Dos and Donts for Group Fitness Instructors

We’ve all taken classes with fantastic, empowering instructors. One of my favorites is Liz at Uplift Studios in NYC. She’s one of those people who is encouraging, positive, and puts you through a tough, satisfying workout just about every time while still giving you tough love when you need it.

Uplift Studios

We’ve all also taken classes with not-so-motivational instructors…and those seem to be the ones I never forget.

I’m not an instructor and I have a certification in nothing. (I mean, if a coffee-drinking certification existed I’d totally have it. Someone invent it so I can get all certified and stuff.) I did go through training to teach classes at a sports performance center one summer as an intern, but I’m pretty much just a fitness-obsessed girl who kind of knows some stuff about some things. (WAIT, I just remembered I’m certified in CPR. Counting it.) In light of recent events (AKA a super frustrating class at my gym), I’ve decided to compile a (very opinionated) list of dos and donts for fitness instructors from a serial class attendee after all of these things happened in a class I recently took. Maybe this will help someone somewhere. Maybe not. But I couldn’t not share.

Grumpy Cat Meme, It's Not Me It's You


Don’t assume everyone in the class is at the same level or has the same goal. Speaking to the class collectively like no one has ever worked out before is condescending. Respect that there are different people at different fitness stages with different goals. Also, SHOCKER: Not everyone takes group fitness classes to lose weight. Don’t focus all of your “motivational” tidbits on getting a “bikini body”. I’m pretty sure if I put a bikini on my body, VOILA! Bikini body. Your standards have no bearing on my workout.

Don’t be discouraging. I understand that sometimes people get a little excited and grab heavier weights than necessary, not really knowing what the class entails. WHAT YOU SHOULD SAY: ‘”we’ll be doing a lot of reps, so determine the size of dumbbells you use off of that. I recommend using X pounds. WHAT YOU SHOULD NOT SAY: ohh I see you’re going shopping for dumbbells! You don’t need all those – this class is hard. You’re not gonna need those 10s. But you can keep them anyway, we’ll see if you use them. If you do use them, you can’t switch weights in the middle of the set!” This actually happened and it did not make me think, “Oh joy! This is going to be an awesome class!”

Create the workout with the class description in mind.  This “Barbell Strength” class was described as a resistance training class. Instead, not only did we not use a barbell once, the majority of the class was cardio. I didn’t come for cardio. I get more than enough cardio throughout the week.

Mean Girls Don't Put Me Down For Cardio Gif

I’m also very sensitive about my foot and try to avoid jumping exercises, especially on back-to-back days. To my surprise, this class included a lot of jumping and I was constantly modifying.

Ask about injuries. And discuss individually, not in front of the class. Always. Always. Always.

Don’t touch anyone unless it’s absolutely necessary to fix their form. NOT okay with you creepily grabbing my sides to move me out of the way so you can demonstrate something.


Don’t try to justify yourself by constantly repeating that you’ve “done this for 30 years”. If we like the workout, we like it. You undermining us and telling us you think you’re smarter doesn’t help. And don’t stop an exercise to tell us to find you on Facebook, either.

Come to class with a workout in mind. Amidst my “Barbell Strength” class, the instructor threw in a dance sequence. I AM NOT KIDDING. It was obvious he didn’t have anything else for us to do, so to fill the time, he ran around doing seductive dance moves and encouraged us all to copy him. I’m all for having fun and being silly, but I didn’t come to this class for that awkward situation. Wrong place, wrong time.

Don’t tease someone about their fitness level. In the midst of the dance sequence, I sighed, very frustrated because I wanted a strength workout. This guy gets in my face and says SMILE!! So I say “I’d like more weights please!” (Translation: What the F dude, seriously? Why are we dancing? I’m THISCLOSE to walking out.) He turns around and says, “Okay everyone! Her arms aren’t toned enough so she wants more weights! Pick up your weights!) …Excuse me? Again, ACTUALLY HAPPENED so I gave him the most evil death stare I could muster. Naturally everyone grumbled because now I’m that girl. It’s like I reminded the teacher about the homework he forgot to collect.

