WHAT I LEARNED WHEN I BECAME A FITNESS INSTRUCTOR

If you had asked me in my early twenties what one thing that I never saw myself being was, I would have answered either “financially stable,” “happy to do yard work,” or “a fitness instructor.” They say your twenties are all about transitions, and I guess that’s true, because at 30, I’m now both a fitness instructor and financially stable. I still freaking hate yard work. If you are ever interested in hearing my rant about it, please let me know and I can go on for pages. Anyway, I digress.

Me in my early 20s. Except replace “diamonds” with “shots of bourbon” and there you have it.

Like I said, I never thought I would be a fitness instructor. Now that I’ve been teaching at Barre3 Greenville for about 8 months, I can honestly say that I’ve learned a whole lot more than just how to give my clients a great workout, how many pairs of yoga pants my paycheck can buy, or how to push people further than they think possible. I’ve been educated in the most unexpected of ways.

1. It’s challenged my “inward” focus: Before I moved to Greenville and became an instructor, I was a client at Barre3 Columbia. I know for a fact that in every single class, I seemed like a miserable bitch. I didn’t smile, I didn’t talk to people, and I never engaged. It’s not because I’m a particularly unfriendly person (although that sometimes depends on the day) – it’s because I’m extremely inwardly focused when it comes to my workouts and am trying to push myself. One of the hardest things for me about becoming an instructor was changing the focus from how my body felt to leading and guiding my clients. That means smiling, talking to people, and even touching them to correct them! I have to say, focusing on other people is a lot of fun.

One of my old instructors from Columbia came to our Greenville studio and took my class a while ago. “I wasn’t sure how you would be as an instructor,” she said. “You were always so…quiet in class!” I said that was a very nice way of putting it.

2. Sometimes you have to smile when you don’t feel like it. As an instructor, you always have to be “on.” Our clients are coming to focus on themselves for an hour, and that may be the only hour they get to themselves that day or even that week. It needs to be a positive, uplifting experience that brings them to a better place mentally, and that means that I need to be the best, most upbeat version of myself. Sometimes, that’s hard! There are plenty of days when I’ve walked into the studio stressed out beyond measure, sick, in pain, or exhausted. There are lots of times when I don’t want to teach. But as soon as I get in there and the music starts pumping, the smile automatically goes onto my face and all of that stuff goes away. Being a fitness instructor has taught me that sometimes you just have to fake it until you make it – and eventually, you do make it. And you just might make someone else’s day better in the process.

3. Everybody is different. As a client, I heard my instructors say thousands of times “Love thy neighbor, and now ignore them.” What they meant was that each person’s body is different and what might feel comfortable or challenging for one person might feel the complete opposite for another. I heard it, but I didn’t really get it. I thought that when I couldn’t do a posture exactly like my instructor, it was because it was I wasn’t in shape or I wasn’t trying hard enough. Guess what? Now, I teach 6-8 classes a week and I still can’t do the postures the same way some of the instructors can. And they can’t do some of them the way I can! We’re all different, and our ability to go deep into a certain posture is not necessarily indicative of our strength. That was certainly a welcome lesson!

And some people just don’t have rhythm. It’s ok if you’re one of those people. Trust me, you are not alone.

4. Appearances can be deceiving. Whether in barre, crossfit, or weightlifting, just because you’re lifting more weight doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting more results or doing more work. In class, we tell our clients to “work smarter, not harder.” What we mean by that is that clients should find the expression of each posture or movement that feels the best for them and allows them to have the best form. If that means using body weight only, great! If it means using slightly heavier weights than you did before, that’s great too. But just because someone has 4 pound weights in their hands (which is a LOT in barre) doesn’t mean that they’re getting a better workout than you – it’s all in how you connect with the postures!

5. Know when to push yourself and when not to. As a client, I went “turbo” every day. I never took a break, and I always wanted to go harder than the day before and push myself to new limits. That’s all well and good, except when it’s not. It’s not good when you’re experiencing back pain or feeling exceptionally sore and tight. It’s not good when you’re sick or exhausted. As an instructor teaching a lot, I simply can’t push myself to the max in every single class I teach, and that’s a good thing. I’ve become much stronger and more balanced as a result of actually listening to my body and giving it what it needs that day. Maybe that’s working flat footed instead of with my heels lifted or dropping the weights a little earlier than usual. Maybe it’s holding that plank a little longer than I could the day before! Our needs change every day.

Yes. I inspire myself.

6. Fitness classes can become a community. I have been a part of the running community for a long time, and it’s a wonderful thing. But the instructor-client relationship is different, as is the client-client relationship. Barre3 is a real community, and I find myself genuinely interested and invested in the lives and achievements of my clients. I want to know when they’re having a bad day, or when something awesome has happened in their lives. I try hard to notice their progress and celebrate their successes, because seeing them succeed gives meaning to what I do. It’s truly a special thing, and I’ve learned that going to a fitness class doesn’t have to be a nameless, faceless experience. It’s a lot more fun when there’s a connection.

Overall, becoming a Barre3 instructor is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’ve made lifelong friendships and pushed myself way out of my comfort zone while pushing my clients out of theirs. It’s not always easy, but it’s always fun. Who knew 30-year old Danielle was so into people?

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