Working Out the Kinks

Jul 31, 2013Stephen Charles Lincoln

This month marks my 20th year as a group fitness instructor.

Losing 82 pounds while training in the Bay Area and teaching in the best studios and gyms in San Francisco was how I got started. Primarily studios. Then, when I got to New York, I studied at Jane Fonda's studio on Maiden Lane. Boy have times changed, except for the leg warmers. Was it inevitable, they'd make a return?

What I notice that's new is that the instructor-class dynamic has gotten worse. I think the problem stems from health clubs choosing to be everything to everybody. Like a big box store. In the pursuit of convenience (or not losing members), they're offering as much as they can fit on a weekly schedule. A club's motivation being—do what it takes to "fill the room." 

When gyms decided to include classes in the price of membership, I think it took a toll on the caliber of fitness offered. Having a fitness studio provide challenging workouts with exciting innovative instructors stopped being the primary focus. It was better to have a gimmick "signature" class, even if it meant incorporating dangerous plyometrics that may eventually cause one's joints to suffer. Combine a bunch of catch phrases and some celebrity trainers' fitness moves and... you're hired! Fat-burning Ballet, Pilates Fusion (not to be confused with Pilates Sculpt), Bosu Kickboxing and whatever the next new thing is. As one who incorporates weight into my classes, I especially marvel at the many ways "Strength Training" has been packaged as something "new." I often shake my head at the latest innovation in exercise that's stacked along the studio wall and how quickly it disappears once the "craze" has passed.

That quality shift trickles down to the members' being less engaged in class and more engaged with their cell phones. I feel the need to remind my students: "Challenge yourselves, make this hour yours." "You're here. Don't waste it." Unfortunately, that's what happens. It's "I'm here. That's enough." But I refuse to accept their malaise. I continue to push them. Because it pushes me too. Together, we change the energy in the room.

I got started teaching because I wanted to help people as I had helped myself. The challenge was to work out hard, not to just show up. Being on point with the instructor was part of the fun. I continue to look for ways to recapture that feeling. Because the gym is a great place to interact, share in the goal of getting fit together. Not just marking time.

With places like Barry's Boot Camp and Soul Cycle getting more popular I think the tide is turning. When you put money down to attend a class, it seems to bring more commitment. Being there is not covered by your annual membership etc. How much more "on" is that instructor going to be, knowing those are the kind of people in his or her room today? In my experience, large gym chains aren't equipped to harness this energy. They're not even looking for it necessarily. 

My frustration is with what has become the new normal and wanting a newer normal. Being in a fitness class should inspire and awaken gym members. To want to bring intention to their workout.

When you step into my class, you're stepping forward to be the best you could be. 

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