Getting paid to work out sounds like a dream job right? One fitness instructor shares what it's really like behind the scenes at your favorite classes.

By By Andrea Blair Cirignano
October 20, 2016

If your commitment to fitness has transformed you from the casual class drop-in to the regular in the front row, you may have started to consider taking your passion one step further and moving from standout student to front-of-the-class instructor. But before you quit your day job or consider a part-time gig, there are a few thing you should know. (If the gig still sounds like the best job you could ever dream up, then go all in, get certified, and start living your best fitness life!)

"I'm not good with names" is no longer an acceptable excuse.

If this is one of your favorite quotes, get ready to retire it for good. One of the main things your gym or studio manager will look and listen for is that you're calling your students by name. Ideally, this is every student and in every class. But don't roll your eyes-this is for good reason. Students love to hear their names, it builds a rapport with the instructor and fosters a community feeling with the studio or gym.


Patience really is a virtue.

Some of the most popular instructors (who are more like fitness celebs at this point) once taught to empty rooms before they were able to bring in a packed house. "It takes a long time to build a consistent class, so be patient," says Staci Alden, group fitness manager at PRO Sports Club in Bellevue, Washington, the largest private health club in the country, "New instructors tend to think that their participants will simply appear, but it takes dedication and consistency over months and sometimes even years to develop a following."


It's actually not your workout.

Thinking you can work out while working was probably the number-one thing that drew you to want to teach in the first place, but if you are going to effectively teach your students, you shouldn't be getting in an all-out workout, too. Now, that doesn't mean you should pick up the lightest weights or slack on your demonstrations, but your focus should be on everyone else-watching their form and making your way around the room.


Expect to get down and dirty.

Not only will you be dirty (think lots of dry shampoo and unwashed workout clothes that get shoved in your gym bag so you can face the public between classes), but according to Alden, you shouldn't be surprised if your gym or studio expects you to clean up after your class. No big deal after barre, but germaphobes beware of cycling and hot yoga classes.


Fitness is a labor of love.

Don't let anyone tell you that it's impossible to earn a comfortable paycheck in fitness. It is doable...but you really have to work for it, and you better get creative. Sometimes an hourly rate looks appealing (work-life balance, hooray!), but in reality, it isn't practical to teach 40 classes or train 40 clients every week. (Read this, too: 6 More Things You Should Know Before Becoming a Fitness Instructor.)


You'll soon learn how sneaky people can be.

If your studio manager asks you to stay after to clean up or even collect payment or tickets from the class, you'll quickly see your students' true colors. Some people will show up late and leave early to avoid paying for class and others will leave their sweaty towel and all of their equipment for you to put away. "Sometimes it feels like catching sly criminals," says Alden. (We asked other instructors to share some of their most real and often hilarious moments from class.)


You will have to play mediator sometimes.

Alden says it's likely a territorial thing. "They go to the same bike, same spot, and use the same pieces of equipment and it is your responsibility to resolve conflicts when they arise," she says of those awkward instances like when someone says "that girl stole my bike!" (Wanna know how your instructor really feels? Here are 10 things your trainer or fave studio teacher isn't telling you.)


Some people may expect you to have the answer to everything.

There is nothing better than building a community of people and getting to know new faces and friends but, don't be surprised if the "trust" you build with your regulars turns into at least one of them stalking you on every social media platform. Pretty soon they'll ask you for a list of exactly what you eat every day, how much you sleep you get, and what setting you use on the stair-climber. Alden adds that "people will ask you personal questions and health questions that are WAY out of your scope of practice," which is dangerous territory-and even illegal for you to take on in some cases. So have a list of trusted professionals (nutritionists, physical therapists, specialty instructors) handy.


Fitness will be your life.

A certification might get you in the door, but if you want to keep your classes fresh, fun, and safe, you better invest a good portion of your earnings in continuing education. You'll probably spend a lot of time attending other instructors' classes-so much inspiration! You'll learn new exercises and even get ideas for new playlists. Plus, when students see instructors in each other's classes, it gives that instructor a little gym cred.