

Being a part-time group exercise instructor affords you luxuries that full-time status doesn’t. Leverage the following part-time perks to enhance your fitness professionalism:

Passion and enthusiasm. When you aren’t doing something for the money, your motivation must come from elsewhere. Most hobby instructors are passionate about fitness and enthusiastic about helping others feel good. It may also be a bit easier to maintain your passion and enthusiasm about health and fitness when it’s your “escape” from your day job.

Tip #5: Stay motivated by surrounding yourself with like-minded group fitness instructors. Frequently visit relevant websites for motivation (www.ideafit.com) and relish creating successful experiences for participants. Engage with the fitness industry leaders through social media and stay excited about the fitness industry.

Longevity. When you can come and go in a job, it’s easier to stay for the long haul. It’s also fairly easy to find someone to take your place if you need to (you hope!). If teaching is not paying the bills, there’s no downside to taking time off.

Tip #6: Each year, predetermine at least 2 weeks when you will not teach. Your head and body need a break from teaching, just as you need a vacation from your “real job.” Help managers plan accordingly by letting them know your intentions well in advance.

Interest. Demand for instructors is high; therefore, it’s not too challenging or costly to get into the fitness profession. There are many ways to begin a fitness career. While some fitness professionals suggest this diminishes the level of education instructors receive, it is creating quite a pool of talent to fish from.

Tip #7: Encourage anyone who is interested in teaching to get started. However, insist on quality education from reputable health and fitness organizations, take the time to truly understand your craft, and avoid teaching outside your scope of practice. Consider becoming a mentor if you have the means and the knowledge. The fitness industry sorely needs internship opportunities and on-the-job training. Give back if and when you can.

Bottom Line

In the “real world,” a corporation would never survive if 25%–35% of its employees worked only 1–2 hours a week. Working limited hours can negatively impact an employee’s investment in an organization, which can affect the bottom line. Our hobby-instructor world has the potential to create this problem if we aren’t careful.

While some hobby instructors continually go above and beyond, others don’t. And, as the saying goes, it takes only one bad apple to spoil the whole bunch. If you care deeply about group fitness and the fitness industry, put pressure on those who don’t and help elevate our profession from the inside out.

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