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Overheard in the Locker Room

You just finished teaching what felt like a seamless kickboxing class. You’re feeling that post-teaching buzz that comes from your own endorphins and the added high of inspiring others to move their bodies and have fun.

As you pass through the locker room to freshen up, you overhear a conversation that kills your buzz. “Can you believe she taught that same tired, old routine?” says an unfamiliar voice from behind an open locker door. “I know, right?” echoes another voice. “And she could also stand to lose a pound or two. She doesn’t look that fit to me.”


You duck into an open bathroom stall and think about what to do. Should you confront them? Tell them you’ve been teaching for 13 years and how dare they question your expertise? Furthermore, you just had a baby 10 months ago–and so what if you’re carrying a few extra pounds? No, you can’t do that. Not only is it unprofessional, but you’re feeling too reactive right now. So you sit and wait for them to leave, and you spend the next several hours feeling like a failure. Your confidence has taken a severe blow.

However, you don’t have to let participants’ negative talk annihilate your enthusiasm. Whether you’re a smart veteran with an offbeat sense of humor that doesn’t sit well with some people, or a newbie who struggles from time to time with which foot is leading, at some point you will learn that you’re not everyone’s cup of tea. Unfortunately you may hear it indirectly instead of directly, which can make it hard to address.

Read on to learn what other group fitness instructors chose to do when they heard negative comments either inside and outside the locker room.

Moving Forward and Beyond

The key to dealing with challenges is in how you react. “The more energy you put into a response or thought about a negative situation, the more pushback you’ll get,” says Danielle Vindez, a health and fitness professional from Redondo Beach, California. “Be curious about what you heard and ask questions to learn the perspective of others. This may diffuse [the situation] and teach you more about yourself.”

Jabez Gibson, a conditioning coach from Knoxville, Tennessee, also sees negative commentary as a learning opportunity. He suggests letting the words settle and then deciding if any of what was said was true or if there is a consensus. If so, he says, find ways to get better. “Feedback is needed for improvement,” he adds. “Listen to what’s being said and put your pride in your pocket. Embrace the fact that anything can be improved upon.”

Victoria Ganieany, a fitness professional from Monson, Massachusetts, recommends being receptive and approachable. Let participants know you have an “open door” policy and encourage them to interact with you. The onus is on you, however, to offer a safe place for people to express less-than-positive thoughts. “I ask if anyone has any questions before class, [and I solicit] suggestions or feedback after class,” says Ganieany. “This gives them an outlet to bring issues to me instead of making negative remarks elsewhere.”

Tips on Transmuting Trash Talk

What should you do if you’re in the locker room and you overhear someone talking negatively about you? Here are some tips to help:

  • If you have a rapport with the person and you’re not feeling emotionally reactive about the comment, calmly ask for more information, listen, thank the student and offer suggestions on how you will address the situation.
  • Consider whether the comment contains a kernel of truth or whether the speaker simply has a personal agenda. If it’s the latter, let it go. If the former, ask a colleague or another class participant for his or her perspective.
  • A comment about your personal appearance can be very painful. Fitness professionals are held to a higher standard when it comes to physical fitness and beauty. This type of comment is petty. Vent to a trusted friend or loved one and focus on reinforcing your self-esteem.

For more tips on handling negative criticism, please visit the online IDEA Library and look for “Overheard in the Locker Room” in the January 2013 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.


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Joy Keller

Joy Keller is executive editor of IDEA Fitness Journal and IDEA Fit Business Success, and is also a certified personal trainer, indoor cycling instructor, yoga teacher (RYT 200) and Reiki Master.

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