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Dos and Donts for Group Fitness Instructors

Posted Sep 13 2013 6:37pm

We’ve all taken classes with fantastic, empowering instructors. One of my favorites is Liz at Uplift Studios in NYC. (No, no one paid me to say that, I promise.) She’s one of those people who is encouraging, positive, and puts you through a tough, satisfying workout.

Uplift Studios

We’ve all also taken classes with not-so-wonderful instructors…and those seem to be the ones you never forget.

I’m not an instructor, and I have a certification in, well, nothing. (To be fair, if a certification existed for coffee drinking or clumsiness, I’d have it. I’d be a leading expert.) I did go through training to teach classes at a sports performance center one summer, but I’m pretty much just a fitness-obsessed girl who kind of knows some stuff about some things. (WAIT, I’m certified in CPR. Does that count? No?) In light of recent events (read: a super frustrating class at my gym), I’ve decided to compile a list of (in my opinion) dos and donts for fitness instructors from a serial class attendee. Maybe this will help someone somewhere. Maybe not. But I need to vent.

I’ve experienced my fair share of instructors over the years but Wednesday night’s dude just takes the cake. All of the below occurred in the same class, hence my horror and need to immediately write about it. You would think most of these are pretty much just common sense, but evidently they aren’t.


Don’t assume everyone in the class is at the same level or has the same goal.  Speaking to the class collectively like no one has ever worked out before feels degrading to the participants. Respect that there are different people at different fitness stages with different goals. Not everyone is in a group fitness class to lose weight. Don’t focus all of your “motivational” tidbits on getting skinny or working on a “bikini body”. (This is something I’ve heard in a lot of classes, not just this one. Drives me insane.) Also, when there are men in the class, maybe don’t continuously say “LADIES do this, LADIES do that”. Just a little suggestion. 

Don’t try to discourage people. I understand that sometimes people get a little excited and grab heavier weights than necessary, not really knowing what the class entails. WHAT YOU SHOULD SAY: ‘”we’ll be doing a lot of reps, so determine the size of dumbbells you use off of that. I recommend using X pounds. WHAT YOU SHOULD NOT SAY: ohh I see you’re going shopping for dumbbells! You don’t need all those – this class is hard. You’re not gonna need those 10s. But you can keep them anyway, we’ll see if you use them. If you do use them, you can’t switch weights in the middle of the set!” That attitude does not make me think, “Oh yay! This is going to be an awesomely hard class!”

I won’t tell you what it makes me think because I’m a lady.

Can't you tell?

See? So proper & ladylike.

Create the workout with the class description in mind.  The class I went to on Wednesday was called “Barbell Strength” and was described as a resistance training class. Instead, not only did we not use a barbell once, the majority of the class was cardio. I didn’t come for cardio. I get more than enough cardio action throughout the week. Not to mention, I’m very sensitive about my foot and try to avoid jumping exercises, especially on back-to-back days. To my surprise, this class included a lot of jumping and I was constantly worried/trying to modify.

Ask about injuries. And discuss individually, not in front of the class. Always. Always. Always.

Don’t touch anyone unless it’s absolutely necessary to fix their form. I am NOT okay with you grabbing my sides to move me out of the way so you can demonstrate something on my step.


Don’t try to justify yourself by constantly repeating that you’ve “done this for 30 years”. If we like the workout, we like it. You telling us you think you’re smart doesn’t help. And don’t stop to tell us to find you on Facebook, either. Just…why?!?

Actually come to class with a workout in mind. Amidst my “Barbell Strength” class, the instructor threw in a dance sequence. I AM NOT KIDDING. It was obvious he didn’t have anything else for us to do, so to fill the time, he did ran around doing seductive dance moves and encouraged us all to copy him. I’m all for having fun and being silly, but I did NOT come to class for that. Wrong place, wrong time. If I wanted that I would have gone to the Zumba class happening in the next studio.

Don’t tease someone about their fitness level. In the midst of the dance sequence, I sighed, very frustrated. This guy gets in my face and says SMILE!! BLAH BLAH! So I say “I’d like more weights please!” (Translation: What the F dude, seriously? Why are we dancing? I’m THISCLOSE to walking out.) He turns around and says, “Okay everyone! Her arms aren’t toned enough so she wants more weights! Pick up your weights!) Um…excuse me? Yes, he seriously said that. I don’t know how to react. Naturally everyone grumbles because now I’m THAT GIRL. It’s like I reminded the teacher about the homework he forgot to collect.

And the most important of all:

Know your stuff. Please don’t make things up.  Stay educated. People really, truly listen and look up to you as fitness professionals. Some will believe every little thing you say. Make sure you’re saying the right things. Case in point, the biggest red flag of all: the instructor said that women shouldn’t lift heavy weights because they’ll get bulky. In my opinion, THIS IS THE BIGGEST MYTH IN THE HISTORY OF STRENGTH TRAINING. I hate hearing all the incorrect info going around about health and fitness because it creates obstacles for well-being. This statement just horrified me.

What did you just say?

What did you just say?

(Isn’t that a GREAT picture of me?!)

So there you have it. Why didn’t I just walk out, you ask? Because I’m freaking stubborn. I couldn’t have him thinking I couldn’t handle it. Duh. Maybe someday I’ll learn.

What are some of your best and worst fitness class experiences? Let’s be positive: shout out an awesome teacher or studio you love!

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