And the most important of all:

Know your stuff. Please don’t make things up.  Stay educated. People truly listen and look up to you as fitness professionals. Make sure you’re saying the right things. Case in point, the biggest red flag of all: the instructor said that women shouldn’t lift heavy weights because they’ll get bulky. In my opinion, THIS IS THE BIGGEST MYTH IN THE HISTORY OF STRENGTH TRAINING. First of all, do you know how hard it is to get “bulky”? And WTF, maybe I want to get bulky. Who are you to tell me how my body looks best? There’s so much bullshit info floating around the fitness industry and it needs to stop.

What did you just say??

What did you just say??

What are some of your best fitness class experiences? Shout out an awesome teacher or studio you love!

I’m a writer currently living in New Jersey and blogging about running, fitness, wellness, and motivation. I want every reader to laugh and feel empowered, balanced, and motivated! Subscribe by email to get 1-2 newsletters a month with post updates, my favorite articles, running playlists and more!


  1. September 13, 2013 / 6:52 pm

    I had a yoga instructor at one gym who literally did the same poses, workout, music, etc over and over. I don’t think she ever put any thought into the class. She didn’t bother getting to know people’s names or really welcoming them. You could tell it was “just a job” for her… and even then, it was the kind of job that’s a means to an end, not the kind of job that you do you best at even though it’s just a job….

    There was also an instructor at my previous gym who told everyone her goal for that day was for someone to throw up after class, that that would make a good workout… um, no thanks. Even after 20-22 milers, I have not thrown up, and those were certainly good workouts. We also had one there who looked like Barbie, was extremely Christian, and wanted us to stop during class and make new friends, or have other people in the class help us stretch (I wasn’t comfortable with that, I have a weird thing about being touched, kinda like you mentioned).

    This guy really does take the cake! And I can tell from your post that it’s mostly the same guy and not that you’re combining years of group fitness into the post, that this is written about 1-2 key instructors! Personally… I’d talk to the gym if it was bad. Especially things like pointing out injuries, or being discouraging. You might stay, but others wouldn’t stay… and some wouldn’t go back :(.

    • September 17, 2013 / 2:49 pm

      Nothing worse than doing the same thing in a class over and over. I mean, sometimes it’s good to measure how you’re improving, but sounds like that first lady you mentioned just didn’t care about the participants. Gyms need some kind of evaluation program, I think. That shouldn’t happen!

      And ugh, you have to throw up for it to be a good workout?! Ridiculous. This is why so many people shy away from exercise/classes!

      • September 17, 2013 / 3:37 pm

        Agreed. The best classes and instructors are the ones that encourage people to make each workout their own and encourage modifications for the person’s ability. For example, BodyPump. You can put as much weight as you need on that bar. Someone who’s squatting 10 pounds can get a good workout, if that’s what they squat. Someone else can squat 60 pounds, if that’s what they squat- and they can both do the class together.

        If the classes are intimidating a lot of people will not go.

  2. September 13, 2013 / 7:00 pm

    That is horrible! I would definitely write a letter or talk to the manager at the club.

    • September 17, 2013 / 2:44 pm

      I think I might! Argh!

  3. September 13, 2013 / 7:11 pm

    I can’t believe an instructor called you out like that when HE was in your face! That’s horrible! I would talk to the manager about the class. What a buzzkill. Also I hate dance sequences!

    As a new instructor I’m always trying to listen to what people like. I don’t want to be one of those instructors! I will be the first to admit though tomorrow I am filling in for a class I don’t know much about, so I’m changing the class to fit the types of workouts I know that still fit into the group title. It should be really interesting! And I feel like I am going to have an epic fail moment, I don’t do Pilates so it’s a butts and guts class for one day :)

    • September 17, 2013 / 2:43 pm

      I know, I’m tempted to give them some constructive feedback, haha. I KNOW you’ll be a great instructor…you know your stuff, you’re friendly, you’re not annoying…haha…you’ll do great!!

  4. September 15, 2013 / 12:55 am

    Ayiyiyi!!!! So crazy!! I’d be super frustrated!! I’d go CRAZY if I actually heard someone say that weights were going to bulk me up.

    • September 17, 2013 / 2:42 pm

      Right?! UGH!

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