I was humbled this past week by a friend and fitness colleague who made a comment that implied I was no longer in touch with those just getting into the industry and had forgotten what it was like to be new to learning and teaching. One comment specifically stood out to me, she indicated that based on comments and posts I’ve made over time that it seems I only value those who have higher degrees (aka. a BS/BA in Exercise Science, Kinesiology, or related fields) and that I didn’t value those who hold nationally recognized certification exams. She implied that I was dismissive of those who are self-taught and that I created a disconnect from those who chose to continue to grow and learn the art and science of teaching group fitness on their own.
While I make it known that I value education in the fitness industry, I didn’t realize my comments surrounding this may have alienated those who are just getting started. Or have “put down” those who choose not to work in fitness full time and are self-taught. Everyone who chooses to work in fitness does so for their own reasons, and as long as those reasons include safe and effective classes and continual learning through nationally recognized certifications on how to do this better, then my mission of “raising the level of knowledge of fit pros” has been met.
Higher education isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. In today’s world it’s all about finding the method(s) of learning and continued education that are right for YOU. If you are committed to becoming better by self education, mentors, and practice, then go for it! In reality, most of what I know has come from my willingness to learn from others, order way too many books on Amazon, and my love of attending conferences & workshops. My academic knowledge and higher education has allowed me to reach my career goals (yup, in 2010 I decided I wanted to be a University professor of Exercise Science – and here I am). But my goals may not be your goals, and thus your level of education may not match mine – and THAT IS OKAY! You geek out on what fuels your passion in the field and continue learning and together we will be elevating the level of education in the fitness industry.
Sharing a Story
With all this in mind and in the effort of self disclosure, today I decided to take my own advice and “remember what it feels like to be a beginner” – something I encourage all group ex instructors to do of their participants on a regular basis. But instead of feeling like a beginner exerciser, I am remembering what it felt like to study for my first group exercise certification exam and teach my first ever class.
In doing so, I share with you a simple story. A story that very few people know about me. This is the story of my first group exercise certification exam and how it didn’t go exactly as planned…
I was an eager sophomore in college and had just completed a 12-week Group Exercise Instructor training course. I felt armed and ready to go with the knowledge I needed to teach great group exercise classes (well at least bootcamp classes, I still hadn’t mastered the 32-count beat, so wasn’t going to teach any choreographed formats). The course had prepared us to take the ACE Group Exercise Certification Exam, and I felt ready.
On the morning of the exam I was to go to a classroom on campus at UNCG and sit for 3-hours taking a written exam that demonstrated my knowledge in exercise science, technique, programming, and the legal aspects and ramifications of being an instructor. I entered the room with a lot of anxiety over the next three hours, but with the hopes that I was prepared (enough). I finished the exam with minutes to spare, and eagerly waited for the day I would receive the test results indicating that I was a certified group exercise instructor.
Every day I went to the mailbox to see if my results had arrived (yup, it was before electronic communication of results), and on the day the envelope arrived with a return address from the American Council on Exercise my stomach did flip-flops. I was beyond nervous to open it. What if I had failed? What did that mean? What would it mean for my new-found love of teaching and inspiring participants through movement?
As I tore open the letter and started reading, my heart sank, my stomach dropped, and tears started rolling down my face. The American Council on Exercise “regretted to inform me that I had not met the minimum standards required to become a certified group exercise instructor”. They wished me the best and encouraged me to take the exam again in 60-days, after further review.
I was beyond devastated for a few days. But after a great pep talk from Mom, I decided to try again. This time I studied my ass off and went to an AFAA Primary Group Exercise Instructor workshop course and completed the certification exam at the end of the day. I left that day feeling much more prepared and ready for the exam. After (again) waiting 4-6 weeks, I received the congratulatory letter from the Aerobics (now Athletics) and Fitness Association of America that I had meet the requirements to teach others. All the hard-work and dedication I had put in over the past 6-months had finally paid off and now I was ready to be a certified group exercise instructor.
Side Note: 9 years later when I decided to finally sit again for the ACE Primary Group Exercise Certification exam, I read that manual cover to cover. I did the entire review book, and I made sure I knew my stuff. Even though by that point I had been teaching for 9-years and had advanced degrees. I wasn’t going to let that exam defeat me again! Thus I committed to furthering my knowledge.
