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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