Disclaimer: This is my experience and concluded to be true by me and many of my colleagues in the industry. This is by no means true for every studio or every instructor experience, but it’s my truth. And in the wise words of every Bravolebrity in an interview, the truth always reveals itself. cc: Denise Richards, please come clean.
Boutique fitness is luxe. It’s pretty, exclusive, boujee, and instagramable. Which I guess is why I got involved seven years ago. (LOL) To the outsider or insider looking in, you have to pay the price to fit in. Designer active wear, Apple tech accessories, early bookings, waters, rentals, post class lattes, and branded gear with your city proper. This shit ads up. You forget your water? – charge my account. Merch on sale? – charge my account. Used the last credit on your five pack? – charge my account. One class at a time and you think you’ve paid your way into the inner circle. Instructors know your name, front deskers check you in with a wave, and you’ve got a favorite machine, bike, station, TRX, mirror spot, and locker. Little did you know, you’re still not really in. Because what goes on inside, behind the scenes, is anything but peachy.
Everyone wants to be an instructor. There, I said it. If I had a dollar for every time I got a a DM from someone wanting to teach, met someone for coffee who had a few questions, typed out an email for someone who isn’t quite sure if they can make it work, or talked someone through an audition, I wouldn’t be teaching at all, I’d be retired. Now truthfully, many of these conversations gave way to terrific instructors but many, the smart ones at least, heard what really goes down behind the instagram photoshoots and decided they’d rather attend instead of instruct. But I’ll always answer the DM, sip the latte, and reply to an email, because instructing changed my life, and if you’re willing to put in the work, it could most certainly change yours.
Often I’m asked what it takes to be an instructor. And while there’s a million requirements, education, or expectations dependent on your discipline, I like to tell everyone that it takes a talk show host, a D.J., a preacher, and an airline steward/stewardess. Instructors have to be malleable. They should be able to talk to the 6 a.m. blowhards, the 9 a.m. mommies, the 3:45 p.m. students, and Zev, a competitive cyclist who lives to ride and ignores absolutely every cue to sit in the saddle for 45 minutes of high resistance hell. From yoga, to pilates, cycling, and bootcamp, there will be mommies, blowhards, students, and Zev’s. And I – I seriously love them all. I know who’s baby just celebrated their first birthday, who’s moving back home after graduation, who cries every time I play Hamilton, and who always forgets their socks. Clients will piss you off. You may be having a bad day. But the true test of a great instructor is being able to put aside their own bad day, shake off a clients, and keep moving forward.
When you’re a green instructor, you’re at the bottom of the barrel. No wait, scratch that, you’re not even in the barrel. You get a 7:15 a.m. class on a Sunday morning in the summer. The average attendee age is 48. You’re 23 and drove up from beach at 5:00 o’clock in the morning to teach the class. You take every sub opportunity offered because you’re on the lowest pay scale and need to shop at Whole Foods regularly. And you show up over and over and over again. Like many hardworking greenies, I paid my dues. I had to fight for classes, build excel spread sheets proving why my class numbers deserved a raise, and defended my teaching style until I no longer had to speak for myself. By 27, I knew what was fair, who would sub for a sub, and who could not be trusted.
