Shannon Fable by Shannon Fable

“I want to be a group fitness instructor when I graduate”, said … no one ever! While that may not be entirely true, few people go to school with the intent to jump around in spandex, sweat and make very little money. Most of us found our love for group fitness in the classroom. We sweated it out in the back row and made our way to the front. Somewhere along the way we decided getting paid to work out made a lot of sense, so we jumped in with both feet and began our careers as GFIs.

Because so many of us do NOT do it for the money, there is little discussion around our career path and no promises are ever made that we will make more money than we do right now. Our hourly wage has grown over the years, but the rate has been insignificant when compared to the cost of living, staying certified, purchasing music and our ever-increasing wardrobe expense. If you are trying to make a living, you may be left shouting, “Show me the money, ” but no one listening because so many people accept their fate and call it good.

I am not one of those girls. Sixteen years ago I decided this was my calling and I needed to figure out a way to make it a sustainable career. I embarked on a career of consulting, with a mission of helping fitness professionals make more money. Here are just a few of the ways I’ve found you can increase your paycheck as you deliver your gift to the world:


The natural evolution for someone making the leap from part-time instructor to full-time fitness professional is the personal-training path. In the past, I was less inclined to push GFIs in this direction, because if you were born to be in front of a group, endless hours of one-on-one may NOT make your heart sing. Yes, the money is there, but if you aren’t wired for this type of interaction, it can lead to burnout and falling out of love with fitness, which is worse than the alternative. However, today there are more ways to jump into the monetized training space without having to chalk up countless hours dealing with individual training programs. Small-group training is making huge strides in our industry and GFIs are ideally suited to lead the charge.

What is small-group training? It’s group fitness with a directed focus and money attached to the bottom line. Smaller groups with a specific purpose are the perfect way for instructors to make extra dough! You’ll likely need to up your game in the certification department with a Personal Training cert, Small Group training specialty cert and a bit more study in assessments, programming and individual coaching. You’ll also want to do some business research. But it should be relatively easy for you to jump in with both feet because teaching groups is in your DNA.


Most group fitness departments have a leader who (typically) makes a salary or hourly wage to organize the team. The duties of a Group Fitness Manager (GFM) include (but are not limited to) hiring, scheduling, budgeting, payroll, subbing, staff development, training and customer service. Not all clubs are created equal. Some gyms treat their GFMs well, with full-time salaries and benefits allowing them to focus on the organization and growth of a department instead of being the superstar instructor who teaches to make ends meet. Other clubs see this role as a part-time job, which may end up adding to your stress levels regardless of the “guaranteed” income you receive that doesn’t require sweat.

One thing you must decide: Are you comfortable behind the scenes or do you long to be in front of the crowd? To be an effective leader, you must push others up and out in front of the public instead of continuing to be the superstar. Make sure you’re ready to trade your microphone for a computer if you’re looking to head into management. You’ll need to learn a bit more about the industry (beyond the formats, equipment and teaching techniques) and leadership. Shifting into management can provide longevity if you find the right balance.


Studios and non-conventional fitness “clubs” are popping up everywhere. Do you dream of working for yourself? Growing something from the ground up? Making your own schedule? This could be for you! Numerous opportunities exist, from investing in a franchise (think Brickhouse Cardio, Stroller Strides, CrossFit) to completely building a concept from the ground up. You can choose bricks-and-mortar (a studio) or organize corporate or park workouts. Remember: You need to be equally excited about business, sales and marketing as you are about fitness to make this work. And eventually you’ll need to scale and manage others if you plan on ever having a spare moment.

Having your own “space” can be very rewarding, but you can’t always count that the many members who love you will follow you if you strike out on your own. We often forget that regardless of how amazing our classes might be, many members are there for other amenities and the convenience. Will you have childcare, showers or a café? Will your classes be offered at the right time? Do some serious soul searching before embarking on this path. Get real about WHY you want to strike out on your own before cutting ties with the many hands that have fed you through the years. Owning your own business can be extremely rewarding and provide longevity if you’re doing it for the right reasons.


Many instructors that have success at the club level begin dreaming of being on a bigger stage. The term Master Trainer or Presenter comes to mind. Yes, presenting at a conference or traveling to another club to teach other instructors is an amazing opportunity and a fulfilling path. However, there are many things to consider before heading down this road. First, most presenters at conferences have cut their teeth as master trainers with regional opportunities first. You can do this with a company (e.g., Schwinn, BOSU, TRX) or strike out on your own and pedal your unique concepts to various clubs. Either way, you’ll need to have the proper credentials to offer continuing education credits for your workshops. This requires a certification from the organization or a four-year degree in an exercise-related field.

From there, your path will be quite different should you embark on your own or work for a company. Either way, the process will take time as you need to audition, learn the program(s), apprentice and be ready to go out on your own or to create your own program, have it approved for CECs and market your program to others. When you are ready to educate, you will most likely be traveling (by car or plane!) and you’ll need to account for time involved (creation, travel, actual work time and follow up) to determine a fare wage for your work. Yes, you may make $400 in a day, but make sure that all the lead-up and follow-up makes sense and will eventually provide you a proper return on your investment.

With every opportunity we’ve discussed, there’s one extremely important element to keep in mind. What’s your exit strategy? As GFIs, we LOVE what we do and we can’t imagine a time when we won’t be doing it. Yes, it’s true, you could probably exercise well into your golden years, but can you work forever? Maybe—maybe not. If this is going to be your career, start thinking NOW about how long you want to work, how many hours you want to work a week, how much money you need to make to be comfortable, and how you can transform your career when the hustle and bustle must die down. Madonna serves as a good example of someone who constantly reinvents herself to meet the times and match her own calling. Do the same and you’ll never work a day in your life!

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