“Oh Sh*t” Moments as a Group Fitness Professional

After 15 years of teaching group exercise I've got my share of horror stories. Here are 6 stories of how I created my own personal nightmare within a class.

I love October. From the cooling temperatures to the fall colors, it is by far my favorite month. But it isn’t just the beauty of nature that has me anxiously awaiting the start of October, it’s also my true love for Halloween and everything that comes with the holiday that gets me all excited for the weeks and months leading up to October 1st. As soon as the calendar changes to October I become a school girl again, all excited to watch my favorite scary movies, and ready to experience some new good, and not so good horror flicks.

To honor my love for horror and Halloween the entire month of October GXunited is going to be bringing you tips and tricks for dealing with group exercise horror shows. Our “Oh the Horrors” series will feature examples of horrible instructors, annoying members, and well just anything else you can imagine that could/would go wrong in your classes. Our goal is to provide you with the tips and tricks to NOT let those things happen in your classes. To kick this off, check out an article I wrote a few months ago about our typical GX Nightmares and things we can do to avoid them: Tips on Avoiding Group Exercise Instructor Nightmares.

My Top 6 Horror Stories

You know though, sometimes, no matter how prepared we are, we just can’t avoid some nightmares. I’ve been teaching long enough to know that not all classes can be rainbows and butterflies, sometimes the vampires and warewolves are just out to get you. And just like any good horror movie fan will tell you, sometimes its about outsmarting the situation and not letting it take you down that really matters.

I’ll put my ego aside, and share with you my top 6 horror stories. These are things that I personally have done to create a not great experience for myself and the participants. It sucked, I won’t lie, but I hope you can learn something from my stories.

So here we go….

#6. Oversleeping for a 6am class

I hate mornings. They are my nemisis. Yet, for some reason, I’ve managed to teach or have clients at 6am consistantly for the past 15 years. I curse the alarm clock every morning. And on some really bad mornings I’ve been known to sleep through it. It sucks. There is no worse feeling than knowing there is a group of people waiting for you bright and early, and you’re still cuddled up in your bed. On some occasions I lived close enough to get to the class just a few minutes later, on others there was no way I would make it there.

I wish I could say I’ve figured out the trick to this, but I haven’t. I still train 5 days per week at 5:45am or 6am, and sometimes I just hit snooze one too many times.

#5. Showing up at the wrong gym

This has only happened to me once, when I was teaching 20+ classes per week at 6+ different gyms. I was running around like an exhausted chicken with my head cut off, often not knowing my right from my left. And over time this just caught up with me. My color coded calendar failed, and I swore I was subbing a class at one gym, when really I was supposed to be at another gym across town. I showed up completely ready to teach, and another instructor was there. I figured I just had the week wrong in my calendar, so I stuck around and took class. Opps, got back to the car and had tons of voicemails and texts asking where I was. That was not a good feeling.

This I have learned how to manage:

  1. Don’t teach at 1000 different gyms, you will run yourself down
  2. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS double check the calendar and the location before driving to teach (although not an issue if you only teach at 1 location)
#4. Making things too complicated and having people storm out of the room

I still remember the class when I created my “stay simple” philosophy. I was subbing a hi-lo class…a format that I didn’t teach on a regular basis. In preparing for this class I felt that I had to ‘show-off’ my skills, as the instructor I was subbing for was pretty awesome. So I created this really complex choreography, it looked something like this:

  • Kick-ball-change x2
  • Pivot x2
  • Kick-ball-change x2
  • Box-Step x2
  • Chasse / Mambo x2

Or something crazy like that. It was so hard to follow. I didn’t know how to coach it well, and members were looking at me with a WTF look, but I kept trying. Next thing I knew people were just storming out of the room. What started as a full class of 20ish ended up with only 3-5 nice people by the end. It was such a horrific experience for myself, and all of those involved.

From that day forward I said “I’m not going to confuse things with crazy choreo, instead I’m going to teach basics and add layered progressions for difficulty”, and to this day that is what I still do. My life, and my participants experiences have become so much better as a result!

3. Saying Fuck in a class

So not one of my shinning moments. But before you hate me, let me explain. First off, we know I don’t always have the cleanest of mouths, BUT I do my best to not let that come out when I’m in class or with clients. But sometimes it just slips.

On this particular occasion I was teaching a Valentines themed cycle class. My playlists was “Anti-Valentines Day” and included lots of break-up songs or songs about people being wronged by lovers. I was explaining this to my class, and in explaining I made a comment along the lines of “There are a lot of chick songs in this, because angry dudes really like to say fuck in their songs”. As soon as it came out, I had wide eyes looking at me. I knew I was in the wrong. But then to make matters worse, I said something at the end of class to the extent of, “guys, super sorry for saying fuck earlier, please don’t tell our coordinator”.

Yea, needless to say I was getting called into the principles office the next day and written up for “inappropriate language” used in a class. It sucked, it was not fun…I actually had to give up that class and not teach for awhile as a result. But it did teach me a few things:

  1. All because I am super liberal and not offended easily doesn’t mean others are the same
  2. When you work in a super high-end club, people will have super high expectations from you, even when you totally don’t mean to do something
  3. Never let your guard down. As soon as you get too comfortable with people or in a situation it may be time to reassess. Because it is those moments when the “real you” may come out and the professional side will slide. Stay professional all the time!
2. Teaching a class on crutches while spitting up blood

I will show up for a class, rain or shine, hell or high-water, I do my best to be there. But there are times when I really shouldn’t be. As I discussed once in my article, 6 Reasons to Take a Sick Day, sometimes the understudy can do a much better job than you, no matter how badly you want to be there.

This particular day, when I was dealing with a jacked up knee and a rare fungal infection in my head, was one of my worst moments in a class…maybe not because of anything a member said, or a complaint, but because I realized for the first time that I was being selfish by trying to teach that class when I was simply put, a hot mess.

I won’t bore you with all the details of why I was on crutches or spitting up blood (if you really want to know, ask), but just know sometimes you  have to take a really hard look at yourself and your reasons for going in to teach a class and decide if it is worth it. As my coordinator told me that day:

“Summer, you CAN deliver a class on crutches and spitting up blood, however, will it be your best class?  Are you able to give your best performance to the participants or are you just going through the motions?  Are you able to service the newbie who walks into the room?  Remember, sometimes it is just better for the members to allow another instructor to cover your classes until you are healthy and well.  That way members remember you at your peak, not at the bottom of your hill.”

So take it from me, make it truly about the participants and get a sub!

1. Experiencing a major injury WHILE teaching a class

By far my worst horror story came last year when I was 15-minutes into teaching a BODYATTACK class and my knee popped. Within a minute I was down for the count. I was in tons of pain, couldn’t concentrate, and didn’t know what to do. However, as any great performer learns at a young age, THE SHOW MUST GO ON. So that is exactly what I did. I pushed, and I pushed, and I pushed.

Maybe not my best move. 1 knee surgery, 9-months of physical therapy, and a workers compensation settlement case later made me realize that sometimes it is just better to stop when you feel a pop. Overuse injuries and acute injuries can make or break a career, be smart and don’t push through the pain!

Lesson Learned…

Ahh the joys of teaching. What we put our bodies through. We love it, but we’ve all got horror stories. Are you the stupid girl who CONTINUES to run up the stairs when the crazy serial killer is running through the house, or are you the one who outsmarts him with your whit because you learned your lesson?

Be smart. Don’t let the serial killer get you!!!

I would love to hear your GX Horror Stories. Share them with us below, or on social media using #GXHorrorStories.

Group Fitness Professional Horror Stories

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