Things I learned after teaching group fitness full time for half a year / Pop Pilates saved my life

I started teaching Pilates as a side passion, while working a full-time job. I got certified to boost my confidence and to get in better shape. I never thought I would be doing it full time. When I started, I really only had time to teach twice a week and would often cancel class if a work thing came up. Most of the people who took my classes in the beginning were just friends and family. A lot of people turned out for my first classes to show their support. I felt very auspicious and nervous. My The first class I ever taught was packed, – even my aunt and mother came! Honestly, I was terrible. My first classes were not that good. Don’t worry, I got better.

After that first class, I taught Pilates as a side project for a year and a half. I learned a lot about myself and a lot about how to teach, but nothing like compared to what I have learned in the last 6 months. Circumstances happened that caused me to leave my job in June 2017 (await another blog post on this topic). When I left my job, magically two other doors opened and I got two new teaching jobs almost immediately upon leaving my 9 to 5 job. I began teaching almost every day of the week! Obviously, teaching does not take a full 40 hours a week so I also focused on applying to other jobs, and starting a consulting business, but mostly I taught Pilates. I taught my selection of classes and found more opportunities to teach wherever I could, and I subbed whenever I could. If people ask me what I do now, I am a full time Pilates instructor. My main focus since last June has been teaching Pilates. I wanted to share what I have learned about myself over this experience, and I’ve sprinkled in my advice for you:


  1. First, I learned, that confidence is something that you tell people is there. Make people believe you are confident, especially when you’re not. I learned quickly that it didn’t matter if I felt unprepared, – if I portrayed myself as a professional, people believed it. And people believed in me. The other side of this coin is true as well, I lost students who had believed in me when I openly expressed doubt in myself. As a teacher, you have to walk into class confidently shedding whatever happened to you that day, who cares – even if you had a bad day, don’t put that burden on your students. Start and teach a class filled with positivity, that’s the best way to battle any self-doubt. Your students want a positive experience, – give that to them.! Before I got certified I became friends with my favorite Yoga/Pilates Teacher, Rita James, and she really encouraged me to teach as often as I could, giving me lots of opportunities to Sub her classes. She showed me how to be confident. She was always there to stop me from quitting every time it got hard or I lost my confidence. I am so incredibly thankful for her. If you want to teach, go befriend your favorite teacher, and let them help teach you confidence. I promise you most confidence is faked. I have even seen her fake it, and she’s hands down my favorite teacher, I don’t think it’s possible to respect her any more.
  2. You will get so much better. When you have the time to focus on something, you will dramatically improve at that thing. When it was no longer a side hobby and became my main source of income., I focused in and I got so much better, I got better in every way. I actually took criticism and tried to improve. I was told I had a squeaky voice, I projected more from my diaphragm. I was told I could be so negative, saying things like “these planks suck” and turning it into “omg yay planks, you can do this!” I was told I counted too fast I slowed down the movements and my counting. I learned when people were critiquing me simply because they didn’t like me, and when they were critiquing me as a genuine, this could actually be better. I always focus on getting better. I think the key to self-improvement is understanding you flaws, some things you can’t change, other things you can.
  3. Every part about Teaching gets easier. When I would have a no-show, I would be devastated for days but after teaching so for long enough, you don’t get sad anymore. Sometimes even your most popular classes will be barren, but you get used to it. You gain understanding. People have busy lives, your class is a hobby for them, they have full lives going on, and it’s usually not personal. When it is personal, you quickly get over that too. If someone really dislikes me, usually I dislike them right back. I have had complaints that my class is too hard, and that individual spent the whole class complaining and never came back, – but I really didn’t don’t want them to come back anyway. My class can be hard, but I leave space for all levels, if you don’t want to modify that’s on you. You’re the only one judging yourself.

Aside from dealing with people, also every part of a class gets easier, even the planning and preparation for a class. It all gets so much easier. I would spend 3 or 4 hours preparing for classes when I first started teaching, but after doing it every day… you’ll roll out of bed and make up a class while you’re teaching and afterwards your clients will say what a great class that was. It does make it feel like all those times you prepared were a waste of time, but they weren’t. Every second spent learning will add up. I have a formula for how I prepare for my classes and if I follow my formula I can teach anywhere at any time. It took me a while to get that formula down.

  1. I never thought I would feel so fit and also yet so out of shape. I do 10-15 hours of Pilates a week, sometimes more… and I teach my whole class, I do all the moves: I am a visual learner and I teach that way. Even with all that exercise, I am in front of people, I get body questions constantly and it makes me feel so insecure. I never feel in shape enough. While teaching full time keeps you in shape, and I am active almost every day with one of my classes, I never consider my classes my own work out. It’s also come to my attention that how in shape I feel I should be seems like an unattainable goal, – I will never look perfect

I have students ask me how to tone specific part of their body, assuming Pilates won’t tone that area because I am flabby there. I feel like I constantly need to be fitter for my students. I am so insecure about my abs, while they are incredibly strong, I don’t have a ridged six pack. My abs are amazing, –  watch me talk through an entire ab sequence with perfect control and stability, but no I don’t have a six pack. I drink too much beer and its genes. I try to keep an open mind and never judge by the cover. Students who look out of shape will bring it and kill the class and surprise you, you can’t judge anyone by how their body looks objectively. I think all fitness professionals learn that. Fitness is complicated.

