How to Become a Group Fitness Instructor

csc

 (me back in the day at Commonwealth Sports Club in Boston)

Hey guys!

Today I’m going to share with you the answer to a question I get all the time! How does one become a group fitness instructor?

I got certified in Pilates when I was a sophomore in college and my little sister Jackelyn started her group training career even earlier at the age of 18! I am so grateful to be teaching still, 7 years later and still loving it as much as the first day I started.

Oh man guys…where do I begin. Back in the day, I was teaching to classes of 2 people. I started at a small gym down the street from my school called It Figures! in Whittier, CA. They are no longer around, but they were the ones who gave me a chance to teach. Seriously, it was because of them that this all started. After I got a wee bit more confident, I applied to 24 Hr Fitness and was sooooo happy to get an email saying they wanted me to audition. Heart was beating so fast…I was so nervous…I didn’t think I was ready. My group fitness director told me to do some team teaching with a more seasoned instructor before she could give me a class. I had never taught in front of a crowd before…ever.

That Tuesday evening after my Bio class, I walked into 24 Hr Fitness in Whittier for the 5:30pm class and saw about 30-40 ladies in this dance studio. I was panicking. I headed straight to the front of the room, avoiding eye contact, met the instructor, introduced myself real quick and she gave me the headset. OMG a headset??!! I’v never worn one before. She taught me how to turn it on and place it on my head. Too big, but whatever, I needed to start! The students were getting antsy because they didn’t know why their normal instructor wasn’t teaching. She told me, “Cassey you do 30 min of abs and core and I’ll do arms and legs the 2nd half k? Okay now go.”

BIG GULP. Uhhhhhh….

All these people were staring at me. Hands were sweaty, heart was beating LIKE CRAZY.

“Hi everyone, my name is Cassey and I will be team-teaching today and showing you some intense core moves!” No response. Ok umm just go I guess…

I started with The Hundred, then did some Roll Ups, and some Double Leg Lifts. The only thing that could keep me calm was counting 10-9-8-7-6-5…My heart was SERIOUSLY beating out of my chest. It was SOOOOOO SCARYYYYY. I still remember those feelings as I type. It was terrifying.

After class, I spoke with the instructor and she gave me the one piece of constructive criticism that I will never forget. She told me, “Cassey that was good but you need to stop counting everything.” From that day on, I never did anymore. I remember immediately calling my sister and telling her that I was still shaking.

After 24 Hr Fitness and after I graduated from Whittier, I moved to Boston, started my first corporate job, and taught on the side at Boston Sports Club (love that gym). I remember seeing that Equinox was holding an audition, and if you know anything about the gym industry, to teach at Equinox is an honor. It had always been my  DREAM be a part of that place ever since the day I started instructing. I had heard how glam it was…how clean it was…and how hard it was to teach there. I had only been teaching for about 2.5-3 years at that point and I thought what the heck, let’s give it a shot.

Let me tell you. That Equinox audition was so intense you don’t even know. Top instructors from all over Boston came together in the most beautiful yoga studio I have ever seen in my life. Perfect hardwood floors, velvet curtains, soothing lights, and a room shaped like a lily pad. It was a round robin audition where all the instructors had to teach each other a prepared 2 min routine. Meaning…not only did you have to be able to do the moves that the instructor up in front was demonstrating…but you also had to perfectly execute your own routine. If the directors liked you, you were allowed to finish. If they didn’t think you had it, they would say “Okay, thanks, next please.” It was so American Idol.

After a couple hours of auditioning, they told us to go home and they’d contact us if we made it. I waited a week. 2 weeks. 3. I finally wrote the director back and asked about my standing. She said, sorry Cassey, you seemed more like a video instructor than a teacher who can engage with her students.

I was devastated.

