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Coping With Instructor Burnout

The new year likely brought with it a crush of new class participants. But then along came spring, and the inevitable happened: As the snow melted, so did resolutions; visits became less frequent as members began suffering from a classic case of burnout. In fact, many fitness professionals also experience burnout. What can you do to stay inspired?

The Case for Burnout

According to Clint Fuqua, a Dallas-based fitness professional, group fitness instructors burn out for essentially the same reasons that clients do: too much, too fast. During the first 3 months of the year, fitness professionals scramble to keep up with all the new members and clients. That rush of business can make it hard to find time to take a break and recover—and that’s what eventually leads to burnout. However, most instructors want to save face. “Clients come to expect the same level of energy from their instructors every day,” observes Fuqua. “If that’s not met, then those clients will start to lose energy and motivation, and they’ll look for a new source.”

Symptoms of instructor burnout can range from a feeling of boredom, to irritation at participants who aren’t making progress, to that general sense that you’re just going through the motions.

And, interestingly, the causes and symptoms of your burnout mirror those of your participants’ weariness. That’s why, with a few tweaks, much of the advice you give your attendees is pertinent for you as well. Read on for ways you can take the classic advice you give to others and make it work for you.

Take a Break

Yes, your participants take a break from time to time. And so should you! “The first thing I recommend when you think you’re approaching burnout is to take a week off to refresh and get motivated,” counsels Reggie Chambers of Reggie Chambers Fitness, New York City. Perhaps the spring lull is an appropriate time to relax and regroup. Use the slow season to come up with new ideas to keep yourself and your participants on track.

Of course, the break doesn’t have to last a whole week—that would be a luxury in many fitness facilities. Instead, you could designate a day each week to recuperate; this can work wonders on a long-term basis. Remember to accommodate your daily activity. And make sure your schedule allows for intermittent breaks during the day, says Fuqua, and have something to look forward to that will help you unwind at night.

Mix It Up

Many instructors walk a fine line between instructing and working out. While your main job is to lead the class in a routine, sometimes you end up demonstrating more than usual—and, if you teach more than one class a day, that can add up. Take a look at your teaching schedule; make sure you’re balancing your classes with your own workout time. These days, it’s easier than ever to diversify and teach several class styles, such as strength, dance, yoga and indoor cycling.

“If instructors teach several classes a week, it takes a special talent to [avoid burnout],” observes Ellen Chevalier, who has been working with clients for 30 years in Worcester, Massachusetts. She recommends cross-training and mixing up class formats—for example, incorporating Tabatas, an AMRAP formula (“as many reps as possible”) or other elements of surprise. The variety is good for the body and the mind, and both class members and instructors benefit. “You can even just vary the music and choreography so every class is different,” she suggests. “Take classes from other instructors, or check out websites that give good ideas for playlists, new movements and formats.” She also advocates getting specialty certifications to help you refresh and stay marketable.

“I make sure that my own workout is different all the time,” Chevalier adds. “You wouldn’t allow your clients to stick with a boring treadmill regime and 8-pound biceps curls forever. You have to mix up your own routine before complacency sets in. There’s always room to improve on something. It’s important to constantly set new goals, whether it’s doing a certain number of push-ups or increasing weight load.”

Be Patient!

Sometimes instructors feel burned out because they don’t see their clients progressing, or because attendance drops off. While it’s fun and rewarding to see members lose weight and get motivated to make lifestyle changes, remember that this is about them, not you. It can be easy to get caught up in thinking that you haven’t had the influence you wanted. But you can’t make someone do something. As Chevalier remarks, “No matter how good your class is, you can’t make people come; it’s up to the individual.”

Remember that everyone reacts differently. If clients are not progressing or expressing enthusiasm, you may feel you’re not getting through to them. But you don’t know what they’re thinking. Chevalier advises you to stay positive and assume that participants were able to take away something useful from each class, even if you can’t tell. “They didn’t get out of shape overnight, and they won’t get back in shape overnight either.”

Maintain Other Healthy Habits

Eating a healthy diet and exercising most days of the week are good habits, but so is taking time to recover. Stagger your early and late days so you have time off for rest and relaxation. And don’t forget to manage your own diet. You may feel smug about the attendee who consistently downs an energy drink and inhales a candy bar right before class, but what about that daily mocha you treat yourself to after you teach?

“Be relentless about your own nutrition,” says Kusha Karvandi, CEO and founder of Exerscribe in San Diego. “Avoid artificial stimulants like energy drinks and preworkout powders, and put your principles into action. Be the [fitness professional] you claim to be, not the [person]who hits the drive-through at Jack in the Box after work. That incongruity not only makes you look bad, but also it’s bad for your body on those long work days.”

Reconnect With Inspiration

You know how the flight attendant tells you to put on your own mask before helping others? Self-care is crucial to career success. In addition to considering all the strategies listed above, it may be helpful to reconnect with the reasons why you began teaching to begin with. If you’re like many fitness professionals, you love helping people and you really want to Inspire the World to Fitness®. When you’re burned out, it’s easy to lose sight of this. Perhaps all you’re thinking about is the extra time it takes you to prepare a playlist or how someone always finds something to complain about. However, have you noticed the new people in the corner who are scared and come to class only because they connect with your teaching style? Maybe you could approach them after class, give them some positive reinforcement and let them know you notice their efforts.

Chevalier advises instructors to remember why they are in the business. “My clients are carving out an hour of their day, so I am motivated to make sure they’re satisfied,” she says. “They are looking for the best, so I go in knowing that I can give that to them.”

The bottom line: You can’t keep your clients fired up if you are burned out. Walk your talk by taking the same classic advice you dole out. This could be the secret to your own continued motivation.

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