In any business, growth comes through experience. In group fitness, you become an instructor and teach for a few years, and before you know it, you’re so passionate about inspiring others through exercise that all you can think about is making this part-time love your full-time gig. This has happened to many of us who have caught the teaching bug, and it’s an exciting place to be when you’re well prepared for the next steps. I’m currently the director of group fitness at American Family Fitness in Richmond, Virginia, and it has been a few years since I took the “next steps” that propelled me from my first fitness love in 2004 (group cycling) to my full-time move into the business side of fitness in 2014. I brought with me a professional background in education, business strategy, employee training and client engagement, all of which prepared me well for that transition. Since then, I’ve spoken with many group fitness instructors eager to grow in the industry. Each time someone says, “I’d like to be a group fitness manager someday. What should I do to get there?” I share the same five pieces of advice to make sure that person is headed in the right direction.
The best group fitness managers aren’t always the top instructors, but they certainly know how to recruit, develop, inspire and retain those who are. They’re the ones who can lead the pack, support their teams, make strategic choices and engage positively in every situation.
Diversify Your Fitness Experience
If you teach an incredible step class, or you’re known as the best boot camp instructor in your fitness facility, it’s time to spread your wings. Make sure you have experience in the three major areas of group fitness: traditional group exercise classes (cardio, strength, flexibility), mind-body (yoga, Pilates) and cycling, especially if your club offers classes in all of these categories. Don’t forget to include aquatics if that’s part of the programming as well.
Why such variety? If you’re going to lead a diverse team, your instructors need to know you respect and value all components of group fitness.
TRAIN IN AT LEAST ONE CLASS PER CATEGORY. Get to know the classes from a participant’s point of view. Ride your way through a group cycling workshop. Strike a yoga pose. Show a little love to all the formats.
KNOW YOUR STRENGTHS. Pick up a barre specialization or Pilates certification if you’re not ready to tackle your 200-hour yoga training. You don’t have to teach every program on your facility’s schedule, but do tap into a few specialties.
TRY A NEW APPROACH. If your club has freestyle and prechoreographed programs, teach at least one format in each style, so you can experience both types of coaching.
LEADERSHIP APPLICATION: An ability to lead by example in a variety of programs will help you when it’s time to recruit, hire, train, coach and develop your team.
Obtain a Top-Tier Certification
Group fitness instructors, especially those who want to grow into leadership roles, should be picky about which certifications they pursue. A strong program will meet these criteria:
BE COMPREHENSIVE, covering contemporary breakdowns on anatomy, alignment, functional training, multiplanar movement, effective exercises, recovery, coaching, cuing, music selection and more. By the time you earn a primary group fitness certification, you’ll have all the tools you need to lead a great freestyle class, plus you’ll be even better at coaching and cuing because you’ll know the why behind each movement pattern.
INCLUDE SPECIALTY WORKSHOPS AND ONLINE SUPPLEMENTAL COURSES on such topics as programming for seniors and prenatal participants, injury prevention, and training for athletes. These allow you to stay relevant in the field and current with your continuing education.
BE ACCREDITED by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), which brings an added layer of value to your credentials. The new AFAA Certified Group Fitness Instructor (AFAA-CGFI) program is one example.
LEADERSHIP APPLICATION: This knowledge will be even more powerful when you’re growing and developing new instructors. Together, your team will be able to discuss why an exercise is or isn’t recommended by industry experts, and the science will speak for itself.
Always Be Professional
Whether you’re onstage delivering the best class introduction possible, or you’re simply walking through the facility engaging with members, you should always bring your A-game. Think about how you carry yourself, the expression on your face, the language you use and even what you’re wearing.
LEAD BY EXAMPLE. Be more than just a great instructor. Picking up a stray paper towel or recycling the empty water bottle left on the studio floor will be recognized.
ROLE-MODEL BEST PRACTICES FOR SAFETY AND WELL-BEING. Believe it or not, even sporting appropriate footwear gets noticed. By choosing athletic shoes that are professionally sized and well-suited to the program you teach, you can avoid injury, set an example for participants and show your managers that you have a deeper understanding of your work.
SHOW THAT YOU’RE RESPONSIBLE AND YOU MEAN BUSINESS. Be the person you’re proud of, and be someone the management team can’t live without. Engage respectfully with members, and don’t fuel drama—ever
REMEMBER THAT SOMEONE IS ALWAYS WATCHING, IN PERSON AND ONLINE. Consider your social media presence and how it defines your personal brand. If you ever have the slightest inkling that something you’re about to say, do, like or post could come back to haunt you, take a beat and think again. What you share online can absolutely impact your professional reputation and opportunities.
LEADERSHIP APPLICATION: Leadership requires some self-reflection and proactive development, so the earlier you start working on it, the better. Stay positive and productive, and you’ll never regret doing the right thing.
Gain Outside Experience
Make the most of any position you’re in today to set yourself up for big wins tomorrow. Particularly in group fitness, many of us enter this business on nights and weekends because it’s our “fun job,” not our “real job,” and that’s where the incredible journey begins. Sound familiar? Well, before you dive in headfirst and quit your day job, prepare yourself as fully as possible:
SOAK UP ALL THE MANAGEMENT TRAINING YOU CAN FIND. Learn from mentors in your business or organization, read voraciously, go to conferences and build your professional resumé.
GROW YOUR TRANSFERABLE SKILLS. You can develop these skills through hiring, giving feedback and making strategic decisions with a team. Spend some time working on these skills and then bring them with you to the fitness facility.
MANAGE OR LEAD A SMALL TEAM. Overseeing direct reports can be one of the most underestimated and time-consuming aspects of the job. Accept any opportunity to mentor or manage others—before making the leap at your club.
LEARN HOW TO MULTITASK. Practice in a fast-paced environment with oodles of distractions, because that’s exactly how this position will roll! If you’re a proactive go-getter who can prioritize, change on a dime and be a great listener (borderline therapist), you’ll go far as a group fitness manager.
LEADERSHIP APPLICATION: The more leadership experience you have under your belt, the more successful you’ll be at guiding your team and driving the business side of group fitness.
Be Positive, Coachable and Collaborative
The combination of loving what you do and having fun at work is beyond rewarding, so if you want to make the job a success, bring a positive attitude, be coachable and be a team player.
BE A POSITIVE CONTRIBUTOR. Look for what can be done in each situation, and be helpful, but don’t say yes to everything or you’ll get overwhelmed fast.
FIND A MENTOR. Engage with someone whom you trust to give you great advice. We all love to share our stories, and the best mentors will help you learn from their successes and their mistakes.
ASK FOR FEEDBACK. When you do ask, embrace the response, act on it, grow from it and show your potential as a team player.
LEADERSHIP APPLICATION: If you take the approach of always being willing to learn, grow and be better than you were yesterday, you’ll go far, and your team will want to come with you.
Ready to Quit Your Day Job?
When you have an open mind and a positive attitude, you’ll succeed in any industry. Group fitness will be a great place for you to excel, because you’ll be able to use what you learn to lead your team of eager and engaged instructors by example. The love you all share for fitness will be abundantly clear, and ultimately it will increase member retention, drive measurable facility and department growth, and ensure that you have fun while you’re at it.