Confessions of a Fitness Instructor


When I was on the gym floor I totally got why people were scared and  apprehensive. Walking in to a gym with music pumping, sweaty bodies and apparatus that looks to be as pleasant as a dentist chair fills people with dread.

More than once I heard a timid knock on the gym door (no need to knock, come in!) on investigation of the polite tap there was no one there, only the sound of new squeaky trainers legging it down the corridor. Once I’d caught up with them and 1) explained that if they can run away that fast they really don’t need to worry about their fitness and 2) they are in complete control of the equipment, it won’t do anything that they haven’t asked it to do. Treadmills won’t suddenly rev up and require them to sprint at speeds to rival Mo Farah or go on an incline to prepare them for Ben Nevis.

The initial induction is not only to show you how to use the equipment, build a programme to help you reach your goals but to also put you at ease. Once you know how the equipment works, what the benefits are to you and how safe it all is you’ll be wondering why you were ever frightened in the first place!

This also goes for studio sessions. To new people looking in through the window is appears that every single person in the room is super fit, they all know the exercises and practise at home between sessions (you mean you don’t??!)  They will think that they will be the most unfit out of shape person there. How off putting is that?

Walk in to the session and you’ll find it’s not true. The die-hards will be in the front row, they’re the ones who are there every night in ‘their’ spot and have the latest snazzy workout gear and have brightly coloured drinking bottles and the instructor worries if they’re not there, it’s so unusual for them to miss a session! Rest assured that the instructor will give different levels of intensity for the participants- keeping it high for the front row but offering easier alternatives for everyone else. These group sessions are very sociable and I have seen many friendships blossom over the years. I have customers at my classes who have been coming for years and years, they keep me fit, I thank you all!

We hate change

We are creatures of habit; we don’t like change even it is for the best. Lifestyles gym recently had a make-over, not the fluffy cushions and feature wall make over kind but a whole new installation of the most fantastic Technogym kit. The majority of our customers are over the moon with the new equipment but, there are a few who have complained. Why? It’s taken them back to when they were that new person nervously tapping on the gym door again that’s why. They were comfortable with the gym, they knew how it worked, they had their routine but now they’ve got to go all through that again! Of course, once they are shown what to do and they’ve had a few sessions they’ll be fine, well for the next five years when we need to change the kit again anyway!

17 years ago when I started on the gym floor and treadmills were run by steam the controls were on -off, up- down, fast- slow. Now you can watch TV, download your facebook twitter accounts, listen to your own music; you can even play Angry Birds!!(That makes this bird angry!!!) Of course you can over-ride all that and go back to prehistoric on- off, up- down, slow- fast if you prefer!

Here comes the confession bit

What you won’t know is that when we start off our vocation as a Fitness Instructor, in the very early days, we are as nervous as you! If you are considering a job within the fitness industry you might want to consider  this…

We worry…

The very first time I was left alone on the gym floor someone died, well I thought they had! As I was walking around a very old gentleman slumped forward on the chest press. My first ever shift in the gym, newly qualified and this happened, how was I going to explain this to my manager? “Everything OK?” “Yes, fine, oh apart from Bert who’s passed away on the machine over there”. It took all my courage to walk over and tap him on the shoulder. He let out a huge snore, I jumped about 15 feet in the air and then realised he’d nodded off….

We get embarrassed…

I was training a very serious, older man who had recently recovered from a hip replacement operation.  Throughout the induction he hadn’t smiled or laughed at any of my jokes (I can’t understand why!!) He wasn’t able to swing his leg over the bike to get on the seat due to limitation from his operation so I lowered the seat for him and asked him to access the bike by walking from behind the bike over the top of the seat. Once he had done this I stood behind his back and said, “OK, I’m just going to reach forward and pull your knob out (meaning the knob to higher the seat) The full impact of what I’d said hit me, I froze, he didn’t speak, awkward is an understatement. The floor didn’t open up for me, what could I do now? He turned and looked at me over his shoulder and said “My dear, if I had have known you were going to be doing that, I’d have joined the gym years ago!”

We panic…

The very first time I instructed an aerobic session I had my routine written on postage notes which I put on top of the music system. All was going well until the fan turned and blew all the instructions around the room. 70 people in front of me, my mind went blank, the fire escape sign became brighter urging me to star jump and grapevine surreptitiously  out in to the carpark and make a quick get away in my car. But I thought, they don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing so I’ll just make it up and all these years later I’m still doing it!

We struggle to get ourselves understood…

I was doing an induction for a very nice couple who had never used the gym before. I was on a treadmill explaining how it worked and asked them if they would like to have a go. After slowing it to a stop I looked to my left to ask them again and they’d gone.  I thought the induction was going well and couldn’t understand why they’d left the gym. I looked behind me and there they were both were, standing on the treadmill, all three of us in a line. I guess this would save money in the gym three to a treadmill but don’t think it’d pass health and safety somehow.

We are subject to practical jokes

A colleague of mine, new to the gym was assisting a regular customer on the leg extension. As he lifted his legs to use the machine his left one fell off. The look on the instructors face was priceless- the customers had unclipped it on purpose!

We sometimes get it horribly wrong

The same colleague was supervising some school children in the gym who can get a bit competitive with each other and mess about at times. One lad was using some equipment using one arm which would be more beneficial if he used both. In his best school teacher voice my colleague said “Two hands on that machine please” to which the boy replied flapping his empty sleeve “sorry mate I’ve only got one arm”

So, if you’re thinking about joining the gym, attending a studio session or taking part in a new sport and you’re feeling nervous, spare a thought for the instructor, they’re  doing their best!

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