I am a group exercise instructor, and I have a secret.

My name is Annabelle, I am a group exercise instructor, and I have a secret.

I have been working in the fitness industry for nearly a decade now. If you count making instructional exercise videos with my brother when we were kids, then I’ve been a fitness professional for closer to 25 years.

Most consistently, and currently, my role has been as a group exercise instructor. As far as instructors go, I have very few pet peeves about group classes. I really don’t mind if people come to class late, or leave early, or generally follow their own routine (unless you are pulling out a mat to do sit-ups when the 20 other people are doing squats and jumping rope. I’ve seen it, and it was just plain unsafe). I love answering questions even if I already explained it in class. If you seem responsive at all, I will happily correct your form a thousand times. I promise you, I am not being even remotely sarcastic. I prefer for people to call me out if I say something that is wrong or misleading, ask me to repeat myself, to turn down or up the music, to bring new music, rather than have them leave a complaint at the front desk after class is over.

Here’s a tip to share with any gym-goers you know. Complaining will likely not change the instructor’s behavior because only about one in twenty complaints even make it back to them. However, if you point out what is making the class a less than pleasant experience for you, the instructor can adjust, right then. It’s magical really.

It’s not MY class, it’s YOURS. Trust me; although I like to fully participate in the workout, it’s my JOB not my LEISURE time. My attention is on YOU, and it’s on what we’re going to do next, and I am also probably counting, and watching a timer and the clock, and trying to subtly correct form without making someone feel self-conscious, and I am trying to be motivating and encouraging without being annoying or chirpie, or talking so much people start to tune me out. I am also always trying to figure out how I can make the class and the workout better, for you, not for me. I know what I am doing, and I love it, and I want you to as well.

Some fitness professionals refer to the people who take their classes as participants, others, as students. I like both, but neither is what most people embody when they show up to take a class. Whether it’s a Spinning® class, muscle definition, step, kick boxing, body blast, hard core, water aerobics or any other group format, the typical expectation is that if your body shows up, hangs in there, and leaves covered in sweat, then you have had a successful workout. A bonus is that you might also feel validated for the poor food choices you make, or that you haven’t met a fitness or health goal in a while.

So here it is, my secret, my homunculus who chants at me through every class to share information and teach skills to everyone in the room (who are mostly ignoring me and thinking about their dinner, or work, or their kids, or the skinny jeans they think mindless Spinning ® will get them into), my single, unrelenting group exercise pet-peeve:

 When people come to class, but are not present. When people expect to be taken out of their bodies, into a twilight zone, where their minds can be distracted, while their bodies go through the motions.

I don’t want you to forget what happening, I don’t want you to be tricked into burning calories, and I don’t want to be your excuse for a crap diet. And it is really frustrating to know, that this is what many people want from their instructor.

I want you to learn the movements, I want you to memorize how they feel, I want you to appreciate and notice your body. I want you to focus on every minute of the class, I want you to enjoy how it feels, and I want that mindfulness to spill over into your life. I want you to be present, be aware and accepting of all the sensations you are experiencing in your body. I want you to be a student AND a participant, not a mindless puppet.

If you hate to workout, even if you are feeling like you hate your body, still be present. Give yourself a chance. To expect full distraction is to surrender to the frustration and solidify that hate. Learning how to perform new skills with your body will begin to repair your mind/body relationship. Additionally, as your become better at the skills of exercise, you’ll crave more, learning is a thing of momentum, and before you know it, you might catch yourself fully engaged in a challenging group exercise class, reveling in what your body can do, and feeling happy.

And finally, I don’t want you to think that if I help you to sweat a lot it will make your worries and stress go away. It might help you cope, and if you learn to be present during class you might escape for an hour, but when you walk out of class, your worries and stressors will still be there. Hopefully now you know that you have the control, the tenacity, and the skills to stay calm, meet them head on, and conquer them.


4 responses to “I am a group exercise instructor, and I have a secret.

  1. Apparently I’m not an instructor because I’m having a difficult time envisioning people “spacing out” during class and not killing themselves or the person(s) next to them. I know that I would but I’m not very coordinated so I have to hang on EVERY word, watch the demo, then possibly watch the person next to me get started. LOL!

    • Oh, I have so many stories: like the man who always read the newspaper in its entirety spin class, and the woman who always did random yoga poses in the full-body class, and the many many people who come to class and for the most part appear to be doing what everyone else is, but they are listening to their own music via ipod…seriously, they must have hearing damage to play it loud enough to cover the class music…so many stories.


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