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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.

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What’s The Average Group Fitness Instructor Salary?

Know the average group fitness instructor salary

Teaching Group X classes seems like a glamorous job. You get to hang out every day in sweats, work out all the time and get paid doing it. If you’re interested in becoming a Group X instructor, it’s important to know the average group fitness instructor salary before jumping into the deep end of the employment pool. It takes time, effort and experience in order to make enough money to support yourself as a group exercise instructor, which is why you see a lot of us teaching as a side hustle or hobby. But with the right experience and class opportunities, it is possible to make bank as a group fitness instructor.

What’s the average group fitness instructor salary?

According to the 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) findings, fitness trainers and instructors made an average of $36,160 per year and/or $17.39 per hour.

Salaries do vary by location. The top-earning states include New York, New Jersey, California, Connecticut and District of Columbia.

Group fitness instructor salary chart by location
Image Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

In another 2013 survey, ACE Fitness reached out to 3,000 of its certified members and found the average salaries for personal trainers to be $52,537 annually and $26 hourly, and the average group fitness instructor salary to be $52,848 annually and $26 hourly.

Group fitness instructor salary by location and position
Image Source: ACE Fitness

What factors affect the group fitness instructor salary?

In addition to location, there are many factors that will affect the salary you’re able to negotiate with your Group X director. First, the number of certifications you have. Most gyms require you to have a general Group X certification like ACE or AFAA, unless you teach a specialty class like yoga. If you’d like to make more cash money, consider adding additional certifications like a spinning or dance class. Keep in mind that each certification costs money to acquire, and some will have different costs associated with upkeep (think continuing education credits, monthly dues, etc.).

After that, many gyms will pay differently based on experience and popularity in class. Something else to consider is that some gyms will also pay an admin fee to cover your time spent preparing for each class. Talk to your director about their policies, because this can be another way to boost your salary.

What’s the outlook for group fitness instructors?

The good news is that the fitness industry is growing, which means more job opportunities for group fitness instructors. The BLS expects Group X instructor jobs to grow by 8 percent, about as fast the average job growth. This is because more people, and even more companies, are getting serious about fitness.

For more news and trends, check out the group exercise ideas and tips page.

(Image Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics; ACE Fitness)

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How to Add Variation to Biweekly Group X Classes

Woman Taking Bi-weekly Group X Spinning Classes

For the past few weeks, I’ve been subbing a Group X spinning class on Thursday evenings at my main gym. That’s in addition to the spinning classes I always teach there Monday and Wednesday evenings. Typically, I steer clear of subbing on my “off nights”, so that my participants can get some variation in their weekly workout routines. But I was able to trade the Thursday classes for ones I’ll need covered during an upcoming vacation, so this is where we ended up.

Since I have been teaching the only three evening spin classes offered during the week, I knew I would need to put extra effort into planning some variation from class to class. But, this also got me thinking about my biweekly classes I teach Monday and Wednesdays. Teaching the same class more than once a week makes it even harder to keep participants interested and engaged day in and day out.

Here are a few tips I keep in mind to make each Group X class unique, especially when you teach the same format for more than one class a week.

Don’t Try to Do it All

When you try to cram every activity into a class, there isn’t time for participants to master the exercise and make a difference in their exercise regime.

On top of that, if you fit all of the activities in one class, then when you teach another class in two days, you won’t have anything to do.

Instead, I would recommend segmenting out the activities you want to teach and doing some one class and others in the next class. That way, the class can experience these exercises for longer and you can build an entire class around a select few activities.

Focus on Different Body Parts

For example, one easy way to segment classes is by body part in a strength class. On Mondays, you can teach lower body and then teach upper body on Wednesdays. If you do this consistently, then participants will know what to expect in your class and will start planning their schedules strategically.

Otherwise, just choose a few body parts to work on and then do a different set of body parts the next class. I would still make sure to balance each exercise on a given day. For example, do chest and back on the same day or biceps and triceps. That’s because if participants can only attend one day, they won’t look unbalanced a few months into taking your class.

Use Different Group X Equipment

Another option to mix up bi-weekly classes is use different equipment in each class. On Mondays, maybe we’ll do all of our strength exercises using body bars and then on Wednesdays we’ll use dumbbells. What’s great about this is you can still target just about every muscle, but it will still seem different.

