Often some of the best insights can come from knowledge and experiences from unrelated professions.
Odds are you’ve never heard of me, and for good reason. I’m not a fitness guru. I’m not a long time group exercise instructor. I struggle to even maintain motivation to workout at all, and when I do, it’s never in a group class.
So who am I?
I’m a guy who has bounced around between some very different career paths and has struggled to figure out where I best fit. I also happen to be Summer’s husband and, by default, one of the minds behind GXunited.
You may (very fairly) ask why I, of all people, am writing a blog post for a website directed at professionals of an industry that I generally stay away from.
The answer is simple. I believe that often some of the best insights can come from knowledge and experiences from unrelated professions. Velcro was inspired by the seeds of a specific plant, aerodynamics have taken many cues from animals, and Steve Jobs’s technology design style was inspired by calligraphy. Perhaps something from my experience can help make you a better instructor.
It all starts with the music
I went to school for performing arts, more specifically music performance. I spent years practicing, rehearsing, and performing hundreds of pieces of music.
The skills and experiences I gained through this time, as unrelated to most of my subsequent professional roles as they may seem, have shaped the way I’ve approached everything since then. (I could probably write an entire blog series on aspects of music that could help you grow professionally, but I will spare you….for now!)
Music & Group Exercise
In a lot of ways, what you are doing and what I was doing really isn’t that different. We are/were both required to learn and prepare our materials so that we could be as perfect as possible when on stage in front of our audiences. The entire process can be intimidating, terrifying, exhilarating, and inspirational all at the same time.
In order for a musician to reach their potential, a certain fundamental conceptual shift has to occur at some point.
In our early musical careers, when we are new, inexperienced and still trying to learn, we are proud to make it through a performance without messing up. That’s a major accomplishment, and speaks to the hard work that has gone into our preparation.
However, that mentality will only take you so far.
At a certain point, your goal has to stop being just to learn a piece well enough to not make a mistake and instead to learn a piece so well that you can’t make a mistake. Only then can you focus on bringing out the musicality and performing to the best of our ability.
Teaching a GX class is very similar in this respect, particularly for instructors teaching pre-choreographed formats. There is a lot to remember when teaching:
- What exercise focus goes with what song?
- How many reps of what specific exercises in what particular order are you supposed to perform?
- If the format is supposed to line up with the music, are you on the right beats in the right phrases of the song?
- What is the specific technique for the exercises being executed?
- How can I motivate this class to push further?
In order to have the most effective class, though, all of this should be automatic. You should know intrinsically, without having to think about it, what moves you are doing.
When you don’t have to focus on getting through the class you can focus on your participants. You can focus on helping them have the best workout possible, giving them the extra push of motivation, and ensuring that they are performing all of the exercises correctly and safely.
Without being able to give your participants that attention, you won’t be able to give them the best experience.
Then it is about teaching
I loved the process of performing pieces, especially in a group of some sort. Unfortunately, though, my preferred music (classical saxophone…yes, that exists) doesn’t really have an audience. So I did what many music majors do: added on the education degree and got a teaching job after I graduated.
What could go wrong with that?
My best teaching skills came from the exact same characteristics that made me a good performer. I understood how to take apart a piece of music, work on the individual components separately, and put them back together better than they were before. I guess you could almost say that I was a musical mechanic in that sense.
Once you realize this is the most efficient form of practicing, it’s pretty easy to implement when you’ve locked yourself in isolation and are learning what you need to perform. It gets exponentially more complicated when you have to do this while juggling 50 7th graders, and the only way to have a chance is by having a crystal clear plan and being very prepared. You’ll survive trying to go in and wing it, but you’re not going to get nearly as much accomplished.
Teaching & Group Exercise
As a GX instructor, incorporating this level of planning and preparation will make you much more effective. You may be able to go into a class and wing it, getting your participants’ heart rate up and making them feel like they’ve had a great workout, but it won’t be as good as it could have been.
The best classes are going to happen when you have a strong plan of what you want to accomplish, what steps you’re going to take to get there, and most importantly why you are making those decisions.