  1. People won’t respect you. I have a master’s degree and I had the job with the fancy title, I almost feel like I need to tell people that to qualify it as if what I do isn’t enough. No one asks you if you’re happy, we should ask each other if were happy, not if we have a career with a 401k. And most people treat the idea of a Pilates instructor as if it is a side hobby, but they’ll never view it as something that’s respectable. Your family will look down on it, for sure. I have had to get used to that.

On that opposite coin, other teachers will either insanely respect you or be indifferent to you. When you Sub for another teacher they are usually so thankful to not leave their regulars hanging (you’ll learn if you miss a class, you next couple classes will be lighter, so it’s always better to get a sub). I had a weekend training and over 200 hours teaching experience, but some yogi instructors HATE Pilates instructors (I may get into this in another blog post). Yoga is over $1500 and 200+ hours of training, so it’s sort of a big deal. Now anyone can go out and get Zumba certified for $400 and teach almost immediately and there seems to be a distinct shift in the group fitness community, about what side of the line you’re one.

I think it’s a journey and a spectrum and you need to respect wherever someone is on it, maybe they’ll get more certifications later, maybe they won’t. I don’t judge someone solely on that, but I know many do. Some teachers won’t care, others will. I made a point to friend every teacher in Albuquerque on Facebook. I want to try all their classes, I want to meet them, learn from them. That feeling won’t always be mutual. But in my experience teaching at various studios, you’ll learn what you personally like and don’t like in a teacher.

You will also find yourself disrespecting other teachers. For me, I don’t like a teacher who is rude (especially if they are negative to their students), they make classes about their own ego, or they never try to learn new things. Those three things make me instantly turned off for any instructor. I contend I am not an expert and I always try to learn something new every week and try to take a new instructor once a month, and regardless of my disrespect, just because I don’t like that instructor I wouldn’t share that with a client. I encourage everyone to try everyone’s class. Maybe someone that hates me, will love a teacher that I am not a big fan of. And vice versa. Always show people kindness, and sometimes I find it’s better to say nothing if you can’t say something nice. I’ll be honest, I’ll share I didn’t like a particular class but I will encourage them to try it for themselves. I hope those teachers who don’t like me, share the same kindness.

  1. It’s a lot harder than you think. Teaching can take a lot out of you, and there are no sick days. I got sick a couple weeks ago and had to cancel some classes and teach through a couple sick. I had paid rent at several studios and had to eat that cost because I couldn’t teach. Teaching is mental and physical and if you aren’t 100% it will take its toll on you. If you’re mentally not in a good place, you’d better shape up if you’re going to teach. When I know I have a big hard class coming up, sometimes I have to schedule in a nap, to make it through the whole class. Or if a class was super packed filled with “downers” it can often take you two days to recover. I have taught some classes where everyone left smiling, but I had to run to my car and cry because my energy was all gone and I felt awful. Sometimes teaching will leave you walking on air and you’ll feel so pumped, but sometimes you’ll need a good cry in a private space.
  2. Some people just come to suck your energy, this is a people forward job, whatever people’s emotions are, they’ll project them on you. If people had a bad day, they’ll send all that energy to you. Sometimes you can turn around the downers, and sometimes you just can’t and they just drain you. My brother often does this, he’s so sweet and supportive, and he attends so many of my classes. But sometimes he comes filled with such negativity, he hates my playlist, he hates a move were doing, he jokingly insults me, and although I’ll shine all the positivity I can, sometimes it’s really hard to combat this. He has left me so drained, that I almost couldn’t teach the next day. He isn’t the only one who has done this. It can be hard to deal with people. Sometimes people take my class and they’re emotionless the whole time, they don’t laugh at my bad jokes, they don’t smile, they leave quietly, – did they even like it? Sometimes I will never know.
  3. You have to be learning constantly to keep up. You’d better take other classes. Not only will you learn new ways to cue moves but you’ll learn things about your own teaching style. You always have to ask if you can be more effective. You should always be learning. Your students notice if you don’t. Sometimes things become habit and you have to shake yourself out of that habit because you’re getting boring. I try to read an article once a week on Pilates, I try to take a Pilates class once a week, and I try to watch a Pilates YouTube video every day. I want to seem fresh, I don’t want my class to be stale. I also learn from Yoga, from other classes, from other disciplines. There is so much overlap.
  4. It was way more time self-advertising than I thought, and it never feels like enough. Did I advertise this class enough? Did I share it with enough people? Be prepared to spend 5 hours a week promoting yourself online. I have gotten new clients from Instagram, new clients from Facebook Ads, also from posters on electronic bulletin boards… It’s a lot more online behind the scenes work then you think. I don’t work for one studio promoting my class, I work for 5 studios, I have to promote myself. It can be slightly overwhelming and some weeks I don’t feel like doing it, sometimes it doesn’t feel like it helps, but then I will have a full class with 3 new students commenting on a meme I made, and I have to remind myself, my class is a hobby, I have to nudge people, get people to want to come.

