What Makes a Great Fitness Teacher?

fitness trainers

Is your trainer there for you? Or themselves?

Today I’m pleased to run a guest post from Diane Mulholland. Her focus is on getting instructors to think about and focus on what they need to do in order to become great at their profession. I wish more trainers would spend as much time using their mind as they do their bodies. I hope you enjoy her piece and feel free to sign up for her twice a month newsletter if you’re a Pilates instructor looking to join this discussion.

If we’re going to talk about how to become great teachers, I think the best way to kick that off is to decide what makes us great. I had a few ideas already about this, but I went searching for more research into what makes a good teacher, and also general traits that lead to success. Here are my top five.

Know your stuff
You’ve got to know your subject, no matter what you’re teaching. This seems a no-brainer, but it’s more than just picking a good training course. Really knowing means having many different ways to express and adapt what you’re teaching and really facilitate good learning. And when it comes to Pilates, I think it’s critical to “know” the work in your own body as well.

Know your clients
For Pilates to have long-term effect, your clients need to be getting it into their daily lives. The cookie-cutter approach doesn’t work and you should know if your client is a runner, has a job requiring lifting, or is an obsessive knitter. Very few of your clients will express their goals in terms of the advanced Pilates exercises they want to achieve, so only thinking in terms of say, progressing to intermediate, doesn’t give you the whole story. Know what they really want and need and how you can help get them there.

Reflect and adapt
This one is on every list of  ”The x habits of super people” and it addresses that rut we can easily fall into of “finishing” our training and then teaching like that for evermore. One of my friends works in corporate training and she often comes across people who have the attitude, “I don’t really need to know this … things are good.” She always comes back with, “You don’t have to be bad to get better.” Take a moment to reflect every so often and think: “How could I be doing y or z even more effectively?”

Be organized
Again, a bit of a no-brainer, but no doubt many of us could use a little help in this area. Completely apart from actual teaching plans, having your finances, laundry, and Christmas shopping up-to-date makes everything run just a little smoother.

Stay connected
A lot of us teach by ourselves or at a very small studio. This can get pretty lonely and we’re also missing out on that important interaction with other professionals. I think it’s valuable to have a mentor who’s a master teacher (even if it’s just someone you take a 1:1 with once a month), but we can also learn so much from all the people both above and below us on the experience scale. Being in touch with other passionate, inspiring, like-minded people will feed your passion as well.

Finally, I don’t think greatness is something that you just arrive at and then tick off the list. I think of it in terms of a scale, not an endpoint. It’s my goal to keep inching my way up that scale. I hope you’ll join me!

Diane Mulholland was a teacher and teacher-trainer long before she discovered her passion for Pilates. As well as running her own small studio in London UK, she is committed to promoting high standards for Pilates teachers and other fitness professionals.
photo credit: Deane Thomas Rimerman

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

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2 Responses to What Makes a Great Fitness Teacher?

  1. Delf Enriquez October 21, 2012 at 1:33 am #

    Hi Diane and readers,

    I’m a hybrid trainer and group instructor and wanted to add the importance of preparing for a class. I personally love to program design and vary workouts to give my students the benefit of counter-balanced movements, avoiding overuse injuries. I think that knowing the class schedule and what types of classes most students take will help the instructor get a better idea of what programs will work best with their classes.

  2. Lisa Johnson October 21, 2012 at 10:32 am #

    Delf, thanks so much for adding your thoughts. :)

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