Let’s face it, group fitness can be competitive.
I just found a blog post that I wrote after attending my first fitness convention in 2012, back when I was a baby Instructor and very new to the industry:
“Just like being at The British Soap Awards [I was working for the BBC at the time], the competitive energy in the room was overwhelming. I don’t think I’ve felt so scrutinized and judged since I lived in Leeds and used to go the gay bar Fibre, which was full of mirrors to make opining on others even more accessible. Even being surveyed by a table of pursed lip drag queens doesn’t come close to the intimidation factor of stepping into a room of Instructors to compare quad size.”
I felt it then, and I still feel it now – that sense of competition with other Instructors. Whether it’s vying for a spot on the timetable, wondering who’s going to get the best tracks for launch (don’t you dare give me Core or Cooldown), or just feeling threatened by a younger/ fitter/ more experienced Instructor, it can be hard to shake that sense of not quite measuring up.
I have the privilege of interviewing many Les Mills legends, and I always like to ask them how they cope with the competitive side of the industry. Here are the greatest hits of their answers:
Ben Main: "Everybody provides something different and that’s why people get opportunities."
Coming in to teach at Les Mills Auckland City brought some challenges… you know, in terms of Group Fitness, this club is it! This is the Mecca and you’ve got some big dogs teaching in there and it can be very intimidating. I remember walking in there and teaching a few classes and had some of the more senior Instructors give me a bit of a stare down, sussing me out a bit. It actually took a while to build their trust, but the most important thing for me was to stay true to myself and do what I do because I love it.
Everybody provides something different and that’s why people get opportunities. If you think of the All Blacks, why do they have three first fives? Because they all provide something different: one could be an amazing goal kicker, one might be a great runner with the ball, and another will have a different skill. And the skills of the team you’re playing against will determine which player they’re going to put out on the field. The cool thing is that you’re an option: you’re someone different.
Erin Maw: "I like the high performance culture at the gym and that everyone's encouraged to lift their game up."
I like being in a competitive environment because it’s what I’ve done my whole life. That's how I thrive and take my game to the next level. From the age of four, I competed in gymnastics. I like the high performance culture at the gym and that everyone's encouraged to lift their game up. I want to keep getting better and better, and I encourage other Instructors to keep leveling up their game too.
Caley Jäck: "Every person on the planet has a gift to share with the world."
I am not a competitive person. I do like to compete with myself, but I don’t enjoy team sports – competition freaks me out because I feel like bad energy is created and I feel it’s damaging to relationships. I don’t want to be competitive with you because I love you as a person and this [competitiveness] could get in our way. In a workout, if someone is the pacesetter – awesome, love it – but I don’t want to compete with where you’re going. I don’t want to clash with you.
Every person on the planet has a gift to share with the world and what you have, I will never have and what I have is something you will never have. I think it’s very important to embrace that. That’s your gift and this is my gift and there’s no point in competing with your gift. I try to remind myself of that when self-doubt starts creeping in and I start comparing myself. To remind myself that I am unique and I have something to offer that nobody else does.
Kaylah-Blayr Fitzsimons-Nu’u: "I have this devil on my shoulder saying: “You’re not skinny enough to stand next to the other presenters”."
I'd spent my whole life thinking I needed to get skinny to be successful in the fitness industry… but trying to get ‘skinny’ had never worked for me. I’m just not built to be thin. I gave myself a new goal of wanting to be the best athlete I could. To be my own hero, be my own inspiration, and to be proud of myself and my journey that I’m on.
With each filming I do, I look back on photos from the filming, and try to say the right words to myself to remain in a good headspace. I have this devil on my shoulder saying: “You’re not skinny enough to stand next to the other presenters”. But I’m learning to pause, be grateful, give myself a pat on the back, and move on.