Choose a Unique Class Theme

Other classes with equipment that is either fixed or non-existent — like spinning or dance fitness — need other strategies to add variation. For these, I would select a theme for each class. This can be based on the type of activities you’ll do. For example, in one spin class I did all fast songs with lots of intervals and quick feet. You can do the same in a dance class. Maybe one day you focus on endurance drills, with moderate intensity for longer. Then, the next you focus on high intensity interval training.

For those that teach the same format twice (or more) a week, the above offers great strategies to add variety to the Group X classes. For more tips and tricks, check out the group exercise ideas page.

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How to Provide Group Exercise Cues That Stick with Members

Fitness instructor sharing group exercise cues that stick

As a fitness instructor, are you ever worried that you sound like the teacher from Charlie Brown when you share group exercise cues with your class? While you’re up in front of the members teaching each exercise, do they only hear “wah wah”? It can be tricky to teach the workout using correct information without feeling like you’re spouting off jargon. One way that I’ve been able to keep members engaged is to connect my cues with everyday activities they can relate to in a creative or quirky way.

Here are three of examples of fun, out-of-the-box group exercise cues that are relatable to most members.

“The toaster oven”

Sometimes I’ll use the imagery of an oven to help explain form to participants. For example, we’ll do an abdominal and shoulder exercise where we lay on our backs holding a dumbbell in each hand, with all of our limbs are pulled in tight like a bug on its back. Then, we’ll press our arms and legs away from each other, arms coming up overhead and legs extending out low to the floor. To explain that I want this to be a pressing motion instead of a lower and lift, I’ll say the following,

“Bring your arms and legs in tight like a ball and then push your arms and legs away from each, extending into a shallow V. Pretend you’re in a toaster oven on your back and you don’t want to burn your arms or legs, so keep them low.”

“Dusting tables”

After doing some challenging back work with weights, I’ll sometimes have the class do another set of back without weights just to add a little more oomph to the workout. I’ll ask participants to bend at the hips, so they’re in position to do bent over rows, but I’ll ask them to extend their arms to the sides in the shape of a capital “T”, using just their bodyweight to challenge them. Then, we’ll go through a series of small movements, for example,

“Move your hands so that they’re parallel and facing the floor. From here, I want you to move your hands a few inches forward and a few inches back, like as if you were trying to dust two tables at once. I’m sure if you could be anywhere else right now, it would be cleaning your house.”

“Competing with your best friend”

We all have that one friend, sibling or coworker that bring out our competitive nature. Right before a cardio interval, I’ll tell the class something like this,

“Picture your best friend right beside you, egging you on. You’re going to race them through this interval. Don’t let them beat you!”

These group exercise cues will usually get a few smiles or chuckles in class. Of course, you’ll want to use cues that feel natural to you and your teaching style. But, you’ll want to make sure your cues are engaging and entertaining for participants.

For more tips, check out the fitness motivation and cueing page.

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3 Simple Tricep Workouts for Group X Classes (Part II)

I get a kick out of finding new ways to strength train. That’s what’s so fun about being a fitness instructor — it’s a chance to get creative with how to work the same muscle groups. Last week, I shared three simple tricep workouts to show a range of different ways to achieve the same goal: working the tricep muscle.

Here are three more exercises to strengthen your triceps.

Tricep push-ups & hold

Get into a push-up position with your hands right under your shoulders. Lower your body towards the floor with elbows tight to the body. Hold the exercise when your body is halfway down and your elbow and shoulder are in a straight line.

Want to modify? Participants can be either on their knees or toes. After the exercise, consider finishing with a pushup before going towards the floor. Also, you can increase or decrease how long you hold the exercise.

Michelle doing push-up tricep workouts

Tricep Extensions with Dumbbells

When upright (standing or sitting), extend your arms over your head so that your wrists, elbows and shoulders are all stacked on top of each other, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Bending at the elbow, bring the weights behind you until your wrist and elbow are parallel.

Want to modify? You can use one weight instead of two, or replace the dumbbells with a bar. Consider incorporating a leg exercise to make it a compound movement. For example, you can do some tricep workouts along with a lunge hold or balancing on one leg.

