At RateYourBurn, we are constantly thinking about what makes a good fitness instructor and how we can help instructors increase their career trajectory (we'd love nothing better than to hand out 5-star reviews every day, believe it or not!). Over the past 15 months and more than 500 classes, I have come to have a general understanding of what makes me (and the RYB community) tick. So I share with you: 25 great habits that make a stellar fitness instructor.
Teaching a great class is a combination of science and magic. The magic part, we can't help you with that. But we CAN provide this list of habits that we notice over and over in highly-rated instructors.
1. Arrive Early.
...To mingle, not just set up your mic. It's the best way to get to know your clients and their needs before class starts. Make your way around, find out who's new, who has injuries, who's nervous. This will pay huge dividends, especially if you remember and use the information you collect.
2. Own the room from minute 1.
I love when I walk into class and immediately know who the instructor is, not because they're fumbling with the sound system, but because they've got that confident instructor swagger. Even if you're nervous, suck it up and step into your instructor super-suit. You're about to teach me. I want you to be confident and competent. Oh...and SMILE.
3. Hook up your iPod before class starts.
I love to be greeted by some pre-class pump-up tunes. It's the same concept as foreplay, people... Get me ready for the main attraction. This isn't just a high-intensity class thing. I love some softer music before a slower class, too.
4. Touch me.
I'm not just talking about corrections (that's No. 16). I'm talking about using physical contact to make a connection. One of my favorite spin teachers always touches students' hands as he walks by their bikes, and I've had some yoga teachers touch the small of my back or my shoulder while introducing themselves. It's the best.
BUT: If you're going to do this, it has to be natural. If you're not a touchy person to begin with, don't force it.
5. Make an extra effort to keep the energy high in a small class.
Keep a back pocket full of strategies to deal with a less-than-packed room. A few I've liked:
- Asking everyone to come up together to the front of the room, like a pack.
- Making sure to know everyone's name and using it, often.
- Introducing the students to one another to create more of a group mentality (a leisure you wouldn't have in a huge class).
- Complimenting students on their dedication (we're the few, the proud, the people who made it to class today!). Even if the class is empty because it's a new slot or you're a new teacher, just make us feel good for coming. Turn the low turnout into a special experience.
6. Encourage me to meet my neighbor.
I'm not naturally a meet-people-in-class kind of person, so I always enjoy when instructors require us to make that connection. Here are a few strategies I've liked.
- Pairing us up with a neighbor for a two-person exercise.
- Asking us to "turn and tell your neighbor how amazing they're doing" or "give your neighbor a high five."
- Asking half the class to do something high-intensity while the other half cheers, and vice versa.
7. Curse (sometimes).
Within reason, I'm a huge fan of a well-inserted profanity. It's a great sign of confidence and another way to cue desired intensity. But use only when appropriate (AKA, maybe don't tell us to "calm the f*ck down" in savasana).
8. Find a great catch phrase.
This one cannot be forced. It has to be a phrase that people have responded to in the past—something that has to come about organically, a specific type of noise or question. Many of my favorite instructors have a calling card.
9. Make the class relevant.
No matter what time of day or holiday it is, find a reason to tell me how awesome it is that I'm there and not somewhere else (in bed, out drinking, on vacation). I love when an instructor makes me feel good for being there at 6 AM or pumps me up for the upcoming three-day weekend.
If it's a holiday, or something noteworthy has happened in the news, consider making a relevant playlist for the cause, or theming the exercises.
10. Be excited about your playlist.
I'm not a music snob. In fact, I enjoy a wide variety of the musics. When an instructor gets pumped for their jams or mentions "what an amazing playlist" they have for us, I often end up paying more attention to it and enjoying it more. It's psychological, but if you're excited about something, I get excited, too! Brainwash me, I don't mind.
