Signs you’re taking a class from a bad group fitness instructor

Have you ever been to a bad group fitness class and walked out of there almost a little angry because of the bad group fitness instructor? I sure have.

Even though I’ve been teaching group fitness classes for a long time and know the right way to lead a workout, I don’t expect perfection from every class that I attend. Not at all. I love variety in teaching styles, and I love learning from different types of people in all sorts of settings. Yet there are certainly a few things that rub me the wrong way in a class.

That’s why today, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you — the signs of a bad group fitness instructor.

Signs of a bad group fitness instructor via A Lady Goes West

Signs you’re taking a class from a bad group fitness instructor

A bad group fitness instructor does the following …

  • Puts on the music and begins the class with zero introduction. People are about to follow your voice, moves and lead for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, so they at least deserve to have a hello. While you may know most of the participants and they may have signed up for class by seeing your name, it’s still a good idea to say hi, give your name, a brief overview of what’s about to happen in the workout (or at least the focus of the day) and a thanks to the group for showing up. I hate it when an instructor just opens up with the first move. It’s not right. Set the scene. Be a host. Show some manners.
  • Lets his/her “out-of-the-gym” mood and life show on his/her face. Do not. I repeat, do not let your participants or members know if you’re having a bad day. Your job is to motivate, inspire and lead them. While you can certainly be a real person and chat about your life before or after class, there is a fine line between being “real” and being a downer. If you’re an instructor, it’s your job to be professional and deliver a great workout, whether you have a headache or a to-do list a mile long. Show up. Be present. Be positive. 
  • Teaches each class as though everyone is a regular. While I’m all for creating a community and interacting with your regulars as though you’re old friends, as an effective instructor, you’ve got to give some compulsory cues and teach every class as though there is someone a little bit new in the room. It’s the right way to do it. Because a lot of times, people enjoy the reminders of basic set-up. And sometimes people may not speak up and let you know that they’re new, so you have to make sure you’re creating a safe environment for them within the larger group. Not to mention, if your routines are exactly the same from week-to-week and people don’t need coaching, you need to seriously evaluate your programming. Variety is key.
  • Doesn’t shut up. There is something very powerful about purposeful silence. And we all need to practice that in life, both inside the group fitness studio and out. Sometimes group fitness instructors feel like they need to narrate every second of every class, but a lot of times, just closing your mouth and letting the music and exercise take place is a better choice. Work the silence! It’s a lot harder to pause and read the room than it is to talk over it. Trust me. Experience means shutting up when it’s needed.
  • Corrects participants by making a scene or singling someone out. I recently attended a class where an instructor asked everyone to look as she corrected a shy participant in the middle of the room. That poor person was mortified, and I’m fairly certain they will never return to that awful studio. While it’s okay to use a model participant to show an option or the right way to do something, you should never call out people for doing something wrong in front of others. It’s not nice. Not nice at all. Think about how you would feel if you showed up to do something out of your comfort zone and were made the example in class. Not good. Not welcoming. Not what group fitness is about.

A few other things that bug me? When an instructor teaches the whole class in the same yelling voice. There is such a thing as “layers of coaching” and using a conversational voice vs. a motivational one, and I really despise the monotone instruction. Also, playing the music way too soft or way too loud (but really, can it ever be too loud?) can be hard to take. Finally, staring in the mirror at his/her reflection during class rather than looking at participants is also quite irksome. I mean, get over yourself. It’s about them, not about you. Just take your selfie after class and get on with your day.

I’ve experienced a little bit of all of these things while attending tons of classes over the years in big corporate gyms, private studios and even during outdoor bootcamps. While at times I’ve still had a good workout from a bad instructor, there’s little to no chance that I’ll be a repeat customer in that particular time-slot. Life’s too short to take classes from bad group fitness instructors. Right? 

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Questions of the day

What’s something that you hate to see in a group fitness class?

What’s one quality that you love to see from your group fitness instructor?

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76 Comments

  1. There is one spin instructor who shouts constantly throughout the whole class and constantly asks everyone “how you feeling?” It drives me insane. Now when I see her name on the schedule I will not go. Having someone shout at you and ask you how you’re feeling every five seconds is not my cup of tea.

  2. Totally agree with all of these! An instructor who shows up not knowing the choreography turns me off too. If it’s your job to know a new release, then know it! The gym is the highlight of my day most days so if an instructor can’t prep for class, what is the paying client supposed to think?