And sometimes you just have to fake it…
The years after my short teaching career were fairly chaotic as I bounced from one job to the next, moving from city to city as Summer advanced in her fitness career. Each city brought a different job…I was a portrait photographer, I sold video games, I worked in a restaurant, I was assistant manager of a pet store. All fine jobs, but short term to say the least.
It’d be easy to look at these years and say they were largely wasted, but now I see they weren’t. Job after job required me, the strong introvert, to spend my entire days talking to an endless string of customers. Forcing me out of my comfort zone and teaching me how to “fake it” when needed.
Having spent quite a bit of time around fitness people, I know you to be the polar opposite of me… strong extraverts who love being in the limelight, with everybody’s attention trained to you. You have a big personality, are a bit sadistic, and have a strong Type-A personality. Or at least this is how it seems, and what one often thinks of when thinking of the type of person who chooses to pursue a career path that involves standing in front of groups of people and telling them what to do.
However, we all have bad days where we don’t want to deal with people. We all have people that, no matter how personable we are, we just don’t get along with and who will always rub us the wrong way. It’s going to happen, and I’m sure many of you can already think of at least one person who you dread coming to your classes.
But when this happens, you have to do what I had to do. You have to fake it.
You have to put on your happy face, take the high road, and act like you are excited to be there, even if you’re silently cursing their existence.
Your participants are your customers, and while the customer is not always right, it is still your job to give the customer a positive experience. They are literally paying your salary. Their gym memberships are what pay your paychecks. And no matter how bad of a mood you’re in because your dog chewed up your new shoes or somebody sideswiped your car in the parking lot or you haven’t eaten in 14 hours, they deserve to get the best side of you.
Become one awesome brand
Eventually, all of my random experiences, life choices, a major move to Florida, and some random luck brought me to my current job – Marketing Manager at the worlds largest aquarium fish provider. It’s a completely different direction than I ever thought my life would go, but here I am.
It brings me to the final lesson from my life that I’m going to share, and one that in some ways is actually a fusion of all of the rest of my experiences….Each and every one of you has your own brand. Parts of your personal brand may be connected to the formats you teach or the gyms you teach at, but it’s also the sum of so much more.
- How you speak to people
- What sort of energy you bring to your class
- What you say
- What you wear
Every one of a million different choices helps create your brand, and it is completely unique to you. And just like any other business, your brand determines how successful YOU are in the long term.
One concept that can be difficult to accept is that, at the end of the day, your brand is determined by how other people see you, not how you want to be seen.
Sure, you can do things to influence this, but it’s up to your customers (the participants) to look at the entirety of who you are as a professional and decide how they’re going to view you. You may try to position your personal brand in some way, but your audience has to believe it.
How do we get our customers to see us the way we want them to?
One word – CONSISTENCY.
- If you are so well prepared for every one of your classes that you are able to give the best possible motivation and personal attention to your participants, which will become a part of your brand.
- If your classes are well thought out and put together to give an effective, well rounded workout, that will become a part of your brand.
- If you are always encouraging/welcoming and your participants leave your class feeling like they just had a great experience, that will become a part of your brand.
On the flip side, if you are unprepared, fumbling through classes, seem like you don’t want to be there, and don’t give any personal attention to your participants, that will also become a part of your brand.
Building a strong brand will make gyms want you on their staff and will make gym members want to take your classes.
Having a poor brand will make people dread and avoid your classes.
Become your Best!
Hopefully, if you are on this site, it’s because you have a passion for group ex and want to be the best teacher you can possibly be.
There is no single formula for getting there. Every person has different experiences and approaches situations differently. But for most people, one of the best ways to overcome obstacles to improving is by learning new approaches and perspectives from those who have different experiences and expertise.
Maybe you disagree with everything I have said here, maybe you have already been approaching your classes from a similar mindset to my own and this article isn’t much help to you, or maybe some of my experiences will help propel you to a new level of teaching.
But wherever you are coming from, you can always improve, and I encourage you to look for as many sources of knowledge as possible to help you reach your next level.