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7 Surprising Qualities of a Great Group Fitness Instructor

Group fitness instructor leading ab exercises

What are some qualities of a great group fitness instructor? I’m sure it’s a no-brainer that group fitness instructors should like to work out. They also need to have a pretty good grasp of biomechanics and body functions, or at least a desire to learn all of those things. But, what about the qualities that aren’t so obvious? Do group fitness instructors need to be extroverted or rhythmically inclined? My short answer is not necessarily. In my experience, some of the best Group X instructors are shy outside of the studio and some were even born with two left feet.

But, there are common characteristics that make for fantastic group fitness instructors. Here are a handful of the qualities important to the job.

Great Group Fitness Instructor Quality #1: Adaptability

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve showed up to teach a Group X class only to find the stereo not working, the mic out of batteries or my pants have a hole in them. The best group fitness instructors have learned to roll with the punches, and always have a backup plan. It’s also the reason we all have those sexy raspy voices — is the mic ever working?! 🙂

While it’s great to be able to go with the flow from Day 1, this one gets easier with time. After enough classes under your belt, you’ll start to know exactly what you’ll do when the stereo is out or when you run out of equipment for participants, etc.

Great Group Fitness Instructor Quality #2: Preparation

It’s certainly important to be flexible when challenges arise, but it’s just as important to put time into planning your class in advance. Nothing is worse than coming into class and sitting around for a few extra minutes as the instructor figures out what to do.

Make sure you’re finding ways to mix up your fitness routines and workout playlists, so your participants don’t get bored. Also, preparing a lesson plan is a great way to make sure the workout will take up the whole hour and balance out each muscle group involved.

Great Group Fitness Instructor Quality #3: Eloquence

Since fitness is all about movement, it would seem like it would matter more for instructors to be able to perform the exercises well in front of the class. But, it’s even more important for group fitness instructors to be able to describe the exercises clearly. On top of that, group fitness instructors should be able to accurately explain form cues, so that participants can understand how to self-adjust their form all from one to two sentences of instruction.

I’ve seen stellar group fitness instructors come in with a taped ankle, sit in front of the room and lead an amazing workout because they are able to provide instructions, cues and motivation all verbally.

Great Group Fitness Instructor Quality #4: Thick Skin

I wish I could say that every participant is a pleasure to work with, but unfortunately there will be people that are mean to you as a group fitness instructor. Some will blame you for their problems, whether it’s their fitness plateau or overworking injuries. Others will “jokingly” tell you that your Group X class, the music or lesson plan sucked.

As a group fitness instructor, you’ll have to find ways to handle these situations and try not to let these comments affect you in the long term. You’ll also deal with wonderful, passionate, friendly participants, so I hope you won’t let the one or two outliers distract you from the great work you’re doing.

Great Group Fitness Instructor Quality #5: Quirkiness

I’ve taken a lot of group fitness classes over the years, and the one thing I don’t like to see is an instructor that tries to be perfect to a point where it comes across as disingenuous. That’s why I much prefer instructors that have a quirky uniqueness about them. Find whatever makes you special and own it. All those times we mess up or are a little off make us more interesting, relatable and just plain fun to be around.

Great Group Fitness Instructor Quality #6: Persistence

Working in the fitness industry and maintaining group fitness certifications requires a lot of time and upkeep. If you think about how much the industry has changed, you’ll be glad that we’re required to keep up-to-date on our certifications in order to teach. For example, new research suggests static stretches are not helpful during a warm-up, which is why we’ve replaced them with dynamic exercises that warm the body and actively prepare our muscles for the workout. Yet, even recently I’ve gone to other activities, like sporting events or casual workouts, where folks are still stretching before they exercise. It’s because the people leading those activities aren’t required to keep updated on the latest findings in fitness and wellness.

If you want to be a great group fitness instructor, you’ll have to be persistent in your fitness education, and always seek new industry insight.

Great Group Fitness Instructor Quality #7: Multi-tasker

When you teach a Group X class, you need to be able to keep the class working through each exercise without any awkward breaks, share modifications and progressions to accommodate every fitness level and provide form cues to make sure folks are doing it right. The list goes on. When you first start teaching group fitness, it will feel almost impossible to say everything you want in between each exercise. It’s a good idea to practice leading certain exercises while listening to your playlist, so you can work on the best ways to phrase each cue and how it will fit within the timeframe.

As you get more comfortable teaching group fitness classes, the multi-tasking will come naturally, and you’ll be able to lead the class through an exercise, perform it in front of the room and walk around to correct form — all in an hour’s work.

These are a few qualities of a great group fitness instructor. Many of these can be learned, so if you don’t feel confident in your ability to multi-task in the first class, that’s okay. Over the years, teaching Group X classes has improved my ability to adapt and have thick skin. I remember those first few group fitness classes being awfully scary to teach. If you’re persistent and prepared, the rest will come naturally and you’ll be a great group fitness instructor in no time!

For more group fitness tips, check out the group exercise ideas page.