How to Choose a Fitness Instructor

Fitness instructors can be a great motivational help in achieving your fitness goals because of their knowledge in creating safe and effective exercise programs. But how do you choose the right one for you?

Choosing the right instructor to match your personality is a matter of "different strokes for different folks" because some people prefer instructors who are serious and quiet while others like more gregarious and dynamic ones. Some people like an instructor who "nags" them while others favor a more laid-back approach.

No matter what kind of instructor you prefer, there are common characteristics that they should all have and not have. This will help you choose the instructor of your dreams and avoid the instructor from hell.

Kinds of instructors
A group exercise instructor is anyone who teaches physical activity to a group of people doing the same thing at the same time. This can be aerobics, yoga, tai chi, military-style calisthenics, dance, etc. Gym instructors also teach a number of people at the same time but the people are all doing something different. Personal trainers teach one-on-one either at the gym or at home.

Should have a background in basic exercise science
You would not entrust your body to someone without the proper medical training. Neither should you follow exercise instructions from someone who has no background in basic exercise science.

A good instructor will have a solid handle on anatomy, exercise physiology (how the body functions during exercise), kinesiology and biomechanics (how the body moves), basic nutrition, injury prevention, and exercise programming (how to make individualized exercise programs for a variety of people). This knowledge can be acquired through a formal four-year course or through certification/training with reputable fitness organizations.

Someone who has learned about fitness only through his or her own experience of working out is not good enough to teach other people. Additionally, even the best fitness instructor becomes mediocre over time if he or she does not keep updated with the latest fitness research.

Should have a passion for fitness
It’s hard enough motivating yourself to exercise, how much more when your own teacher is not excited about fitness. How can you tell if your instructor doesn’t have the passion?

She is the group exercise teacher who never makes eye-contact with her class, the gym instructor who keeps looking at the clock to see when his shift will be over, and the personal trainer who is only good for counting out your repetitions and not much else.

Instructors with a passion for fitness are like viruses. They are contagious. They "infect" everyone they meet with the "fitness bug" by encouraging and inspiring them to be fit.

Should practice what he or she preaches
It is a little hypocritical to professionally preach the gospel of fitness and be a smoker or a heavy drinker. Instructors, whether they like it or not, are role models for health and fitness. A good instructor is someone who lives a fit and healthy lifestyle that is not obsessive but is balanced and realistic.

A good instructor doesn’t have to be Mr. or Ms. Body Beautiful because no one has a perfect body but they should strive to be the best they can be physically. Otherwise, how can they motivate other people to do the same?

Should offer modifications or alternatives
One size does not fit all when it comes to exercise. A good instructor should know how to modify the exercise or suggest alternatives for people who have special physical concerns like hypertension, bad knees, asthma, etc. A bad instructor only knows a few exercise formats and makes all his or her students follow it regardless of fitness level or medical background.

Should not gossip about other clients or instructors
If you enjoy listening to your instructor gossip about other clients or other instructors, keep this in mind – he or she is probably gossiping about you when you aren’t around! A good instructor does not spread rumors about other people and is professional about what clients or other instructors tell them in confidence.

Should not borrow money from you or try to sell you products
Instructors and clients can become closer than normal simply because of familiarity (seeing someone three or five times a week for a couple of years) but a professional instructor will not take advantage of this closeness by asking to borrow money or trying to sell you insurance, real estate, etc. A good instructor respects your right to exercise without any pressure. Imagine the awkwardness that can develop if the instructor cannot pay you back or you refuse to buy their products.

Should not play doctor or nutritionist
A good instructor recognizes his or her professional boundaries and limitations. An instructor can suggest things like putting ice on a sore area or an exercise alternative if something hurts you but they should refer you to a doctor when the pain does not go away after a few days.

They can offer advice like "eat more fruits and vegetables" and "cut down on too much salt, sugar and fat". (common scientific nutritional advice) but they should not make individualized diet plans for people with diabetes or hypertension nor should they recommend herbal concoctions or nutritional supplements.

Should not flirt or "hit" on you
Instructor-client romances do occur but, as a rule, a professional instructor does not act like flirting with his or her clients is a job perk.

Should have an "attention to detail"
I like to say that good instructors have "eagle eyes" – they can spot a client doing something wrong from far away. It is important to have an instructor who is vigilant about precision in exercise technique because this can make all the difference between wasting your time and getting the most out of the exercise.

Should not say negative things about your body
No one has the right to say negative things about your body, not even a professional in charge of getting it back in shape. I know a woman whose eating disorder can partly be blamed on her personal trainer. She was never happy about her body although she was lean and trim because her trainer kept telling her that her body was still not good enough. A good instructor will encourage a healthy body image, not promote anorexia or bulimia.

Should have professional work habits
A good instructor is always on time and will find a reliable substitute when he or she cannot show up.

A good instructor asks your permission first before touching you when making corrections in your exercise technique. Additionally, when they touch you, it should be in a non-threatening and professional manner without any hint of maliciousness.

Professional work habits also mean that the instructor does not bring his or her personal problems to work. A sullen or moody instructor cannot motivate you.

Work attire for fitness instructors is, of course, more revealing than the regular office outfit but it should never be sleazy, untidy or dirty.

Should focus on you and not on themselves
Beware of the group exercise instructor who is too busy admiring herself in the mirror to notice that the lady in the back row is about to faint or the gym instructor who is so engrossed in posing and flexing his muscles that he doesn’t realize his client is about to suffocate under a barbell.

Another no-no is a gym instructor who spends most of his time chatting with the other instructors or the personal trainer who goes on and on about his life while you are exercising the wrong way right under his nose.

A good instructor has only one thing in mind when he or she is on the job – your welfare.

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