Hi Kylie! You've been teaching for over 25 years now. What do you wish you'd known when you first started out?
I find this hard to answer, because I don’t regret. I believe you're where you need to be at any one time in your life. Maybe I wish I’d known to just trust the process – which comes back to trusting myself, not looking for external validation. When I was a new teacher, I was always looking for big class numbers, particularly when I was a freestyle Instructor because I was creating my own choreography.
I used to be a cardio bunny, teaching lots of aerobic classes several times a week. As a naturally high energy person, it suited me being in that “up” state a lot of the time. But what I didn’t like about teaching lots of cardio was the massive highs and lows. I’d feel fantastic at the time, then I’d have the come down after class. Because I was craving carbs I was probably also eating too much sugar, which doesn’t agree with me. Today, I have very little sugar in my diet.
When I started teaching BODYBALANCE™, the yoga was the thing that balanced me out. Not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally, because I am a super emotional person. And that’s why now I like the yin and the yang of weight training balanced out by yoga.
On that topic – you're known for presenting (and coaching) both BODYPUMP™ and BODYBALANCE. What is it about those two very different programs that appeals to you?
I approach them with different mindsets. BODYPUMP makes me feel really strong. I love the feeling of weight training, holding that isometric contraction and experiencing the burn in the muscles, and then the release when you come out of it. Actually I’m addicted to it – that feeling of burning and then releasing.
We know that people come to BODYPUMP because they want the results. My job as teacher is to push them to get those results, and I’m not scared to take them into the hurt locker with me. When we come out of that state, the release feels so good! That's when I celebrate their efforts, I’m like: “We did it!” And that’s on all levels – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. BODYPUMP makes us stronger from the inside out.
However, lifting weights means we’re shortening the muscles. My body can put on muscle quickly, so I like the yoga for lengthening me out. You know, after you’ve done a thousand squats, your body just wants to extend again. BODYBALANCE helps to balance and lengthen the muscles.
In terms of my approach with teaching yoga, I actually see it as getting to know yourself. If you’re open to it, you can learn so much about who you are as a person. I like to teach from a place of curiosity, as though BODYBALANCE were a coaching conversation. Obviously it’s one way in terms of me having the mic, but often members come up to me after class and say: “Were you talking to me?” because I will express what's going on in my life – which has a cross over for many in my classes. For example, if we’re doing a pose where I’m asking them to find extension, I might say: “Why wouldn’t you extend yourself? What's it going to take for you to extend yourself? What’s possible in you?”
I don’t want to just teach the technique of the poses; I want to help people understand themselves through the poses. I might get them into a Warrior pose and I could just tell them to get their arms in a certain place and then breathe. Or, I could ask: “What does a Warrior represent? It means you know who you are. Who are you in this world? What do you stand for?” Obviously, I’m not doing this for every pose or we’d never get through the class haha! It's about choosing the right moments, allowing space for people to take what they need from the practice.
From my own transformation through yoga, I know that whatever I learn on the mat, I take into my life. You’re not just learning physical postures; you’re actually changing your mindset. There’s so much research about the power of yoga to heal, and for me it all comes back to being kind to myself. It’s a form of self-care and self-love. We have to have compassion for ourselves before we can have it for others.
We know that people come to BODYPUMP because they want the results. My job as teacher is to push them to get those results, and I’m not scared to take them into the hurt locker with me.
Could you share some of the positives of getting older in the fitness industry?
I’ve always been optimistic. I think there are so many positives of aging. Moving into my 50s feels like I’ve stepped into a new dimension of myself.
I turned 50 just after I moved back to New Zealand from Perth [Australia] for my job as Creative Director at LMI. Over that time I’ve really got to know who I am. For me that means not being influenced by others, just being really comfortable in my own skin. I have fewer needs now – for material things or lots of people in my life. I have a close inner circle that I enjoy spending time with, but I understand myself and what my needs now are in a way that I just didn’t when I was younger.
Coming from a background in dance taught me about consistency and discipline, amazing skills to have. On the flip side I also became very critical of myself at times, which we know can have de-motivating and limiting effects on us. Probably that’s what I’d wish I’d known in my 20s – that I should just be happy with my body and where I was in my life. I wanted to grow up too fast. I saw all these other Instructors who were older and better than me and I just wanted to be them. Age has helped me get perspective on that. Sometimes I watch myself on video and think, Oh my God that’s a bit cringeworthy. But then I can laugh because, you know, it was just what happened in the moment – so it was actually perfect.
I think one of the great things about aging is that you don’t have to stay as you are. Sometimes people think, this is my lot. This is who I am, you know? Like, this is it. But it’s an ongoing evolution. I’m not the same person now as I was when I was 40, and in another 10 years I’ll be different again. That’s what I love about getting older – that you go through these transformations of yourself where you get all this growth and learning. And then of course you have the fallow periods where you can just sit back and soak it all in.
The other thing to remember is that aging is a gift. I mean, not everyone gets the gift of getting older, right? I try to look at the positives. So I don’t just go, ‘Oh yeah I’ve got more wrinkles’, but rather I reflect on my life and feel really proud. I had a health scare last year, which made me look back on my life, and actually I wouldn’t change a thing. It made me realise, I’ve had a freaking awesome life with plenty to feel grateful for.
Being in the fitness world can be competitive, especially when there's always younger, fitter Instructors coming onto the scene. How do you cope with that competitiveness as a more experienced teacher?
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’s 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?
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?
I know you're a big proponent of finding balance in life. Could you share your journey with this side of things?
I’ve become very intentional over the last few years with looking after my spiritual side, which was a big change for me. I’ve done a lot of work on myself to ensure my life is really balanced across all levels – the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.
The physical side is always good because of teaching, but even that can get out of balance if you’re doing too much of it and just giving, giving, giving, not actually bringing it back to yourself. Being a contractor for many years meant I had this mindset that I always need to be saying yes to things, operating at this very high level. But I realised that it wasn't sustainable because that’s where the massive highs and lows came from. I’ve had jobs where I gave it everything, but only lasted one or two years before I burnt out.
I'd spent my life always putting work first. However, I began to realise that if I always prioritised work, then something else was going to suffer. I asked myself, if I continue to do this, how will this impact my relationships with my friends, family, husband… what about my relationship with myself? Because that’s got to be number one – my relationship with myself.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised that life is about wholeness. My husband, Grant, has helped me to lessen the pressure I put on myself to always be going at 100 per cent. He always tells me: you can’t be "on" all the time. To me, that’s a real life lesson because if you can master that you’ll be a whole lot better off. I think aging is about health, longevity and sustainability. And not regretting a thing.
Kylie Gates is Creative Director for LES MILLS CORE™, BODYATTACK™, SH’BAM™, BODYBALANCE and LES MILLS BARRE™. Originally from Perth, Australia, Kylie has lived all over the world and presented on numerous Masterclass videos for Les Mills, most notably BODYPUMP and BODYBALANCE. She is the former Training Manager for Les Mills Asia Pacific and is also a certified yoga teacher. She currently resides in Auckland, New Zealand and when she’s not doing all things Les Mills you can find her walking along the beach front or cooking up healthy treats!
Follow Kylie on Instagram: @kyliegatesfitness
Watch Kylie's Webinar on How to Create the Best Version of You
Listen to Kylie's podcast on How to be a Fitness Leader