Without a doubt, the number-one question I receive via email from readers is how to become a group fitness instructor when you have a full-time job in the corporate world, which is totally unrelated to fitness. While I am not the end-all of career advice and everyone has a different situation, I wanted to share some of the general tips that worked for me and have worked for others around me. And as a note — I was once a public relations agency worker/gym member who turned into a fitness professional, so I’ve been there …
How to become a group fitness instructor when you have a full-time job
1. Find out what you like and identify your favorite program and specialty.
When you feel like you have the desire to stand at the front of the group fitness room and lead, you have to make sure you are passionate about what you will be teaching. The first thing you should do is find a class or group fitness program that you absolutely love, whether that’s yoga, cardio bootcamp or even dance fitness. Become a regular in that class and learn the ins and outs of TAKING the class like the back of your hand. That’s your first step. Identify your program/form of movement of choice and become a skilled student in that format. Rather than saying you want to teach anything, choose one thing and study it deeply.
2. Consider learning a pre-choreographed program to start.
I would definitely recommend that your entrance to teaching group fitness come in the form of learning to teach a pre-choreographed program like Zumba, Les Mills BODYPUMP, Turbo Kick, etc. because that means you can take “have to program and come up with sound movements and music” out of the equation when you are just beginning your career in fitness. Many times you can get certified to teach these pre-choreographed programs without any previous fitness experience, because all you will be doing is delivering the workout to people in a group fitness studio, and the experts with the fitness background have made up the moves and programming for you ahead of time. That’s ideal. (But it’s still not as easy as it sounds to do. More on that later.)
I started out teaching Les Mills BODYPUMP and taught hundreds of classes (maybe thousands at this point) before I ever made up the moves for a freestyle group fitness class, and that experience gave me the insight I needed on what works, what’s safe, what people like and what will get them results. (Check out this one on how to become a Les Mills group fitness instructor.)
You can go to each of the individual pre-choreographed group fitness program websites to see what it takes to become an instructor and most require an in-person training weekend, followed by submitting a video of you teaching a full class after the fact, with ongoing education required.
3. Speak to your group fitness instructor, and connect with the group fitness manager of your gym or studio.
At larger box gyms there is usually a group fitness manager, with whom you may never cross paths. Oftentimes you can find out that person’s email address by asking at the front desk of the gym (or looking on the top or back of a printed group fitness schedule). And at smaller studios, you may be able to talk to the studio manager just by going up to the desk. You absolutely want to communicate with this person and begin to build a relationship. No need to be embarrassed at all, in fact, they will be happy to chat with you, get to know you, and then they will be able to help you along your journey. Also, most importantly, let your group fitness instructor know that you are interested in learning to teach.
The GFM (group fitness manager) and studio manager (SM), will be able to tell you if there are upcoming trainings or opportunities in the near future and keep you in mind. They may also tell you what you need to do to work toward attending a training or being considered as a trainee (some studios train people in-house and don’t require experience, and you want to be first in line for that — for example, Orangetheory Fitness does in-house trainings as do many barre and yoga studios). And the group fitness instructor who teaches the program you know you want to teach (see point #1), can give you tips, show you the ropes and even let you practice with him or her. As an instructor, you’ll never stop learning, so choosing a group fitness mentor is a great way to get the ball rolling on that.
4. Make your intentions clear with your full-time job, and commit to a regular class schedule.
When I first started teaching group fitness, I blocked off my work-day calendar every day that I had class starting at 5:15 p.m., so that I could leave at 5:30 p.m. to make it to the gym, change and teach at 6:30 p.m. I told my managers and coworkers what was going on, and I often skipped my lunch break or went in early on the days I had to teach to make up for time lost at work. It wasn’t easy, and I did it twice a week. However, with clear communication you can set expectations that you absolutely will HAVE to leave at a certain time on days you are teaching, because you cannot be late.
I ended up finding that teaching evening classes was too stressful for me in my PR agency job, and at my next corporate job as a communications manager, I started teaching early morning classes and found them much less invasive on my work-day schedule. You will have to find out whether early morning or evening works best for your workload and life and stick to it. The good news is that weekend classes are always up for grabs and rarely get in the way, so consider those as well.
However, you must prepare yourself for some resentment from your full-time employer. While they may be happy that you have an interest in your health, they may soon grow tired of you running out the door to teach classes, especially if it’s multiple times a week. I hope you don’t experience that, but I have, and just need you to be aware it may create some tension when you show commitment to a “hobby” that takes you away from your day job. And also remember that taking on group fitness will require you to say no to other things. When you commit to teaching a regular class, you can’t get a sub just because you don’t feel like going or have other errands to run or a social activity. That’s not how it works.
5. Prepare to keep learning and investing in new certifications.
When you start teaching group fitness, your fitness journey is really just beginning. Even though you may choose to keep your full-time job in another industry, you will want to keep learning and investing in your fitness education every single day. That means considering whether you want to get general group fitness certifications like an ACE or AFAA group fitness certificate (which requires testing, a workshop, etc.) to grow your knowledge and get extra backing and credentials. You will want to attend continuing education events, like Les Mills advanced instructor modules, or fitness events like the IDEA World Fitness Convention. Or perhaps you want to start studying the science of movement and the body even further and get a personal trainer certification (which is pretty time intensive, but well worth it for what you learn). You’ll have to keep practicing your craft, learning more, connecting with other fitness professionals and becoming a better instructor every time you teach a class. The work is just beginning, and that’s what makes it so fun.
Things to consider about teaching group fitness
A few things to note: Teaching group fitness is not as easy as it looks. It takes a ton of time to prepare, and it’s not your workout. You have to show up every day like you are on top of the world, connect with people, deliver a great class and be a role model in form day in and day out, whether you’ve had a bad day or are tired or sore. In addition to that, you don’t get paid all that well to teach, especially when you are starting out. In fact, you’ll be struggling to break even with the money that you have to invest in workshops, training, music, certification and ongoing education. But it will absolutely be worth it. (Because people ask so often, I will give you this loose estimation that you could expect to make anywhere between $18 to $45 dollars PER class, but it will be lower at big box gyms, and also depend on the area that you live.)
For a lot of people, teaching group fitness on the side while maintaining their “main day job” is a totally fulfilling and amazing experience. If you are interested in health and wellness and want a way to get involved, group fitness may be the answer. But know that everything worth doing takes work, but if you’re ready to put the time in, then jump in.
And here are some more tips and insight around group fitness:
- How to become a Les Mills group fitness instructor (and how to prepare for training)
- Top 10 ways to grow your group fitness classes
- 13 ways to teach a good group fitness class
- Confessions of a fitness professional
- Six tips for taking your first group fitness class
This topic is definitely one that I know many of you are interested in, and if you have any follow-up questions for me, please leave them in the comments or email me, and I’ll do another post with additional details. Thank you for reading, friends! (And if you know someone who is interested in becoming an instructor, please send them this post!) I appreciate you! Come say hello on Instagram.
Questions of the day
If you were a group fitness instructor, what would you want to teach?
What qualities do you like to see in a group fitness instructor?