Michelle doing extension tricep workouts

Tricep Extensions with a Band

Holding one handle of the band, face your palm towards the wall in front of you and loop the band so it’s behind your back. From there, extend that arm, so that the wrist, elbow and shoulder are stacked right on top of each other. Then, reach your other arm behind you and grab the band. Lower your arm so that your wrist is in line with our elbow and choke up on the band until it is taunt. Now, extend your arm back up toward the ceiling and repeat.

Want to modify? You’ll be able to play with your resistance, depending on how much you choke up on the band. Reach your lower hand closer toward the ceiling to make it harder and vice versa.
Michelle doing extension tricep workouts with band, facing backwards

Keep these tricep workouts in your back pocket for the next time your Group X class requests a modification. Your group fitness participants will appreciate the options.

For more exercise ideas, check out the workout routines and playlist page.


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ClassPass Upped its Prices — What Group X Instructors Need to Know

Girl holding yoga mat

As I’m sure you’ve seen, ClassPass upped its prices last week for the second time in a year and people are understandably upset. Even if your studios or gyms don’t participate in ClassPass, this is important for all Group X instructors to know, since you likely have participants (and bosses) that are affected.

Here’s a look at the changes and how this will impact you.

What is ClassPass?

ClassPass is a membership service that gives folks access to Group X classes at multiple boutique studios and traditional gyms in their area.

Here are the locations that currently have ClassPass:

ClassPass locations

ClassPass is great for consumers that like to mix up their routine and try a bunch of different classes at a plethora of studios. There’s a base membership that allows you to take five classes for a set fee. All prices vary by location, but the new costs for the base option range between $65 and $75 a month. In New York, there’s also a core membership that offers 10 classes a month for $135. Finally, you can purchase the unlimited membership for $200 in New York, and $119 in San Francisco. Other locations run in between those prices.

With the base option, prices are often better than drop-in rates at boutique studios. Each class on the base plan will run you $13 and drop-in rates at some studios can cost $20 each. If you opt for the same studio each time, you might want to consider an in-studio rate, since many have comparable options with a 10-class pass, monthly membership, etc.

As a consumer, I love the idea of ClassPass as a complement to my other workouts and classes. I haven’t convinced myself to buy a base membership yet (for days I don’t teach), but I definitely see the draw.

However, as an instructor, I also recognize the challenges that come with offering spots in a class to ClassPass users. Beyond the potential for profit loss, ClassPass also brings inconsistency to classes. Typically, classes have a good mix of regulars and first-timers. You need enough regulars to help create structure in your class and act as role models to the other participants. When you have a good mix of regulars in the class, you’re able to give everyone the attention they need to successfully complete the workout. While there are only a limited number of ClassPass spots available in a given class, it can still impact the ratio of first-timers and regulars.

I teach Group X classes that are offered on ClassPass and so far, it’s been a positive experience. Regulars and first-timers alike have been able to find success, and there haven’t been any disruptions.

I believe ClassPass is just the tip of the iceberg for new fitness business models. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out once the dust settles on the ClassPass price increases. Overall, I think it’s important for Group X instructors to be considerate of both returning members and first-timers. It’s up to us to provide everyone with a positive experience, and a key part of that is recognizing that every participant comes with different expectations and background.

Check out the group exercise ideas page for more tips and tricks based on the latest news and trends.



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The Mother’s Day Gift Guide for Group X Instructors

Mother's Day Gift Guide

For those of you looking for what to get your Group X Instructor supermom for Mother’s Day — or the supermoms that want to give their families a little nudge in the right direction — I’ve put together the following Mother’s Day gift guide.

Quick disclaimer: I am not a mom. But, I have a supermom of my own (who introduced me to group fitness classes) and a community of group fitness instructor mommy friends. On top of that, I consider myself to be a pretty good gift-giver *flips hair*.

So, here’s a look at a few gift ideas for the fabulous, wonderful, superhero Group X instructor mother in your life.

A music subscription or ITunes gift card

Woman listening to music

Figure out how your mom plays and finds music for her group fitness classes. She might use a CD or create her own playlists on ITunes or Spotify.

If she uses CDs, I’m a big fan of for premade workout playlists. If she uses ITunes, you can pick up an ITunes gift card.

You can also encourage her to try something new. Spotify is another option for Group X instructors to create playlist from a wide music selection. You can purchase a gift card to Spotify, so she can buy a Spotify Premium account and play her music in class without ads.

