Becoming a Body Pump Instructor

You know those things that you always think about doing, but you have no idea how to go about doing them? That was me and teaching group fitness. For years I had thought that it would be fun to lead classes, but the thought of filling up an hour with an interesting and effective workout was daunting. I am also not the most coordinated person in the world, so anything I did would need to focus on simple moves.

Five years ago, I saw signs in my gym advertising an upcoming Body Pump instructor training session. I had taken a few classes and knew the basic format: during each song a muscle group is worked to exhaustion using basic gym exercises and tempo changes. Instructors are provided with music and choreography, so I didn’t need to worry about creating an interesting class. It seemed like a perfect fit, so I signed up.

Training took place over the course of three days. After we signed in and received our choreography kits, we immediately went through the latest release. Note to anyone attending a Les Mills training: bring several changes of clothes. And food. Plenty of food. We also spent time going over proper form for all of the standard exercises and talking about what makes a fitness class great.

The next morning, everyone would be teaching a track to the rest of the group. I got squats. Before we left for the day, I listened to the music with one of the instructors while trying to follow along in time with the notes and felt hopelessly lost. How am I going to present this tomorrow? I listened to that song all the way home and stayed up until the wee hours trying to learn it. Things finally started to click for me when I turned off the voices in the DVD and just watched the instructors move to the music while following along in the notes. I slept fitfully that night, and I drove to the training half hoping that I would get in a car crash so I wouldn’t have to present. Squats were first and I felt sick when the music started, but as I started moving and teaching, I started to enjoy myself a little bit and nailed the track. Then I got to participate while the other trainees presented their tracks.

Les Mills likes to put potential instructors through the wringer physically during training, so we got to do something called the Body Pump Challenge. We started with a couple miles of running (something up my alley), then returned to the gym to do sprints, deadlifts, squats, triceps dips, etcetera, circuit style. Sweating, huffing, and puffing ensued. We learned some more practical things about instructing, and then everyone had to teach their track again (which meant that everyone went through the whole workout… again). We were sent home that evening with a new track to learn, and I had chest this time. I was slightly less petrified the next day, and made it through my track without major mishap in both the morning and afternoon sessions. I think everyone was spent after we finished the second round. At the end of the training, everyone was given an evaluation sheet, and I passed.

I now had three months in which to learn the whole 10-track release and submit a video of myself teaching a live class for evaluation. If I passed, I would be a certified instructor. Training was a cakewalk compared with what came next. I started team teaching with different instructors. At first I would do two of the tracks, then I built up to five, which was much harder. The songs were my constant companion. When I’d heard baseball announcers say two and two or three and one during a game, I would feel an urge to stand up and start doing squats. I received feedback from the other instructors: “Don’t arch your back so much on the shoulder presses”, “Your timing is a bit off”, and “Easy on the woos”.

I was finally ready to tape, and seeing that bright, unwavering red light aimed in my direction rattled my nerves. For better or worse, my every move was being recorded for some stranger to watch and evaluate. I made it through the class with a tiny mistake in the tricep track, which I think I covered up pretty well. I gave taping one more shot, but this time I made a mistake during the warm up. I remember thinking, “I just started and it’s already ruined.” I did my best to keep a smile on and deliver a good workout to the class. I decided to send the first filming.

A month or so later, I nervously tore the envelope from Les Mills open and the dreaded word RESUBMIT jumped off the page. A potential instructor is assessed in five areas and needs proficiency in each one to pass (Choreography, Position, Execution, Timing, and Coaching). Four out of five requires a sign-off from the local team lead. Any less, and a new video must be submitted. The main issue was with my “set position,” which is used in almost every single exercise. My legs were a little too wide and my toes were turned out a bit too much, and I failed on position and execution.

I got in touch with the Body Pump team lead, and made technique and team teaching dates on Saturday mornings at the gym across town. She found a lot of flaws that the other instructors hadn’t noticed and it was hard keeping it all straight in my head. A few weeks later, I got an email saying that the RESUBMIT had been in error, and that I should have received a PASS WITHELD. The set position problem was an issue with position only, not execution. I was relieved that I didn’t have to tape again. I continued to work with the team lead. After several more weeks, she signed off on my certification, but said that the gym was not going to offer me a job. She basically said that I wasn’t motivating and that a lot of the members didn’t really care for my teaching style. This happened over the phone at work. I grabbed a friend, went into an empty conference room, and bawled.