    The worst experience I’ve had is an instructor showing up for his step class drunk — like noticeably so and smelled like booze. He apparently had a blowout with his boyfriend and was either drunk from the night before or had been day drinking. And this was at a luxurious NYC gym… he got fired. After falling off his step.

    1. OH MY GOSH, Diane! A drunk instructor? That’s crazy, and I’ve definitely never seen that. And YES, instructors need to have it together for class. For sure.

  3. Yes to all of these! I especially dislike the stereotype that to be a fitness instructor you need to yell the entire time. That’s not definitely not me! I try to use clients that have good form as an example, I think that makes that veteran client feel special and like you said, doesn’t single anyone out specifically!

  4. Yup. I’ve been lucky most of the time, but there are always people in there who just don’t get it. I also hate when the instructor seems to just be going through the motions–ooookaaaay. noowwww turn to the oootthhherrrside. Yawn.

  5. Great points, especially about the introduction! I hate it when I get the vibe that an instructor is there to get paid to do his/her own workout. There’s not much instruction/form cues happening; however, there is a lot of self-watching going on in the mirror. So annoying!!!!

    1. I know, Amy! It’s a BENEFIT to get a workout in while teaching, but it doesn’t always happen. And the mirror thing? I mean … geez. I see it ALL too often!

  6. Thankfully I’ve never experienced any of these! Sometimes my favorite instructor will make jokes about his bad day..like if we’re punching or something he’ll say that he’s pretending it’s his coworker who took his food or the refrigerator that decided to break. I love when the instructors give you a little peak into their life without having it take over the class!

  7. Such great points!! The worst is definitely the monotone teacher. We used to have a spin instructor that was like that and one day I went to my regular class and she was subbing so I walked out and did my own workout instead. She just was not motivating at all and had no personality.

    Another bad instructor I encountered would talk about food during class – what she was going to enjoy after class and what she was burning off that she ate that day … not a very good way to be instructing at all. Shouldn’t they be teaching you to have a positive view on exercise and food?!?

    I love when group instructors take the time to get to know the people attending their class and make you feel like they are genuinely happy that you’re there.

    1. Hi Catherine! Talk about food during class? That’s weird. We should be working out to feel good, not dreaming about a post-class burger hahah. And if you are dreaming about that burger, keep it to yourself. And YES for getting to know participants in class, that’s so important. 🙂

  8. I totally agree with these points! I can’t stand when instructors talk the ENTIRE time without breathing. It just doesn’t seem natural, and it certainly doesn’t seem like they have time really see what’s going on in the room to make corrections. Also, it really bugs me when teachers have choreography (like barre, for example) and their “down for two, and up for two” is totally off the music. Maybe it’s just the dancer in me, but it literally makes me want to walk out. I can’t take it! Haha! 😉

  9. I’ll also add, instructors who gripe about gym politics. I’m sure working at a gym is just like any other job, but as a member, I don’t care. I’m there to get a good workout, not hear about how you’re being managed.

  10. Love this – and why do I feel like this branched from your yoga classes. 😉

    I’ve definitely experienced great and terrible group instructors, and you’re so right on your points. I also dislike it when fitness instructors tell us “they’re feeling lazy today” or something of the sort. I’m trying to do the exact opposite. Don’t tell me that’s how you’re feeling today!

    Great thoughts!

    1. You bet, Jessica! This one was totally inspired by that terrible yoga studio. You got it. And NO, nobody should ever say they are feeling lazy! Agreed!

  11. Love this Ashley! They are all so true. The only free hour members may have in their day is with you, so make it count.

    My pet peeve is when I know instructors memorized the cues in the dvd for the cheesiest clutch phrases “only pump can hurt like this,” “eat sleep pump repeat..” I just can’t.

  12. Love these!! It’s sooo hard to critic a instructor because I can’t even imagine how hard a job it is to try to motivate people and stand up and talk /coach for a full hour…but I would for sure say instructors who know someone is new yet don’t really help them learn the moves (ie BodyPump) gets me..makes me so sad because I know that person is going to walk away sore and potentially in pain/hurt because they haven’t been taught the correct form. It just takes a few seconds to go over (mic still on) and just workout with the class ..that way you’re not singling someone out but letting new people get a closer look at the moves. I had one instructor at spin class that always talked about ‘burning calories /working off cookies and come back after the holiday break (it was around Christmas) without gaining a pound..this is why we are here..I felt like it was really poor taste to say these things because for a lot of people it’s not about weight loss but feeling good and working on strength. I felt so upset by her motivation to get people moving that I never went back to her class….great post Ashley!

