What It’s Really Like to Be a Full-Time Fitness Instructor (+ why it’s not for me)

April 19, 2017

An inside look at what life is like as a full-time fitness instructor, the good, the bad and the exhausting.

Full-Time Fitness Instructor

Hanging at the gym all day (not sitting in an office), working out, getting free classes and living that fitness dream. Sounds pretty great, right? Well, it might sound like a fitness fantasy, but the reality didn’t exactly match up. Not for me anyways. Here’s a look at what it was really like to be a full-time fitness instructor, and why I couldn’t hack it.

Back to the Start of the Fitness Journey

I started teaching fitness classes in college and for nine years following that taught a couple of classes a week, typically early morning before heading to the office. In all the years that I taught, in the back of my mind I had the question of what it would be like to be a full-time fitness instructor. When MM and I moved to San Francisco,  this was the time to give it a try. I was craving flexibility in my schedule as we relocated across the country and as I finished planning our wedding on the east coast.

Full-Time Fitness Instructor Opportunities in SF

Fortunately, I almost immediately got hired at three studios; Equinox (which I already had taught at in NYC and was able to easily transfer to the SF locations), Orangetheory Fitness and Core40. Let me say this upfront, I know I’m very lucky that I was able to score spots at three solid gyms and I’m thankful for that. From the get-go of getting hired, each week I taught around 12-20 classes.

The first couple of weeks were incredibly hard. In NYC I typically taught two classes a week and suddenly I was teaching up to five in one day. My throat constantly hurt, my voice was scratchy, my legs ached and mentally I was exhausted. I very quickly began to question this new lifestyle. While it did allow me some flexibility while wedding planning and traveling, it wasn’t quite the dreamy life I thought it would be.

Not a 9-5

One of the things I thought I wanted was to not work a 9-5. My thinking was very naive because you know what can happen if you don’t work a 9-5? You work early in the morning and late at night, a really tough combo. My earliest classes started at 5am (wake up time: 4am!) and my latest classes ended at 9pm (dinner at 10pm, horrible). Those 9-5 hours were starting to look really sweet.

You’re Always On

I’m not saying at an office job you can slack off, but when you are leading a class you have to be very ON. You’re connecting with clients, talking non-stop and are always on your feet. Typically in an office, your work will ebb and flow, crazy stressful moments and more relaxed times. When people are depending on you for their workout, you better be at 100%, 100% of the time.

Lots of Protocols

Because I was working at three different studios, the rules, protocols, and language you’re supposed to use at each studio is different. If you need a sub, there’s a different way to secure and confirm them at each studio. Things you should and shouldn’t say in a class varied by studio. It was very confusing and stressful to keep track of what to say and do at each place! Instead of choosing to teach at three studios, I could have taught at just one studio, but I probably wouldn’t have been able to secure enough class times and teaching at one place felt repetitive. And speaking of repetitive…

 

It Gets Repetitive

At one studio I taught at, I’d teach four identical hour long classes in a row. Not only was it hard to keep my energy up by hour four, my brain felt like it was turning to mush, repeating the same thing over and over again. Some classes allow you to be more creative, but the super templated studios leave very little opportunity for that.

The Pay…Yikes

Happiness and life isn’t about how much money you can make, but yeesh, being a fitness instructor (at some studios), is very underpaid. A girl’s gotta pay rent! I recently met a woman in her 60s who said she taught fitness classes in the 80’s. We discussed the pay rates and I was extremely shocked to find out that for some of the studios I was teaching at, the pay is the same! Literally, what I was getting paid in 2017 was the same as what she was getting paid 30 years ago. Not to mention I live in one of, if not the most expensive city in the country. In order to make the amount of money I wanted to be making a week, I would have had to teach twice as many classes. In speaking to some instructors, they teach upwards of 40 classes a week. I can’t even imagine how they do it, I’m truly in awe.

Impossible to Track Finances

So the pay isn’t great, but on top of that, it’s really hard to keep track of the money. Ok, maybe I could have been better at this, I admit I was not on top of it. Each studio that I taught at had a different pay structure. Some places pay you the same thing for each class. Other studios pay on a sliding scale based on how many students are in your class. On top of that, some of the studios that have multiple locations will give you a different paycheck for each location. So basically each pay period I’d receive 3-6 paychecks, all in different amounts each week. It’s pretty much impossible to know how much you’re going to make each week.

No Paid Travel or Sick Days

I’m very passionate about travel and it’s a priority for me. Teaching gave me that flexibility because I could get subs to cover classes, but when you get a sub, you don’t get paid, making travel that much more expensive.

Exhausting on your Body

Some of my classes required me to intensely workout, others I demoed a few moves and walked around. Combined, all those classes in one week takes its toll on your body. Not to mention just being your feet for 5 hours without a break (major props to school teachers who are on their feet all day. what’s your secret?) is tiring AF.

