What makes a “Star Instructor”?

Let’s face it: the days of Richard Simmons are long over. These days it seems, our fitness instructors are more and more like celebrities or supermodels. We have amazing looking, ripped bodies being splashed across our social media feeds on the daily, and we love it! There’s even a new reality show out on Bravo now -all about some of the hottest fitness trainers in New York City.

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I for one, applaud any and all encouraging signs of fitness anywhere. All of it furthers the mission of SusanSweats which is to inspire people to lead healthier and better lives in mind, body and spirit. The rise of fitness / personal trainer as media figure or celebrity in recent years has been phenomenal to watch, and yet, it got me to thinking… what happens to the instructor inside the star? And… what makes someone a star instructor, anyway?

In the Fitness Flatiron district, there are dozens of studios, (Soul Cycle alone has two studios a block apart!). Each of these studios employ dozens of instructors. Competition is fierce. So what makes some rise to the top, and others…. not? As an avid group fitness addict going on four years now, I definitely have opinions on this fascinating topic.

Can star quality be taught? A lot of things can be taught for sure – but that “it” quality is something that someone either possesses or they don’t. It’s a presence, a charisma – it’s something that stays with you long after you leave their class.

Do they have to be perfect? No – in fact, most of the “star” instructors I have encountered are not. They do not have to teach flawless classes, but they do teach flawlessly. An important difference. They don’t get rattled easily – its pure professional performance, much like an actor on stage. They put on their mic, and that’s it, they “become” the person you want them to be. It’s quite awesome actually.

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The common thread of fitness instructor and actor continues in other ways. A “star” instructor must, absolutely must, have empathy. So, you’re being counted down in a 45 second sprint or you’re being asked to hold plank for one more minute, and there is that one thing he or she says to you in that moment, where you swear they are speaking directly to you and no one else. And the beautiful thing is, the other 30 people in the room also think they are being spoken to personally. You have a series of a few moments like that in one class, and you hook someone.
Saying the right thing at the right time, being tuned into the student, instead of how hot you look in the mirror, is how you cement lasting student/instructor relationships. Because it’s all about people showing up, day in and day out to your class, choosing you over the hundred other instructors and studios who are also out there vying for your client’s time & dollars.

Star instructors know how to get out of their head, and into ours. They don’t necessarily have to “put on a show” or a comedy routine to get us interested. They in essence, bring the best of who they are to the class, their own creativity and dynamic presence, and we either love them or we don’t. Star instructors each have their own following, and for good reason – not everyone gets pumped by the same thing. They usually have a distinct social media presence, however being a star instructor has nothing to do with how many Instagram followers they have or how many media endorsements they can attain. Star status in the world of fitness is about how many people you inspire day in and day out to become better, faster, and stronger, both inside and out. It is about taking precious responsibility for the beings that walk into your class and leaving them a little bit better when they walk out.

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So what happens after someone “makes it”? What happens when all that energy and hunger and drive is finally realized and the hard work pays off? Is Star status sustainable? I think this is where it comes down to the million dollar question: Why did this person decide to become a fitness instructor? What do they love day in and day out about the job? We talk all the time about what motivates us as students, as clients in class…but what is it that motivates your instructor?

I spoke to one instructor at one of the most popular studios about what motivates him. His answer was this: “I really love to motivate, to be that force that helps someone push past what they previously thought possible. That “thank you” when someone tells me they reached a goal in one of my classes, or can now do something that a few months ago they could not – that’s what I love most. Yes, I love putting myself out there and I do admit I enjoy the “performance” aspect of it. But that’s just a piece of it for me. Without the students, without the feeling that at the end of the day I’ve made an impact even in some small way in their lives, I wouldn’t be doing this job.”

Fitness has brought so many positive and amazing things to my life. I am grateful to every single instructor I’ve ever had -because they put themselves out there on the line every single day. I begin to realize what this vulnerability is like, since as I started this blog, I write my heart out every week. Some may like it, some may not. I have a burning desire in my gut to pay forward this gift I have been given in the stride of my mid-life, where I should be bored of what I am doing and slowing down, I am more fired up than ever, and it’s all because I have been fueled by a new passion, one that I found at a surprising age. So whether an instructor is fueled by vanity, by narcissism, or by altruism and a love of teaching. In a way, it does not matter. If we are positively influenced by these people, if they can change us, can shape us more positively, to be better in mind, body, and spirit – do you really care? By and large, the star instructor phenomenon is one which lifts us all up to a different, better place. We don’t just watch the actor on stage, we get to participate in the show, we get to sweat along side them and fuel our passion with each breath and every beat.

Thank you to every single instructor out there. You have chosen a profession which affects lives every single day. You are motivating each of us in ways you may not even realize. You are giving of yourself every single day and, perhaps most uniquely, you are giving us invaluable gifts which will last a lifetime.

Want to learn more from Susan? You can follow her on Instagram or Twitter to see what she’s up to, or visit her blog, Susan Sweats!

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