There were other gyms in town that offered Body Pump, and I eventually landed at a small club called Better Bodies teaching Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 6 AM almost a year after taking the initial training. The critiques I had gotten had helped me grow as an instructor, but it was freeing to finally be teaching for real, without waiting for someone to give me feedback after. There was a wonderful group of regulars who attended and the smaller class size made it easy to connect with them. From time to time, someone would tell me about weight loss or strength gains or just how much they enjoyed taking the class. I continued to get stronger as well. Becoming an instructor was much harder than I thought it would be when I signed up, but it as definitely worth it.

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34 thoughts on “Becoming a Body Pump Instructor

  1. Wow, that is really cool that you’re leading you own Body Pump class! I haven’t been for a long time but I really enjoy this class. I think it’s really led to many women not being scared of weights and being interested in strength conditioning. I had no idea the process to qualify to become an instructor would be so tough. Well done on qualifying and I hope your class goes from strength to strength!

    • Thanks! It was definitely much tougher than I thought it would be. They have changed the training somewhat so they instructors get their kits before training, but getting certified is probably similar. Glad you like Pump 🙂

  2. I have been seriously considering becoming a fitness instructor for over a year now. I have been researching all day about BodyPump certification and can’t stop thinking about it!I love attending Group Exercise classes of all types but I am afraid that I am too shy or serious to teach. I am very comfortable with BodyPump moves and format and I love learning about fitness and nutrition and teaching others. I feel like it is something I just need to push myself to try. Anyway, thank you for the honest post. It sounds very daunting but at the same time I am hoping it provides the personal growth and confidence I really need!

    • Go for it! It’s good that you are already familiar with it. As I mentioned, I hadn’t taken too many classes before I decided to try it.

      Go into it understanding that it is a big commitment of time (and sometimes emotion), and I think you’ll be just fine 🙂

  3. Thank you so much for writing this. I just went through certification 6 weeks ago and will be filming in 2 days. I went for a demo today with a gym and was told, thanks, but not now, go work on your timing and come back. Everything else is perfect, but…… I was crushed today and ready to throw in the towel. I appreciated reading this.

    • Thanks for the comment, Mona. It’s a hard process and a sometimes heart-crushing one.

      I think the good news is your case is that timing is very objective and you should be able to nail it with practice.

  4. Pingback: 2013 Year In Review | Bigger than smaller

  5. I’ve been taking body pump for 2.5 years now and am seriously thinking about become an instructor since it’s something I do and love anyways! Thanks so much for your experience. That took a lot of courage to write it all down. I am very coordinated (can catch on easier to zumba and advanced step moves quickly) and many of the regulars I workout with have said that I need to teach because I put in 150% and am high energy. Was it nerve wrecking to be in front of the class? How does it feel now?

    • If you have a passion for it, I definitely think you should give it a go! It is a lot of work when you are starting out and you have to really want to do it. It’s still work now, but I pick up most of the new tracks pretty easily and have a good libarary of cues tucked away in my head.

      It was hard teaching in front of people at first, and I’d get really nervous. I don’t really anymore, although when I sub a class I will feel it a little. You get comfortable putting it all together after a while and it helps to get to know the people in your class.

      Best wishes!

  6. Thanks for sharing your experience. I have signed up for initial training in May, so I am scouring the internet for tips, etc. I did Les Mill Pump DVDs (via BeachBody) at home for several months, then got my AFAA group fitness certification and started teaching a variety of freestyle cardio and muscle classes about 10 months ago. Teaching Bodypump is my dream. I am nervous and excited about the certification process. Congrats on teaching your Bodypump classes three times a week! That’s awesome!

  7. What is your style of teaching that they didn’t appreciate? Was she specific? I’m curious to know what people do or don’t like. I just went through training and am going to tape my video this week. Besides pointing out a few choreography errors here and there (that I just accidentally messed up), no one really gives me any useful feedback about style. Let me know what your style is now, and what about it back then wasn’t “good enough” for that other place. Thank you so much! And congrats!

