A group fitness instructor’s career path often has many sharp turns and curves. New trends, club openings and closings, fluctuating job opportunities and shifts in teaching interest are just a few of the changes you might face. Learning how to deal successfully with these turns and curves can be challenging. Whether planned or unexpected, good or bad, change can cause even the most seasoned instructor to re-evaluate her desire to teach.

The poor economy has affected the group fitness industry and impacted the careers of many. Facilities have been faced with mergers, reductions in class schedules, budget cuts and programming changes. Club mergers may result in combined schedules, forcing a reduction in the total number of classes available for instructors to teach. Some facilities have reduced overall costs and group fitness expenditures by eliminating specific programming. Unfortunately, instructors affected by this type of change may be trained only in the eliminated program, leaving them no other opportunities within the facility.

Turning a bad situation around can be daunting—even planned changes tend to be difficult. The path can be long and hard, but finding rewards and new opportunities is possible. Disengage from autopilot and take full charge of the road ahead. Take a new direction, expand your horizons, break out of the rut you’ve been in and embrace and conquer change. Explore how to rediscover, redirect and refocus your career.


Change can provide you a rare opportunity to embark on a path of rediscovery, especially if you’ve been teaching on autopilot. There is comfort in keeping things the same, and you may fear change. Break through the barriers and use this time to reflect, respond and move forward. Rediscover why you teach and what population(s) you want to teach. Learn new formats and revisit old ones while pursuing your quest for knowledge. These discoveries will influence your future choices and provide direction.

Why do you teach? What originally motivated you to start a career as a group fitness instructor? Was it a love for fitness, a passion for a certain format, the drive to be a leader or the joy of sharing knowledge with others? Take a good, hard look at why you do what you do and what motivates you to be the best instructor you can be.

What population(s) do you want to teach? Are you a kid at heart who loves working with children? Or do you thrive on the challenge of teaching elite athletes? Do you like working with older adults, or would you rather instruct a small group of beginners? Knowing whom you want to teach will help you target the perfect job opportunities.

What do you want to teach? What are you passionate about? Which formats do you not only like but love? Do you teach a class just because it’s available and at a convenient time, or do you actually want to teach it? Take a mental inventory of the formats you teach and categorize them. Evaluate the list and teach only what you are truly passionate about. Your passion is contagious!

Never stop learning. The group fitness industry is constantly changing. Expand your teaching skills and knowledge base by taking a new class, registering for a workshop or attending a convention. Discover the new possibilities that expanded education can bring.


The ability to redirect and change direction or focus is essential. Unexpected changes and events can divert a career and make it necessary to achieve employment goals in innovative ways. Be open to alternative routes to success.

Explore new venues. Look outside the walls of the gym and check out other facilities and businesses that offer classes. Most community or recreation centers provide some type of group fitness programming. Senior centers, daycare facilities, corporate centers and even some doctors’ offices hold classes. Research the requirements for teaching at an alternative location; these may include special training, specific certifications and liability insurance.

Expand your fitness business. Explore ways to turn your group fitness experience into a thriving business. Many clubs and facilities offer small-group training packages. Group training can vary from boot camp–style workouts to yoga and Pilates. Private instructional sessions catering to students who want one-on-one instruction in a particular format are also a great option. Most formats, including indoor cycling, treadmill workouts, flexibility training, yoga and Pilates can be taught one-on-one.

Many employers have on-site fitness centers and have launched wellness initiatives. Take advantage of these programs, and market a lunch-and-learn for local businesses: teach participants a simple stretch routine, conduct a mini-workout or lead a lunchtime walk.

Participate in a training or mentorship program. Share your passion and knowledge with others by participating in a mentor or training program. Organizations, fitness facilities and corporations often have in-house training programs that pair experienced instructors with new ones. Give back to your industry and help others gain knowledge in basic instruction techniques, class design, format execution and group interaction.


When change presents a new or challenging situation, it is vital to refocus on the road ahead and identify ways to achieve your specific career goals. Concentrate on finding new teaching opportunities, expanding your network, learning a skill or joining a new team. Emphasize actions that will enhance and revitalize your passion for teaching.

Seek new opportunities. Look for openings at new facilities and studios. New businesses offer a variety of teaching prospects. Specialty studios (e.g., studios dedicated to yoga or Pilates) offer you the chance to hone your teaching techniques. Larger, traditional fitness facilities look for both kinds of instructors—those who specialize and those who are “multipurpose.” New facilities offer a unique chance to be part of a program that is just beginning, providing you the opportunity to grow and establish classes as well as interact with new participants.

Contact established businesses and ask about requirements and potential openings. If there are no immediate openings, ask to be placed on the substitute instructor list—it could lead to your next regular gig.

Expand business and social networks. Every contact and interaction can be a potential opportunity. How many people in your circle of influence know you’re an instructor? How many times have you heard, “I had no idea you were in the fitness business?” Use social media outlets to promote your classes, your fitness business or special events.

Network with local businesses and coordinate a special event or group fitness demonstration for their patrons. Sports equipment retailers, fitness apparel shops and farmers’ markets are just a few places that offer on-site events. Contact local organizations that conduct fun runs, and arrange to do a prerace warm-up. Use the power of networking to promote your teaching skills and your business to a large group of people.

Become part of a new group, team or organization. Joining a group can provide direction and focus. For instance, being part of a team at a new facility can give you that extra push to refocus on foundations. Sharing experiences and knowledge with like-minded people can be ideal for both learning and career growth. You never know what path might arise from a chance meeting at a volunteer event, for example.

Embrace the experiences and changes that will ultimately shape your career. Map out a path to success, and when the road takes a turn, expected or not, remember to rediscover, redirect and refocus.

Jennifer Renfroe

Jennifer Renfroe is the regional director of group fitness for Crunch Fitness┬« in Atlanta. She is also a master trainer for the Nautilus InstituteÔäó/Schwinn Cycling┬«. Certifications: ACE, AFAA

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