Be the best instructor

I had a good day yesterday. Tuesdays are one of the days that I teach at the Pilates studio, and I have been working really hard to improve my teaching ability and sequencing. I think its paying off for two reasons: confidence in myself and class attendance. Trying to get better at teaching fitness classes has been a real journey for me. When I first started teaching college I had no clue. To this day, I walk around hoping not to run into the individuals unlucky enough to attend some of my first classes.

Teaching also involves a lot of skills, some of which don’t come naturally to me. Like public speaking ( I was shaking when I had to give my graduation speech in 6th grade and again in 12th grade), being a DJ (not everyone likes house music), and being motivational (I always feel silly when I say things like “Slice that cellulite off”).

I really wish there was a book or some kind of training out there that walked you through the skills to be a fitness instructor beyond the exercises. After 5 years of teaching classes on and off here is my advice for new instructors on how to teach great classes:

1.Consider your audience. I have some classes that I teach where the clients just want a hard workout or want to tone a specific body part and some classes where the clients are more interested in the therapeutic and health benefits. I got great advice from the personal training director I worked with at Bally’s: “The worst exercise to do is one that your clients hate the most.” Think about it, would you come back to a class if you hate the exercises. If a client lets you know that they like a certain exercise, take note and do it again.

2. Take a lot of classes. You can always learn something new. Take other instructors classes to see things from your clients perspective. Ask yourself what you like and what you didn’t like. For example, I like when instructors are a little funny or silly, I like when the class has a quick pace, I like to be challenged but there are certain exercises I don’t like and don’t think are effective. It’s also a good idea to take different style classes too. For example, if you are a Pilates instructor, take a cross fit class. You’ll gain new exercises, new ideas and be able to incorporate your favorite aspects of all training programs.

3. Ask your clients what they want. Sometimes I flat out ask my clients, “Does anyone have any requests for exercises or body parts to focus on?” This gives you key insight to why your clients are coming to your class and what their goals are. That’s valuable info! When you give people what they want, they keep coming back for more.

4. Music. This is one area that I am still trying to work on. Have you ever been to an exercise class where all you could think of is, “Gosh, I wish this song would end already, my ears are bleeding.” A good fitness instructor knows how to cater to a large audience and doesn’t get pigeon holed in one style. This is another area where you want to consider your clientele’s demographics, And while there is a reason “top 40” is so popular, people get bored of hearing the same songs on the radio and in class.

5. Flow. I can’t tell you how much improving my flow, improved my teaching abilities (no I’m not talking about my monthly visitor). I’m talking about having things set up and planned out. Clients are there to work out, not to set up equipment. When you can transition from one exercise to the next without making the client do the prep work, you streamline your classes and give your clients a better workout with fewer unnecessary pauses.

6. KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid. No need to fill your class with “creative” new exercises that no one has ever done before. Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, it breeds content. Filling your routines with effective, time tested exercises is best. After all, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Most people are resistant to change anyway. A great way to mix up old exercises is by altering timing, throw in  isometrics, increase/decrease resistance, combine exercises to work the whole body simultaneously (ex. add squats to a bicep curl). Of course there is value to novel exercises too, but use them sparingly. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel each time you teach a class.

7. Touch. Don’t be afraid to correct clients. Touch is especially effective. Hey, I’m not telling you to risk a sexual harassment suit, but humans crave touch. When you give client’s that one on one attention, they feel more connected to you and more confident in your teaching abilities. A good rule of thumb is to check in with each client at least 5 times per hour long class. This could be as simple as saying, “great job,” or correcting their form. When I was pregnant I went to a specific yoga teacher that would always guide her clients by touch at least once per class. My favorite pilates instructor always ended class with a neck rub.

These are my tips, but admittedly I am still learning. If you have any advice or comments for me, please leave a  comment!

In mommy news, last night I set Cyrus on my bed as I was brushing my teeth and getting ready for bed. I returned to see his little head poking out above the mounds of blankets and pillows. As I walked closer I realized that he was sitting up for the first time! He gave me the biggest grin and I dashed to get my camera. Right as I was about to capture the precious moment on film, he toppled over. I couldn’t be more proud, albeit, a little disappointed to not have gotten a picture.

That’s all for now.


Fit Val


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