Several months passed by. I was hating my “real” job. I ended up quitting 9 months into it without a plan. I just knew I had to get out of that toxic environment. The only thing I could practically fall back on was Pilates…so I started applying EVERYWHERE. I ended up teaching 10+ classes a week at numerous gyms and studios to pay the bills. It was hard. It was tiring. But I attribute my skills today to that period of my life when all I did was live and breathe Pilates. I started to “get it”…I started to get more comfortable in front of my students…I started to become more creative and stylish on the mat. I loved it all. Then one night as I was browsing Craigslist for fitness jobs, I saw that Equinox was holding another audition. Ugh…it had been almost a year. Should I do it? If I fail again, I should really never come back I thought. Took a deep breath and said, whatever let’s go.

Came into that same studio I’d set foot in a year ago. Saw the same directors. I wasn’t sure if she remembered me. This time, I didn’t even prepare anything. I told myself, you know what you know. Just do your thing. If you get it, good. If you don’t, who cares! When it was my turn to get in the front, my heart was at ease. I just taught like I was teaching friends. I made my peers laugh, I made their core hurt, and overall, it was very easy and pleasant. At the end of the audition, they told us thank you and that they’d get in touch with us within the week to let us know how we did. I wanted so bad to teach at Equinox. But I told myself…if it’s meant to be,  then it’ll be. Don’t worry. Your time will come.

You know, they always say…if you stop waiting for something or expecting something to happen, what you want will come true.

Then it happened. I got an email saying that that weekend out of the 50+ instructors that auditioned, they only picked 2, and I was one of them. The director did remember me. She said I had grown so much from the first time I auditioned and that I truly impressed her.

I started crying. It was so intense. I couldn’t believe it. My dream came true. I finally accomplished my goal of working at one of America’s most prestigious gyms. I called my sister. We laughed and celebrated together.

So that’s my story of my group fitness career. I’ve taught at numerous gyms along the way and loved every single one of my students in every single one of my classes. Getting that room filled to capacity, jammin’ to the music, sweatin’ to the beat….ahhhh INVIGORATING!!! I will never ever ever stop teaching. It keeps me sane and makes me so so happy. YouTube has given me the opportunity to go beyond the dance studio and teach you guys too. I am so grateful. I hope you understand that you are my life :)

Now, I want to introduce you to fitness dvd star Nicole Nichols of Sparkpeople.com who is a fellow group exercise instructor . She literally teaches EVERYTHING. I remember watching her on YouTube way before I made videos and learning some moves from her routines. Years later we are now friends and she is here to tell you the details of the fitness industry and how to break into becoming an instructor. Please, let’s give a warm welcome to Nicole!

nicole nichols 2

Cassey: Hi Nicole! Can you tell everyone who you are and how you got started in fitness?

Nicole: I actually started out studying architecture and interior design in college. But after about three years of study, I knew it just wasn’t for me. My hobby of reading nutrition books and going to the gym, I discovered, could actually be a career—something I never even considered. I discovered the major “Health Promotion” at my university, switched majors and never looked back! I decided to make my love of design and art a hobby and my passion for health and wellness into a career.

In college, I took on every possible learning experience and work opportunity. I volunteered, went to professional health conferences, joined health-related campus groups (like one that educated people about preventing eating disorders and encouraged body love), and took part in training programs at my university rec center, which is where I first worked as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. When I took a required class called “Writing for Healthcare” I knew I had found my niche: I wanted to write about health and fitness for a living. So I called up the campus newspaper to offer my services, wrote a regular health/fitness feature, and got a call from SparkPeople. The rest is history.

I’ve been writing, blogging and creating health and fitness stories for nine years now. All the while I have continued to gain new fitness certifications and I still teach fitness part-time outside of my full-time job with SparkPeople. I’ve been teaching a variety of fitness classes now for 10 years. Because of my background as an instructor, I was the go-to person when SparkPeople wanted to create their own fitness videos and DVDs. I love my job! I love learning and helping other people feel empowered to take control of their health, too.

Cassey: What’s your fave healthy food?

Nicole: It would be IMPOSSIBLE for me to pick just one. I truly enjoy a lot of healthy foods. I probably wouldn’t want to live without…avocados, Greek yogurt, BERRIES (don’t even get me started…soooo good), and broccoli.

Cassey: And your fave YOLO or “cheat” food?

