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How To Be A Better Fitness Instructor by Garage Strength

How To Be A Good (and Better) Fitness Instructor


Teaching and instructing a class of athletes at the gym or in a one on one personal training session is a praise worthy task. As an instructor you are contributing to bettering an individual’s health, fitness, and investment in longevity.

Instructors play a pivotal role in the realm of education around fitness as well. As an instructor you are able to pontificate on the benefits of physical education, the reasons for performing HIIT workouts to increase VO2 max, and how going slower, operating in a Zone 2 cardio output, is contributing to an uptick in mitochondrial volume. Instructors also get to wax poetic on how resistance based training, namely lifting weights, increases bone density.

But besides all the conversations, education, and instruction going on, there are multiple methods fitness instructors can employ to improve their instructing capabilities.  


Start With A Plan

In the world of education, teachers are tasked with making a plan around what content they will cover, what materials are needed, and what work the students will be expected to do to demonstrate their learning of the skill.

Fitness instructors will benefit greatly from heading into a session with a client or group class with a plan in place.


Have An Objective

The plan should start with an objective. What is it the participants will be coming out of the training session having gained? Is it greater mobility in the back squat? The capability to perform a snatch? Or are they going to be establishing 5k bike times?

The objective does not need to be complicated. Instructors want the objective to be as straightforward as possible, and instructors want the objective to serve the goals of the class and/or individuals.


Know What Equipment is needed

Once an objective is established, instructors need to know what equipment is needed to execute the plan. In the educational world where teachers live, this is typically seen as materials. 

So where a student in a classroom may need a pencil, paper, a computer, or access to a certain app to be able to code, or a certain book to read, as a fitness instructor the proper weights or machinery is needed to achieve the planned objective.

For instance, say the objective for the day is to train the back muscles for the client to achieve their first strict pull up. Access to a lat pulldown machine, a barbell for bent over rows, and appropriate dumbbell weights to perform incline rows are all viable options.

Which brings us to the next thing instructors need to consider when training clients, especially in a group setting.


Understand The Layout Of The Gym

With an individual client, the layout of the space isn’t as large of a concern. One person takes up minimal space in larger gyms. However, if it is a smaller space, plan accordingly based on the workout spaces layout.

In a group setting, understanding the architecture of the environment is of the utmost importance. The size of the class plays a part in this as well. Spatial awareness of the space available and how to best accommodate everyone to achieve the objective and utilize the required equipment is a must.  

Then there is time.


Keep A Clock

Clients are busy. Instructors are busy. Starting and ending on time benefits everyone.

Using a clock and adhering to a predetermined time frame helps both client and instructor stay on schedule. By staying on schedule it keeps the client engaged in the work being done and it allows you the instructor to be on task, come across as professional, and, most importantly, prepared. 

As an instructor when you stay on task and on time, the class or client who comes in next isn’t milling around waiting for you or things to start. And when things are coming to a close, clients are able to head off to their next appointment without feeling the need to rush because of your pre-planning and ability to keep things on task and moving.

But there is more than planning to become a better fitness instructor.


Be Personable

The one-on-one time between client and fitness instructor is valuable time. Remember, as an instructor the client is entrusting you to better their fitness, health, and longevity. No matter the length of time–an hour, 30 minutes, or longer–the client expects to have someone to interact with.

Depending on the client, those interactions will be different. Some clients will want to tell you about their day. Other clients will want to ask questions around the training. No matter what the conversation is about, fitness instructors need to be engaged.

As a fitness instructor you are building a relationship so it is important to be personable. 


Say Hello

Start every training session with a hello, good morning, good afternoon, or good evening. 

Be pleasant. As a fitness instructor you are making an impact on the client in many ways and saying hello, being amicable, is a great way to start the training session off on the right foot.


Ask Questions

After cordial and inviting introductions, keep the conversation going by asking questions. Don’t pry. Instead, ask everyday questions like, “How has your day been?” or “Any plans for later today?”

Now as the relationship builds, the questions can become more client specific around information they have chosen to share. Again, don’t pry but be communicable throughout the training session.


Be Perceptive

Noticing a client got a new haircut is a great way to be perceptive. It sounds quaint, but compliment the client's new haircut. Tell them it looks great. 

And if they say they hate it, give them a pick me up. 

It is important as an instructor to notice the client’s gains in the gym as well. The client should not be reminding you as the instructor about new PRs or performing skills they never have before. As the instructor, you need to notice these things, acknowledge them in a positive manner, and celebrate the client’s successes.


Converse And Laugh

As a fitness instructor, you are dealing with people. A lot of people are social. Making it a point to converse, while sticking to the plan and working towards the session’s objective, is a great way to build a positive relationship.

Another thing a lot of people love to do is laugh. No need to force being funny, but you definitely want to be laughing with clients. When they tell jokes, let the giggles fly. Humor is a great skill, as long as it isn’t done at someone else’s expense.


Be Positive

Clients want to succeed. They want to be encouraged. And for most, they want to be pushed to get the most out of their time training.

People respond well to positive reinforcement. Focus on things people do well and give cues around what needs to be done to improve. 

Point out what is going wrong doesn’t teach or instruct, it only says what it wrongs. Where good fitness instructors out shine bad fitness instructors is they provide a solution to fixing the problem they say.

That solution may take place over multiple training sessions or it may come about in one verbal cue. For instance, increasing ankle mobility takes time, whereas finding a focus point on the wall when squatting is a quick fix. 


Cues

Cueing clients on what to do is the job of every and any fitness instructor. Cues are the main means of delivering instruction.

It is important to have a bag of tricks around cues. One cue is not enough. Have multiple cues that can be delivered in multiple ways.

  1. Tactile Cues - Hands on cue where touch is necessary. Always ask for permission and wait for an Okay before proceeding. Boundaries are important.
  2. Verbal Cues - Vocal instructions around how to fix a problem or execute a movement.
  3. Visual Cues - As the instructor, perform the task being asked of the client so they can see how it is done. You can also show a video of the skill.


Continue To Learn

Maybe one of the most important things to do to become a better fitness instructor is to continually learn.

Learning can come in many facets. As a fitness instructor you can read books or take courses. You can also read blogs around various subjects.  

But reading isn’t the only way to learn. Listening to podcasts, watching youtube videos, and attending conferences are also viable options as well. 

No matter the medium, it is pivotal to continually advance your knowledge around weightlifting, health, endurance, and fitness topics and information. 


Conclusion

Becoming a better fitness instructor is a journey, not a destination. Improvement comes from deep study, professional planning, and routine engagement in self reflection to continually improve.

In the end, a client who is improving their health and fitness and is engaged and enjoying the time spent training is in a good place. 

Use any of the tips above and you’ll soon find yourself being a better, more effective fitness instructor.


About the Author

This article has been written by Earl Kunkel, co-host of the Garage Strength Podcast and co-author of the books Garage Strength Program Design, The Sports Performance Bible, and Parabolic Periodization. 

Earl is a lifelong learner and enjoys regular physical activity, especially lifting weights and riding a stationary bike. He is playfully referred to as the King of the PA Press, a title he earned by lifting a lot of weight.