Unless you’re extremely fortunate, quality instructors are not knocking down your door begging for work. Instead, you likely find yourself cycling through recently certified fitness pros who have little or no experience. They come, they go and you start over. The amount of time and attention you invest in staffing can take your eyes off the bigger picture, which is to help people get fit and healthy.

As an industry, we simply must find a new way to recruit, hire and retain group fitness instructors. We need to create a fail-proof system to GROOM—Groundwork, Recruitment, Options, Opportunity and Manage & Meet—professionals who can do the job and who will stay for the long haul. In the first installment of this series, we’ll explore what you’ll need to do to create the best workforce and devise a training and development system that produces top-notch instructors year after year.

The State of the Industry

Before we learn to GROOM, we must understand where we are as an industry.

Supply and Demand

The number of fitness facilities, members and options for working out continues to grow. According to the 2014 IHRSA Health Club Consumer Report, more than 62.1 million Americans used a health club in 2013 (IHRSA 2014). There were more than 5 billion visits, and the number of for-profit health clubs rose 5% (from 30,500 to 32,150). That’s a lot of people to service with classes and programs!

On the supply side, the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014) shows 267,000 fitness instructors and trainers in the United States. The job outlook is promising: We stand to increase by 13% between now and 2022, with over 30,000 professionals joining our ranks (both instructors and personal trainers). Doesn’t it seem as though there will be plenty of people to take care of our facility members? Well, upon closer inspection, we find more questions than answers. Are these professionals full-time or are they part-time? Are they interested in working for big-box facilities, for studios or on their own? And, perhaps most important, will these new fitness professionals be properly educated and trained and therefore ready to hit the ground running?

Education, Experience and Earnings

Education is a source of confusion in the fitness industry. The number of certifications is always increasing, and quality levels differ; we’re turning out more “one-trick ponies” than ever before. Specialty certifications abound, with no universal mandate on prerequisites. This means that many professionals know only one modality, are interested in teaching just one specific format or program and, worse yet, do not possess the knowledge to work with a wide variety of participants. What does this mean? It means that, overall, we need still more professionals.

While certifications and specialty courses abound, the number of “learning laboratories” remains quite small. The certifying agency’s responsibility is not to provide the practical check-off for a candidate; it’s just to assure minimal competency. We need additional ways for new pros to get hands-on experience, so they can excel out of the gate and make an impact.

We cannot expect new instructors to shine if we provide them only subbing opportunities as they’re getting started, or if we give them undesirable time slots coupled with (potentially) bad experiences due to member expectations. These lead to burnout, job dissatisfaction and the dreaded “revolving door.” And then there’s the matter of salary. According to the 2013 IDEA Fitness Industry Compensation Trends Report, facilities have more part-time employees (74%) than full-time employees (54%) (Schroeder 2013). Most are paid hourly (or by the session/class), which affects their ability to earn money (if you work more, you make more, but there’s a cap). Beyond earning potential, it’s difficult to obtain benefits such as health insurance and paid time off. Is it any wonder that it’s hard to keep a large team intact?

Finally, it’s simply difficult to locate instructors! There seem to be more job postings than there are qualified people. This leads us to why it’s important to GROOM a workforce. Let’s examine each ingredient:

  • Groundwork
  • Recruitment
  • Options
  • Opportunity
  • Managing & Meeting Expectations

(In this first installment, we’ll cover Groundwork and Recruitment. In Part Two, we’ll move on to Options, Opportunity and Managing & Meeting Expectations.)


Before you can find, train and employ new fitness pros, you must develop a clear vision of what you need. This starts with understanding your facility as a whole, ensuring that your team can serve the needs of your members, identifying the products you provide and determining what you’d like to see in an ideal employee.

The Fitness Facility

Begin by investigating your club’s mission, vision and purpose. Talk with the owners and managers to make sure you understand the overall direction as they see it. Then follow up by researching the facility’s general makeup, including membership demographics. You’ll also want to know (and stay up to date on) short- and long-term goals. Is the objective to increase nondues revenue, to build membership and retention, or to service a new demographic or a corporate affiliation?

The Team

Armed with answers about the above, next you’ll need to assess your current team. How do their skillsets fit with the facility’s mission, vision and purpose? What about the facility’s goals? In other words, do you have the right people on the bus? You may need to shift some seats before you know for sure what you’re looking for. Also, analyze your team’s personality and ascertain the best fit when it comes to newbies. The established culture often determines the success of new hires. Will they fit in? Will they be accepted? Will they flourish?