Nicole: I don’t ever consider any food to be a “cheat” food actually. I think that all foods can fit into a healthy diet when you practice moderation. I make it no secret that while I eat healthy food (and love it) at least 80% of the time, I love my sweets. My favorite treat that has no redeeming nutritional quality (since I was a kid) is Twizzlers. But I also love ice cream.

Cassey: You work out so much! But what’s your fave form of exercise?

Nicole: Finding exercise that you enjoy is key to sticking with a routine and it not feeling like an obligation or chore. I love to run and train for 1-3 half marathons each year. I also love Pilates! It’s my go-to exercise. I think of Pilates as daily physical therapy. It feels good and does so much good for your body.

Cassey: Now for the BIG question! How does one become a group fitness instructor?

Nicole: There are so many types of group exercise classes these days that it can be tough to navigate the world of group fitness as a newbie. I now have almost 10 fitness certifications (and am currently working on another: yoga!) but I surely didn’t start out that way. I started with just ONE—a broad “group fitness instructor” certification from AFAA. Here’s a good breakdown of how to reach your goal of becoming certified, getting experience, and getting hired to teach.

1. Decide what you want to teach. Is it yoga? Pilates? Group strength training? Maybe you love step aerobics, kickboxing or BodyPump. The easiest way to start is with ONE method that you can focus on. In my experience (and my professional opinion), yoga and Pilates are more challenging formats when you’re just starting out as a teacher. The training is longer, more expensive and more complex, and they’re harder to teach because they are so nuanced and detailed. Just something to think about—but of course lots of people learn them and do them without any previous fitness experience.

2. Talk to the right people. If you want to teach—perhaps where you currently take classes or at a specific gym—find out what they require in terms of training and certifications for their instructors. Spinning is a specific form of indoor cycling, and another specific one is Schwinn, for example. Some gyms might require one certification over the other. There are also a lot of Les Mills fitness programs gaining popularity, but to teach them you have to be certified specifically in those methods. Then there are some general classes (kickboxing, step aerobics, toning, etc.) that many people teach with just a “general” group fitness certification. If you want to teach, find out what is required. This may also include CPR or first aid certification in most gyms.

Also talk to other instructors who teach classes that you enjoy. Ask how they got started, where they did their training, and if they have any tips. They will probably be very happy to help you get started on the right path, such as recommending a good certification or training program.

3. Get certified. The next step is deciding on your certification. ACE and AFAA both have great group fitness certifications that will train you and give you experience to teach some general classes. But if you want to teach yoga, Pilates, cycling or another specialty class, you’ll need that specific certification. Many certifications can be attained through your own home study, and some will require in-person trainings and test-outs. Don’t just go for whatever is “easiest.” Go for the format that you think will truly help you learn and be a good instructor. That will make all the difference in creating successful classes—and getting hired.

les mills

(Cassey: here’s me at my Les Mills BODYPUMP cert a few years ago!)

4. Get experience. You should practice teaching as much as possible while you study for your certification and even after you obtain it. Most gyms will require you to “audition” for a teaching position, and you want to feel confident when you do that. It can also be nerve-wracking to get up in front of people and talk the whole time and give them the cues they need to exercise correctly and safely. The more practice you can get—even with friends or family members, the better off you will be. Some gym and universities will be very open to letting you “practice teach” as well to gain experience, often for no pay—but it can make a huge difference to feeling confident and ready to lead a class by yourself. Be open to feedback that will help you get better.

5. Get out there! Now you’re trained, experienced and ready! Like any job, network. Meet people. Talk to other instructors. Talk to your gym manager or gym owner. You never know what opportunities it may lead to.

6. Remain professional. That means keeping up with your certification. A quality, reputable certification will require ongoing continuing education in order to stay certified, and a professional instructor will keep her certifications current. This also means staying true to what you have been taught. If you received a general group fitness certification and someone offers to let you teach a format that you have not been certified or professionally trained in—then you are not remaining professional and neither is your fitness studio. These sort of things do happen, but it is seriously frowned upon in the professional fitness community. It also makes you liable if you teach people things you were never trained in and they injure themselves. That could get you sued and your other certifications revoked. Speaking of, all instructors should protect themselves by getting a professional liability insurance policy; you hope you’ll never have to use it, but it’s good to have just in case.

