WHAT IS IT
Today´s featured side hustle is teaching what you know! I can only speak about what I know, and I’ve had much experience in being a fitness instructor–though I’m sure what I’m describing here would probably apply to teaching many other kinds of things, too. Follow your passion!
Have you ever seen those fun classes happening at the gym and noticed how awesome the instructors look? That could be YOU! You could be a substitute teacher only, if you don´t have a lot of time, or you can teach regularly. At the height of my tenure as a fitness instructor, I was teaching 10 classes per week. The misconception is that you have to be the body-building, always-in-the-gym, drink-nothing-but-protein-shakes type to be a fitness instructor but that really isn´t true! All you need is to be familiar with the exercises, have some creativity, and a certification. Most of this applies to yoga or dance classes, too!
HOW I GOT INTO IT
My mom always took step aerobics classes when I was a kid, and when I was a teenager, I started going with her. It looked like fun, and it was! Then I went to college at the University of Alabama, and their group exercise schedule was quite robust. I started attending lots of different classes, and eventually took an 8-week course they offered there to help prepare for a national certification of fitness instructors.
I´m certified through AFAA, but there are a handful of well-recognized organizations that certify. You can do your certification anytime, and it costs about $300, but once a year, AFAA offers workshops one weekend a year where you can get certified for $99. The UA gym sponsored my $99 certification, but I would have happily paid for it on my own.
Once I was officially certified for general “group exercise” I was kind of given free-range to create and teach the classes that I wanted. I was lucky to have started there, because the group ex. coordinator at UA was very forward thinking, and on the cusp of all the new exercise fads. I started by teaching step (my original love), but then created a BOSU step class. It was just like step, but on BOSU trainers instead of the traditional flat steps. It was intense! I gained the reputation (of which I was proud) for being the hardest teacher at the gym, and my classes were always full—even beyond the January-February-new year´s resolution-rush. Over the years I branched out more, and got to teach BodyPump, Spinning, circuit training variations, even Gliding. I loved it.
When I graduated college, I moved home and went to a local gym to see if they were hiring. Based on my experience, they hired me on the spot. I ended up teaching at 3 different gyms. It´s the kind of job where, if you´re good at what you do, they´ll make room for you in their schedules. Gym schedules are usually made month-by-month, so if your other life obligations change, it´s usually not hard to adjust the teaching schedule accordingly. Also, everyone else who teaches at the gym is usually willing to pitch in and sub for you if they can.
HOW MUCH DOES IT PAY
I taught from 2004-2011 and was always paid $25/1-hr class. Maybe super fancy gyms in New York pay more, but I´ve taught at fancy and sketchy gyms alike in my years, and always found the pay to be the same. This might not sound like much if you´re only teaching once or twice a week, but depending on your schedule, you can generally take on as many classes as you´d like at different gyms. Also, you always get free membership to whichever gym you´re teaching at, so that can be a huge money-saver.
HOW TO PREP
A prep course before certification isn´t strictly necessary, though it helps. Usually, the certifying body has prep guides on their websites available for free or for purchase. Your gym director might already have these. Before seeking certification, you need to:
- attend the kind of class you want to teach for a few months
- observe as many different instructors as you can
- learn the basic kinesiology the certifiers want you to know
- learn the safety precautions associated with this type of exercise
- become CPR certified (many gyms will cover this cost for you)
Once you´re certified, before teaching any class you need to:
- have a routine prepared. At first you´ll want to practice at home. Eventually, you won´t need to actually practice the moves at home every day, but you´ll still need to have a routine planned. Even the best instructors don´t wing it
- listen to your music. Make sure your iPod is charged or your CDs aren´t scratched
- make sure your room and the equipment in it look to be in good shape (this is the gym´s job, but you should do it, too)
WHY YOU’RE BETTER THAN THE COMPETITION
In my case, I had been going to group exercise classes for so many years, transitioning to teaching came pretty naturally. Even if you´re not a super veteran, you can attend classes, learn how it goes and what you like, and get certified to teach in less than a year. Everyone has their own different passion and favorite things to teach. Gyms want variety. They want to be able to say, “we´re the only gym in town that offers BOSU step,” for example. By hiring you, the gym gets your particular skill set and passion—and the more variety they can offer their clients, the more gym membership and attendance will increase.
WHAT ELSE IS IN IT FOR YOU
- You get paid to work out. You were going to go to the gym anyway, why not get paid to go?
- You are forced to work out. Maybe you were considering skipping the gym today, the couch is looking pretty cozy. Nope! It´s your job, now you have to go.
- You make friends. I´m really not a make-friends-everywhere-I-go kind of person, but once you´re teaching at the gym, you´re talking to these people who attend your classes regularly, and they feel like they´re getting to know you. They´ll talk to you outside of class, and you´ll make friends.
- Your confidence shoots through the roof. I´ve never been intimidated by public speaking, but physically guiding large groups of people through an intense workout and shepherding them through to come out the other end with a smile is beyond rewarding. You just feel great.
- Did I mention free gym membership? Yeah… having to pay to go to gyms sucks.
DOs AND DON’Ts
DO: Arrive at least 10 minutes early to your class to set up and think about what you´re doing. Nothing is worse than having a class full of ladies in spandex waiting on you as you run in and can´t find the right playlist on your iPod.
DON’T: Call in often. Sure, life happens, and it´s okay to get a sub once in a while, but don´t abuse it.
DO: Keep up with renewing your certifications.
DON’T: Lie about your certifications. I´ve found many gyms don´t actually check these, unfortunately, but for your safety and for the safety of the members, stay certified!
DO: Keep the members motivated, congratulate them on their hard work, maybe even tell them a funny story to make yourself more lovable.
DON’T: Talk the whole time or share your whole life story. People want to get in the zone. They can´t concentrate or listen to their bodies if you´re chatting their ears off!
DO: Download new music and make new playlists often. Music is everything when working out, and they will remember if you used the same playlist last week.
DON’T: Use music that might make members uncomfortable. Remember your audience might range from young adults, to SAHMs, to an older generation. Just because that latest hiphop might have the sickest beat, doesn´t mean the lyrics are appropriate for all audiences.
DO: Get creative with the lighting in the room as best you can. Cooling down and stretching is so much nicer with the lights turned down. I´ve even seen some Spin instructors bring in strobe lights and glow sticks.
DON’T: Ever ignore or impede your members´ safety.
MY WACKY STORY
This wasn´t so much wacky as it was stressful, but I´d have to ask members to leave class pretty regularly. I take health and safety very seriously in my classes, and while burning calories is important, avoiding injury was top priority, always.
I often kicked people out for refusing to spit out gum (you could choke, dummy!), wearing flip flops or Chuck Taylor-type shoes (you will hurt yourself, I guarantee it), using weights clearly too heavy for them (I spy a back injury about to happen), wearing too many layers for the sake of sweating more (I promise you´re going to get a good workout if you do everything right, please take off those three extra sweatshirts), arriving after the warm up had ended (nothing worse than trying to jump in at the peak of cardio stress).
At some gyms, the management absolutely respected me, and supported my decision to occassionally ask people to leave, or refuse them entry. Unfortunately, at some other gyms, I had to stop class and argue with the front desk guy, ”I know she´s a paying member, but she cannot do this class in flip flops.” Ugh. All this to say, I´ve become very good at sticking to my guns, and protecting members´ safety, even when they might be insisting otherwise.
Have you ever taken classes that led you to think, “I can teach this?” Do you like group exercise classes at the gym, and would you ever consider teaching group ex? Have you had to tell someone no for their own safety?