The Product

Based on your membership’s makeup, you’ll have core offerings and specialty offerings. Core offerings are your group fitness schedule basics—the classes that serve the widest variety of members while providing a well-rounded curriculum. These programs seldom change, and they’re always available. Specialties, on the other hand, come and go and may be dedicated to niche groups, seasons, goals or fads. Keep a list that matches up your personnel with the core and specialty programs; this helps you know at a glance how many employees you have available to cover each program. It also makes you aware of where you have a deep bench and where you need to grow.

Prerequisites for Employees

Forget about how hard it is to find instructors right now. Instead, write out exactly what you believe the requirements for teaching at your facility should be. You can GROOM without them, but you must begin with a professional standard.


Now that you know what you’re looking for, let’s talk about where you’ll find your all-star team.

Look in Front of You

It’s important to constantly keep an eye out for potential pros. Create a method for current staff to “nominate” newbies from classes, individual training or other clubs. You’ll need a way to capitalize on the enthusiasm of those who’ve been nominated. Consider this a special, invitation-only “club.” Host special workshops, and provide educational discounts and incentives to jump-start your candidates’ careers. You might also offer a private communication portal through which to inspire nominees to take the next steps toward becoming certified. This type of recruiting may require the most work from you, but you’ll get the greatest reward from it.

Search Online

Of course, it’s easiest to hire professionals who have recently moved to your area or who are looking for new opportunities. Start with the standard recruitment websites: www.gymjobs.com, www.careerbuilder.com and www.fitnessjobs.com. You can also use fitness industry professional locators, such as www.acefitness.org, www.nasm.org, www.nsca.com and www.ideafit.com/fitnessconnect. Consider expanding your search to social media. Look for folks in your area, as well as friends of friends; also try hashtag searches. You never know what you might find! Be sure to post your positions regularly. Keep an open ad in all the appropriate places, and collect applications throughout the year regardless of whether you have openings.

Scout Your Neighborhood

Headhunting is appropriate, but poaching is not! Headhunting involves actively seeking out fitness professionals. Do this by networking at fitness conferences, workshops and other events. Poaching is proactively heading to another facility to scout the talent. You may inadvertently find a great pro while you’re investigating other programs; just be respectful of other managers if you choose to approach the instructor.


The easiest recruiting you’ll do is within your own talent pool. Personal trainers can be coached to lead core, strength, flexibility and circuit classes. Water instructors can learn to teach land classes, and vice versa. You get the picture! Make sure all the pros in your facility are aware that this is an option, and make the suggestion whenever appropriate.

The goal of recruitment is to keep people in your hopper. When you have candidates on your waiting list, you stay in the driver’s seat. In the next installment of this series, we’ll discuss how to keep prospects patiently waiting in the wings and how to prepare as many recruits as possible to fill upcoming slots.


Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2014. Occupational Outlook Handbook: Fitness Trainers and Instructors. Accessed Jan. 2014. www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/fitness-trainers-and-instructors.htm.
IHRSA (International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association). 2014. The IHRSA Health Club Consumer Report: 2014 Health Club Activity, Usage, Trends, and Analysis. Accessed Jan. 2014. www.ihrsa.org/news/2014/9/3/ihrsa-releases-new-health-club-consumer-report.html.
Schroeder, J. 2013. 2013 IDEA fitness industry compensation trends report. IDEA Fitness Journal, 10 (9), 58-69.

Shannon Fable

Shannon Fable is a sought-after speaker, author and thought leader in the area of fitness business development and strategic innovation. She has spent more than two decades helping impressive brands such as Anytime Fitness, ACE, FIT4MOM® and BOSU® with business and program development. Fable served as chair of the ACE Board of Directors and is the co-founder of GroupEx PRO®, a cloud-based group fitness management tool that she successfully sold to Daxko in 2019. As a certified Book Yourself Solid® business coach, she helps fitness professionals navigate the industry to build scalable and sustainable careers.

Leave a Comment

When you buy something using the retail links in our content, we may earn a small commission. IDEA Health and Fitness Association does not accept money for editorial reviews. Read more about our Terms & Conditions and our Privacy Policy.