How to become a group fitness instructor when you have a full-time job

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

How to become a group fitness instructor when you have a full-time job by A Lady Goes West

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:

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?

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41 Comments

  1. This is a great timely post! I’m currently studying for my ACE group fitness certification and getting ready for the exam next month. I work full time now for a nonprofit and I also teach spin classes. I typically teach spin during my lunch hour or the evening, but I’m very fortunate that my gym is nearby to the office and I can adapt my schedule. I’m eager to take the exam and start thinking about new opportunities for group fitness.

    1. Hi Bethany! Yay! Good luck on your ACE certification. And that’s really convenient you can go to a gym close to your office to teach. What spin certification do you have? That’s the one area I’ve never taught!

      1. I am a Mad Dogg Certified Spinning instructor. I started teaching when I was still in college and resumed teaching again when I entered the workforce. I was still taking so many classes that I missed being up in the front of the room encouraging folks. What group fitness certification do you have, and do you take any type of continuing education classes?

        1. Hi Bethany! I have a NESTA personal trainer certificate, and Les Mills advanced BODYPUMP, Les Mills CXWORX, Les Mills BODYATTACK, Bootybarre, Kettlebell Athletic, Pre-post-natal and Orangetheory Fitness certifications. So a lot. But not a general group fitness one, which is something I may do one day. For continuing education, I’ve got to IDEA Fitness Convention and done group fitness courses, I’ve also gone to a bunch of advanced training for Les Mills.

          I don’t know much about Mad Dogg, but I know spinning is tough! Good for you staying in the groove of teaching. πŸ™‚ Keep it up!!

  2. Thank you for your insight Ashley. I know I’ve considered becoming a group instructor many times but I really need to consider what my ultimate goal would be. It probably wouldn’t bring in a lot of extra income and it is a lot of commitment. I think I’m likely to just stay a participant.

    1. Hi Jen! No, it’s definitely not a money maker to start or as a hobby. However, it’s so incredibly rewarding! I wouldn’t totally rule it out, but maybe the time isn’t right for you now and you’ll know when it is. Otherwise, keep enjoying those classes. Seems like you’ve been going to a lot lately!

  3. Being a Group Fitness instructor looks really challenging to me, and I’ve grown in respect for those who do it, because it does not look easy. I love that you are giving advice to people who are considering, and that you’re honest about the challenges.

    1. Hi Emily! Totally! I think a lot of people think it looks easy, so it must be easy. But it’s not – especially if you are still juggling a regular job to pay your bills. Thanks for sharing the Tweet, lady! Hope all is well!

  4. Thank you!! I’m literally in the middle of barre instructor training while also working a normal 8-5. Perfect timing on the insights πŸ™‚ Love your blog, keep up the awesome work!

  5. I am currently a Group Fitness Instructor/Personal Trainer while also maintaining my 8-4 day job in a non-profit, being newly married, a new home owner, and my personal life/fitness goals. I teach bootcamp/circuit style classes 3-4 evenings per week and fill in for co-workers (often times 5:45 to 6:45 a.m.). I will tell you it’s a struggle and it’s hard to juggle everything all at once but I have a super supportive, helpful husband and I LOVE teaching so much! My participants are amazing and inspire me daily.

    1. Hi Kerri! I’m tired just thinking about your schedule hehee — but I would say my life feels the same way. We do it because we love it. And does your hubs come to your classes? I can only rarely get mine to come! Keep up the amazing work, lady!

  6. Such a relatable post! I teach 6am yoga classes a few times a week, before heading off to my day job. It can be tricky to fit teaching into an otherwise full schedule, but it is so rewarding and provides a great balance to a desk job. What I’ve found from doing this the last couple years is that you should expect to spend a fair amount of time planning your classes (music, moves, themes) outside of the studio/gym. This means you should be able to commit to spending at least twice the amount of time you think you need, at least initially. I teach 6 hours a week and easily spend another 5 planning and prepping for classes! I totally agree, though, that the personal connections you make, combined with the potential to positively impact someone’s day, makes it all worth it. Have a great weekend!

    1. OHHH yes, I have written about the prep in another post and may do a full additional post about what you need to know before becoming an instructor. The prep takes LONGER than teaching the class for sure. I feel ya! And teaching classes helps to give you even more energy for your job, right? Thanks for saying hi, Kate! Keep up the good work!

    1. That’s so cool you used to be a ballet dancer. Teaching barre or dance would clearly be a good fit for you one day after the baby! πŸ™‚

  7. This is a great article. I have so much respect for instructors whether they have another job or not, and this lays out why they deserve it!

    1. Hi Coco! Thank you so much for saying that. It’s definitely not as easy as it looks – but we do it because we LOVE helping people. What’s your favorite kind of class?