10. Not everyone will like you. You’ll obviously learn this teaching anything, but it’s very apparent in group exercise. You will not be everyone’s cup of tea. I can be honest with you, when it’s your full-time gig teaching, it will get to you. All positive affirmations aside, we as human beings want to be liked. We want to be loved, but the truth is actually we are not always even that liked. Aside from realizing all the reasons people could hate you, you’ll also learn to love yourself in new ways. Some people will LOVE you. More than you could even imagine. You will get followers, you will have people crazy believe in you and look forward to your class. Those people will always lift you up. Be nice to them. Make playlists for them. You have to foster and care for your fans, because they’ll return that with warm energy when you need it. I was subbing a Saturday morning class and I was nervous, a room full of people I didn’t know and a packed house. And one of my regulars came, and I looked at her half way through class and she was just beaming. She loved sharing me with her fellow students. That’s a moment I go back to when I am feeling sad. Those moments are precious, so when someone doesn’t like you go back to those pleasant moments.

11. I live for playlists. Something about making a playlist for a class brings me so much joy. I love doing themed classes. Not everyone will feel this passion, and it does give me a lot of extra work. I teach Pop Pilates which allows me to have freedom of choice, so I have full freedom to make some crazy fun playlists, and I do! I have a Jungle Theme class, several Space and Alien themed classes, I have a Happy Playlist, a Strong Women playlist. You name it, I will probably want to make a playlist about it. For me I find fun in music, you have to find what works for you. Make it fun for you. I always like a good playlist to keep me grounded.

12. I am way more of a control freak than I thought I was. Sometimes people just don’t listen. You can cue everything perfectly and clearly articulate (if those weren’t the problems for why a student wasn’t listening) and the students still turns to the right instead of the left. This can be frustrating when you had a beautifully fluid sequence planned in your head and then a single student messes it up and slows down the class. You have to breathe and let it go. Pilates is about that mind-body connection and that can be hard to understand. Students aren’t flawless., In noticing your own annoyance, you do sort of become a control freak when you’re leading a group of individuals through something you’ve planned with the music, that in your head it was perfect, but in reality, people won’t always listen to you. Laugh it off, friend.

You have to keep moving forward. Even if your morning class sucked, your afternoon class could be awesome, – you have to let a lot go, and believe in yourself. I never realized how hard it can be sometimes to let things go, but once you master the art of letting it go, it gets better. Never let a previous class effect your next one. Get yourself a mentor to talk to about difficult class issues and use them as learning experiences always. My mentor and friend Rita, who I regularly take equipment classes with, always shows me new things and reminds me to move forward.

You have to keep moving forward by changing your scale of success. I live for that moment when I see regulars learn how to control their pelvic floor, or when they tell me how much stronger they are from the planks I make them do. Use your student’s achievements as a way to move forward. On the flip side know how proud your instructors are when you get better, when you feel improvement. I live for that. I want you to be stronger, I want you to be happy sore.

13. It does NOT pay the bills! Now I’ve run the numbers and if I could pick up 7 more classes and actually have those well attended (which is doubtful,) I could be more comfortable. But I will never see numbers like I saw with my 9 to 5 prison. I luckily have a very supportive Best Friend and roommate who is cool with the fact that I owe her over $1000. She is probably not actually that cool with it, but she’ll pretend she is for my sanity sometimes. I have cried and felt awful about not being able to pay her rent every month, but she knows I’ll pay her back eventually. She has been extremely supportive through this year of self-discovery. I couldn’t ask for a better friend and I honestly don’t deserve her. Some advice, if you plan to go rogue and follow your passions, make sure you surround yourself with people who are on board with this journey. Because it’s going to hurt in ways you forget about, like your wallet, or your emotional efficacy. If I didn’t have my brother buying my lunch once a week, friends buying me beers, my extremely loving bestie… I honestly couldn’t be here. I have had a lot of help.

  1. You’re going to love it so much more than you ever thought you could. Sometimes I feel like I am bursting with happiness. When you actually focus on something you’re passionate about, the world shines a little brighter. Not every day teaching is peaches and gravy, some days I don’t feel like teaching, sometimes I am tired, and sometimes people are mean. But I always enjoy teaching while I am doing it. I feel so very fortunate. The main thing I have learned after teaching full time for 6 months is how to love myself again. I finally feel like I am me again. I feel like a real person who deserves love.

I am starting a new chapter of my life: I just got my personal training certification. My business is taking off and I have some cool things on the horizon that could help me pay off my debts and get me back on my feet. I must say, this whole journey has been worth it. I love it. I love teaching Pilates. I love sharing fitness with everyone I meet. I take such pride in what I teach and feel so blessed to have taken this year to really prefect my skill and find myself.

If you have any interest in getting group fitness certified, definitely go do it. This is the universe giving you permission to believe in yourself, whether you teach part time, full time or every now and then.

Leave me a comment of any questions you have or anything you think I should add to this list.

Talk to you soon wonderful,

XO, Thea


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