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Everything you need to excel as a big box gym instructor

a gym instructor at work

At a time when the US fitness industry is growing at an annual rate of 7%, we’re seeing a 15% increase in fitness instructor jobs every year.

Despite this, the median annual salaries for fitness instructors hover around the $40K mark. This means that it’s a lucrative option as long as you’re in the top half.

So how do we ensure that you’re successful?

If you’re a gym instructor at a big box gym, you need to have an edge over your peers to be a hit. In the following sections, we’ll see what it takes to become a gym instructor and the skills they need to be successful.

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How do you become a gym instructor?

There are currently no laws that require you to get certified before becoming a gym instructor. But certification is almost a norm in the fitness industry since it concerns the safety of the gym members.

A certificate course will teach you important first-aid techniques. It also helps you understand important physiological aspects that can help your clientele. 

There are no barriers to entry in terms of educational qualifications for gym instructor certifications. You only need a high school diploma or a GED to enroll yourself in a fitness course. 

Getting certified as a gym instructor is easier than becoming a personal trainer or a fitness coach. That said, becoming a gym instructor does require grit and hard work.

You need to learn the ropes of fitness, health, nutrition, and wellness. This is important because you need to be able to help clients with different needs and fitness goals.

Some of the major fitness certification exams in the US are conducted by:

  • American Council on Exercise 
  • National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
  • American Sports & Fitness Association
  • Athletics and Fitness Association of America

All fitness instructors need a specialization to set themselves apart. It could be CrossFit, Barre, HIIT, or any other technique. This will help you establish yourself and give an edge over those offering generic fitness programs. Expertise in a particular fitness technique can even help in landing a promotion or getting a raise.

9 traits that all good gym instructors have

In the previous section, we covered the qualifications part of becoming a gym instructor. Now, let’s look at certain qualities that you need to have. 

1. Great communicator

You have been tasked with the responsibility of helping members achieve their fitness and wellness goals. The lack of effective communication means that your clients aren’t able to get the most out of your training.

Poor communication may also lead to dismal sales and retention figures. So, make it a point to listen to your clients and respond accordingly. Your instructions should be clear and concise. Stay positive in your tone and try to inspire your members with your words.

Communication is not restricted to speech. Understanding the mindset and body language of your students is an important part of the job. If someone is going to perform a 200-pound deadlift under your watch, they need to be at their best.

2. Knowledgeable

Like we mentioned early on, having a certification is good, but not necessary. The most important aspect is whether you can walk the talk. You need to be good in a particular department of fitness and have a good idea of other traditional aspects of the field.

Let’s say you’re an exercise physiologist. Start networking with practitioners like physiotherapists, physicians, and injury specialists. Try to get referrals from them and establish yourself in the niche. 

Along with this activity, you can take up regular clients who want to lose weight or improve their core strength. This way you can become the jack of all trades and the master of one!

3. Empathetic

People get gym memberships for various reasons. Weight loss, muscle-building, and post-injury recovery are some of the popular ones. 

You have to be understanding, and empathetic towards your members. Set their expectations right and explain that the goal needs to be achieved in a piecemeal manner. Correct their mistakes patiently and avoid haste in the initial days of training.

Be approachable and maintain a hospitable demeanor. If you come across as a strict and rigid person, your clients will never seek your help.

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Give them constant motivation, celebrate fitness milestones, and talk to them like a friend. If a student isn’t concentrating or is frequently missing sessions, check up on them and help out. This will help them open up to you and make your training sessions easier.

4. Social media savvy

Like it or hate it, you simply cannot stay away from social media. Use platforms like Facebook and Instagram to interact with your members constantly. This shows that you care about them and are actively participating in their fitness journey.

Social media websites can also help you get new clients for the gym. Your network might have people who want to take up a fitness class but are apprehensive. When you post behind-the-scenes videos of your sessions or perform the latest fitness challenge, they might get inspired to sign up for your class.

These activities help you build a personal fan base and help you in your career growth. 

5. Well-versed with technology

You’re not expected to create your own fitness website or make beautiful videos as a gym instructor. But knowing how to use gym management software, shoot short videos, or set up a mic can definitely come in handy.

Live streaming sessions are becoming increasingly popular. So, make efforts to understand how the digital fitness ecosystem works. 

Understand how sound and lighting are affecting the output. Learn how to install popular fitness streaming devices like collar-mics, audio mixers, and HD webcams. Such devices are going to be a vital component of the fitness industry’s future.

6. Sales-oriented approach 

It doesn’t mean that you have to cross-sell a product at every possible opportunity. But it’s great if you can bring in new clients or more sales. 

Retention is a major worry at most gyms in the country. As a fitness trainer, you’ll need clients who train with you for longer durations and a constant inflow of new members.

Having a sales-oriented mindset will give you an edge when being considered for a raise or a promotion. After all, you’ll save hundreds of dollars in marketing and sales costs for the gym. 

7. Self-starter 

If your gym needs new equipment or some rework, make a plan and head to your boss’ office. Give a clear explanation along with budgets and timeline estimate for your plan. This is the best way to get the job done. 

Don’t wait for things to happen on their own. When you start taking such initiatives, the management will recognize your contributions to the gym. Besides, showing this level of accountability can make you a decision-maker in the organization.

At the same time, take a grounded approach when coming up with solutions. You don’t want to come off as a person who always has unachievable plans or lofty targets.

8. Disciplined

Fitness professionals are seen as the epitome of discipline. So, your members might be in for a rude shock if you come across as careless or tardy.

Be on time for all your sessions and prepare every session’s drills beforehand. If it’s an online class, share the link with your members and use a stable internet connection. Have a backup plan ready for if something goes wrong during the class. 

9. Gets feedback

Most gyms have frequent performance review meetings. The objective of such meetings is to analyze the trainers’ work and point out any shortcomings. At the same time, the opportunity is used to shower praise on trainers who exceed expectations. 

You have to step this up a notch with constant self-reflection and by seeking feedback. 

Ask for feedback from the higher-ups, your peers, and the clients. This process can be simple and systematic. For instance, you can bounce ideas for improving training methods during the periodic team meetings. You can send your clients a monthly feedback form and ask for suggestions. 

There will be many opportunities to improve yourself and your work as a trainer. All you need to do is have an open mind and work on the feedback.

In summary

Big box gyms are a great place to get exposure and insights into the fitness world. Many popular group fitness instructors and personal trainers consider such gyms as a stepping stone to their success. Whether you’re a full-time or a part-time instructor, Try to make the most of the opportunity by building a good rapport with your clientele.

Here’s a round-up of everything we covered in this article.

  • Although not mandatory, getting a gym instructor certification will give you an edge when you’re trying to get a job
  • You need to have excellent communication skills to become a top instructor in your gym
  • Mastering one fitness technique and a stronghold on generic training drills is a good approach to take
  • Use social media and live streaming tools effectively to stay ahead of the changing trends in fitness
  • Having a sales-oriented approach can help your gym’s business and improve retention
  • A problem-solving mindset can be a growth catalyst for you in the organization
  • The fitness business demand discipline from its instructors and even a hint of tardiness could cost your clients
  • Seek constant feedback from all the stakeholders in the gym and work on improving yourself

Want to improve the culture at your gym? Head to this episode of The Fitness Founders Podcast where April Fisk talks about her fitness franchise’s culture, community, and everything in between.

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