Ok so I’m rambling a bit, but it’s important to set the landscape. Subbing is like negotiating with terrorists. At every studio I’ve worked at since 2014, boutique or mom and pop, I as an instructor, have always been responsible for finding coverage for my own classes. Your trip? Your problem. Family traditions? F*ck em. Birthday parties? You’ll have to blow off. That is until your green finally wears off. Every time I need a sub, green or senior, I shit my pants. It’s like trying to secure an organ donor. I would text this person, DM that one, buy a Starbucks for this one. Once I even offered my unborn first child, to secure my schedule before a grand ole time in Tulum. In fitness there are no paid days off. Or as so many managerial employees love to call them PTO. As instructors you hustle for every dollar you earn. I used to to size purchases or plans by class. Dinner out with friends, that’s about a half full class. Weekend away at the beach, well you better sell out before you leave. Brand new Givenchy handbag? Well that’s 13 prime time sold out classes. I get a lot of shit for traveling so often. “You’re going away again!?” “Where to now Kate?” “Must be nice!” Well you know what bitch, it is nice considering I spent the last month hauling ass to pay for it, taking every private I could, and subbing class times I’d rather be asleep for. If you’re not teaching, you’re not making money. So you bet your bottom dollar after every trip I pulled overtime. I needed the dough and the respect. Because the single most important rule of instructing, the golden rule, is ask for a sub – give a sub. There are plenty of instructors, or trolls if you will, who never have the time to sub but can ask for subs weekly. I never hold a grudge in real life. Mostly because I wear my heart on my sleeve and can occasionally speak out of my behind, and therefore need forgiveness. But when it comes to subbing, I still remember the yoga instructor from a suburban studio my 3rd week of teaching in 2014 who told me she could cover my Saturday morning and then never showed up. Injuries? Ailments? Well there’s simply not enough blank space on the entire internet to discuss last minute sub requests and “sick” time? Well I’ve taught with the flu, a sprained spine, broken ankle, common cold, and straight up sick with bullshit. Teaching isn’t pretty. The laundry never ends. And you work from 5:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. instead of 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Schedules are a right of passage. As I mentioned before, the younger and the greener, the more terrible the time slot. But as time and tiers progress, so do instructor schedules. But what goes up, sometimes falls down. Some instructors believe the schedule to be the bible, the torah, and the declaration of independence. Some instructors believe that if they had a class for years that it shall remain there’s, for years. False. Instead, if an instructor has a class and maintained/built it for years, it simply remains theirs. Teaching in fitness is not comfortable and I’m not referring to the incredible chaffing. There will always be an instructor right behind you and in front of you. One pulling ahead and one pulling you back in their ceaseless plots for primetime slots. And when schedules change, look out. It’s world war, I, II, and III. So why is this such a big deal you ask? Well most instructors are paid by head. The more more populated a time slot, the more money. Take that instructors time slot, and well they just might take your head. From a business perspective, numbers don’t lie. It doesn’t matter if your brand new or two-thousand classes deep, to keep a class you’ve got to work for it. Which leads me to my next topic, instructor friendships.
There are so many fake friendships in fitness. On instagram this instructor might take that instructor’s class but in real life, this instructor can’t stand that one. This is where I stumble a bit. Aside from the white lie here or there to add drama to an already adrenaline filled story, I’m a terrible liar and have been told too-many-times-to-count that I should never play poker. So basically, I’ve been told I have a resting bitch face. Well sometimes my face gets tired from all the smiling and laughing! And if I don’t like you, I guess my face just needs to rest! But I’m a professional. I’ll say hello, tell you the microphone is sounding weird, and offer a hand during a crowded transition. I just won’t hold your hand crossing the street or tell you we should get together sometime.
I’m not a bitch. I guarantee if you’re reading this you either love me, are agreeing with me, or maybe actually, you really think I am a bitch, and was told to go read this blog just to solidify your bitchy thoughts. But the truth is, the realness behind this wordy proclamation is that fitness instructors are not given enough credit. It’s a hard job physically and mentally. They aren’t paid enough. Some are often overlooked and others are just straight up overrated. It costs money, time, energy, and relationships. Some friends will never understand why you (a fitness instructor) can’t go out on a Friday night, are asleep on Saturdays by seven p.m., and never ever go to a Sunday tailgate. To the outsider, the you before you read this piece, fitness instructing looks easy. You make your own hours, (I literally gag every time someone says that to me when I tell them what I do for a living) you get to workout all day, and you get to wear stretchy pants. Now you clearly see your hours aren’t chosen, the workouts aren’t for you, and wearing a sports bra from five o’clock in the morning until nine o’clock at night is like sleeping in sneakers or wearing a hat that’s too tight. It’s a grind and now, more than ever it’s competitive. Now I’m 28, built a studio in my apartment, a community online, and am forced daily to make tough decisions and climb big mountains that only lead to even bigger summits. But for the first time, in a very long time, I am 100% responsible for myself, my business, and my community. I’ve made a big jump in the past 6 months, a jump I considered un-jumping a handful of times. But ultimately if I learned one thing in quarantine it’s that life is short, health is wealth, and banana bread – just banana bread.