    • Hi, Liza. Thanks for commenting. Some of the comments was that I was fake and lacking energy.

      I like to think that that has changed, although to some extent you are performing when you teach. I think my style is mostly encouraging, more cheerleader than drill sergeant. I do try and mix up vocal styles depending on where we are in the chory or to go with the music. Sometimes I throw really bad humor into the mix 😉

      Everyone has their own natural style, of course. And different people will always be attracted to different personality styles. I am sure that I am not everyone’s cup of tea, but I think that some people genuinely enjoy my classes, so that makes me feel good.

      I also think that the *most* important thing is to clearly present to chory, because that and the music do most of the “heavy lifting” in making class enjoyable. Giving people notice of what’s coming, how many reps are left, good form cues, and explaining why we are giving these cues, so they have a safe, effective, and challenging workout will make them want to come back.

      Good luck with your video!

  8. Thanks for sharing. Very often, the best learning and teaching opportunities are in your local gym. That’s exactly how I got my foot in the door. I train in a small studio now and love the small group environment. There is a lot more interaction and exchange than with very, very large classes (which, nonetheless, offer a different kind of challenge).

  9. Excellent article, very informative – I certainly appreciate my instructor more after reading it! Still tempted to do it myself, hasn’t put me off – I do like a challenge. 😉

    • Thanks for the comment, Catherine. If you’re interested, you should definitely go for it. Just make sure you’re in a place in your life where you have some spare time 🙂

  10. Great details in your post about the certification process, and the ups and downs of trying to become an instructor. I just filmed my first video thinking I did great….and then I watched it! Oh no there were so many mistakes in execution, technique, camera angle, there’s no way I can send it in if I want to pass. Good to know what areas they are grading you on, and that a 4/5 is not a total fail and resubmit. Congrats on getting through it all and becoming an official Les Mills Bodypump Instructor!

  11. Really appreciate this post. I’ve signed up for the audition in May at a Goodlife Club and this gave me a better idea of what to expect. I’m at the very beginning of the process and it’s a little nerve wrecking, but just like with everything, the more you do, the better you’ll get. Thanks!

  12. Hi great post! I’m thinking of becoming a Body Pump instructor too. I find instructors that cue well are the best ones and that must take some serious focus. I feel that would be the most challenging part especially when you’re really nervous. Do you have any suggestions/tips or little tricks on how to best do that? I’ll probably take the training in a few months so I really want to be prepared. I have been taking body pump for about 3 years but I have never taught anything. I’m just such a dork about body pump that I feel I should go for it. Also because going through the training and teaching scares me and so I need to do that scary awesome thing I want so I can grow. It’s definitely outside my comfort zone. Reading your experience is super helpful!

    • Dealing with the nerves? Only time 🙂 And knowing the material. Spend lots of time with it. Knowing the choreography is like laying the foundation. Know what’s coming so you can pre-cue and maybe throw out some spontaneous comments. If you’re struggling to remember what comes next, everything falls apart. Granted, brain farts happen, but when you know the music you can recover.

      Good luck! If you love Pump, you’ll love the training and love being an instructor.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  13. How much did you make at your first job? I’ve been wanting to do this forever but just found out that the training is quite expensive so as a broke college student I want to be sure the payout is worth it. $300 out of my bank account would be a significant amount sadly.

    Thanks, I look forward to your response!

    • The gyms I teach at in AZ pay $18-$19 a class, but the clubs in your area may be different. I also get free memberships, which is nice.

      You will also be required to buy the new release every three months, and that runs about $35. There may be some leeway on that if you don’t have a regular class, but I think if you go over a year without getting the new release, you need to go to another training and do a re-sit. Things may have changed, but I just mention that there are some ongoing considerations even after training.

  14. Thanks for sharing the positives and negatives because I would love to teach in a gym someday and I love body pump. I am working on my groupx now, and will be testing soon😬

  15. Was it difficult to memorize the choreography? I’ve attended 100s of bodypump classes and that’s the biggest barrier/anxiety I have to becoming an instructor.

    • It is at first, but it gets much easier. Also, some releases and tracks are definitely tougher to learn than others. I would recommend taking training when you know you will have a fair amount of spare time to dedicate to learning the material. Expect to listen to the release until you are sick of it 🙂

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