I originally went to college to become a first grade teacher, but over time my life path changed and today I am a full time group exercise instructor and personal trainer. Even though my job does not take place in your typical school classroom setting, I still feel very blessed to be a consistent figure in people’s lives as they learn and grow- whether mentally, physically, or spiritually. Everyones wellness journey and reasons behind it are different, which makes it even more exciting to be a small piece of it. I have been teaching for over a decade, and I still feel blessed everyday that people actually devoted an hour of their life to come and take my class that day.
Nowadays, the fitness industry is glamorized like never before and fitness teachers and trainers are becoming online celebrities. With that being said, as we know, things on social media can be skewed. We see full time instructors posting their hottest workout outfits, their insane workouts, and their green smoothies on a constant basis, but what we do not see is a behind-the-scenes look into what their lives as a full-time instructor is truly like. So, with 12 years of teaching experience under my own belt, here are 5 things about the full-time teacher lifestyle that you may not know:
1. We are often sleep-deprived
Fitness studios and gyms are the most busy at three different times during the week: early morning (before work), noon time, and evenings (after work). On the weekends, early mornings until noontime are often the peak times. Therefore, to cater to those crowds, that is when the classes are scheduled and teachers have to hit these time slots to make money, which means we are often teaching at multiple different times throughout the day. A lot of teachers teach at night and are up and at it early in the morning to give the early birds a workout too. Weekends are also busy with people wanting to get their classes in, so teaching on Saturdays and/or Sundays is common. For several years I taught 7 days a week, and I still see a lot of teachers doing that. Because I was only teaching for 2-5 hours a day I thought I could handle it because it was not “a full-time job” type of workday. However, I eventually realized that my body was exhausted and I need scheduled days off to let my body rest and recover. Teaching takes a toll on your body physically, so when you have a schedule that is scattered all over the place, it can be challenging to nail down good sleeping patterns.
2. Our job is way more than the hours we teach
Recently someone said to me, “So you only work 25 hours a week (referring to the amount of classes and clients I have weekly)? Wow you are so lucky!” The math was correct, 15 hours of teaching and 10 hours of training does equal 25. However, what is not factored in is the amount of time we spend planning our playlists (HOURS!), devising our classes, and commuting to and from clients and classes multiple times a day. Unlike most jobs, we do not just go to and from work one time a day. We are often traveling from place to place all day long, and when we are not, we are constantly making and perfecting playlists and writing up workouts which is hours of unpaid time.
3. We have mastered the art of putting on a happy face in front of a crowd
Do you know the feeling you get when you are just having a bad day and do not want to interact with anyone? Well, try feeling like that and having to put on a happy face in front of a group of 30 people. In the world of group exercise, bad days do not exist (to the public eye, anyways). There have been many times where I have cried on the way to work about something and then had to quickly wipe away the tears and muster up the energy to act like everything is just dandy. (Admittedly, sometimes this does actually help when you are feeling down, but the point is, the average person does not usually have to be peppy and upbeat in front of a huge crowd whenever they are having a crappy day.)
4. Taking time off is a process
When I had a desk job and wanted to go on vacation I would simply put in a request for days off, and boom, go on vacation and get paid thanks to that beautiful thing we like to call PAID TIME OFF. Unfortunately, in the group exercise world, PTO does not exist. When you have a vacation coming up, you have to reach out to instructors to get your classes covered (and the more you teach, the harder it is to get everything covered). Then vacation comes and guess what- we do not get paid for the time off. So before I go on vacations I always bust my ASS so that I can save up money, not for when I am on vacation, but for when I am back because I know that I will not have a paycheck coming in. (PS- this goes for maternity leave as well!)
5. It is a grind to be relevant in an overly-saturated industry
The fitness industry has exploded in the past ten years. This makes me happy because it means that more people are interested in working out than ever before, but it also means that the market is saturated and group exercise instructors are a dime a dozen. As an instructor, you have to think of yourself like a car in giant used car lot, and in that lot you have to be the shiest car to stand out. To be truly great is a grind (but also totally worth the effort), and to stay relevant in the industry, you have to be relevant. This means continuing education, self-learning, being up-to-date with current fitness trends, having a presence on social media.
Everyone has their own definition of being great. To me, being a great instructor is knowing your stuff, being able to modify your classes for all levels, creating killer playlists, having an upbeat and encouraging attitude, catching the beat of a song without a flinch, practicing what you preach, and creating a sense of community in your classes. Sure, people can become well-known for their classes because of their appearance or their hard AF workout (BTW- are they really even SAFE?), but to stand out you have to be great. If an instructor is well-known and well-liked, I can sure as hell bet they put in a lot of work to get to where they are.
Lastly, I just want to say to all of the instructors out there reading this article- thank you for doing what you do! You bring more light to people’s lives than you will ever know! Never stop grinding and always stay true to yourself and your teaching style. And to all of you fitness fiends who love taking group exercise classes, thank you for reading and for supporting your teachers, I hope that you can appreciate them a little more after reading this!