    1. Hi Fiona! I know, I know… while a group setting can’t give you the exact benefits of personal training when it comes to form, there’s always a little assistance we can give as instructors from the front of the room even during a more structured Les Mills class. Eye contact can make a huge difference, when an instructor needs to correct someone. Oh and the holiday thing? No thanks. 🙂

  13. Great post! Group fitness is about the only thing I do at the gym so I’ve encountered a lot of these types of instructors. The hard thing is that my gym doesn’t offer a huge variety of classes so I’m kind of stuck with those not-so-great instructors. I feel so bad for the new people who come to this HIT class I’ve been doing & the instructor doesn’t bother to really show them how to do the workouts. Kind of like what Fiona said in her comment too– they usually don’t come back!

    1. That’s not good at all, Megan. And it’s okay if the class isn’t the greatest, as long as the instructor provides a good workout — but having a variety to choose from is ideal. Too bad about your gym! I hope you at least enjoy your workouts. 🙂

  14. These are all good points! I like when instructors correct me on things, but I hate when they constantly correct me on EVERYTHING. It messes up my workout and kind of annoys me to be corrected every 5 seconds when I’m not a newbie to the workout!

    1. I know, Nicole! It’s a big no-no to repeatedly fix someone over and over. Because it can get annoying for sure and make them feel frustrated. If someone is doing something unsafe, that’s different. But small nit-picky changes too frequently can drive people away. I also like to be corrected, but not too much!

  15. Ashley I’ve been working at a gym for a few weeks now and everyone is a beginner. It really made me change the style of my instructing, demoing the move and automatically demoing the modification down and up so that everyone has options from the beginning. And yes it’s so important to introduce yourself and I like to learn peoples names so they can get special love when they are doing something amazing and I happen to be across the room when I see it! This post is fantastic and now I’ll be worried that I “yell” too much -since I like the music to be LOUD! But you are right silence can be golden!

    1. Hi Sam! I’ve also been a Coach at a brand new Orangetheory, where EVERYONE was new and it was definitely not easy to get them all doing the right thing. But it has to happen. Glad you enjoyed this post. And work the levels of your voice, lady hahahah! I’m sure you’re doing great!! Thanks for sharing this one too!

  16. Ugh this is the worst! I have been taking lots of spin classes and I definitely have my favorites and ones that I avoid. I think the biggest class turnoff for me was in a barre fit class – the music was all classic rock the entire time (which is not my favorite) and I just couldn’t get into it. I don’t expect to like every song in a class, but she didn’t mix it up to appeal to lots of genres/tastes so I don’t take her class anymore. I also have a spin teacher I avoid because she’ll scream “Do I need to come down there to make you work harder?” and even though she never does I’m terrified that I’ll get called out even though I’m pushing myself so hard I want to puke. And there’s a big difference between pushing hard and feeling good about it versus being pushed hard due to anxiety over getting called out or noticed 🙁

    1. Ohhhh wow, Kristen! That’s not a good cue for an instructor to use unless they are really close with the participant, of course. And I wouldn’t like an all rock class either. No thanks! 🙂

  17. These are great points!
    I’ve taken a variety of group fitness classes, and I definitely have my favorite instructors. An introduction is essential, and I like when the instructor walks around to offer corrections (in a kind way…obviously this excludes classes like spin). I like instructors who joke with us and make class fun while still pushing us. I cannot stand instructors who YELL and use cheesy catch phrases all the time. I was recently downtown watching a free outdoor barre class and the instructor was yelling and talking in this sing-songy voice…it was too much! Luckily I could walk away since we were just watching. 😉

    1. That’s why instructors are supposed to ask for feedback from their peers and videotape themselves — I mean, sometimes people may not even know they are being so annoying ahahah! Thanks for chiming in, Catherine! 🙂

  18. One of my biggest pet peeves is when instructors call people out/correct participants in an inappropriate manner. I know of an instructor who will say things like “You, in the red shirt, what are you doing?!” If I came to a class and that instructor called me out, I would talk to the club manager about them and probably never come back! I think sometimes instructors don’t realize how they come across. Thanks for posting this! This is the perfect post for me to check MY instructor ways too. I will definitely be thinking about this during my classes this week!

