When I decided to audition for becoming an indoor cycling instructor over three years ago, it wasn't about the money — it was about the lifestyle and community. Who wouldn't love to work where yoga pants are the office dress code and sweaty postcycle brunch is a regular thing? But as my career progressed, I realized — dang, this is hard work!
The truth is, there is a lot more to being a fitness instructor than just getting paid to work out. Whether you're thinking of instructing or just want a peep into what your fitness guru really does, here's a look at what goes on behind the studio scenes.
While a class may only last 45-60 minutes, instructors often spend hours outside of the studio crafting the experience. "It takes dedicated time and effort to sequence a class and prepare the playlist," says CorePower Yoga instructor Janine Narvaez. Creating a routine and curating playlists, mingling with students, and setting up or cleaning the space are all a part of the job.
Teaching multiple classes a day (and squeezing in a workout for yourself) makes for many sweaty, spandex-filled laundry loads. When your yoga pants have their own dresser, you've forgotten how to fasten anything other than a sports bra, and you carry bags on bags everywhere you go, you know you're a pro. And with all this sweating comes another focus: personal care. Because of how active instructors are, preventing injury and training to keep up their own strength and stamina is key. Injuries, surgeries, and illness don't just force you to rest — they pause your career.
The fitness industry is vastly entrenched in the importance of looks. Because of this, there's often pressure to fit the mold and body shaming if you don't. "Whether we like it or not, the fitness industry is focused on physical appearance and is sex-saturated, but I like to use this as a challenge to promote reality to my riders," says Angie Afman, lead instructor at Rush Cycle. Instead, learning to portray a balanced lifestyle can be even more motivating. "I don't meal prep, I eat pizza weekly, and when I'm craving a cookie, I let myself have one. People need to be given permission to not be perfect, and this applies to diet and exercise as well."
Lead instructor Jessica Forseth of Flywheel agrees. "I also embrace what makes me unique. My strength, my own journey, [and] being relatable for my clients all set me apart and help me challenge the stereotypical fitness instructor image." This pressure can also differ between fitness types: "The beauty of teaching yoga is to also be authentic living its practice both on and off the mat. This means discovering and staying curious about your body and giving yourself the grace to be completely yourself, regardless of whatever expectations or stereotypes are a part of the fitness industry," says Janine.
It's easy to idolize or envy the brave ones leading our daily workouts. But at the end of the day, instructors are humans too, with problems and a life outside of their job like everyone else. "A lot of people view fitness instructors as strong, powerful, put-together figures. However, being an effective fitness instructor requires an insane amount of vulnerability and humility," says Angie. "We bare our souls, speak our hearts, and take risks with our creativity without any guarantee that our clients will receive it or even respond to it."
Much of being an instructor requires a performance mentality, but it can be difficult to be always on. "I am still a student, too," says Janine. "I've fallen on my face, I've crashed into the mirror, and at times I haven't been the most graceful yogi. But that's OK!"
The best part of being a fitness instructor? Knowing you can positively impact lives every day. "I love reminding my students of their worth. Each person who walks in through the door and steps onto their mat is a gem in my eyes," says Janine.
Instructors have an opportunity become a part of their clients' goals and wellness journeys — hearing their stories, both the good and the bad, keeps us going. "Celebrating all of the little successes along the way is what gives me energy! Even more than my triple shots of espresso," says Jessica.
For others, it is passing on their career passion to others. "I find it so rewarding to train instructors," says Angie. "I love what I do and when I get to share that with others, watch their light bulbs go off, and observe them falling in love with teaching in a fresh new way keeps me inspired."
For me, becoming an indoor cycling instructor not only let me make an impact — it helped me discover a strength and love for myself I didn't know existed. Teaching was at the heart of my eating disorder recovery journey, and for that, I will always be grateful.