I’m not sure if you know this fun fact about me, but I’ve taken close to 550 group fitness classes in the past two or so years. I’m not trying to brag or say “Look at how fit I am,” but I want to share what I’ve learned through the process.
Last week, A Sweat Life published an article I wrote about group fitness. I briefly mentioned a horrible experience I had with an instructor. If you haven’t had a chance to read that post (and you really should), let me recap.
Two years ago, I unknowingly signed up for a West Coast Pilates class. If you aren’t familiar with West Coast style Pilates, it’s essentially Pilates on crack. It was my first time at that studio and I felt like a complete idiot. I had no idea what was going on or what to do. To make matters worse, the instructor was particularly unkind to me for no reason. While I have seen so many instructors go out of their way to help first-timers, this guy seemingly enjoyed making me feel unwelcome. I had to hold back tears. I felt like my body didn’t work right. A good instructor will gently guide you and NEVER shame you. Luckily, I gave the studio another chance and found several instructors who were nothing like that guy. I’m happy I didn’t let him ruin it for me entirely.
A good instructor should be able to teach multiple levels at the same time, beginners to advanced. Everyone in a group fitness class will have different strengths and weaknesses anyway. For example, some people have strong arms, but weak legs. A decent instructor should at least try to accommodate everyone. And if they can’t, someone doesn’t have a challenging workout and someone else inevitably ends up injuring themselves.
Furthermore, an instructor needs to make sure everyone knows how to the machines and equipment properly. Being short (5”3 on a good day) can be a challenge for me because most equipment is designed for taller people. Some exercises have to be modified or I sometimes use equipment differently than someone who is six feet tall. We all deserve to get the most out of our workout and if you aren’t comfortable working with equipment, it becomes impossible to have correct form. If you feel something isn’t right or you just aren’t sure if you are performing an exercise properly, ask the instructor. Their job is to guide you.
Then there’s the playlist factor. Musical taste has no correlation to teaching, but we all know there’s only so much EDM a person can take if they aren’t on molly. But, in all seriousness, we know how much easier it is workout to music we actually like or at the very least provides a beat that’s compatible to the tempo of the exercise at hand. I once walked out of a spin class and canceled my membership to a gym after an instructor played this song. If you aren’t sadistic enough to click, it’s a super slow, annoying song and by annoying I mean pretty much a musical abomination. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t the only person who walked out of that class. As a result, my current standards for playlists consist of anything that isn’t that song.
But I’ve also had lots of positive experiences. Because I’m rather petite, if you tell me I’m strong, you win my undying love, appreciation and extra karma points. Say I have great form, then I will think of you as the American Express Platinum of fitness instructors. Because of my stature, many people perceive me as weak. I even use to think of myself as weak, until I had instructors tell me otherwise. While anyone has yet to describe me as the kind of person you “wouldn’t mess with in a dark alley,” you wouldn’t want me to accidentally kick you.
Fitness can be transformative. It’s a cliché, but changing your mind can change your body. Instructors should encourage you and safely push you to try harder. I think this is all part of body positivity. If you are going to do something to improve your physical and likely emotional wellbeing, you deserve to do it in a supportive environment with people who make you feel more confident. It doesn’t matter what your ability is, what your body looks like or what your goals are. And if you’re really lucky, they like Beyonce just as much as you do.