BY CHRIS FREYTAG
Group fitness is a passion, not a goldmine. Certainly, most group fitness instructors would likely give their jobs high marks when it comes to providing personal satisfaction and making a positive contribution to society.
After all, we are in the business of improving our participants’ lives on a daily basis and, in some cases, perhaps on an even higher level. Nonetheless, teaching group fitness is a part-time job and one that often serves as supplemental income. Not only is it physically impossible (or, at the very least, unwise) to teach eight classes a day, most clubs don’t offer enough classes to make that possible.
There are many great group fitness instructors who have full-time careers and teach fitness on off-hours or weekends. “I work full-time as a microbiologist in a hospital lab and still enjoy my job,” says Karen Voigt, who has been a group fitness instructor since 2001 (and not to be confused with fitness personality Karen Voight). “But I also love to help people find that inspiration to move their bodies, and I truly enjoy teaching group fitness on the side.”
However, if you are looking for ways to supplement your group fitness income, a great first step is to take a look at other areas related to fitness to complement what you already do. Here are a few ideas to help you do just that.
1. Create an Internet-based business.
The Internet has exploded with opportunities for stay-at-homers and part-timers. But as is the case with any new business, you have to have a plan and determine what kind of business might be right for you.
Service-based Web site: Perhaps you are interested in selling a service such as on-line personal training or weight-loss support. Check out the TrainingPeaks Professional Edition Software available to all ACE-certified Professionals at www.acefitness.org. This on-line tool can help you communicate with clients anywhere in the world. The more you network, the larger your client base, and the more income you can generate while helping busy people find a way to get fit.
Information-based Web site: Are you passionate about a particular subject or activity? Do you want to share your thoughts and advice with others? Information-based Web sites are popular, but be prepared to commit to daily updates and/or blogs. This type of site can be just for fun or provide a revenue stream if you are able to sell advertising space.
Dana Walsh, a New York–based group fitness instructor and blogger, loves her job. “I currently teach 15 classes at five different fitness clubs a week and that’s more than enough,” says Walsh. “My blogging Web site, www.FitCeleb.com, generates additional income, which allows me to continue to teach and still pay the rent.” Walsh says her Web site has made it possible for her to explore various fitness and healthy lifestyle avenues she may not have accessed had she only been working as a group fitness instructor. “It has put me in touch with fitness professionals nationwide; has kept me in the loop with the latest fitness trends and gadgets; and has even provided some really cool perks. It has become fully integrated into my life, both on a professional level and a social level.” Even so, Walsh concedes, it’s not always easy. “It truly is a business and takes a lot of time and effort to be even just a small blog in a big sea of blogs. It is no doubt a seven-day-a-week job, but it works for me!”
2. Investigate corporate opportunities.
2010 is the year of health reform and many corporations are awakening to the benefits of healthy employees. Take some time to explore the businesses in your community and network with friends, family and even your class participants.
“I actually approached a company with a proposal that showed how doing a corporate wellness program could save them in insurance premiums for their employees,” says Tammy Roberts, a group fitness instructor in Fishers, Ind. Companies are warming up to offering onsite fitness programs such as lunchtime fitness classes and on-site personal training. Most employees are thrilled to not have to leave work, drive to a gym or pay a gym membership. In some cases, the company is willing to pay you; in other cases, the employees pitch in to pay your fee.
“The most rewarding part for me,” explains Roberts, “is having employees that would never consider joining a gym participate in an onsite program. We start slow and build their level of fitness over time so they feel less intimidated [exercising with] their peers as opposed to being in a gym full of buff bodies.”
3. Check out your local community center.
Your local community center is a great place to find new opportunities to teach. Many centers offer nearly as much variety as the larger health clubs, including fun classes like kickboxing, yoga, boot camp, water fitness and classes geared toward older adults or kids. “I started teaching yoga at a nearby community center as a result of a referral. I also have held yoga classes in an apartment complex,” says Wendy Sigel, Minneapolis-based group fitness and yoga teacher. “I have taught students [whose ages ranged from] 15 to 80 years old. I love seeing the emotional, mental and physical changes. That’s what it’s all about.”
