Becoming a group fitness instructor is easier than you think! I never considered becoming a fitness professional aside from the few fleeting moments in a workout class when you’re with your gal pal and you say, “oh I could do that!”
Clearly fitness is very important to me, but it comes out in racing and training for large events rather than in the realm of group fitness classes. Several circumstances led me to complete my own yoga teacher training in the summer of 2020. Those include; races being cancelled, more free time, being passed over for a promotion and needing a “project”, a growing interest in yoga, entirely online programming and certification becoming mainstream. It was a weird year for everyone, and one of the best outcomes was going through my own 200 hour yoga teacher training. It gave me something to work towards and I learned a lot about yoga philosophy, anatomy and a deeper understanding of the physical practice of yoga.
I didn’t enter my yoga teacher training with the intention of teaching at a gym or studio, however as my studies progressed it became a fun idea and possible hobby / side hustle. After full certification and a “job search” of sorts, this is what I learned you throughout the recruiting process to become a group exercise instructor:
- Certification – Gyms and studios will look for some level of certification for your desired area. The most common certifications are AFAA and NASM, there are a slew of other acronyms: ACE, ACSM, AEA, NETA, NSCA, Fit Tour, Cooper Institute. For Water Aerobics, AEA, ASFA, Aquatic Fitness Professional. Yoga is a bit different than your traditional certifying bodies. Yoga Alliance is a yoga registry and oftentimes gyms and studios look to that registration as a form of certification. All it means is that the school you went to adhered to Yoga Alliance’s standards and rubric. Not all gyms or studios require Yoga Alliance registration, however it is very popular. Before 2020, no online options could be registered with Yoga Alliance. This is a must do to get your foot in the door. Given the litigious society we live in today, it is unlikely to get a job without some form of formal training, regardless of experience.
- Specialization beyond group fitness – Depending on the area you want to teach, a generic group exercise certification may or may not be sufficient to secure a job. Some degree of specialty is helpful to show interest and expertise in an area. For example: you have a group exercise certificate and want to teach spin class. Another candidate has a spin class certification. It is easier to look at the second candidate and know they are prepared to teach a spin class. It is worth investigating specializations before purchasing a broad group ex certification to ensure you’re a competitive candidate.
- Resume – Just like any other job application, you must submit a resume and oftentimes a cover letter to the particular gym you’re interested in. I have a financial services / banking background, so this killed me a little on the inside. Group Ex is supposed to be fun and exciting, not bland and serious like my business resume. Being true to my own desire to keep it light and fun, I developed a colorful resume on canva that focused more on my personality than any business resume would. I included a picture of myself in a yoga pose, a certification logo, objective line, education (both certification and university), brief work experience (both as an instructor and as a full time employee to show I’m responsible), sample classes with youtube links, and testimonials. It sounds like a lot, but it gets at everything a hiring person wants to know: Do you know what you’re doing? Does it look like you know what you’re doing? Do people say you know what you’re doing?
- Audition or Video – An extension of point #3, you will have to demonstrate competency in your area, either through an in person 20min demonstration, or as a 3-5min video submission. Many gyms are shifting to the video model as it saves so much time on the candidates and the hiring staff. Boutique fitness gyms or studios still rely on the in-person interviews when the stakes are higher for their members (as is the pay). As part of my yoga training I had to record and submit videos to become certified, and easily enough I uploaded them to youtube and hyperlinked them in my resume. I have 5 full length classes on youtube and 3 mini 10 minute classes. Although it isn’t necessary to have that many, it is a good idea to front run any questions about your experience by offering recordings in advance. One gym group ex recruiter asked me to text them a 3min video, which is no time at all for a yoga class. There is a wide range of expectations but do yourself a favor and go ahead and record during your training program.
- Long lead time and high turnover – Gyms may or may not get around to your application for 2 or 3 months. It happens. There is high turnover in the gym space, and it may take multiple applications for someone to actually call you or reach out. Once I had someone call me to tell me of an audition the next day and the application had been submitted 3 months prior. It can be a bit disorganized. The best thing you can do is plan and follow up with an email to the branch you’re looking at teaching. It also helps to LinkedIn search recruiting teams and/or group exercise coordinators at the gym or studio you’re interested in. A direct message over Linkedin goes a long way.
- Discounted certification once hired – If you are hired by a big box gym like YMCA, they often have affiliations and discounts on training programs for their staff. It is a way to keep their instructors up to date on the latest trends and refreshed on safe teaching and the certifying body gets bulk participation in their programs. Win-win. The YMCA has a strong partnership with Les-Mills and currently they offer a 45% discount off full price training. This is expensive when you’re on your own and building up your personal credentials. It is more cost effective to start with one credential (even if interested in more), get hired, then use the discounts available to get certified in other areas.
- Out of the box opportunities – I spoke a lot about big box gyms (YMCA, LA Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness) but there are so many more opportunities out there that may take a few extra emails or phone calls to get in the door with. These include: large apartment complexes, city rec centers, retirement communities, hotels, small businesses, and private instruction via word of mouth or local advertising.
- Fitness brand discounts – This is not something it takes to get a job nor was it something I expected. Health and wellness brands like Sweaty Betty, Lululemon, Alo Yoga, Gaiam offer ~30% off perpetually for group fitness instructors. All it requires is a little searching on who the right contact is, and submitting your certification or job offer. These discounts go a long way on luxury clothing brands especially. Not that I need more leggings, but it is nice to have an indefinite discount. And for them, they have 20-30 sets of eyes on their products for an hour at a time in a class. Another win-win situation.
Have you thought about exploring the health and wellness space as a group exercise instructor? Would love to hear what got you into it!
One thought on “How to Become a Group Exercise Instructor”