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LEAD or Get Out of the Way

When someone asks you what you do for a living, how do you respond? Perhaps you say you’re “a group fitness instructor,” “a yoga instructor” or “a Zumba® instructor.” The correct response is, “I’m a leader.” You do more than simply host amazing classes that help people get fit. It’s time to think bigger about who you are and what you do, if you truly want to Inspire the World to Fitness®.

As a key ambassador for the health and wellness movement, your number-one goal should be to get people to follow you—but not in the way you think. Sure, it’s important that they can understand your cues and feel successful in your workouts, but what about educating and inspiring participants to continue their fitness journeys? Then they can pass along the inspiration to others, and a movement is created. This grand plan takes leadership with a capital L, E, A and D: Learn, Educate, Acknowledge and Download.


Your journey as a fitness professional began with one step. You either earned a fitness certification or took a course on a specific format. Did anyone mention that this was just the beginning? Sure, you knew you would need continuing education credits to keep your certification or you’d have to stay up to date on quarterly releases. However, these things are only half the battle. To lead, you must learn both the science and the art of fitness.

The Science of Fitness

The science involves physiology, kinesiology, movement mechanics, form and technique. Never underestimate the importance of science. Whether you’re choreographing your own classes or delivering a specific program, it’s imperative to learn the essentials and be able to make smart decisions for yourself and your participants. Science is not static. Perhaps the fundamentals stay the same, but how you layer the information into your programmatic approach has to evolve as the industry (and your audience) becomes more savvy! You must continue to hone your skills and seek the latest knowledge at industry conferences, through online education (available at www.ideafit.com) and by obtaining additional qualifications.

Reject the notion that the best advice comes from consumer magazines and reality television shows. Your job is to be the watchdog and help consumers make sense of what they see in the marketplace—you must be the voice of reason. If you’re passing along the same quick-fix notions and succumbing to the pressure to produce fast results, you’re hampering the industry’s potential. Folks come to you for real information; be prepared to deliver it.

The Art of Fitness

The art of fitness involves everything else, and that can be boiled down to the three Cs: communication, customer service and coaching.

Communication. It’s not what you say, but how you say it. Your message is made up of much more than words. Are you mirroring participants? You should when you can. Are you changing your vocal tonality and conversing with students instead of barking orders? Are you adjusting your body language to be inclusive, welcoming and inviting?

Customer service. People want to be taken care of, and along with the front- desk staff (who see everyone) and personal trainers (who see, on average, a small percentage of members), you have the potential to provide that care. Are you arriving well before class, organized and able to be present so that you can interact with participants—especially new ones who might be scared? Are you available after class to answer questions (or are you cleaning up your music and toying with the microphone)? Do you go out of your way to make each participant feel welcome and successful (even the back row and the ones looking through the window)? How often do you talk to other members—yes, the ones who don’t come to your class—and staff members? Can you answer questions about the class schedule, other instructors, and the facility in general?

Coaching. Quality instruction is good, but coaching will always be better. A coach walks beside the participant and allows her to find her own way. I’ve adopted the mantra: “No judgments, just awareness,” which I first heard in a session presented by Lawrence Biscontini, MA, 2004 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year. Teach from a place of suggestion, not with ultimatums. Are you truly happy your students are there? Many people struggle to make it. Can you be respected and loved without being the hardest teacher in the facility?


Influencing people in the moment is only half the battle. If you’re truly an agent of change, you’ll spend an equal amount of time helping your participants to spread the message to others. Think of ways to impart knowledge during class, and help attendees find ways to take the information back to their circles. Are you using the various social platforms purely for self-promotion? Could you use the sites to share knowledge that others can easily pass along? Consider “friending” your participants, and make sure your “shares” are equal parts inspiration, conversation and invitation.

Inspiration includes motivational pictures, inspiring stories and celebrations. Contrary to popular belief, stories about miraculous weight loss, a testimonial about how a certain supplement changed a person’s life, or a meme about how clean eating is the secret to a flat tummy may not qualify. Focus on real individuals doing real work. This approach will resonate with people from all walks of life.

Conversation includes posts that get people talking and sharing. To draw them into the conversation and help them feel they belong, ask questions about their likes and dislikes, their struggles and successes. When people feel they are part of something, they recommit and encourage others to join in.

Invitation is your call to action! Yes, it’s great to invite people to class and mention upcoming events. However, don’t fall prey to shameless self-promotion. Make it about them—about what they will get out of the class or event, what they should do to join, and how they can use the information or experience. Don’t simply inform—offer practical action steps.


You didn’t get to where you are solely on your own wits. Someone helped pave the path, someone journeyed with you, and someone is following behind. It’s important to pay homage to them all.

Have you thanked the people who helped you get to where you are today? Have you acknowledged the person who first made you think about becoming an instructor? Do you thank your manager and facility owner for providing a place for you to perfect your craft? How about the organizations that keep you educated and motivated?

Do you acknowledge the contributions of other instructors? Not just on your team, but in the industry as a whole? There should be no competition between certifications, modalities, clubs and instructors. We are all involved in the same battle against the sedentary lifestyle that is sabotaging members’ optimal wellness efforts. Who cares where someone gets fit, how they do it, and who they like to do it with? Go high-five another fitness pro today! If you’ve got the time, mentor an instructor who’s just getting started. We need more people!

Make sure you celebrate success stories. These people faithfully attend your classes and deserve recognition. Do you publicly commend folks for being present and putting forth effort? It’s not about teaching, training or providing state-of-the-art equipment. It’s about people who find inspiration and then continue their journey.


If you feel isolated inside the fitness industry, you’re likely not alone. For a profession that is driven by groups, we certainly are a bunch of islands! There are many reasons why you may feel like an island: you may teach at an odd time slot, work only 1–2 hours a week, not be able to make staff meetings, or be spread thin trying to make ends meet. However, there’s no reason why instructors can’t all get together, at least virtually, and exchange support and best practices. It may seem like a monumental effort to connect with your team, but find a way. There are online communication platforms that provide community; few people turn down a happy-hour invitation; and while “mandatory staff meetings” seem like torture, perhaps you could figure out a way—just once—to attend on a Sunday afternoon?

A group fitness instructor’s job is tough. Not only must you be able to motivate and move simultaneously, but you also have to LEAD on and off the field. Once you put on that microphone and face the class instead of the mirror, you become a role model. Reflect on what an important job you have, and look for opportunities to improve. You’ll be rewarded by big changes in the lives of those you encounter.

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