You know those things that you’ve always thought about doing, but never really get around to? That was me and teaching group fitness.
Over a decade ago, I attended my very first Les Mills BODYPUMP class at a Goodlife Fitness in Toronto, Canada. I went to my first class with my roommate Cathy and we giggled our way through it in the backrow lifting the tiniest 1kg weights. I hurt like hell the next day despite the small weight selection, but I kept going, eventually doing several classes a week.
The formulaic approach to training appealed to me, and the instructors inspired me. It was really my first foray into fitness, and it had a pretty profound impact on me. I didn’t know it at the time, but that first BODYPUMP class sent me down a new path – one where fitness would become a pretty central part of my life.
Instructing a class was something I always wanted to do but I just never got started. I investigated the process numerous times, and put it on the backburner again and again, but it always remained on the bucket list.
Last year, Les Mills became a client at Action PR, the health and fitness PR agency that I work for. It was like the universe was giving me a sign. I got to know the business from the inside, not just as a class participant, and it reignited my desire to train as an instructor.
This past weekend, I finally did the initial training! Here’s a recap of my experience…
What is BODYPUMP?
First, I should probably tell you about BODYPUMP! It’s a barbell workout designed to get you lean, toned and fit. The effectiveness of BODYPUMP comes from something called The Rep Effect. You use lighter weights while performing high repetitions. It exhausts the muscles and is the secret to developing lean, athletic muscle.
The class is made up of ten tracks (songs) and each one works a different major muscle group. The 55-minute class is a massive calorie burner. Everything is designed by experts and backed by science, and the best part is that you don’t need to be super strong to join the classes. There are options to suit every ability.
Homework: Preparing for Training Weekend
Right. So the training. The training takes place over a full weekend, 9:00 am – 6:00 pm on Saturday and Sunday. There’s also some prep work that needs to be done including some reading, videos and a little quiz. The biggest part of the pre-work was to learn the choreography for two of the ten tracks and be prepared to present it. My assigned tracks were the back track and tricep track.
This was pretty nerve wracking for me. I practiced and practiced and practiced and I just felt like I couldn’t get it. If I remembered the sets and reps, I forgot the moves. If I remembered the moves, I forgot what to say. It was the ultimate test of multitasking. I listened to the music nonstop – walking to work, on the tube, while running – trying to hear musical cues that I could hook into. I felt only vaguely prepared when I arrived on Day 1.
Training Weekend: Day 1
There were 11 people in my training. Many were already fitness instructors of Les Mills classes and their confidence and knowledge intimidated me! But everyone was lovely and encouraging and it was a great group of people to spend a weekend with.
The training kicks off with a masterclass where you do the class in full, as if you are a participant. This was great fun and got me excited for the weekend.
We followed that up with some class instruction and then a technique bootcamp to check our form and ensure we could all move correctly. Luckily, thanks to my Level 2 Fitness Qualification, my form was reasonably good so I didn’t have any major issues to correct. Phew!
I was already aching by the time we broke for lunch. Right after, we each had to perform two minutes of our assigned track for initial feedback. I wasn’t great. It is ridiculously hard to remember the moves, count reps, instruct and motivate at the same time! I have a whole new appreciation for instructors and what they do! I had some serious work to do before Day 2.
I was a bit shattered when I got home. After spending the whole day in a dark studio lifting weights and learning non-stop, my brain was a little fried. I treated myself to some sunshine (thank you long summer days!) a massive bowl of pasta, a glass of wine and two episodes of Friends. Then it was back to practicing my tracks until I could no longer keep my eyes open.
Training Weekend: Day 2
We started straight away presenting our assigned track in full. I wouldn’t say I nailed it, but it was a massive improvement from Day 1. My confidence was way up. The biggest thing to work on was timing. I just couldn’t get it right.
After everyone presented their tracks, we did a BODYPUMP challenge. This involved doing 10-20 reps of different BODYPUMP moves with weights far heavier than what we might normally use in a class while your partner practiced motivating you. I must admit, I really surprised myself with the amount of weight I could lift, especially in a bench press and clean and press. Before every attempt, I said out loud, “There’s no way I can do this,” and yet somehow, I succeeded every time. Big thanks to my partner Perdi for motivating me!
Next up, was our final performance, attempting to apply all the feedback we had received.
Remember that by now, we have done the class more than 5 times, completed a really tough challenge and had our heads stuffed with technique and theory, and now, it was time to dial up the enthusiasm for the final performance!
It was the ultimate test: can you instruct and inspire people even when you’re totally spent, mentally and physically?
I passed the initial training!! My final performance was spot-on even though I forgot to set aside a plate for myself for a set of squat presses. The only weight nearby was 10kgs… not my preferred option at the end of two long training days! But I managed it, somehow with a smile on my face.
There’s still a few more requirements before I officially qualify as an instructor. I need to record myself instructing a full class and submit a video for final assessment. In preparation for this, I need to do some team teaching with an already qualified instructor. I have my first team teaching class this week and two more lined up! I’m excited and nervous.
I’m still not altogether confident. I even had an anxiety nightmare last night that I showed up to teach a class and had to make up moves for several tracks that I have not yet properly learned! People hated it and started walking out. This pressure is new and weird to me. I’m very happy to stand up in front of a group of people and talk, but standing in front of a group while talking, demonstrating and motivating at the same time is a next level sort of performance. Big hat tip to the instructors out there. What you do is amazing and so often taken for granted.
Like anything new, there is always an uncomfortable period where you’re outside your comfort zone. That’s me right now. The only solution is more practice.
Big thank you to Hazel, our instructor, for being so engaging and supportive throughout the weekend. Thank you to the qualified instructors who are taking a chance on me and letting me team teach in the coming weeks. And finally, a big thank you to Les Mills for the inspiration and the opportunity. At long last, I can check this item off my bucket list.