World Teachers' Day, held annually on 5th October, pays tribute to teachers around the world and acknowledges the importance of their role in society. We asked some of our favorite Les Mills teachers to share who inspired them in their journey and the impact they've had on their life.
Who made me want to become an Instructor? It was Jack Dix initially, in the freestyle world, and then Pete Manuel and Emma Barry from Les Mills. These three totally wowed me – I became addicted to going to their classes and seeing them in action. I loved what they taught and how they were teaching it. They made me feel a happiness and energy I hadn’t found anywhere else.
I became an Instructor because Jack, Pete and Emma made me fall in love with the classes and I wanted to share those same feelings with others. They all had an energy and a smile and a passion for what they were doing – and it was infectious! They connected in a way that made everyone feel a part of the workout. All three of them were fun, bringing laughter and enjoyment to the workout. They were also inspiring athletically. I remember what magnetized me and this has had a huge impact on my own teaching. I wanted to do the same thing for the people in my classes and be a role model for others.
I’d like to recognize every Instructor out there who teaches to change the feelings and emotions of the people in their classes in a positive way – those Instructors who focus not on themselves, but others. And remember... movement is medicine and you share energy through your smile.
My journey with fitness began in 1986. I was a roller figure skater, and that was the year I broke my left ankle, falling when I was doing a double flip. As part of my rehab I attended Jazzergetics classes (one of the first LES MILLS classes), held in a school hall in my home town. They were led by a man named Gary Jones, an Instructor who owned a gym in the neighboring town, Whakatane (New Zealand). After attending these classes, I knew that I wanted to teach one day. This was my very first experience of group fitness and Gary was both super fit and charismatic. He sparked my interest in group exercise, which later ignited my fire to pursue teaching.
About a year later, my brother opened a gym in my hometown (my whole family are fitness fanatics). A few months before the club opened, my sister and I spent some time in Christchurch, learning a pre-choreographed program (non-Les Mills) that we launched at the grand opening of our new gym.
I moved to Auckland in 1994 and started teaching my own freestyle classes at different clubs around the city. Emma Barry (then Group Fitness Manager for Les Mills Auckland City) attended one of my classes and asked me if I’d like to audition for a Les Mills role. I leaped at the opportunity, and thus my Les Mills career had begun. I started with a low-impact program called ‘No Jump’, and soon after that, Step – which later evolved into BODYSTEP™.
I was inspired to become an Instructor by Les Mills Trainer Steven Renata. He was my module Trainer for BODYPUMP™ and was super fit – I secretly had a massive crush on him! He set the benchmark for me in BODYPUMP. His personal fitness was very impressive and it encouraged me to train hard so I too could “walk the talk”. Pretty much everything about him was inspirational, but the big factor for me was how he made every single person feel successful. He was the ultimate connector and performer!
There are too many amazing Instructors to name individually, but for me the main heroes are the participants that show up week after week to give it their all. At the Les Mills Auckland City club we have members who have been doing BODYPUMP since it first went global in 1995. They’ve experienced the benefits and continue to grow stronger with this program as they age – now that’s inspiring!
I was inspired to become a fitness Instructor by my long-time friend, John Kin from Penang. He displayed a very deep passion for teaching and I was amazed at how he could command the room to affect change. He created amazing connection and had such a passion for creating positive change in people's lives. To him, teaching was a vessel that allowed him to satisfy his underlying motivation of wanting to help everyone in the room. He made me feel that I wanted to do the same thing.
John had a big impact on my career. We were always team teaching together, and we both became Presenters and Trainers together for Les Mills. That led us to sharing a stage on Masterclass filming. You could say the rest is history!
I'd like to give a shout-out to all the Instructors and Trainers around the world to stay strong and keep making a positive impact every time they have a chance. The world needs more of that.
