As you huff and puff through your exercise class, have you ever thought that you would like to be the person at the front facing in the other direction? Would you like to turn your love of exercise into your work? Read on to find out more.
Very few of us now have a job for life, or even a career for life. Becoming a fitness instructor is a great option not just for those straight out of college, but for those changing direction later in life. If you enjoy being fit, are sociable and hard-working, it could be a good option to escape the office. After all, it is very true that if you really enjoy your job, you never feel as if you are working. Working as a fitness instructor is now a highly viable career option, although like all worthwhile things it is not easy.
What is the job like? Fitness instructors are never trapped behind a desk for hours. They enjoy a sociable and varied lifestyle, with the bonus of plenty of exercise as an integral part of the work. There is also great job satisfaction in helping people to make the most of themselves and to achieve their training goals. Work is available wherever there is a leisure centre or even a village hall with enough space for a class. Fitness instructors can even ‘live the dream’ by heading to sunnier climes. There are opportunities to work in the fitness centres of foreign hotels or as part of the team delivering the increasingly popular activity holidays.
What are the downsides? Obviously this is not a nine to five, weekdays only job. Classes need to fit round the needs of the customers, which means working evenings and weekends. This is not compatible with a normal social or family life, and those with children will need an understanding partner. Instructors need to maintain their own fitness and every single class must be given their absolute best. There is no scope for bringing a bad day to work – paying customers need attention from a happy and motivated instructor.
Many instructors work as freelancers. This allows them to choose their hours and workload, but also means that they are only paid when they are working. Income levels can vary greatly. Like all ‘dream jobs’ the industry is very competitive. It is also important to realise that injury means no work.
Am I too old? While there is a minimum age to take on this kind of work, the good news is that there is no maximum age. In fact, instructors who match the age profile of their customers often have far more success. This is because they make the goal seem achievable, rather than giving out the feeling of ‘I could do that if I was twenty years younger’.
How do I get started? Becoming a fitness instructor involves working through a set of recognised qualifications. These are available as apprenticeships, NVQs or from a large number of training providers. The first nationally recognised qualifications in the UK were set up by CYQ, part of the YMCA, and their awards are still an industry benchmark. SkillsActive is a registered charity which also regulates training providers and offers qualifications, and also runs the Register of Exercise Professionals, detailed below.
There are very few entry pre-requisites for these courses. All you need is a certain level of fitness plus experience in attending the classes or using the equipment for which you plan to train. Because the courses are so accessible and require only the course fee, it is important to choose a course with care. The industry does allow ‘zero to hero’ training which means that people can go from no knowledge at all to being a fully-qualified instructor in a fairly short time. Be aware that many employers may look on this with some suspicion. Those with experience to add to their qualifications will be infinitely more employable.
Once you are qualified, it is wise to register with a governing body. This assists in obtaining liability insurance and also helps to show that you take your work seriously. In the UK, the main governing body is the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs), which was formed in 2002 to define and raise standards. REPs covers a wide range of fitness disciplines, including work with fitness machines, exercise to music and medical applications of fitness.
Like most dream jobs, being a fitness instructor will probably not make you rich. There will be bad days as well as good days, there will be awkward customers and there will be annoying or lazy colleagues. However there will also be happy customers and people to whom you have made a real difference.
Some say that the key to happiness at work is being paid to teach something that you would happily do for free. So if fitness is your hobby, it could be a path to a whole new lease of working life.