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Confessions of a fitness trainer
What your instructors are really thinking
“Alright, we’re warming up!” I call out to my indoor-cycling class in the cheeriest voice I can muster for a weekday morning. “How’s everyone doing today?”
Silence. Except for the two spandex-clad women in the second row who barely move their pedals but continue to carry on a long and chirpy conversation. I turn up a Rihanna remix on the stereo and try again:
“Great to see you guys! Who’s ready to burn off some stress?”
A guy in the front row is already sprinting on his bike, then moving into a climb, even before I’ve called out the first drill. And then I think I see an eye-roll in the third row. So I try to focus on the woman in the fourth row who looks ready to ride, and who gives me a small but supportive “woo!” and a smile.
I love teaching fitness classes: indoor cycling. group treadmill running, high-intensity interval training, sculpt. I’ve been doing it for almost eight years, mostly for fun, my own fitness and so that I don’t have to suffer through anyone else’s crappy playlists.
But some days, it feels like I’m pushing a boulder uphill and all my students are sitting on it while checking their phones, telling me how much they can bench, and complaining that I’m moving too fast or too slow.
I know it’s my job to stay chipper and encouraging anyway, and I do my best, cheering everyone on and boosting egos and counting down to the next sprint or the next incline.
But there’s a lot going on behind an instructor’s smile.
Here, three Atlanta fitness professionals — yoga teacher Heather Corrigan; group instructor and corporate fitness specialist April Flohr Seal; and Ulrick Bien-Aime, owner of Bien-Aime Strength & Stretch Studio — join me in revealing our innermost thoughts, pet peeves, and what we really, really wish you would stop doing when you’re in the gym.
1. We love a hard worker and can't stand a faker. Yes, we know when you're cheating. We’d rather you take it easier in the class than pretend to be a professional body-builder.
2. A competitive streak isn't necessary, and bragging drives us nuts. You were in the gym for three hours yesterday? Really? How much of it was spent standing at the water fountain? Don’t try to prove anything to us — you’re here, and we’re glad.
3. Please don't talk, but feel free to yell. It’s OK to chat quietly with a friend at the start of a class. But to carry on a loud conversation while we’re trying to teach just makes us feel disrespected. However, please feel free to hoot and holler — we love spontaneous displays of emotion and enthusiasm. When we’re faced with a room full of stone-faced students, it’s hard to keep our own energy levels up. (Corrigan sometimes feels like the teacher who drones, “Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?” in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”)
4. It's OK to bring earplugs, but please leave the earphones behind. If you know you don’t like an instructor’s music or that it’s always too loud for you, you can feel free to bring earplugs. But putting in earphones and playing your own music during a class just kinda hurts our feelings.
5. Beginners are welcome, even to classes with crazy names like "Ultimate Athlete." Don’t let the name of a class intimidate you. The more students, the better!
6. Show up early for your first class to get acquainted with the teacher and the format. A good teacher will be there and will appreciate the chance to get you set up properly.
7. It's OK to stumble valiantly through the moves in a new class, and to stand or sit in the front row while you do it. But please don't post up at the front if you're going to do your own workout. It’s distracting to us and to the students behind you. If you need to skip most of the drills, that’s fine; just ride or work out in the back.
8. Take the hint. If you hear us saying, “relax your shoulders” or repeating for the fifth time that your knees shouldn’t come out over your toes in a squat, please listen. We’re trying to help you adjust your form and keep you injury-free.
9. Please be patient. Sometimes our headphones malfunction or the stereo goes on the fritz. Or maybe we repeat an exercise or make some other mistake. Feel free to let us know, but remember that we’re human too.
10. Try to be on time. This one isn’t a huge one for me; I’m OK with starting whenever you arrive. But some instructors find it very difficult to keep momentum going and limit distractions when you traipse in halfway through the session.
11. Try not to leave early. Stretching may seem downright boring, but it’s important. And, as Seal says, “for the love of all things holy, what kind of psycho leaves before savasana?” (For the non-yogis among us, that’s the part of the yoga class where you lie on the floor and simply relax. Like a nap.)
12. Just try. We understand that we’re pushing you, and sometimes you feel like you can’t do it. But, as Bien-Aime and Nike say, “just do it.” Trust us. We’re professionals. Give it a shot — you’ll be glad you did.