I like the idea of sharing where we started as fitness professionals. I have been asked (so many times) where, when, and how do you get started in this insane industry. I understand the need to have a reference point for people who want to begin teaching group fitness. But I have tried to write my story a hundred times and I just can’t find the right starting point.
I grew up dancing, moved into yoga, started group fitness because I couldn’t say no, and have continued because I love it. I have collected certifications because I like the knowledge associated with trainings; I have evolved and managed to create my own path to this “career” I have now. However, when the story is told, I feel like it resembles a lot of other stories I have heard. I don’t want this to be an origin story, because you won’t be able to replicate my circumstances to result in a similar career path. So instead, I have decided to share my top 5 tips that I have learned on this journey in hopes that you gain some perspective and advice from my mistakes.
1: You don’t have to start in a gym
I started teaching dance when I was 14. As soon as I was 18, I earned my certification in yoga fundamentals and began teaching as part of my dance classes. When I moved to college, I began teaching for free on the knoll in the middle of my university to my friends. My “class” blossomed and gained the attention of the manager at the university recreation center.
This fitness manager saw something in my teaching (thank you Jerry) and hired me to teach at the rec center. Don’t assume you have to start your teaching career in a big box gym. Sure apply to those places, but don’t ignore other locations such as dance studios, recreation centers, and universities. Get experience by teaching to friends and family, a neighborhood club house, or your church.
2: Training’s are more than education
The summer after I began teaching, I attended SCW Mania in Atlanta. I tried to absorb every bit of information, choreography, idea, and method that I could. But what were more important than the education were the contacts that I met at the event. From presenters to staff members, managers to other newbies, the people I met at the conference have been more than influential on my life. While attending local trainings, I met local instructors who became my go-to-subs and managers for future jobs. I love attending instructor trainings, workshops, and conferences but not only for the education. When you attend these functions, make sure to meet everyone there, collect business cards, connect on social media, and stay in touch.
3: You cannot teach it all
While I was in a position of management, I knew what I wanted my fitness schedule to look like for the facility. My only problem : I couldn’t find enough instructors willing to teach my “schedule”, so I tried to teach it all. From 6am cycle to 12pm bootcamp to 7pm yoga, my name was very (too) frequent on the schedule.
For 2 years, I attempted to maintain this schedule, while teaching at another location and managing a dance studio. Burnout is not the word that describes what my body, mind, and soul went through. Learn from my insane actions; do not say ‘yes’ to everything. Sure, you can teach 30 classes a week; it is possible. But it is not smart. It is very far from smart, even if most of those classes are coaching. Now, everyone has a different limit. Find your limit and make a promise to yourself not to go over that limit. You have to begin to say “no” at some point.
4: Have an exit plan
Sure, right now, you can teach all day long, every day (but you won’t because you read #3, right?). But what happens if you have an injury? What happens when you realize that you cannot sustain that life anymore? One day, you may not want to wear spandex all day.
When I was diagnosed with an atypical autoimmune disorder (to go along with the atypical blood disorder), I realized that I am not going to be able to be the “dancing monkey” forever. I needed to evolve my teaching career into a management, writing, and creating career. The fitness industry is far more expansive in jobs than just instructor. Facilities need fitness managers, companies need wellness consultants, and conferences need event planners. We need trail blazers who can create the next fitness studio chain, build sites like GXunited.com (way to go, Summer), and influence social media in a far more positive manner than thinspo/fitspo. I will never leave the fitness industry, but I am influencing it in a different manner than teaching full-time.
5: Get rid of your duds
One of my mentors told me to dump my duds a few years ago and that phrase has changed my life. At the time, I was working for a company that had morphed to represent aspects of the industry that I despised. It took me a few months, but I eventually left the company; a giant weight was lifted from my shoulders. Six months later, I had built a fast-expanding company and had begun working with my dream clients. We are all busy people. We are busy spinning multiple hats and sometimes, a few of those hats are ratty, impossible to spin, or just not to our liking. Dump them. When you clear space in your life, you clear space for opportunities. Have a class or a location that is just not fitting? Don’t force a circle peg into a square hole. Leave and find the home that fits you perfectly. It’s scary. It’s terrifying. Do it anyways.
We all start our careers in strange and different manners. When I started teaching, I had no idea that I would eventually be creating programs, writing on behalf of personality brands, and presenting at conferences for my own company LOK Fitness. I thought I would get some movement during lunch in the sunlight with some close friends. You never know what a hobby will grow into. Be open minded. Now, go forth and conquer.