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Becoming a Group Fitness Instructor Taught Me to Love Myself

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Sweat poured down my face as Lady Gaga blared overhead. My movement was off-beat. As my cheeks grew red and my breath grew heavier, I lost my thought, looking out in front of me to an empty room and just myself in the mirror staring back. Then it happened: I broke down. Overcome with emotion, I began to wonder if I’d ever be able to get this whole fitness instructor thing down. I wondered if maybe I was making a mistake and if maybe this really wasn’t for me.

You see, earlier on, as an accidental but regular student of group fitness classes, they’d completely transformed my body. Truth is, I would even sometimes call in “sick” to work to go attend my favorite instructors class at the gym. I tried to ignore this red flag of a shift in my thinking but ultimately, it was undeniable. I met some really incredible people in this group fitness room, people who I looked up to, people who believed in me and people who became my friends. Now that I found myself skipping out on my real job to workout, I had so many questions. What did this mean? What should my next move be? Just a few months later, I found myself in talks with the clubs Group Fitness Manager, and my friend, about becoming transitioning in to her role as Group Fitness Manager. Again, my head was spinning. Let me be real with you, I didn’t love to workout, what I loved was the energy of the people who were in this group fitness room, They smiled, they were positive people and most importantly, they didn’t look at me with judgmental eyes. I had only been teaching classes for a short period of time but it was addicting. I wanted to be better. I wanted to learn more and then, I began to entertain the idea of how I could keep the lights on by doing this as a real job. And at this particular studio, where teamwork and community are key, it felt like an opportunity that was too good to pass up.

So I did it. I rallied up the courage, stopped asking myself “what am I doing?”, and took the plunge. In that moment, it immediately felt right. I got the sense that this would be a place where I could connect with others. This would be a place where I’d take on my next adventure. This would be a place where I could learn about myself. But little did I know at that moment just how much I’d learn.

Here’s the thing. I’m a perfectionist. I’d also been faking each group fitness class I taught up to this point by repeating combinations or moves that I had learned by attending other, similar classes over and over again. I live my life by the mantra: fake it till ya make it. Getting the call that they wanted me to train to become a group fitness manager, having never done it before, was enthralling. I had a lot to learn but I was okay with that. If I can attend enough classes to teach myself, then I can surely do this too. training program, though? It was grueling. For give-or-take six weeks, I learned incredibly useful things that would prove to not only serve me in this position, but would lead me to an entirely differently life.

I knew that I had to get serious about this because it was no longer just what I’d called a “jobby” (job + hobby), but I was about to step in to a completely new career path, I needed to become as close to an expert as I could.

At this club and as the group fitness manager, this meant helping out fellow instructors — filling in when someone needed their class subbed and making sure that hot classes were scheduled frequently. In order to fill that position, I had to up my skills as an instructor in a really big way. This meant admitting that I wasn’t perfect and realizing that in order to be the best teacher, I had to first be the best student. I began taking more classes, at other clubs, like it was my job — because… well… it was.

At this club, I began teaching Spin — I fell in love with this class because of the simplicity from an instructors perspective. I knew what music I liked and surely I could figure out a way to organize people in a spin studio from either a seated or standing position along with some bomb ass music, right? It sounded easy enough to me. Spin was fun but as I branched out, I quickly realized that my passion would find me off the bike and on the floor of the group fitness studio, punching, kicking  and air jacking to fierce kickboxing combinations and HIIT drills leading me to my next certification, leading a class called Turbo Kick.

Don’t get it twisted, Turbo Kick was not your normal group fitness workout. This class involved fierce, hard hitting combinations that were set to dance music and required me to memorize it, speak it in to a microphone, all while cuing everything from body alignment to reminding my students to have a blast while doing it. It’s . . . a lot. But it’s a lot of fun, too. The rhythmic aspect fosters togetherness. Being part of a community of what I like to call #TeamTurbo, like the one at this club meant that I had to put in my time. I had to learn all of the special in and outs so that I could best lead a class. (Have I mentioned I was brand new to this?).

I was giving it all I had. Hour after hour, whether I was working with the club’s other Turbo Kick Instructors or talking to myself in an empty studio, I was learning. But still, I was missing cues. Despite dedicating so much time to this new skill, I kept feeling like I was failing. I kept feeling overwhelmed. I kept feeling . . . stuck.

I remember that breakdown day in the studio like it was yesterday. I took off my microphone belt and sat cross-legged on the floor of the group fitness studio in the exact position I stood when leading class. Looking down at my bright volt colored Nike’s, I had my moment. I thought of an earlier time, growing up as an overweight, insecure teen. You see, I wasn’t ever the cool kid, I was the kid skipping Swim Class so I didn’t have to change in front of others and watch them make fun of me because I was the fat kid. I was also the kid walking around the outer edge of the gymnasium, watching the cool kids play basketball on the lower level. I was the kid who got picked last to be on sports teams, I was the kid sitting in the lunchroom at a table alone and I was the kid who frequently ran to the nurses office to leave school whenever possible.

These flashbacks led me to having my moment where I realized that in a few days or a few weeks, your life can entirely change. I realized that kid who did all of those things, was now a “fitness professional”, completely by accident. I realized that I had made it… not to the top… but I had survived. I had gotten through all of the judgmental looks and bullying in school and it let me to this group fitness room, where I sat on the floor staring at myself in the mirror and suddenly, I had an awakening.

You don’t work hard to fail. You work hard because you’re passionate. You work hard because you care. I was in this position because I cared. I cared about helping other people not be in the same position that I was in school. I didn’t want anyone to feel the pain that I felt as that person and I knew that if fitness could change my body and my mind, it could do the same for others. So when things don’t go your way, when mistakes happen, have your moment to appreciate the frustration and how you feel and remind yourself the true reason why you’re doing what you’re doing. Then, reflect. What is it that I can learn, and how will I move forward from this moment?

For the zillionth time, I confronted my reality: this world of a new career was something I’d never done. Being good at this was going to take time. Just because I wasn’t perfect off the bat didn’t mean that I couldn’t be great. It didn’t mean that I didn’t have potential. It didn’t mean I wasn’t working hard.

So I began to accept the mishaps. Instead of getting choked up when things went wrong, I grew to appreciate the chaos and learn how to incorporate small flukes into the swing of things. I began to realize that the small errors I was making may have been blaring to me but unnoticeable to everyone else. I started to realize that in time, with practice, I was getting into the swing of things.

One day, everything clicked. I set up in the studio by myself and ran through my entire workout. By the fifth song, no mess-ups, no frustration, just this feeling of accomplishment. And the next day, in front of my fit family, I did it. I lead my first class, nearly bursting into tears the second the final song came to a close. Surrounded with love, I’d done something I wondered if I was even capable of doing in the first place. And the best part? I did it well.

A slew of classes in, I’m proud of myself. I’m proud to report that I didn’t scare off all of the new group fitness enthusiasts who walked in to my class. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I’m proud to report that I became a part of an amazing family. I’m proud to have met some of my best friends because of group fitness and this workout. I’m proud to report that I’ve learned to love myself, flaws and all. It was never that I wasn’t good enough to do this. It was, I’ve come to learn that during the hard times when you want to give up, you’ve gotta dig deep. Challenges and opportunities emerge in life because we are capable of and meant to face them. We are capable of the growth necessary for moving forward.

PS don’t forget to come say hi on Insta [ @chiphoffa ]. Leave a comment under my last post to let me know you were on my blog!

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