For many, a love of group classes (and OK, a bit of a desire to get paid to work out) leads them down the path of becoming a fitness instructor. It can be fun, rewarding and interesting, but it also takes a lot of groundwork and a desire to continuously evolve and learn to truly be successful. Most fitness instructors wouldn’t change what they do and love to help others find their way as well, so don’t be afraid to ask your favorite instructor for some tips along your journey!

Thank you so much Nicole for sharing this information with us. I know all of the POPsters here looking for a career in the fitness industry truly appreciate it. Guys, if you have any more questions, please comment below and we will do our best to answer!  You may follow Nicole on twitter @thecoachnicole and check out her blog at Sparkpeople here.

Love you guys! See you soon on Monday for a brand new workout!

<3 Cassey

Comments

  1. Becoming a fitness group instructor is nice but there are many efforts which everyone need to follow. Thanks for sharing.

  2. That was one cool experience. I am a fan of Nicole Nichols in youtube and I’m glad reading your interview. Since I also want to become a fitness instructor, those tips are very helpful for me. Thanks for sharing Cassie!

  3. I have been thinking about doing this for quite a while now. The one thing that holds me back from pursuing this is my age. I am 52 but have worked out pretty much on a daily basis since I was in my late 20’s and I am in excellent shape. I’d say I can keep up up with most 20-somethings and everyone thinks I am in my 30’s. My regular routine is 90-120 minutes of step aerobics 6-7 days a week and I do strength training 3-4 times a week. I have always worked in an office environment but health and fitness has been a passion of mine. Like Nicole I read every article I can find on the subject. I was laid off about 3 years ago and have been working part time from home doing accounting, but would love to incorporate my passion for health and fitness into a part time business. Do you think 52 is too old to even consider this and would any gym even want to hire someone my age?

  4. Great article, however, I wish Coach Nicole was a little more cautious about perpetuating the idea that you need to have a million different specific certifications. While there might be a select few that are needed the obession with “certifications’ for everything is a bit out of control.
    This article by Jonathan Ross from ACE is a good read on that topic:
    http://www.acefitness.org/blog/3339/are-you-over-certified/

  5. You know, I have been wondering exactly what it takes to make fitness your job. I loved this post, but I now realize group fitness would not fit for me- I have bad people skills, I’m so awkward!
    Loved the info though!
    Kendrrat
    heyyber.com
    (health and fitness motivation)

  6. Cassey, a) love your name and b) THANK YOU SO MUCH for this post today. After a year and a half, I’m starting to get really into hot power yoga and lately I’ve been thinking I should get my teaching certification, if only to deepen my practice if nothing else. I know I want to do something with wellness & fitness, I just can’t put my finger on what it is yet, but your post has the gears in my brain turning! xo

  7. Thanks for the post Cassie!!! Because of you, I have been thinking about and researching on becoming a fitness instructor but don’t feel like I’m strong enough yet. This post just gave me more useful information to make my decision.

  8. Great tips! I just got NASM certified in December and have started teaching a bootcamp style class on my own not at a gym. But, I am starting to look for teaching opportunities at local gyms as well:)

  9. Cassey I loved reading your story and how even you got nervous before your auditions. It made me feel normal:) I’m also a Health Promotion major like Nicole and I currently teach Pilates at Appalachain State and I absolutely love it! I’d love some direction on a reputable place to get nationally certified in Pilates so I can continue after I graduate. Thanks again for the article!

  10. Great post!
    You’re a true inspiration Cassey! Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us.

  11. I have been considering doing my PT training, so this post came at the perfect timing! Thank you so much for sharing your story as well as Nicole’s – so inspiring :)
    It really shows that you can do ANYTHING that you put your mind to, and persistence is key!!