4. Help your neighbors get fit.
No matter where you live in the United States, it is highly likely that there are people in your neighborhood who need help getting fit! You can tap into this need by doing some research on how to start an outdoor program or organize a neighborhood boot camp. Or maybe you are interested in starting a mom’s workout group. Most new moms are anxious to get their old body back. Finding a safe route to organize a “Rock and Stroll” class is a great idea. There also are several mom-and-baby or stroller-based franchises if you’d rather not create your own. Mommy-baby yoga classes are also popular and an oversized living or bonus room might accommodate several mommy/baby pairs. Just be sure you can legally use the real estate you choose and don’t forget to consider things like equipment, waivers and insurance.
5. Have you considered becoming a personal trainer?
If you already have a group fitness certification, becoming a personal trainer may be a logical next step. After all, you know basic anatomy, physiology and kinesiology, and you put that knowledge into practice as a group fitness instructor. With a little more study and discipline you can attain your ACE Personal Trainer certification and take your knowledge to a more advanced level. Plus, when it comes to building a client base, you have an advantage in that you already have a ready-made audience every time you teach one of your classes. Good instructors have earned the respect of their students and are going to be trusted as a trainer. Perhaps you will be able to train in the same facility you teach your classes. If not, explore the opportunities of in-home training, corporate facilities or other fitness centers in your area. Also, check out the newest edition of the ACE Personal Trainer Manual, 4th Edition. The new ACE Integrated Functional Training™™ Model incorporates the most current research in exercise science, and will be instrumental in preparing you for this next step.
6. Become a continuing education provider and share your knowledge with others.
Do you enjoy the educational part of teaching group fitness? If so, you may want to consider becoming a continuing education provider. Check out the Web sites of local and national conventions, and review the requirements for becoming a presenter. Better yet, attend a conference or two and get a feel for what is required. And for more information on the specific steps involved in submitting your course ideas to ACE for CEC approval, visit www.acefitness.org.
Melissa Layne, an assistant university professor, group fitness instructor and CEC provider in the Atlanta area, offers her own experience as an example for group fitness instructors who are considering becoming a continuing education provider. “I knew I liked to teach, but never predicted how my career path would unfold. I taught group exercise to help put myself through school,” explains Layne. “After graduation, I taught classes at a few different clubs and ended up at a university. Not only [was I teaching] fitness classes, but I was actually hired as a faculty member. It then seemed natural to move into CEC presenting because I love to educate. The money definitely helps, but I love the travel involved with the national conventions. It can be exhausting, but it is worth it to me.”
Pay Attention to the Details
There are some important things to consider—and steps to take—before jumping into any of these new ventures, particularly if you decide to run a boot-camp class or perform in-home training outside of any member-oriented facility. The “Business Basics” area of the ACE Pro Web site will guide you through the steps to setting up your own business. There also is information about start-up, marketing, client relations and essential legal considerations. Here is a sampling:
Buy insurance. Once you become a fitness professional, you have to make sure you cover your liability. If you are not protected, you may be one lawsuit away from trouble. Don’t let that happen. FitnessPak offers liability insurance to fitness professionals with some of the broadest coverage available at the lowest possible rates and up to 40 percent off for ACE-certified professionals. Check it out at www.fitnesspak.com.
Provide waivers. A health club typically requires members to sign liability waivers when they join. If you are going to meet in a backyard or a park, every person who meets with you must sign a waiver that gives them the responsibility for their own actions and potential injuries. Pre-made liability forms are available for purchase on the ACE Web site.
Write a contract. Most people operate in good faith and will pay you for your services. However, you are not always guaranteed payment. No matter how well you know your clients or class participants, present them with a written contract stating what you will provide and how they need to pay. Pre-paying is generally a good idea. People follow through with their intentions more consistently when they have invested money. Include a cancellation policy for times they have to miss a workout or cancel an event. If you do this for every client and every company, it will become standard practice for you.
Chris Freytag is the author of the new book, Two Week Total Body Turnaround, and is the fitness expert and a contributing editor for Prevention magazine. She is ACE certified and a member of the ACE Board of Directors, a master trainer for SPRI Products and the creator of numerous fitness DVDs including Prevention Fitness Systems.