My LES MILLS Story: Chapter Two
Developing as an Instructor
Firstly, thank you for the kind comments and words of encouragement following the publication of Chapter One!
I feel like I often tell people stories, or parts of them, but I hope that me laying out the context and the timeline helps you get to know me a bit better and my background.
It's nice to get acquainted with people throughout life but rarely do we ever get to know people.
It is nice to be asked questions about being a fitness instructor so if there is a part of you that does want to know more then you need only ask! :)
So in summary, it took me a while of really getting involved with classes and immersing myself in the workouts to understand that I had the passion and curiosity to take it to 'the next level'. I was lucky to have a great support network around me as well as class opportunities, and my attitude was that I just had to try my best and not get too overwhelmed or stressed by the process.
At the time (and still am) working a completely unrelated full-time job, to fund and learn a new qualification and the subsequent Les Mills modules, learn choreography, develop technique & skill .. not to mention admin must-do's (HMRC tax, insurance, expenses.. zzzzzz ), the cost of travel expenses and equipment (microphone, gym gear, kit bag essentials.. ) ......... it was all slightly daunting. Well, more the thought of missing something, or getting it wrong, than actually doing it, was daunting.
I was prepared to do all these things, but it does come as a surprise to people how much is required for this 'hobby'. For some people it is their full-time job, and by heck, it consumes enough of you to be so.
Many, maybe the majority, of instructors I know do Les Mills classes as a 'hobby'; a side hustle; a passion. There are challenges in the fitness sector, generally speaking, where part-timers, like myself, are prepared to do classes ad-hoc and at a cheaper rate than should be expected by those who do this as their 'full-time'. So the next statement is not to trivialise those who do it as their main source of income, it was just my personal approach to the whole process, given my own circumstances:
After deliberating my wishes to be a Group Ex instructor with my partner (he was incredibly supportive) we came up with the mantra "This is just for fun".
Whenever faced with the prospect of something that could cause stress or expense - this is just for fun. It was always to be subservient to my full-time work. It was not to be a drain on my focus or energy. It was my 'code' for drawing the line and maintaining control.
Luckily, there were only a few times where this mantra was necessary, but I am glad for it.
Times where this was necessary may be largely attributed to cover requests or taking on extra classes .. struggling to say no. As a new instructor it is so easy to take on all the classes under the sun to help establish yourself on the scene. This is good to an extent, but also taxing in a physical and mental sense. Be prepared for that.
There have been times where I have come home having done classes before and then after work, needing to shower and not eating a substantial meal until after 9pm. I have fainted coming home from classes. I was treated for suspected exercise-induced asthma. I have experienced Amenorrhea (skipped periods) due to excessive exercise. I have strained myself a number of times teaching exercise classes without being supplied with a working microphone by clubs. I have not injured myself notably to date, but I have been in states of exhaustion.
Now I'm definitely not saying all this for sympathy or shock, no no no - and for many instructors this will be a standard - many will have experienced worse .. (I can hear eyes rolling as it's probably nothing compared to what they experience!) It is not to scare people away either, it is just lessons learned and a personal account to share. My mantra 'This is just for fun' forced me to ground myself and learn from these definitely NOT fun experiences, ensuring I didn't force myself through them again, wherever possible.
ANYWAY I have dwelled too much on the challenges .. the good is coming!
So technically the developing as an instructor chapter heading is a bit of a misnomer as it is still happening, it doesn't really end, so it is not past tense.. but you get the idea.. growing from initial training through to now.. All those bits.
I owe a lot to the lovely, patient, friendly participants in Aberdeen at various clubs where I have taught since May 2017. I feel as though I have subjected them to a lot!! But .. they might not ever know how important they are to people like me who have embarked on a new role like this. So next time you look up at a fitness instructor (whenever that might be) I hope this 'humanises' the situation a little bit.
Anyway, once the Initial Module Training process is done, there is opportunity to further develop yourself further as an instructor in addition to Quarterly Workshops and video feedback. At the time, these further modules were called Advanced Instructor Modules 1 + 2 (AIM1 + AIM2). Now, the process has been streamlined and it is a single module called Advanced Training.
AIM1 focused mostly on the essence of the programme (so say for BODYCOMBAT you learned some more about martial arts and the connection between these and the delivery of your class) and tightening up some technique work. This module was not assessed, but after completion you gained the title of 'Advanced Instructor'.
