If you’re looking to become a fitness instructor, you’re likely already aware that you’ll need to get a certification to teach, like ACE or AFAA. As long as you pass one of these tests and are CPR/AED certified, you can officially teach a class. But, imagine a certified group fitness instructor walking into class on their very first day without having ever taught a fitness class in their life — pretty terrifying for both the instructor and participants. Since it’s not required as part of the certification, how do aspiring fitness instructors get the experience they need to successfully teach a class? My suggestion: find an expert group fitness instructor to be your mentor.
I trained to become a fitness instructor through a year-long program at UCLA, which included getting paired with a mentor and assisting in that person’s group fitness class each week. This had the biggest impact on my actual ability to teach an exercise class. I was able to start by just teaching the warm-up, getting feedback from the instructor each week on how to improve, and building up to teaching more and more of the class.
Since having a mentor was so pivotal to my experience in becoming a fitness instructor, I’d like to offer a few suggestions for anyone looking for a group fitness mentor.
If you want to become a fitness instructor, here’s how to find the right mentor.
Step One: take a ton of group exercise classes with a ton of different instructors.
The best way to get experience with group exercise is to participate in a lot of classes. That way, you’ll start to notice what types of teaching styles resonate with you. I would even suggest taking classes out of your comfort zone — dance, spinning, aqua, boot camp, kickboxing, etc. Normally, we get really excited about one or two formats, and have no idea what goes on in the other classes. Who knows, you may find out you love one of the less popular classes!
Step Two: talk to the group fitness instructors after class.
Once you’ve taken enough classes, start to talk to the instructors that teach the classes you really like. Instructors are usually pretty distracted before class, but after class is the perfect time to chat. You can start by introducing yourself, and talking generally about the class. Build a relationship or rapport with the instructor, so he or she can start to recognize you in class and help you with your workout.
From there, you’ll likely want to let some of the instructors know that you’re interested in teaching, and are planning to take your certification test.
Step Three: ask one to be your mentor as you become a fitness instructor.
After you begin to build a rapport with different instructors, your gut will likely tell you which instructor you should ask to help mentor you. Then, go up and let them know that you’re training to become a group fitness instructor, and ask if they would be open to being a mentor for you.
Specifically, you want to see if you can teach a short segment, like just the warm-up or a lunge routine, in one of their next classes. They may be open to giving you their email address, so you can email them your routine for their input beforehand.
Finally, you’ll want to see if they would be willing to stay after their class for just a few minutes to provide feedback on the segment you taught that day.
If anyone helps mentor you as you become a fitness instructor, make sure to thank them. A handwritten thank you note goes a long way. Depending on how much time they spend helping you, you might also want to consider getting them a small gift card to Starbucks or a frozen yogurt shop.
For more tips and tricks, check out the group exercise ideas page.