When I first appeared on Masterclass, I had some people messaging me on Instagram saying how great it was to see different body types and that I was an incredible Instructor. Initially I only saw the comments about "different body types". I was like, “I do not want to be the token big girl”. But then, I came to see it as a positive. Yes, it's really great to represent more inclusive body types, but I also opened my mind to what else was being said: that I was inspiring them, and that they thought that I was an incredible Instructor.
Kylie Gates: "My people will find me – because of my uniqueness, the way I look, speak, teach, connect."
At my core, I’m very much about work ethic. Walking the talk and doing the work has got me to where I am today. I’m good at what I do because I do the preparation, and that’s why I can stand with authenticity in my space.
I never really thought about wrinkles until social media came along, haha – isn’t that a sign of aging? If someone is concerned about being an older teacher I say: “Why do you listen to them? Who wrote the rule book?” No one did. There are people for everyone. My people will find me – because of my uniqueness, the way I look, speak, teach, connect.
It’s around switching your mindset to focus on what you bring, rather than on what you lack. I’ve done the years, I’ve done the work… the time. I know what I bring to the table. I’ve got more self-belief now than I’ve ever had, so why would I quit teaching now? There will come a day when I can’t physically teach anymore, so whilst I can, why would I stop? I try not to look at what I don’t have, but rather what I can offer. Yeah I’m an older Instructor, but what I can bring that younger Instructors can’t?
Meno Thomas: "I don’t like competing, because I like helping people."
I’m not a competitive person. I don’t like competing, because I like helping people.
I have empathy for the people who might want to say something nasty about me – like I’m not good enough or not strong enough. Maybe I’m not tall enough, or masculine enough. But how I look at it is: ‘You know what, I’m here to give me. And if you don’t accept that, that’s okay. But I’m going to continue to give me. And if you decide you don’t want to be on this ride with me, that’s okay, I’ll just drop you off at the next station.’
Khiran Huston: "It's natural for humans to have goals and want to work toward those goals."
Feeling competitive is normal and it's natural for humans to have goals and want to work toward those goals. But there are some things you can’t control and so it’s helpful to bring it back to your core reason for teaching. It might be the love of music. It might be for getting other people moving. It might be that you like to be on stage – and that's OK! If you like to be heard and you want to be on stage and that fills you up, that's OK – it doesn't always have to be about other people.
In my opinion, if you do experience jealousy or resentment, you should examine those feelings. Don’t ignore them and just put on a smiley face, but examine where they’re coming from. For example, if someone gets an opportunity that you wanted, then ask – are they good? Did they deserve it? Try to work through those feelings, rather than just smiling at everyone when you’re actually dying inside – because that’s not healthy.
Something else helpful is to find someone you can trust and talk to them about it, maybe a friend outside the industry. There’s nothing more grounding than explaining that you’re upset that so-and-so got the 6:10am timeslot that you’ve been working 12 years for, and how it's not fair, and your friend brings you back down to earth by being confused: “You’re upset because someone else gets to wake up at five in the morning and you don’t?!”
Marlon Woods: "Every time they got to film and I didn’t, I thought, well, maybe Les Mills doesn’t like me anymore."
I used to be so threatened by Rene [Vogel] and Reagan [Kang] because I felt like they were so much better than me. And every time they got to film and I didn’t, I thought, well, maybe Les Mills doesn’t like me anymore. You know, a few weeks after filming everyone starts asking each other: “Hey, did you get invited to film again next round?” And I might be like, I didn't get that email yet, and then the panic starts to set in. The self-doubt arrives.
I had a really honest conversation with Kylie Gates a few months before I filmed BODYPUMP™ 110. I said: “I'm really struggling with confidence. I feel like every time I don't get invited back to film, it's because I suck and I feel like I'm going to get replaced. I feel like I'm not doing a good job.” She said: “Listen. You bring something completely different from anyone else. And everyone else brings something completely different from you. You can’t be worried about comparing yourself to others. Instead, try to think about where you fit into the puzzle.” That helped me so much with how I viewed myself and my peers, and it also helped me become a better team member.