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Thriving as an Introvert in an Extroverted Role

Not all group fitness instructors are in-your-face energetic, and that’s okay.

Introvert peeking out from behind a curtain on stage

As a group exercise instructor, you’re in the motivation business. You know firsthand the many benefits of exercise, including that natural feel-good buzz that follows a workout. You likely started teaching because you wanted to share that feeling with others and to help people on their wellness journeys, but being an introvert can pose challenges.

“I love teaching, but boy it can suck the life out of me,” says Preston Berry Blackburn, an instructor in Richmond, Virginia. “I’m exhausted afterwards; not from [teaching], but from the ‘give’ of putting it out there.”

Blackburn isn’t alone. Maybe you’re one of the many introverted instructors who, even after years of leading movement, find that their hearts race before teaching and that, following a class, they need some serious downtime.

But wait, you work in the fitness industry—aren’t you supposed to be outgoing and extroverted? This is a myth, but it still warrants exploration.

What Is an Introvert?

Introverts, extroverts and ambiverts are categories of personality characteristics that reflect how we derive our energy. We all exhibit certain behavioral patterns. Individuals may fall closer to one end of the introversion-extroversion continuum than the other, or they may be more in the middle, like an ambivert. Like most things in life, behavioral psychology is not a simple formula. Someone may act a particular way in one situation and a different way in another. But certain trends tend to surface.

Introverts are “reflective, private, thoughtful individuals” (Houston 2021). In social settings, they are often reserved and may try to avoid mingling, opting to meet in smaller venues or choosing to spend time alone. That’s not to say they are unsociable, but they prefer to avoid overwhelming situations.

At the other end of the spectrum are extroverts, who are generally “gregarious, assertive, adaptive, happy individuals with a tendency to take risks” (Houston 2021). They thrive on energy and seek engaging social interactions. Extroverts have no issue with being the center of attention; in fact, they love it.

Extroversion and introversion play an important role in how we direct and derive energy. For example, after a long day teaching, an introvert prefers to go home to a quiet space and “reboot.” An extrovert might be more likely to gather co-workers and hit a club or restaurant. The energy gleaned in these scenarios comes from internal or external stimuli, both with a recharge goal.

One end of the introversion-extroversion spectrum isn’t better than the other. However, it helps to recognize where you are on the continuum and how best to care for your needs.

“I’m introverted, but for me it just means that after putting on a big show, I need to hide away somewhere for a while until I feel recharged,” says Karyn Silenzi, a fitness instructor from Calgary, Alberta.

Maybe you have always known that you’re an introvert, or maybe your personality has changed over the years. Usually there are signs early in life. For example, perhaps group projects were your least favorite thing to do, or perhaps you were told you were a good student, but your teacher wished you’d speak up more in class. Even if you can no longer hide behind a school locker, there are things you can do, starting with understanding how you manage external stimuli and recognizing how you expend energy.

See also: How to Increase Confidence and Fitness Class Size

Group Mindset

As an introvert in the extroverted fitness industry, you may often face uncomfortable instances that go against your nature. It’s likely that you gravitated toward fitness because you wanted to help others, or perhaps you made it a goal to be as outgoing and “on” as your favorite instructor. You can create your own safety bubble with mindset adjustments.

Jacquie Stebbings, certified life coach and owner of CentreStone Coaching in North Vancouver, Canada, acknowledges that a disconnection between workplace environment and personality type can cause discord, regardless of the situation. “If we ask anyone to do anything contrary to their natural instincts, it can be exhausting,” says Stebbings. If people choose to go into an environment that is challenging for them, they either need to “dig deep to get through it or find some support.” Therein lies the solution. Creating coping mechanisms and finding support are key to not burning out or leaving the industry.

To harness a successful approach, Stebbings uses mindset coaching, which is based on the understanding that your thoughts directly influence how you feel and that your feelings create actions (results). Stebbings emphasizes that your thoughts may be the only thing you can control. In simple terms: If you think you can, you can, and if you think you can’t, you can’t.

One key to finding alignment in an extroverted environment is to choose, and connect with, a positive mantra, such as “I can do this,” “I am a confident leader” or “I am an outgoing and inspiring instructor.”

Affirmations aren’t enough, though. “It’s not just about choosing a mantra—you must repeat it over and over again, because the only way to truly create a new thought is to put it on repeat,” stresses Stebbings. Thinking and repeating positive thoughts (including on days when you’re not teaching) may enable you to find your voice.

See also: How to Keep Attendees in Class

Coping Hacks for Introverts

Introvert with hands on face to cope

Try these different coping hacks to better prepare for classes.

Stepping away from the group environment is not possible when you teach fitness classes. With that in mind, there are different coping hacks that instructors can try, in addition to working with mindset.

Before class, prepare your workout and make sure all the equipment is available and ready. This simple first step eliminates an extra level of stress. To further boost your comfort level, arrive early and mingle, as counterintuitive as that may sound. Break the ice by chatting with one or two participants. Creating bonds in this way will help ease your nerves, and then, as you teach, you can connect with familiar faces in the crowd.

Next, recognize that you’re front and center for just a short time. Tell yourself the class will be over in 60 minutes and that, soon enough, you’ll be able to recharge. Teresa Kelts of Davison, Michigan, has been teaching fitness classes for 35 years and has her own little ritual. “When I get in my car after teaching, I turn the radio off, or I select the spa station to help me recharge.”