    1. Oh my gosh, Kristin! That’s AWFUL that an instructor would call people out like that. Not okay. Thanks for saying hi, and I’m glad you enjoyed this post. Happy teaching!

  19. Oh my gosh, YES! I agree with all this 100%! For Les Mills formats, if people would go to the advanced trainings, I think they could get some of this under control. Because those trainers will definitely inform you if you are yelling, not on the beat, or whatever. I first started Les Mills at an amazing club, then moved and assumed all classes/instructors were the same. What an eye opener when I realized they weren’t. That’s why I wanted to become an instructor so bad, because I had seen what Les Mills should be. It drives me crazy when the instructor has bad form (speaking all in LM talk now). Because, if you watch your DVD and educational material every release – you KNOW what is right and wrong. I could write a book about all this. However, I try to be very open minded if I’m attending an instructor’s class I haven’t been to before. Because, I have no idea if they are brand spanking new teaching their first or second class. And, I remember how awful I was when I first started and we all have to start somewhere. I’m glad people didn’t give up on me while I was figuring out how to be a better instructor. 😉 I enjoy instructors who are personable, know their stuff and enjoy doing what they do. I could go on forever on this topic, but I’ll stop now.

    1. Hi Melissa! They set you STRAIGHT in AIM trainings with Les Mills, that’s for sure. But even a new instructor should know how to correct people and introduce the class. I get it that not everyone will be a pro, and I definitely try not to judge people too hardly. Figured you’d enjoy this post, lady! 🙂

  20. i really like this, and i’m glad you pointed these out!! my pet peeves are what you said after- when an instructor has a very fake sounding “coaching” voice. also, when they do the whole workout and just give some cues, not even facing the class, and thus they cant give corrections (i’ve even had that in yoga!)
    i say, teach how you’d want to take a class! 🙂 someday if i visit maybe i can take one of your bodypump or bodayattack classes 😀

  21. Thank you for the great post. I totally agree…I’ve taken HIIT class for about 7 months. Until this, I had never taken any classes. Only personal training. Soon after I started, I noticed the instructors just keeps yelling to use heavier and heavier weights without correcting proper forms. Thankfully, my personal trainer already put me in a state I can perform in the correct form but there are so many people who even don’t know how important it is. And if you use heavier weights with wrong forms, you can be their “favorite” clients. I’m getting tired of this unprofessional and fake friendly mood in the class. Now at the class, I do what I need to do to keep myself up and going as a daily routine.

  22. Hi Ashley, I just happened by during a search on Google and saw & read this. Real eye openers here and good tips and reminders for instructors of all experience levels.

    I’ve been an instructor for 8 years, working at our local YMCA and also for a private group of 12-16 people who are interested in maintaining their fitness and chose me as their instructor after participating in some of my other classes. I’ve been instructing the private group for 4 years.

    I am blessed and honored in that I have managed to keep good participation rates and long-term workout partners in my classes. And after reading what you’ve written here, I’m convinced that its because I realized early on that I’m only a small part of their fitness equation and I regularly tell my people how proud I am of them for taking an interest in their fitness and for working hard and keeping the commitments.

    You are right on with this – I’ve seen some of the things you mentioned with fellow instructors and in other classes as a participant. Maybe even been guilty of one or two myself :).

    Thank you for bringing this to light – I know that it will certainly help me in my never-ending quest to become a better instructor.

    1. Hi Darrell! Wow! Thanks so much for the nice comment and keep up doing the great work you’re doing with your participants! It’s an important job we have! 🙂

  23. Brand new group fitness instructor here, but I can say from being a participant that DEFINITELY music can be too loud. I once atrended a class while I was a teenager where the music was so loud, you couldn’t hear the instructor. I am pretty sure I went home with temporary hearing damage that night. I didn’t go back.

    1. Hi Jen! Yes — I like to tell people who are sensitive to music to make sure they are NOT under a speaker in the room and consider earplugs — but hopefully it’s never too loud to hurt the eardrums! Sorry you went through that in a class. Congrats on becoming an instructor!