So I started teaching…
I got that cert and went on to teach, but you know what – I was pretty bad! So bad in fact that my boss in Campus Recreation actually told me to stick to personal training over group exercise because I just “didn’t have the knack for GX”.
Over the years, I’ve done every contraindicated move that I preach to others about not doing. I’ve taught classes that didn’t have a purpose. I’ve taught HIIT classes that went against every standard rule of purposeful programming. And I’ve followed the trends in teaching (kickboxing classes at 150+ BPMs anyone?!). I’ve injured myself. I taught classes that flopped. But you know what I also did during all of that – I stayed open to feedback.
I listened when my boss suggested I give up group ex, and asked for help with becoming better (versus giving up). I started doing research into proper techniques, attended as many live workshops, certifications, and conferences as possible, and sought out mentors who could help me improve my skills. I didn’t want to give up on this crazy dream. In fact, there was a point when I was going to 2-3 courses a year, simply to learn more and become better at my craft.
And I continued to Learn…
At one point I got obsessive with Les Mills and over the course of 4 years attended 8 of their Primary Trainings, 6 Advanced Instructor Trainings, and countless other quarterly events and workshops. I knew I wanted to be better, and in order to do this I had to learn from the best.
There were times when I would come home from a weekend course and cry because trainers had beat me down in terms of my skills at coaching, technique, and choreography. There were times when I said I was leaving the field all together and would never teach group ex again because I was told I “wasn’t good enough”.
However, after the initial crying phase would end and my hubby would give me a pep talk, I started to use those critiques to fuel my fire to prove them wrong. I tried harder, fought more, and eventually became who I am today. I don’t have it all figured out, I don’t know everything, but I do know that education is the only way to get better.
Now I push others to learn from my mistakes…
Many of you just know me as who I am today – National Fitness Educator, Lecturer of Exercise Science, Founder of GXunited – but trust me, it has taken me 15 years to get there, and I don’t do any of it perfectly. I am still growing every day. AND THAT IS WHAT I ENCOURAGE OF YOU!
Never Stop Learning!
Maybe it is because of my personal failures (and successes), that I’m hard on group exercise instructors, facilities/managers and certifying agencies. Maybe it is because I cringe to see instructors making the same mistakes I did. Or maybe I’m scared by those instructors who don’t want to be taught and express their lack of desire to further their education.
Maybe it’s because I’m scared to know that facilities don’t hold instructors to any national standards and ultimately the participants are at risk as a result. Maybe it’s out of fear for complacency in the field. Or maybe I’m just fearful that the next generation of fitness professionals won’t have the same drive for continued growth and no one will hold them accountable for their knowledge & skills.
I’m not sure what specifically fuels my fire to raise the level of education in the industry, but it’s there, and I hope that by encouraging it I can get consumers to make informed decisions about fitness professionals. That I can get facilities to understand the value in hiring instructors with Nationally Recognized Primary Certifications. And that ultimately I can inspire change in group exercise instructors to become the best versions of themselves possible.
Are You Willing to Learn from Your Mistakes?
If you are really passionate about helping others then you will do whatever it takes to become the best instructor possible. This means more than simply attending an 8-hour workshop or obtaining an online certification. It means putting in the time, the sweat equity, and the patience to always be learning. It means being open to new information, new opportunities, and continued growth.
Don’t be offended when someone tells you something you do sucks – instead use it as fuel to become better.
Ask yourself: Do you want to be part of the change and elevate the level of knowledge in the industry? If so, then pull out that book on exercise technique, coaching methods, or whatever topic you’re geeking out on, and go forth in your quest for change!
If you do that, I’ll commit to sharing as much information on exercise science, technique & coach, valuable resources, and great teaching tips as possible. I’ll help you, if you’re willing to read and take feedback (and not get offended when I say fuck – because it will happen)!
And you know what, I learn something new everyday, so please share with me your experiences, stories, and what topics you’re geeking out on, because you may help me learn something I knew nothing about!
Let’s do this together! Happy Teaching,
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BS: Exercise & Sports Science
NSCA: Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS)
ACSM: Certified Exercise Physiologist (EP-C)
Yoga Alliance: 200-hr RYT
ACE: Group Fitness Instructor
Balanced Body: Reformer Level 1 Coach
Schwinn: Indoor Cycle Instructor
RRCA: Running Coach