My mum inspired me to become an Instructor. She’s a former triathlete, amateur weightlifter, group fitness Instructor, mother of four AND she holds two degrees… she’s just incredible. When I was a toddler, she taught me aerobics in our lounge. She inspired my love of music and movement, encouraged me to do gymnastics, and was my first coach for competitive aerobics. She gave me the tools from a young age to excel in a career that is my passion. Her love and belief in me meant that I was never held back by my extremely humble beginnings. She instilled a strong work ethic in me and never let me feel like anything less than a superstar. I would be a very different person, on a very different path, if I didn't have my mum.
I’d also like to acknowledge Tracey Mitchell from Les Mills Dunedin. After doing her BODYCOMBAT™ class in 2007 I knew that was the first LES MILLS program I wanted to teach. She was a strong athletic female who totally owned the stage. She inspired me and made me realize that teaching LES MILLS programs was the role I wanted to pursue.
My initial inspiration was the Les Mills Germany TAP [Trainer, Assessor, Presenter] team. There were a few people I'd seen on stage at different events and I was inspired by their appearance, presentation skills and coaching. I got goosebumps when I saw them present and felt, “I want to do that too”.
My other inspiration came from a BODYATTACK™ Instructor I met who was connection personified! While his fitness was average and he could have definitely been more athletic, his connection, performance and ‘musical feel’ were unbelievable. He showed me that there’s more to being an Instructor than just fitness. When I first started teaching I was young and inexperienced. I frequently felt shy and not ‘ready’ enough. This Instructor showed me that you don’t have to be 100 percent perfect. Just do your thang and enjoy!
The hardest part of the journey is being able to stick to your values and show your individual character. Don’t copy others and try to impersonate them to be good on stage. Gain your own experience and show your uniqueness when you teach – just like that Instructor. He might not have displayed the ‘essence’ of BODYATTACK in his movements and fitness, but his class was packed and everybody was talking about him! He taught me never to lose myself; just be René. Don’t worry about copying others.
If you want to be successful, have fun and inspire people do it in your own authentic way. Some people will join your classes and some won’t. And that’s totally OK.
The people who inspired me on my teaching journey were in the China TAP team at the Les Mills Global Summit in New Zealand in 2008. It was there I met Leo, Apple, Ricky, Nancy, Jojo… and others. Even though I was a stranger to them they included me straight away. They showed such passion for the cause and solid skills for the training. They were determined to inspire more people in China to fall in love with fitness. Their whole spirit really touched me. I also felt the same vibe from other international teams – some of them from countries I had never even heard of! From that moment, I wanted to be a part of the movement.
It wasn’t any one individual who inspired me to become an Instructor but rather the fitness industry in general. When I initially qualified as an Instructor, 26 years ago, I was weighing up three choices: working on an oil rig, becoming a firefighter, or working in the fitness industry. Clearly, I chose the latter and it’s been one of the best decisions of my life. This job allows us to help, support and positively change the lives of millions.
There was one teacher I’ve always admired, Anwar Ghaith. He’s currently an over 50s physique champion, but his background is in Muay Thai and other martial arts (in addition to teaching many fitness classes). For as long as I can remember, Anwar has been a community leader and a very friendly, honest and authentic coach. He brings people together and I respect this because communication is one of my top five values – you need great communication to build a strong community and create a sense of purpose.
When I was in my early twenties I taught in a gym where Anwar was the Group Fitness Manager, and I felt that being part of his team was a great fit for me. He had a strong desire to train smart (and hard). While he wanted members to come to the gym for results, he also wanted them to feel like the gym was a place they could come to escape. He created a fantastic culture and being a part of that felt awesome!
I give frequent shout outs to many Instructors around the globe so I’d like to take this opportunity to recognize any parent, guardian or caregiver that holds the responsibility of having to juggle teaching, coaching and paying bills whilst looking after children who have health issues. My wife and I know first-hand what those challenges are. So, here’s to any of you who are managing such challenges and still bringing it every day to your workouts, our programs and to your members. That’s true strength and leadership.
To celebrate World Teachers' Day, post an image(s), of you and/or your Instructor community on social media and share how they have inspired you. Use the hashtags #lesmillsinstructor and #worldteachersday – @lesmills will be re-sharing inspiring Instructors on Instagram stories throughout the day.