Becoming an ACSM Certified Group Exercise Instructor - whether your specialty is indoor cycling, bootcamp, strength training, Pilates, yoga or any one of the myriad classes offered today by local gyms - is a far more involved process than just lacing up your shoes, picking up some weights and shouting commands at a class full of participants for 45 minutes. On the contrary, it takes discipline, commitment, passion and the personality to be a great teacher.
Are you thinking about becoming a fitness instructor? Here are a few things to ask yourself before you run to the front of the class!
1. Do I have the passion for teaching?
It's great that you love to take indoor cycling classes, and you are probably at the front of the room for your twice-weekly yoga sessions. You love to workout and it shows! But teaching a class is a vastly different world from taking a class. In order to be a great teacher, you have to have a passion for helping others learn how to exercise. Many people love to work out because it gets them into a "zone," or it gets them "out of their heads."
When you are teaching, however, you must be very present for the workout. You have to have your eyes on every single participant at all times. You have to know exactly what's coming next. You have to have the highest level of enthusiasm for what you are teaching or people will not want to learn from you. It can't be emphasized enough that teaching is not "getting paid to exercise." You are teaching and coaching people from all different walks of life, and you need to love it.
2. Am I able to invest the time and money to become - and stay - certified?
Gone are the days of the weekend-warrior certification seminar. To the benefit of class participants, most organizations will not certify people merely because they attended a two-day workshop. There are usually tests, online modules and one-on-one training required to attain a certification. Additionally, certifications typically expire one or two years later and instructors must maintain the certification with continuing education credits (CECs). CECs are a great way for teachers to stay up to date with the latest information and industry trends, but all of these workshops, online tests and studying cost time and money, and in order to be a great instructor, it is imperative to stay current and maintain your CECs.
3. Can I dedicate my time at night, on weekends and/or early mornings to teaching?
While class times can vary, the standard in the fitness industry is that teachers are in class when everyone else is not working. Most class times are outside the typical 9am-5pm work day. Classes can be held as early as 5:30am and as late as 8pm, and some of the most popular classes are held on Saturday and Sunday mornings. If you become a fitness instructor, you will be expected to teach during these time slots.
Not an early bird or a night owl? You may want to reconsider becoming an instructor. Many studios or facilities require a certain number of classes held by each instructor throughout the week to develop a consistency amongst instructors. Do you work in another job 50 or 60 hours a week? It may be difficult to leave time to hone your teaching skills.
4. Am I comfortable being front and center?
Some of the shyest people in the industry make the greatest teachers. That's because teaching is the one time they are comfortable being in the spotlight. But you must honestly ask yourself if you are confident enough to stand in front of a large group of people, commanding the entire room and telling them what to do. It isn't easy, and it isn't for everyone - but the best and the brightest instructors let their personality shine through. They have a contagious energy and charisma that inspires their students and encourages them every minute of the class.
5. Do I have a high level of patience?
As mentioned before, teaching requires time, money and passion. To cultivate a solid teaching career, you must have patience with yourself, and most importantly, with your participants. You will need patience with yourself because it can take years to become a great instructor, and you need that time to hone your skills, develop your teaching style and continually educate yourself. In your classes, you will come across many different personality types, and patience is required to learn how to best handle participants who may be challenging to you.
Teaching others can be an incredibly rewarding experience and inspiring others to live a healthier life is one of the most fulfilling careers you can embark upon. Just like with other fields, you must ask yourself some difficult questions before you turn on your microphone, flip on the music and take center stage in a group exercise class.
Erica Marken has been a Certified Spinning® Instructor for 14 years. She holds a Masters Degree in Clinical Exercise Physiology and is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer. She is currently a personal trainer and a Spinning® and group exercise instructor in Boston, MA.