AIM2 was not programme-specific (you chose one programme to focus on for the module but there would be other people doing all sorts in the same group!). This module was more about connection and performance, how to use the music, connect with people in front of you.. etc. This process had optional assessment where you could send video footage of yourself to be assessed. If your filming was successful you could gain the title of 'Elite Instructor'. You could resubmit as many times as you like.
AIMs were phased out around 2018/19 and Advanced Training was introduced. This takes some of the previous learnings of AIMs, blended with some new content, and aims to develop you more as a 'coach' and help you understand the essence of your programme. There is some personal 'soul-searching' in the Advanced Training .. you explore your 'limiting beliefs' and your 'why'. It sounds a bit corny, but it is always worthwhile being open to experience these things. Learning is valuable.
I have done all three of these training opportunities and learned something in all of them.
Once I certified as an instructor, like with my job and how I spent my time at school & University, I always seek opportunities to learn something new, better myself, set and reach a new goal - I don't know why .. it's just how I am. Are you like that too?
So after the AIM2 training I began to apply myself for my video assessments and used the 'Elite' status as my next goal.
It was not an easy process. It was difficult. It took multiple attempts on each programme to pass that AIM2 stage. It was a very personal thing so I treat it as a competition or a race, but it was difficult to not be invested (in myself) once I had started.
Reading the outcome on a video submission and then needing to attempt again was quite challenging, especially when you may only teach that class once or twice a week (as was my case). It would impact my confidence knowing I could be doing something better in my classes, but then having the encouragement and initiative to try again was good a balance.
I am grateful for the help I got from Tribe Coaches (they know who they are) and the feedback from my video submissions to learn and improve. It did not come instantaneously to me, so I thank my Assessors from LMUK for their guidance (and patience) as well.
At this stage I knew how I wanted to be, I just didn't know how to be it.
I was in a train station one evening in Kyoto, October 2018, when I got the outcome to my final BODYPUMP AIM2 submission. I think I cried a wee bit when I read the outcome on my instructor portal. Elite Instructor. A few days later in Osaka, I was on a stage with two Les Mills Japan presenters teaching BODYPUMP and BODYCOMBAT. It was just for fun? That was definitely fun.
Very soon after that I learned that I was eligible to apply to become a Tribe Coach. I received encouragement from my instructor friends to do so, and I was delighted to be accepted onto the team. In case you do not have Tribe Coaches in your area, we are volunteers who aim to help other instructors with general LM queries, or offer help for new instructors as they make their way through IMT process, or perhaps assist ops at LMUK events (Tribal Gatherings for example). A point of contact really, a friendly face. I knew I still had a lot to learn about developing myself as an instructor and about the organisation more generally, but I was very keen to get involved.
I've had the pleasure of assisting a number of people through their IMT process, even with the simplest things like filming their assessments, or shadowing classes, or how to invoice for their classes. It's just for fun. There's nothing more satisfying than being in a position to help someone, having been in that position myself and been so lucky to have that support.
Between May 2017 and October 2018 I was enjoying every moment of my instructor life. Also, I felt my 'personal development' was immeasurable. Because I was teaching classes in my 'spare time' I felt like I was concentrating my learning and ambitions in those hour slots every other evening or weekend. When it comes to teaching classes I am present and correct - and for that hour or so delivering that class is my top priority.
Launch days are a particular favourite of mine... although most of the Aberdeen instructors will know what a stickler I am for detail and how much the whole situation stresses me out. If I could I'd have a bowl of blue M&Ms backstage. Sorry about that. Still fun though.
So at this point for the first time since I certified as an instructor I did not have a specific goal...
Well. That was for about all of 2 weeks.
An email arrived.
I was being invited to audition for the LMUK Presenter team.
Excuse me, what?
I remember thinking I had received that email in error. I waited tentatively, watching my instructor group chats and the LMUK Facebook Group to see if everyone had got one of these emails by mistake.. Nope..
I learned that if you were a Tribe Coach, an 'Elite' instructor, or showed good talent, you could be invited to audition for the Bootcamp process.
I wasn't even sure if I was going to go through with it - were the boundaries between hobby and vocation becoming blurry? I confided in a few people, including one TAP team member who told me that if they could go back and tell themself in my position, they would say "grab the opportunity with both hands, not everyone is asked so what have you got to lose". I accepted.