  24. I’m waaaay to late on this but I stumbled on your blog!
    I’m a spin instructor and have definitely seen irresponsible and ridiculous gestures from another instructor. As you mentioned, “treating only the regulars, as regulars”. In all my classes, I encourage the regulars to say hi to the newbies. Because as far as I know, they’re there to make friends and meet people and not just to ‘workout’. I even say ‘In my class it’s family, so say hi to the person next to you! Otherwise you’re in the wrong room.’
    Another pet peeve that I’ve seen as well is the “no introduction” part. Why?! That makes me think their workouts are all the same and they probably think there’s no need to repeat anything. I speak of the console and the basics and how the ride profile will be like so they know what’s coming.

    Thanks for this post! Very very informative! Congrats on being a new mom! Xoxo

    1. Hi Kris! Ohhh the things that bad instructors do hehehe. It almost makes it hard to go to classes when you are always on the look-out for these things, right? Thank you SO much for reading and weighing in. Go off and give a GREAT class intro! hahah!

  25. I’ve had an instructor who played NO music at all, so all I could pay attention to was the old man’/ heavy breathing beside me. Terrible! I never returned. The instructor before that talked about how hung over she was every week and went to change the song after showing us the exercise every time so that she didn’t have to work out with us. The class was also the same week after week. ?

  26. Yes, for me the music can be too loud. When the amplifier starts clipping and the speakers start distorting it is harmful to the ears. For those classes I tend to wear ear defenders. I can’t tell what the instructor is saying anyway when the sound is so distorted so for me it’s a better solution to try and read their lips, follow their example, and protect my hearing so it will still be good in a few decade’s time.

    1. Hi Greg! I think it’s a great idea of people to wear earplugs when they need it — not everyone loves the loud music — so good looking out for yourself.

  27. Great article! One of the most irritating things (that I have experienced) are instructors who are too into their own dance moves/routine and their cueing is terrible. They are so focused on doing the dance moves, I almost feel like I am watching someone in a dance competition vs them actually teaching. I appreciate their energy and passion for it but I am not here to just watch them dance and how hard they can go at it, I am here to workout 🙂

    1. Hi! hahah! I don’t really take dance classes, so but I think I know what you mean. Definitely want to feel like the instructor is there for you when you are taking a class — not there to be the star dancing in front of everyone! 🙂

  28. Thank you for this! I went to a group step aerobics class and my instructor did three of the five. The worst from my experience was teaching the class as a regular and singling out. The class was very fast-paced and I was struggling to keep up. I was still enjoying my workout, despite being a step behind. But the instructor took all that away when she started yelling at me in front of the whole class, saying she didn’t know why I wasn’t understanding the moves. It felt like everyone was staring at me and that I was the only new person in the whole room. Definitely a very isolating feeling. The class was 90 minutes so it have a break. I left without a word and without putting my equipment away at the break. Maybe some people are motivated by being screamed at…I’m not one of those people. The who experience made me hesitant to go back to a public gym, much less a group class.

    1. Hi Sarah, I am so so so sorry to hear that you went through this. I would hope that this instructor’s behavior is not how other instructors are at your gym — you should give other people a shot — and hope this person was having a terrible instructor day and doesn’t think that behavior is okay. Good of you to leave at the break, no need to be a part of that. I hope you find something you like at the gym, because I’m still a believer in the power of group fitness!

  29. I stumbled across this article after having a horrendous experience at my gym yesterday. I work out regularly and decided to do two classes back to back. The second was a spin class and I wasn’t as fast as the others but I was going for it, sweating and working hard. The instructor came off her bike and corrected my form which was fine but then made a snide comment about it being hard. I told her I’d just done a class. I carried on despite feeling uncomfortable. She came over again screaming at me to go faster and I said I can’t. She then argued. My left knee sometimes gets pressure from an injury years ago so I have to be careful. Rather than back off, she had a go at me. Now, I know I could’ve said about my knee. But even if my knee was fine it was just too much. I was working so hard but being safe and to single me out twice made me feel awful. I got off my bike and ran out and cried in my car. Sounds dramatic but she made me feel so small and embarrassed I panicked. Instructors like her are the reason people are scared to start the gym and group classes.

    1. Hi Ella, WOW! The way this instructed behaved is NOT okay. The only reason an instructor should be so hard on someone is if they personally know that person and personally know their limits. You are always allowed to speak to the gym manager, or ask for an email address of the group fitness manager to leave a comment, if you need to. I’m truly sorry you went through this. I’m sure the instructor thought they were being helpful – but clearly they were misguided. Hope you keep going to the classes you like.

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