11. Put fresh music in my earholes.
I am no music guru (if you want to talk to a workout music guru, follow my girl, BeFit, on Facebook or check out her amazing Big Mix workout playlists), but I know a stale track from a fresh one—and I also know when you use the same playlist two classes in a row. (Kick that habit to the curb, pronto.) Music is like a heart pumping blood through the fitness body. If you were a doctor, would you pump stale blood into your patients?*
*My apologies for the creepy, nonsensical metaphor.
12. Match the music to the beat.
This might seem obvious, but beat-matching is so underutilized in fitness classes. Whether it's a strength class, a barre class, or a cycling class, use those beats to motivate—and make an effort to keep everyone together, too. There's nothing more motivating than a class in unison.
13. Don't ask me, tell me.
You are the instructor. I want you to be firm in your instruction. Remove the upward inflection at the end of your sentences. When every command sounds like a question, it makes me wonder if you know what you're doing.
14. Recover gracefully from mistakes.
A tricky but important skill. When something breaks or malfunctions, or you forget to repeat an exercise on the other side, calmly deal with the situation without losing time to win my ultimate respect. Make a list of things that could go wrong in class, and know in advance how you would deal with them.
15. Encourage noise.
If someone whoops or screams or Indian War-cries, DO NOT IGNORE THEM. Take it as a massive compliment and encourage the bejesus out of that behavior. It means they're having an amazing time—and if you reward it, you might be able to get others to join in. Then you have your students feeding energy off of one another: a recipe for magic.
16. Correct the sh*t out of me, no matter my level.
Everyone can be better. Coming to me with corrections (GOOD corrections) instantly earns my trust that you actually know anatomy and understand what you're doing (and what I'm doing wrong).
17. Remove the mic when giving me said corrections.
I want the help! But not the public shaming. Most instructors don't even realize that they're embarrassing students. Just take the mic away from your face for a sec.
18. Show love to your colleagues.
I love when instructors mention a class they took recently or talk about how great the next instructor is, in case we want to double up. It speaks to their character and shows that they support their colleagues, instead of compete with them.
19. Give me a high five.
Literally. I just love high fives. And fist bumps. And magic fingers. Spread that goon-city energy.
20. Catch me being good.
Notice when I self-correct/get deeper/work harder and call me out in approval. Call me out when I didn't realize you were watching me. It's a double whammy: positive reenforcement and a reminder that you're always watching.
21. Make eye contact.
...with ME. Not with the mirror or with the cute girl next to me. Look into my eyes! I'm not a wolf. I won't take it as a sign of aggression and jump for your jugular. Typically. Unless you're pregnant with a half vampire baby and I'm trying to mate with the baby before it's born.
22. Learn my name, and use it.
Everyone loves to hear their name, especially when attached to a compliment. It's a true skill to remember names, but it can be honed (there are a lot of brain-training games that can help).
23. Embrace the potentially embarassing side effects of your class.
Sometimes, we don't know what's normal and what's not. When my muscles fail or when my pores start projectile squirting or when my flying crow plummets to the earth, I need some reassurance. For example, in barre class, when my legs shake like a hot potato, say "YES! THAT SHAKING MEANS YOUR BODY IS CHANGING!" Or if I'm trying a headstand and I fall, say "Falling is great! I'd rather see you try and fall than not try at all!"
24. Develop an end-of-class ritual.
Let your students savor the work they've just done. Give me a minute to be excited about it before you push me out into the real world. Kind of like how my dog leaps in circles when the coffee grinder goes on in the morning because he knows that he's about to get fed. Let me feel that excitement and accomplishment of having gotten through the class for a few minutes. It could be a stretch routine or a savasana—but if you ritualize the sequence, my brain will feel comfort every time it's repeated.
25. Stay after class to chat.
...For the same reason you mingle before class. Get to know your students, get feedback, let them know they can review you on RateYourBurn. Just be a normal, nice person. We're super curious to know what you're like once you're not doing the whole instructor performance thing. Sprinting out of class diva-style is such a bummer.
So, Burners: What did we miss? What's your favorite instructor habit? Do you agree with ours? Let us know in the comments!
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