Constantly on Display

You may notice that a lot of fitness instructors are actors, dancers, and performers. And it totally makes sense; teaching a class is like being up on a stage and putting on a show. But me? I’m definitely not an actor or dancer (my friends can attest to that). Sometimes teaching made me feel self-conscious, especially when you get reviewed in your classes (by management or ClassPass ratings). You definitely need a thick skin and strong confidence to be a fitness instructor. I think I have this, but being in front of people and putting on a show for many hours a day got to be a bit too much for me.

Comparison Struggles

Being a fitness instructor is a competitive business. So again, I am thankful I got hired where I did, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t constantly comparing myself to other instructors. Why does she have a full class and mine isn’t? How is she wearing a full face of perfect makeup while sweating through a spin class and I look like a mess? Are people liking my class? Are they mad I’m subbing and wish it was the other instructor? Not fun thoughts. I know it’s important to stay in your own lane and focus on yourself, but sometimes those not so positive thoughts creep in.

And Finally, the Positive Side of Being a Full-Time Fitness Instructor

I hate to dwell on the negative, but I also want to give you an accurate depiction of how I felt in the 8 months teaching full-time. Am I saying everything about being a full-time fitness instructor is bad? Absolutely not. While the hours were nutty, I was home during most of the day and got to hang with my dog (life goals, right?). I was able to cook most of my meals at home and spend time creating new recipes. You get to work out a lot, and for free! You get to meet new people and positively impact their health and wellness. By teaching classes in my neighborhood, I met so many new people quickly. It was pretty cool that after only a couple of months in SF I could walk around my neighborhood and run into people I knew; it made a big city feel smaller. And had I not been teaching or working when I moved to SF, I’m pretty sure I would have gone crazy; teaching got me out of the house, exploring new neighborhoods and experiencing my new city.

While I wasn’t a fan of being a full-time fitness instructor, I am truly inspired by those that are. To be so on, connecting and motivating tons of people a day, is a true gift. While I decided teaching full-time wasn’t for me, I’ve found that the balance of teaching and working a full-time job is right for me. Here’s the thing about teaching. For me, it was always a side passion that I loved. By doing it too much, it became something I resented and it began to feel like a burden. I wanted to keep doing it, but in a way that I still enjoyed. Once I decided that teaching full-time wasn’t my path, I kept teaching while also looking for a job. Now that I’m back to that #officelife, I get my much-desired combo of working in a strategic and business savvy environment and gives me time on the side to pursue my passion for wellness.

While it turned out not to be right for me, I’m happy that I had the opportunity to teach full-time and experience that alternate path.

Full-Time Fitness Instructor

Are you a full-time fitness instructor? Or do you balance it with a 9-5? I’d love to hear about your experiences below.

Leave a Comment

8 COMMENTS

  • This is such great insight! I work a typical 8 hour day and I like the structure of it. Also, it’s nice to come home and be able to completely unplug. When I’m not at work, I don’t work and I can take my focus off of it. This definitely sounds like a change of pace and very tough and exhausting!

    • Thanks for reading! Totally agree, it’s such a relief now to have a normal schedule and once I’m out of the office, I don’t need to stress,

  • My first year out of college I had a similar experience — I wasn’t teaching but was working exclusively fitness jobs, a combination of front desk, personal training, group fitness and kids fitness classes.

    I burnt out hard and fast, it’s a lot to keep up with. Most of my friends were moving to the city yet I couldn’t spend time with them because I was working nights and weekends. The money wasn’t coming together. I was running around the city all day, every day. And I personally was struggling to secure a job at a gym or studio that wasn’t in far out Brooklyn or would pay a competitive rate.

    I have so much respect for those that teach full time, it’s exhausting!

    • I knew you’d be able to relate! So much respect for those that can teach full time, I’m in such awe of their energy. It’s all about finding the balance that works best for you and thanks to your honesty in your blog, I know you’re working hard to find it too.

  • I found this so interesting and something I hadn’t thought about. I have so much respect for those instructors who can always be ON especially in classes where it’s a set format. Glad you gave it a try but figured out it wasn’t for you!

    • Thanks so much for reading! I’m glad it showed a new perspective, a lot of people don’t think about the struggle that some teachers face, but man it was definitely harder than I thought it would be!

  • Danielle

    This is so interesting! I constantly fantasize about quitting my current job and seeking a new career in fitness. Good and realistic insight. I also wondered why you were no longer teaching class in mission bay… for what it’s worth I always thought you were one of the most inspiring and motivating of the instructors :). All the best!

    • Thank you SO much for your sweet comment Danielle. It really means so much to me. It was always great having you in class, you’re one strong gal! Hope all is well and hopefully I’ll run into you in SF soon XO

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