A new gym bag

Gym Bag for a Mother's Day Gift Guide

[$25; Amazon]

If you want to give your Group X momma something other than clothes, you might consider gifting gym accessories, like a new bag or headphones.

I received a new Adidas gym bag for Christmas and I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on it. After a quick look online, my bag is out of stock, but I’ve included a newer, similar model above.

A ClassPass subscription

Woman holding yoga mat

ClassPass is a subscription service that allows you to take Group X classes at a host of different local studios. There are a few different membership options, starting at $65 a month.

I’ve gone back and forth on whether I should include a ClassPass subscription on this list. On one hand, most instructor mommies don’t have a whole lot of time to attend other classes around town. But on the flip side, if your mom does have some extra time and loves trying new Group X classes, ClassPass is a great way to get your mom’s foot in the door at a bunch of different gyms.

A local massage or pedicure

Woman getting a massage

This one seems like a no-brainer to me. Group X instructors’ bodies are hard at work all the time. Give your mom the gift of relaxation with a local massage or pedicure gift certificate.

Victoria’s Secret sport pants or capris

Workout pants for a Mother's Day gift guide

[$64.50; Victoria’s Secret]

Victoria’s Secret has been having a 50 percent off sale on their workout pants for a limited time in stores. I just bought myself a pair and LOVE them. These pants meet my two main requirements: they’re thick, which means they won’t be see-through, and they have medium and high-rise, so no saggy pants in front of a class full of participants.

A fitness conference registration

A fitness convention master class

Group X instructors and personal trainers typically leave fitness conferences feeling inspired and rejuvenated in their craft. These conferences are all-day events with back-to-back sessions for fitness professionals to check out the latest equipment and fitness trends.

I know many moms have a hard time getting away for the day. Make it easy on momma and buy the ticket for her.

Here are two of the top national fitness conferences. You can also do a Google search for local conferences, meet-ups, etc.

  • IDEA World Convention, Los Angeles, CA, July 13-17, 2016
    • Full convention cost: $399 (sign-up for a 1-month IDEA membership free trial; just be sure to cancel it before they charge you)
    • 1-day cost: $219
  • SCW Mania Conventions, locations across the U.S., dates vary
    • Full convention cost: varies (roughly $250)
    • 1-day cost: varies (roughly $180)

I hope all of the Group X mommas out there have a fabulous Mother’s Day!

For more tips, check out my group exercise ideas page.


(Image sources: RateMDsTechCrunchSoma Sati Body Work, and Club Industry)

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Why Do You Want to Become a Group Fitness Instructor?


You might have stumbled upon this post because you’re thinking about becoming a Group X (or group fitness) instructor. First and foremost, welcome! If you choose to take that next step, the path to becoming a group fitness instructor is both rewarding, invigorating and downright challenging.

To be frank, it’s not for everyone. You’ll want to do some research before getting certified to decide if teaching group exercise classes is right for you. I wanted to share a few thoughts on the different reasons people join the fitness industry. Once you figure out your why, you’ll have a better idea if you’re going to find long-term success pursuing your passion for fitness.

Let’s talk about the No. 1 wrong reason for teaching group exercise:

I love to workout. Why not get paid doing it?

I think it’s safe to say you have to love fitness and exercise to become an instructor. But, just because you enjoy working out, doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy teaching. What’s more, you will likely work out less when you teach. That’s because important components of teaching — cueing proper form, motivating your class to work harder and monitoring for safety — cannot be done while you’re doing the workout full out in the front of the room. On top of that, the pay can often be a wash, when you add in the cost for certifications, continuing education, clothes and music.

Typically, folks that try out teaching simply because they want to get paid to work out will end up burning out of the industry pretty quickly.

However, there are many reasons to become a group fitness instructor, including:

  • I love sharing my knowledge of fitness with others.
  • I enjoy finding creative ways to work muscle groups and planning comprehensive workouts.
  • I am passionate about coaching and motivating others to be the best versions of themselves.
  • I am a stickler for exercise safety and proper form. I want to share my knowledge with others, so they can avoid injury and still be working out in another 50+ years.

The list goes on. So, before you take that next step, be sure to drill down to the reason you want to become a group fitness instructor. With the right purpose, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a rock star teacher.

For more insight into teaching fitness classes, check out the group exercise ideas and tips page.