  12. Cassey- thank you so much for this post! I am about to embark on yoga teacher training 2 weeks from now in what will be the start of a career shift from corporate lawyer to yoga instructor! My goal is to be teaching yoga full time within a year, and have my pilates certification within 5 years from now as well. Hearing your story was inspiring and motivating. Thank you for encouraging all your readers to follow their heart and their dreams! xoxo

  13. Hope one day I will also be able to tell the story like yours. It’s not long since I have discovered my passion for being active and still don’t know whether this is only a hobby or maybe an idea for the future. Now I’m studing something totally different like you did, but who knows…

  14. My goodness Cassey!!! I swear you post the most perfect things at the best time.. I’ve been really confused on where to go with my life and after reading this post I truly feel confident in becoming a fitness instructor.
    Thank you so much Cassey!!!!

  15. Thanks for the article. I myself am a Indoor Cycling Instructor. It’s a lot of fun to motivate others. But sometimes also a huge challenge. ;)

  16. I admire your fighting spirit and perseverance. You truly deserved all the reward that you reaped for working so hard and focusing your strength on getting better. Thank you for sharing your valuable experience and for inspiring all of us! ..=)

    http://turbulencetrainingjournal.com/

  17. I cried when I read this… You just become more inspiring to me every second.
    You are a perfect example of persistance and I just think your honesty has given you all of this success!

    I’m currently reading “The Art of War for Women” by Chin Ning Chu, and it seems like you have read it too, cause you follow each step she describes as a recipe to success and a peaceful life.

    Lots of love Cassey, thank you for teaching us! <3

  18. Great post! thanks for posting this :)
    xoxo Zoe

    http://www.thatszoe.blogspot.com
    Follow me, I follow back

  19. Coach nicole from your quiet cardio video?? It was cool reading about this and hearing more about how you got into teaching! My biggest takeaway from this post is to never give up and to keep persevering! :)

  20. THANK YOU for sharing your story!!! It’s so inspiring to know that someone as successful as you as even been told no before….but you kept at it and look what happened. Definitely an awesome motivator! Thanks for sharing!

  21. Sherma Felix says:

    Cassie, thank you for the information! My 17 year old daughter also introduced me to your website. I did the beginners calendar in June and again in July. Did some of the videos in August but for September I have done everyday so far! I see my body changing big time! I was practically screaming when I did my first POP Hiit!! I talked about it to my daughter about 10 times a day! Thanks for what you do and what you and Nicole have shared. I thank GOD for you!

  22. Omg, Cassey this is the best article you have written. (Disclaimer: I love your previous articles too, but this one takes the top!) I think I like it because I can relate to it. As a shy/quiet girl, I have big dreams that do involve me stepping out of my comfort zone in a big way. I have challenged myself to do things, I have achieved success and failure. I can totally relate to being scared to the core about doing something you want sooooo bad. This article gives me comfort and strength that with hard work and perseverance you can overcome and grow and ultimately achieve your dreams. Thank-you Cassey for sharing this. You are the best! :)

  23. Thank you for sharing, Cassey. I think sometimes we look at successful people & think they just fell into that. It’s really nice to see the growth they actually endured to get to where they are. I’m in the process of growing, so your post helps me put things into perspective.

    Thanks so much!!

  24. Thanks for this post! I really, really want to become a spin instructor, but I’m not sure which certifications employers want! I’ll definitely look into these!

  25. What perfect timing! I’m also stuck in a toxic corporate job and recently started giving serious thought to entering the fitness industry. Still lots of thinking and planning to do, and I’m soaking up every bit of advice I can find. Thanks so much Cassey (and Nicole)!

  26. <3 this ! I became certified earlier this year and it's been the best life decision I've ever made.

  27. Thanks for this post! I have been thinking about next steps after I wrap up my year training with a PT. I was thinking my next move could be a SPIN Instructor! I’ve looked up the certification process.. definitely going to put in some more time and research in the New Year. Thanks again for the tips :)

  28. This is perfect timing, Cassey! I just went to my first training for group x at my school’s gym…I’m on my way!

  29. Thank you so much for this! I really needed this!
    I can’t wait till I am going to certificate myself!

    Smiles,
    Maia/http://www.fitskinnyandhealthy.wordpress.com

  30. Love this post! It helps me keep my own fitness career journey in perspective =) Out of curiosity which group fitness certification did you use Casey?

