7 Surprising Things I Learned About Teaching Group Fitness Classes When I Became an Instructor

I like to think of myself as a veteran fitness class-goer. My friends would probably even call me an OG group fitness devotee. I fell for exercise in college, and when I moved to New York City after graduating to work in health journalism, I discovered the plethora of opportunities to explore my love of movement. I took my first SoulCycle class in 2010, my first barre class a few months after that, and the rest is history. Now, it wouldn’t be unusual for me to take four classes per week, in addition to a few days of running.

My job as a fitness writer requires me to check out new studios pretty often, but it’s also something I love to do—mostly because I really enjoy the energy of a good class. That’s also what made me decide to try to lead my own about a year ago.

I got my personal training certification in November 2016 and started working one-on-one with clients the following January at Uplift Studios in NYC. I attempted to teach classes back then, too, but my mentors told me I should first work on improving my confidence in front of a room full of people. (My nerves definitely got the best of me.) It wasn’t until about three months ago—almost exactly 365 days after I started training—that the studio finally added me to the class schedule.

Fresh off that high of actually seeing my name on the Uplift site, it didn’t take me long to come back down to discover the serious work that goes into creating an upbeat, tough-but-not-too-tough, creative-but -not-too-complicated class. The lessons keep rolling in as I go along, but here’s what I’ve picked up so far along the way.

1. There’s nothing like getting a “woo!” back from the class to let you know people are into your workout.

You probably hear instructors—especially those in fast-paced classes—wooing at you in an attempt to give you a boost. Maybe you love it, maybe you hate it. Maybe you just ignore it. As a student, I didn’t always respond back with the same energy, but now that I’m on the other end, I always do. Because the truth is that even just one responsive person in the room can make a huge difference for the person up there teaching.

As an instructor, I’ll ask how people are feeling mid-workout, in an attempt to help them check in with their bodies and stay focused and to add a little lightheartedness between difficult moves. I’m also looking for feedback so that I can make sure the class is going well for everyone. When I get no response, when the class is silent, I get a little nervous. Is it too hard? Too easy? You’re sleeping? You’re thinking about pizza? I wonder what I’m doing wrong and what I could be doing differently. But when at least one person responds back with a hearty “wahoo!” or “awesome!” that’s an instant mood booster—for me, and hopefully for the rest of the class—and confirmation that things are going OK.

2. Being able to be peppy at all hours is pretty much a job requirement.

I’ve found that bringing my most upbeat energy to the studio does rub off on the people around me, and vice versa. That’s why one of my most important jobs is to get myself and my students pumped up for the workout ahead. Coffee (all the coffee), dancing, good music, and attempting to make jokes that no one will laugh at because they’re also sleepy (or my jokes are just that cheesy) all seem to work. I will say, though, it might be easier for me than for some other instructors—I’ve always had the ability to put on a smile and add a little pep to my step on demand. Fifteen years of being a cheerleader will do that to you.

3. Finding the right motivational words is really important, and really tough.

When you’re trying to give someone that extra push they need to dig deeper and nail the last round of jump squats or plyo lunges, finding the right words and tone to help them focus is an important job—and also, a difficult one. Most instructors have a go-to word they use to give feedback or encouragement. (Mine was “beautiful” when I was training to become an instructor.) But the more you say something, the less meaning it seems to have. Kind of like when an instructor says you have 15 seconds left to work, but really you have to push for 45 (rude!). It makes it hard to keep trusting that trainer’s words.

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