  8. Good morning Ashley,
    I may have lost my mind a little, but I want to teach Pure Barre. The training is something I’m definitely considering for 2017.

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    1. Hi Jill! I’ve heard that Pure Barre does a good training — the company puts it on for franchisees, right? Good luck to you!! You can do it!

  9. I got AFAA certified a bit ago and literally JUST signed up for a Les Mills BodyPump training. The training is in two weeks and I’m excited but a bit nervous. Thanks for all these great tips, I really hope to be teaching by spring and over the summer when I’m off. =)

  10. I love teaching cycle. I’m so glad I’m back at it again. I did teach a pre-programmed core class for a few months, and it actually stressed me out a lot. I find I’m naturally able to choreograph things because I was a dancer so following someone else’s routine isn’t in my genes!

    1. Hi Megan, Some people definitely feel that it’s hard to learn choreography, and I get that. I’m glad you enjoy making up your spin programming! πŸ™‚

  11. Right now it’s not a time for an instructor, I’ll simply be a participant and I’ll follow my leaders. After a couple of years, I’ll give a try to be an instructor.

    Thanks for motivation I love this post and I’ll pass to my instructor.

  12. I’m certified in Body Attack. I’ve been participating in Les Mills classes for years, and reading your blog gave me the inspiration to approach the group fitness manger. All l did was tell her I’m interested in teaching and everything fell in place; going to training and becoming certified etc. I’m now moving to AZ and hoping to continue teaching. If you know anyone in the Phoenix area…..I’m looking! Les Mills programs are the BEST!

    1. Hi Kirsten! You make my day! Welcome to the Les Mills tribe! I love to hear this. I MISSSSS BODYATTACK, because I’m not teaching it right now. I don’t know anyone in Phoenix, but good luck to you. Keep in touch and let me know how your move goes. Hope you find a gym!

  13. I just found your blog and I love it! So many good tips! I just started teaching group fitness last September (Mossa’s Group Power -which is similar to BODYPUMP). I’m super thankful and blessed that my boss at my full time job totally “gets” the fact that fitness is a part of my life and routinely lets me leave work early so I can make it to the gym to teach or just to go to my favorite class. I still have to get my 40 hours in every week but having that flexibility makes it that much easier to do my other “job”. πŸ™‚

    1. Hi Holly! I LOVE to hear that you have an understanding boss. And thanks so much for reading my blog and saying hi. Let me know what else you want to read about on there. Keep up the great work! πŸ™‚

  14. Great post! Wish I had read earlier πŸ˜‰ I jumped in teaching my own class and boy, is it a LOT of work for little pay. However, it’s the most rewarding thing. πŸ™‚ I started my career out by training one on one ladies until I could finally walk away from Walmart.

      1. Hi Jess! If you go to BlogFest through SweatPink, the conference fee is FREE. Have you gotten the emails from FitApproach/SweatPink yet? Travel to Vegas shouldn’t be too bad this year. Hope you can make it! πŸ™‚ It’s super valuable – lots of education and networking with blog and fitness friends.

    1. Hi Jess! I know, I know! Fitness is not the most profitable profession there is — but sure is rewarding. As a group fitness teacher, sometimes you end up putting in more than you get out when you count certifications and music, but after a while, you start to make more per class. And of course one-on-one. Hope you enjoy teaching your class!

  15. Great post! I’ve only ever had a full-time job while teaching, and most of my instructor friends also work full-time, so I guess I never considered that it couldn’t work way back when I got BodyFlow certified.

    I’ve had to explain my situation to a few different bosses (I haven’t left my job, but my bosses have), but they’ve all been understanding thankfully (it may help that my FT gig is non-profit and a lot of my co-workers have multiple jobs to make ends meet). I teach one early morning class and one late afternoon class, so I adjust my schedule on those days.

    1. That’s so awesome that you’re job is okay with it. It is NOT fun when your regular job is not pleased that you have a side gig and a passion for group fitness, and yes, I guess the nonprofit would is more understanding. Thanks for saying hi, Bree! πŸ™‚

  16. I have an AFAA group fitness cert and I rarely get a chance to teach freestyle at my gym. I also have a MADD Dog Spinning cert and LOVE IT. I teach that twice a week. I feel the general group-x cert is not needed since there are so many facilities using Les Mills, Zumba, Pilates ( my gym has freestyle but no room on the schedule for a new class). I’m considering Les Mills but not BODYPUMP, my local gyms have to many instructors and not enough classes to go around. I was thinking BodyStep, or Attack, but was wanting something not so hard to learn. Lol… Ashley, what made you decide NESTA and not NASM or ACE for PT?
    Connie

    1. Hi Connie! I initially did NESTA, then went back and got NASM. I agree you don’t really need the general group fitness certification. And I LOVE Les Mills — you should go for it! πŸ™‚

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