  31. Great Post!!! Thanks! :)
    Love
    Tabea

    http://wolkedrei.blogspot.de/

  32. This was a great feature, I loved reading it! I’m a bootcamp instructor and prenatal/postnatal personal trainer right now, and I’m hoping to move from bootcamp into Pure Barre or something more in align with my own personal passions. You’re SO right about not going for the cheapest, quickest certification–I went and did the ACSM Certified Personal Trainer route and I’m so glad I put in the time and effort, every employer is impressed with that certification. Thanks for all this great info! With all that’s out there it can get so confusing…

  33. Thanks so much for this Cassey! Your blog is the first healthy living blog I’ve ever read and now I read too many to count. I love reading your blog for inspiration and fun tips. Your youtube vids are also really really amazing. And I hope to become a group fitness instructor some day, and to inspire others to live a healthy lifestyle the way you do.

  34. Thank you for sharing your story; you are an inspiration. Right now I am a stay at home mom of four daughters 4 and under and I keep thinking about what I want to do when they are all in school. I know I have time, but I have always loved fitness maybe being an instructor is something I could do one day. I will tell you it scares me so much to think about instructing a group of people. Anyway, thank you for all you do for me. I love your workouts!!!

  35. That was really informative and awesome. Thank you so much Cassey!! :D

  36. It’s so inspiring how you worked so hard to achieve success especially in doing what you love! If I had a choice I would wanna go and get certified right away but being in an Asian family means that I must excel academically first. Anyway I have so much love and admiration for you! I’m so happy for you <3

  37. This is awesome Cassey!!! I’ve often wondered this, thank you for posting!!! I think maybe I’ll start as a “group fitness instructor” like Nicole did. :)

  38. Ugh, Cassie I had to look up the meaning for the abbreviations ACE and AFAA. Please update the post and list the names of these inside for those who are interested in getting certification but are unaware of what ACE and AFAA stand for. Thanks!

  39. Thank you for sharing Cassey! I just completed my BodyPump training today!! It’s absolutely one of the most satisfying things I have done so far! Cannot wait to see how much I’ll continue to flourish – both on stage and in real life!
    Also, thank you for your dedication and never-ending enthusiasm! Without it we wouldn’t have this wonderful and supportive community and we also wouldn’t have your safe and effective workouts and sound advice at the convenience of our fingertips!
    Much love from Australia! Xx

  40. I just wanted to say that watching your videos was one of my biggest inspirations when I first decided to start teaching. Now, after graduating school, I’m in that whole teaching a bajillion classes a week to pay the bills. I work 7 days a week! But you know what, I love every single day of it. Thanks for showing me how risky following your dream can feel, but also how REWARDING it always is.

  41. Thanks for sharing your story Cassey – my eyes got wet when I read about you getting the job of your dreams. I have followed your calender now since june and I have NEVER trained so much in my life :) and it’s starting to show too. (My daughter (17) who introduced me to blogilates now frowns at me for having a flat belly and muscles all over the place, ha ha I hope I inspire her to train and eat healthy :D) If you ever want to do something else on video – why not yoga? I think you would really do a great job there! and I would follow you like a shadow! Again, thanks for sharing. It really makes me think of you as a real friend. Big hug from Ann on the westcoast of Sweden

  42. You moved me to tears! Thank you, Cassey! I’m in the middle of a personal crisis at the moment, not knowing what to do with my life and how high to aim, so your timing is perfect. Thank you for making me realize that I want to do THIS. Instructing, training, inspiring… You’re just great!! <3

  43. Cassey thank you sooooo much for this…. it is what I needed to encourage me to follow my dream into the fitness Industry in Cairo, Egypt. I hope I can help people here as you help all of us be healthy and happy with ourselves <3

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