GX Skills: Instructor or coach? Be a life changer

A subtle yet powerful shift in mindset can dramatically alter the impact you have on your class participants, writes Caroline Hynes.

The key to a successful and fulfilling group fitness career is really knowing why you’re in the game in the first place, and then uncovering all the tools, both obvious and not so obvious, that will enable you to maximise your impact on those around you.

So, are you a Group Fitness Instructor, or have you taken it one step further to become a Group Fitness Coach who purposefully encourages others along their path to greatness, in club and then in life? If you haven’t yet become the latter, what will it take to do so?

Well, firstly, it doesn’t require you to do a fancy coaching course or spend a fortune to learn some magical skill. It simply involves regularly taking a step back, observing your environment, seeing the potential that resides in all and watching opportunities to grow yourself and others. In this game, timing and strategy is key. These two qualities may feel innate to you, yet others will need a little more practice. If you can grasp this approach and practice it regularly, your impact will span far wider than the studio, and you will leave an imprint on the hearts and lives of many, way after you retire from the role.

Instructor vs coach, what’s the difference?

An instructor can be defined as a person who teaches a subject or skill; someone who provides instructions. By this definition, a group fitness ‘instructor’ has very clear boundaries: the start and end of the class. With this mindset, the class is prepared and delivered as though it is separate to other daily events – an alternate reality that completely disappears when it is over.

This doesn’t feel quite right, because this scenario would imply that the benefit of the class ends when the class ends. If we think about it, this is ridiculous, as it’s impossible to separate one person’s heart, mind and body into separate compartments. There is always a greater impact, always a ripple effect, no matter how big or small it might be. The class may end but the physical, emotional and mental impact continues and can gain momentum. If you’ve ever had a bad day at work and then gone home and taken it out on someone unrelated, you will be able to understand how the most important impact occurs afterwards. It is here that we can have the most influence.

You may be thinking that this is obvious, and on some levels it is, but the fact is that many group fitness instructors prepare and deliver their classes as if they have no impact outside of the studio. The class is prepared for the 60 minutes (or however long) and that’s it, there is no thinking or strategy beyond that time bound period – particularly in a large gym setting where there are many instructors and classes with covers. This does not mean that these classes are bad, or that what the instructors teach in them doesn’t have a positive ripple effect. What it does mean is that they are missing opportunities to maximise this impact. In that short period of time you are in front of a class, you have the opportunity to open people up to their potential in not just fitness, but all areas of their life. You are already doing this in your classes whether you are aware of it or not, but by doing it consciously you can start to empower participants to step up and have the courage to reach for their goals, and in doing so, inspire others to do the same.

Learning how to leave a legacy

The key to moving from instructor to coach, is mindset. It’s about simply being aware of the magnitude of your impact, never underestimating it and then intentionally considering how it affects each and every participant as you design and deliver your class. People are impacted by many things in group fitness classes, but a few key ones include your choice of exercises, the music you use, the things you say, the other people in the room and your engagement with what you’re doing – your ‘why’ – and this is the deal breaker. If your fire’s not burning bright, it cannot light another.

OK, so you know your why, you’ve got your passion and you want to maximise your positive impact. Awesome! A great place to start is by getting to know your regular participants and getting really good at reading people who are new or who are in a class that you may be covering. The better you get at this, the quicker you can change your tactics to get the most out of the hour, and the more you will start to see glimpses of participants’ potential, get to know their hopes and dreams and create a trusting connection with them. How you would do all these things is covered in these previous articles: How to create a true group fitness community and The Group X Factor.

Once you have these basics working like clockwork you will naturally start to see, and become a cheerleader for, people’s aspirations, encouraging them towards what they want because you have connected, listened, and observed, and you are now able to see where their potential could lead them. The person that had the biggest positive impact on my career, and life, is one who saw my own passion and potential and made me aware of it, before I even saw it. Now that I am aware of my passion, it is so large I can hardly believe I lived for so many years in darkness, and I’m incredibly grateful to this person for listening, observing and then striking the match at the right time. The awareness was the catalyst that ignited in me a drive to create a happier and more fulfilled self, and I have no regrets.

In this article on mentoring I talk about its value for both the mentor and mentee. It is in this role of coach where you may feel inspired to step up as a mentor and help people who may want some of what you have but need a little guidance to get there. Even if mentoring is not something you’re keen to do, having a broad network of professionals and mentors that you can refer to in all disciplines (fitness and elsewhere) is of great support as you in turn seek to support others to follow their dreams. As the leader of the classes you deliver you are a role model, whether you like it or not, and at some point, someone will put you on a pedestal and/or come to you for expert advice. You don’t need to know everything, but as a coach you have the ability to open doors that can change lives.

In empowering others you also empower yourself. Even by reading this article and becoming more aware of the subtle difference in mindset between instructing and coaching, you have already changed. Nothing is really that complicated. Whatever your approach though, it is important to be detached from the outcome of what you may be helping people achieve. The cheerleading of a coach must come from a place of purity, a part of you that enjoys allowing others to experience all parts of their journey to greatness without trying to rescue them from the lessons, and has no motive other than that. Help get them on that path and then let them fly, and don’t be afraid to see them exceed your own success.

We are infinitely powerful both in and out of that studio. Don’t just make a difference in that hour, week, month or year: find a new respect for that power, use it well and leave a legacy of people kicking goals and inspiring others to do the same. Be a superhero.


Caroline Hynes is an experienced fitness professional currently employed as an instructor, teacher, tutor and group fitness coordinator within the industry. With a passion for group fitness and education, she is committed to doing all she can to see group fitness continue to thrive through the development and education of current and future fitness instructors.