Another tip: Remind yourself that you have the power to do the “telling” and not answer questions, which is a relief for some introverts who don’t like to talk about themselves. While it’s common to make yourself available for questions after class, if it’s too uncomfortable, share your email address and invite people to send you their questions. You might also schedule time between classes to find a quiet spot, perhaps in a secluded corner of the locker room, or to head outdoors for a quick walk. Avoid a crowded and noisy staff room, if possible.

Last, consider limiting the amount of subbing you do. Don’t overbook or overschedule yourself, because downtime is important. And use technology to your advantage. The “breathe” feature on your smartwatch may be the mini reset you need until you find some true decompression time.

Group Social

In social situations, extroverts and introverts take different approaches. Extroverts tend to speak more and make more eye contact, even with strangers. In a class with a sea of unknown faces, extroverted instructors are better at reading the energy in the room because they have “the extrovert advantage” (Houston 2021). Because of their experience in social settings, they’re better at decoding nonverbal signals. This helps them respond “correctly” and connect better. Introverts must make a greater effort in group settings, working harder to make eye contact and challenging themselves to create a larger presence than their outgoing equals.

Heavy social media users see themselves as more outgoing, according to Houston. Some introverts love the “shield” of social media, which lets them share a little, but not too much. Others feel completely overwhelmed by social media and the incessant need to keep up; to them, it’s exhausting. If doing social media is a job requirement or you need it to build your online presence, it may be beneficial to hire someone to maintain your account.

See also: Tips on Teaching Virtual Fitness Classes

You Are Not Alone As an Introvert

Being an introvert has its advantages. So writes Susan Cain in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Random House 2013). Cain reminds us of the dangers of listening only to the loudest voice in the room.

Introverts have their own set of superpowers. If you’re an introvert, you may be surprised by how many fitness professionals, industry presenters and famous people have confessed they would rather stay in at night wearing a cozy pair of slippers than head out to the bright lights in stilettos. It’s not unusual for performers to be introverts who can tap into an inner “alter ego superstar” when they need to. As a group fitness instructor, you’re also a performer who can leverage that inner superstar. You just have to put your mind to it.



A Note for Group Fitness Managers

If you’re a group fitness manager, whether introverted or extroverted, it may be a good idea to reflect on your leadership style and give a nod to your less-outgoing staff members. Extroverts are vocal and outgoing, and they tend to flourish in group activities. Introverts tend to think first and act later; sometimes their voices get lost in group-think/group-speak projects. It’s important to recognize that you may only be hearing one side of the team equation.

To help introverts feel more welcome, provide time before a meeting for team members to reflect on what you’re asking. Also, welcome feedback after the meeting via text or message. Introverts like to present their work in private with “intermittent communication rather than a constant flow” (Houston 2021). If you’re an introvert and an instructor asks for feedback, it’s okay to say, “May I get back to you?” Just be sure to follow up.

Introverted Instructors Have a Voice

If you ever feel like the odd teacher out, think again. Here are some reflections from other self-proclaimed introverted group fitness instructors:

 

“I used to dread going to fitness conferences because I was surrounded by all these uber-outgoing, bubbly people and didn’t fit in. I know I’m not the most energetic, animated instructor, by far, but I still try to make one-on-one connections with participants before and after class so they’ll feel welcomed and appreciated.”

—Carri Crowther Roller, Fort Collins, Colorado

 

“I love people, exercising with them and the energy they bring. Their energy gives me energy! I am not crazy or wild, I don’t dance or goof off, but I do have fun, and I hope it’s contagious. We connect, we sweat and we enjoy! After each class, I definitely need silence and time to myself to regenerate. I have to make that time a priority to be the best I can be in the moment.”

—Sarah Stein, Champlin, Minnesota

 

“Think about why you wanted to do what you do. Most likely, it was to help others change their lives and learn to love fitness or something along those lines. Not every instructor has to be ‘hype.’ In fact, I, as an introvert, find it a little ungenuine at times. You will likely connect with each individual on more of a personal level, but also offer specific education. Just be you!”

—Amber Nollen, Mediapolis, Iowa

 

“Thanks to a prior career in public relations, I’ve learned to get pretty good at playing the part until I’m actually comfortable in the part. But I can need an hour of doing literally nothing after class, just to get recharged and refocused.”

—Sarah Fuhrmann, Houghton, Michigan

 

“I am very introverted and so shy that I had an assignment to write words to a song. The last verse went like this: Now for some insights, as you do not know me. Shy and an introvert, don’t take no selfies. Fitness professional, how can that be? I am an actress, and that’s who they see. I grew up on stage, which is a great escape, because I am not ‘me’ when I am on stage; I’m the character. I have been playing the role of ‘fitness instructor’ for more than 37 years now, and while I am an actress while teaching, it has no bearing on how much I really do care about my students and their well-being.”

—Jennifer Howes, Rolling Hills Estates, California

References

Cain, S. 2013. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. New York: Random House.

Houston, E. 2021. Introvert vs extrovert: A look at the spectrum and psychology. PositivePsychology.com. Accessed July 2021: positivepsychology.com/introversion-extroversion-spectrum/.

Krista Popowych

Krista Popowych inspires fitness leaders, trainers and managers around the globe with her motivating sessions. She is the 2014 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and a three-time (2016, 2008, 2003) canfitpro Canadian Fitness Presenter of the YearShe is Keiser’s global director of education, as well as a Balanced Body® master trainer, JumpSport® consultant, DVD creator, published writer, Adidas-sponsored fit pro and IDEA Group Fitness Committee member.

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