The auditions were held in Coventry, which was far from my Aberdeen home. The experience was great as I got to meet other instructors from around the UK that I probably would have never met otherwise, a couple of whom I still keep in touch with now. Again, in order to deflect the pressure of the situation, I just promised myself I would go in and deliver a track in a way that was true to myself. I taught my track the way I would to my members (BP107, Shoulders).. Anyone who's regularly attended my classes could probably imagine in their mind's eye what that would have looked like. I had chosen BODYPUMP as I felt more connected to the essence of that programme and felt it was my stronger programme (at this stage I was not certified in GRIT).
I was invited to Bootcamp. I was very happy about that, but in all honesty I did not know what being a Presenter meant. I didn't know that Trainers and Presenters were different. I did not know the inner workings of how Quarterly Workshops were constructed and delivered. I didn't know about any travel or time commitments or anything like that. I learned these things at Bootcamp, but maybe it was too late. I told myself I would use that weekend as a learning opportunity - take as much as I could, and give as much as I had. Again I wanted to approach my two tracks in a way that I would have presented to my members, incorporating some of the feedback from the audition. The pressure was pretty real though, and if I'm truly honest I don't remember much of those two 5-minute (or so) allocations (BP108 Squats + Shoulders) because of the nerves! I wasn't sure how I could set myself apart from the other amazing instructors in the room, and trying to do just that was probably my main mistake.
I was not successful, but I am still so very lucky to have been extended that opportunity. Of course I was upset at the time as I felt like it was a reflection on my own ability and the feeling of comparison and failure. When I returned home I had to rely on the mantra It's just for fun to bounce back and try to apply some of the learnings. I know that right now I am where I need to be and I'm glad it happened the way it did. Like the audition, I met some great people that weekend and am glad that we still keep in touch. For those who were successful it has been really nice to see them flourish through the process from that Bootcamp to now, delivering QW's around the UK (and more recently our webinars due to Coronavirus).
After the Bootcamp I was motivated to keep moving forward and not let myself stagnate. My goal was to complete my GRIT IMT which I did mid-2019. My favourite module training so far I think. I was very fresh to GRIT - I had only really attended two instructors' classes over the course of a year or so prior to this - so very different to my BODYCOMBAT and BODYPUMP experiences! With limited venues offering GRIT on their timetable locally I wasn't even sure I would have a class to teach after training, but it was a risk I was willing to take. I feel like I connect well with the programme? My own training was quite HIIT-oriented - plus the music and overall vibe - match made.
The nerves of doing an IMT - wow! I hadn't felt those for a couple of years!!
I was able to cover a couple of classes at a local venue, but was lucky to negotiate my own class at another club too. I had taken over a Metafit class with freestyle HIIT with an agreement to deliver GRIT Cardio after certification. It was 0700 on a Monday morning! It was a really great bunch .. small but very mighty, dedicated. I also got to launch GRIT Strength 29 and GRIT Cardio 30 later in 2019, again such a thrill.
Having completed AIM1 and 2 with my other programmes I chose to do the new Advanced Training format in GRIT. It was a really fun experience as some of the other instructors had never tried it before! On a slightly unrelated note, here is one of the more attractive shots of me teaching a GRIT class, mid-Power Burpee. For the record I don't think I was in any particular pain, just to assure you ...
At the end of 2019 we moved away from Aberdeen. The local instructor network here has been really great in helping me integrate, although there are now probably just two venues that I can teach at presently. This has probably been the biggest adjustment - fewer facilities than before. But it's still great to see members who are in love with the programmes here too.
I know in the last blog post I mentioned a few names and thanked some people - there are equally as many, or more, I could mention in this post but want to avoid making it 'too personal' - all I'll say is that if we have engaged at some stage throughout the above then I would like to say a real big thank-you and that you've been integral in my story. Hopefully you already knew that though.
So maybe one day there will be a Chapter Three! But for now you're all up to speed, no FOMO here! I don't have any specific goals right now, Coronavirus has kind of thrown everything out of normality, but looking ahead these will likely be quite small goals. One goal I do have is to teach my own GRIT class again some day.. so we'll see!
I often see posts on social media or DMs through social media asking what it's like to be an instructor or what the process is like. I hope that through these posts you have an insight into the great opportunities available and that it is as rewarding as you make it for yourself!
We're going through unique, challenging times right now. With adversity can come opportunity. There is always someone willing to help or guide you if you need them, so don't be afraid to ask.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading this and I hope to engage with you again soon! If you'd like to know more about anything I've discussed, you can message me on Instagram!