I read an article recently about the ten things personal trainers wish they knew before entering this field. One of the lines caught my eye: “You’ll develop a unique friendship with your clients … The time will come when you’ll be called upon to deliver sage council, inspire courage, or simply be a shoulder to cry on.” I can speak from experience that these lines pack so much truth. We must always be ready to meet people where they are, because we never know when they will choose to share something deeply personal with us – or how much that thing has affected their fitness journey.
There is always a story, and there is always more to know about the people in our classes. It’s a lesson I learn nearly every time I step into the O2 Fitness locations where I teach BODYPUMP™, BODYCOMBAT™, and cycle classes. I guess you could say the drive to learn unique personal stories is what motivated me to choose my path in life. I’ve devoted my career as a social worker to understanding widespread vulnerabilities in health, financial resources, housing, etc. Despite all the barriers that I help people work through, it is their resilience and determination that shines through and propels them forward. It is humbling to see how little some people have, but it's inspiring to witness their need to overcome seemingly insurmountable circumstances.
My own fitness story began after relentless hounding from my favourite (yes, I said it) BODYPUMP Instructor. She was determined that I was going to Initial Training because I was there for every single class. I finally gave in and registered for training – then the doubts came: What if everyone is in better shape than me? What if I’m a terrible teacher? Will the members at my gym take me seriously when I go from the back row of class to the front as the Instructor?
I was a nervous wreck when I drove to training in Greenville, SC. But the most inspiring two days of my life followed. I met incredible people with even more incredible stories. The best part? They were just like me, with the same worries. I was stunned, but even more humbled to train alongside them. One man in particular still stays with me. Just six months before coming to BODYPUMP training, he was in a wheelchair, without the use of his legs after an accident. He shared his dark moments and the tears he’d shed over whether he would ever walk again – let alone attend a BODYPUMP class or become an Instructor. It was at this moment that I understood the power we have as group fitness Instructors – we remind our members that there is hope, no matter how far they think they are from their goals. Where there is the will to pursue, there is always hope.
“It was at this moment that I understood the power we have as group fitness Instructors.”
I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a lot of people through my group fitness career. Some of them include former Instructors, so I make sure my form and technique is extra sharp when they’re in class! I think there is one story that impresses me most, though. Out of respect for her privacy, I will call her Jane.
Jane moved to South Carolina for a change in her life. She was over 300 pounds when she started attending BODYPUMP classes. As Instructors, we understand it can be scary to put yourself out there in a group fitness class. Most of us can spot a first-time attendee from their body language: they’ll likely walk slowly along the back or side of the room, sticking close to the walls, looking apprehensively at the regulars setting up their benches and loading their bars without a second thought. They look around the room for some sign of a welcoming face to make this a little less scary before they bolt for the door.
This was Jane on her first visit to my class. I ran over to her as fast as I could because I knew I was about to lose my chance to engage her. She hung tough through that first class! Speaking to her afterwards, she shared how hard it was to stay through the entire class. I could tell by her red face and dripping sweat, but I could see how proud she was of herself. This pride was part of her new story – she wanted to try and she wanted to be stronger. She kept coming back and is now over 100 pounds down from where she started. Even more amazing is the fact she will be on her way to Initial Training for BODYPUMP in just a few weeks, all because group fitness shaped her body, her life, and love for herself.
What’s incredible is the emotional, mental, and spiritual transformation that Jane has made since starting her BODYPUMP journey. Research shows that we must take care of all parts of ourselves to achieve true health, which includes the physical, the spiritual, and the mental/emotional parts. Research also shows that, across all ages and demographics, social support is the single best predictor of a person’s health and safety. This is why group fitness is so magical – Instructors encourage their class participants to push a little harder for mental and physical gains, but the emotional support comes from getting to know your members. Even better is to get your members to know one another. If they didn’t want contact with others, they would not be in your class.
All of our members have something to teach us through their stories. Jane has taught me so much more about strength than I ever knew. But our members look to us to be that example of strength. If you ask, they will talk, and you will be a better instructor for listening.
Jordan Hardy lives and teaches in Charleston, South Carolina for O2 Fitness. She earned her BODYPUMP certification in March 2017 while in graduate school, and also teaches BODYCOMBAT.