4 Things I Tell Anyone Who Wants To Be A Fitness Instructor

Shauna Harrison, Ph.D., was teaching movement as a side gig while she attended Stanford, UCLA, and Johns Hopkins. Twenty years, 3 graduate degrees, and multiple brand partnerships later, she is now a full-time movement advocate. Check out her new mindbodygreen class, The 20 Minute Workout Challenge: Tone Your Whole Body With Yoga, HIIT & More.  

I am a fitness (and yoga) instructor and I absolutely love my job. Like, really, really love it. To be able to say that after doing it for nearly two decades says a lot. Even though it hasn’t always been a full-time gig for me, I have spent a ton of time in and around the industry.

I’m often approached by people wanting to explore the profession. My first reaction is usually “Awesome!” and then it’s quickly followed with, “But here’s what you should know first.” I am a pretty straight-to-the-point-type person, and I don’t think my advice would be very useful if it were anything but real.

Here are the four things I usually tell them:

1. You don’t just automatically get in the best shape of your life.

I don’t teach to stay in shape. In fact, it wouldn’t keep me in shape if I wanted it to. Here’s the thing: It’s not my workout time. It’s my participants’ workout time. My job is to make sure they are safe and getting a good workout, not to make sure I am getting a good workout.

Sure, sometimes I am actually doing some of the work when I teach a class; I might even sweat. But if I really want to get my own sweat on, I have to schedule that separately. It’s only fair to my participants that they get my undivided attention during THEIR sweat time, and it’s only fair to me that I get my own undivided attention during MY sweat time.

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2. Educational training and teaching skills are not the same.

One is training; the other is a skill. Yes, you need to invest in your education — and then continue investing. A weekend workshop to learn a particular format does not an expert make. Get a solid certification. And then keep educating yourself in as many ways as possible. This includes taking other people’s classes. That is often some of the best education you can get.

With that said, though, a résumé full of the best certifications in the world does not necessarily equal an amazing instructor. Having knowledge and being able to communicate that knowledge in a digestible way is not the same thing. Hone your teaching and communication skills.

3. Prep time takes longer than you’d think.

I was a schoolteacher, a teaching assistant in undergraduate and graduate-level courses, and a fitness and yoga teacher. If there’s anything that you need to know about any of these teaching gigs, it’s that the real work lies in the prep time. Being “on” for 45, 60, 90 minutes is a lot, of course. But, I will tell you that prepping for any one of those classes takes AT LEAST twice as long, depending on the type of workout.

There’s the workout prep, the playlist prep, setup, sometimes practicing out loud, and any other creative endeavors you care to throw in there. Oh, and let’s not forget, arriving early and staying later.

I might teach six to eight hours a week, but I spend up to three hours per class sometimes preparing for each hour of teaching time. Some classes are easier to let organically flow, but others would be a hot mess if they weren’t spelled out in detail ahead of time.

Do you have to spend that much time? Of course not. Does it make a difference if you do? Probably.

4. You don’t necessarily make a lot of money.

Especially in the beginning. I didn’t get into the industry for the money. I got in it for the love of teaching and all that comes with that. When I started, I didn’t necessarily get a big paycheck, but I did get other perks such as free memberships or classes.

Don’t get me wrong; there are places that pay their instructors really well, but just know that isn’t always the case. And, the norm is a per-hour rate, so you still need to teach quite a bit to get a hefty check.

These days, though, there are a lot more options in terms of partnerships, sponsorships, and content creation opportunities that can provide additional revenue streams.

For any career, knowing your “why” that drives your desire to do it is imperative. If your “why” is in the right place, it will withstand any of the real truths of any industry. My “why” has kept me in the industry for 19 years, despite everything I just spelled out.

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Shauna Harrison

Ph.D. & Movement Advocate
Shauna Harrison, Ph.D., is a self-proclaimed nerd, hip-hop head, jock, and yogi. Teaching fitness was a side gig for Shauna while she attended Stanford, UCLA, and Johns Hopkins. Twenty years, three graduate degrees, and multiple brand partnerships later, she is now a full-time movement advocate. She is a TRX® ambassador; creator of Muscle & Flow, #SWEATADAY, and Hip Hop Cycle®; and is also the creative director and a lifestyle athlete for Zenrez.
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