25 Ways to Spot a Lousy Fitness Instructor


Upon arriving at a local spinning studio for the first time, I stood alone noticing the social comradarie of the “regulars” around me. The instructor came over to greet me and asked if I had ever done spinning before; I responded yes.

She then walked around the room, stopping and chatting with a young woman in the back.

My eyes roamed to the clock as I noticed the class was supposed to start 10 minutes ago. I inwardly sighed since my kids were with a sitter and I hated to return home late. However, I was still grateful to be here because taking a fitness class is my way of self-care.

The instructor finally made her way to the front of the room, apologizing that she had a new playlist and wasn’t sure if it was going to be good or not. My confidence in this woman began to sink, but when she cranked on the music, Don’t Stop Believing  by Journey belted out of the speakers. “Okay” I thought, “this is pretty good so far.

However, she never stretched us out after the warm-up. And among other things, she also didn’t have us check our own intensity levels throughout the class, and never gave options to modify or reduce our intensity if needed.

It felt like we had to go at her pace, not our own pace.

Needless to say, having over 26 years of experience teaching group fitness classes, I have some particular standards. This instructor had both some good points and some improvements to make.

She inspired me to pass along my list of the 25 Ways to Spot a Lousy Instructor:

1. Doesn’t greet students.

A good teacher will greet students, make eye contact with them, and also ask if anyone is new to the class. They can then explain the class and find out if anyone needs any modifications.

2. Repeatedly apologizes.

If I’m taking a class where the instructor apologizes for mistakes she’s making, I start to question her abilities.

3. Starts class late.

A good instructor will arrive early to classes to make sure equipment is working and have time to set up for class.

4. Ends class late.

I once went to a yoga class where the teacher would decide during the class that the students “needed more poses” so I never knew when the class would end! Ending class on a timely basis is respectful of others’ schedules.

5. Chats about personal life.

I have heard instructors complain about their kids being sick or personal issues with their spouse. A good instructor will leave their personal issues at the door.

6. Picks favorite students.

I recall going to a class where one of the students had just celebrated their 50th Yes, this is a reason to congratulate, however, the instructor spent 10 minutes in the middle of the class chatting about the party.

Not only did I feel left out because I wasn’t a regular in the class and had no idea who they were, but I was irritated because I felt I was not getting my money’s worth. A good instructor makes everyone feel welcome.

7. Makes the class about competition, whether against yourself or others.

If you go to a class where the drill sargeant instructor is yelling at you to “Push harder!” or “Do more!” you may be setting yourself up for potential injury or even leave feeling more stressed than when you arrived. Recognizing that everyone comes from a different fitness base with individualized goals is a necessary skill for a good instructor.

8. Doesn’t offer modifications.

A good instructor will provide modifications for different intensity levels and also make suggestions if someone is taking care of an injury.

9. Doesn’t stretch.

I’ve taken lunch time classes where students zip out of the class and the instructor makes stretching optional. A good instructor will leave time at the end of class to properly stretch muscle groups worked to help reduce soreness, improve flexibility, and reduce injury.

10. Works with bad equipment.

Okay, this is not really the instructor’s fault but more on the part of the facility. But if their microphone or music doesn’t work, or the air conditioner is out, or the yoga mats are grimy, a good instructor should make sure their students have the best experience possible.

11. Mumbles / communicates poorly.

I once went to a class where the instructor would mumble into the microphone. It actually became comical. Think Charlie Brown Teacher “wah wah wah – right leg – wah wah.”

12. Uses the class as their own workout.

Okay, you’ve seen them – the instructor who is a the front of the room, working to their full potential, sweat pouring down the side of their face, grunting, and watching themselves in the mirror. A good instructor works out on their own time and focuses on the form and experience of their students.

13. Doesn’t have a certification.

Yes, this can happen. Some states do not require a certification to teach classes or to be a personal trainer. Don’t be afraid to inquire with the establishment if you find any questionable techniques.

14. Doesn’t provide a warm up or cool down.

A good instructor will begin the class at a lower pace to slowly warm up the body and increase oxygen and circulation before getting into the guts to the class. The cool down portion should be at least 3-5 minutes of lower intensity activity to bring your heart rate down.

15. Doesn’t correct bad form.

A good instructor watches her students closely ensuring good form and safety.

16. Constantly cancels class.

There have been times when I’ve had to ask my employer permission to leave a few minutes early to get to a class, made sure dinner was pre-prepared for my family, and lined up childcare. I was pretty frustrated to arrive to the gym only to discover that the instructor canceled class. Again.

17. Plays doctor or try to diagnose you.

A good instructor will teach in the realm of their expertise and be able to refer a student to a professional if needed. Beware if your aerobics instructor is designing meal plans for you or prescribing supplements.

18. Has improper form while demonstrating an exercise.

Since people are either visual, auditory or kinesthetic learners, teaching proper form with good technique is a must.

19. Misses the beat.

Staying in tune with the music is key for cardio classes such as Zumba or other dance and aerobic classes.

20. Embarrasses students.

A good instructor will correct poor form using detailed instruction, verbal cueing, and positive reinforcement without calling out the student by name over the microphone. Imagine being in the middle of class and hearing: “Joanne! No! I said the OTHER arm!”

21. Uses offensive language or pushes personal beliefs about religion or politics.

Ugh! Enough said.

22. Sets a bad example.

Hopefully, most individuals in the fitness industry try to support their bodies and don’t smoke or excessively drink alcohol. (Although, my boyfriend told me he fell in love with me the day he saw me eat French fries – hey – it’s about balance!)

23. Provide bad cueing.

It can be pretty confusing for students when the routine changes without enough notice. A good instructor will cue with plenty of time – or at least a few beats ahead – to change the move or the direction.

24. Letting ego take over.

I like to come from a place of being open to always learning, not believing that I always have all the answers. I find my students teach me many things.

25. Are unprepared.

A good instructor will have their routines prepared and memorized, know how to run the equipment, turn on the lights, and arrive with plenty of time to greet students and settle in.

Remember that your workout is special time for you. Different instructors bring different styles and energy to the class, so if you haven’t yet found a class style or instructor that resonates with you, keep your options open and keep looking!

6 responses to “25 Ways to Spot a Lousy Fitness Instructor”

  1. […] post 25 Ways to Spot a Lousy Fitness Instructor appeared first on Green Mountain at Fox […]

    • Michael says:

      You’ve just mentioned in your article a lot of what I see in my Group Fitness Class:

      -The instructor is late to class.
      -Talks about how she taught 2 classes last night, so she is sore now (I felt like I got left overs from her.)
      -Has a favorite student. Mentions his name 22 times in class in a span of an hour.
      -Calls people out by name to correct bad form.
      -Mentions her products for sale in class.

  2. AshP says:

    I think what agitates me the most is an instructor who gets up on stage and to me it is like they are at a dance competition. Their cues suck and they are overdoing it. So you spend most of your class trying to catch up with them but they are going so fast, you feel like giving up.

  3. Cecilia says:

    I love when group instructors take the time to get to know the people attending their class and make you feel like they are genuinely happy that you re there.

  4. Tulsi says:

    I went through a zumba workout where the instructor kept staring at me in disbelief and pointed me out and said things like “I want you sweating by the end”…I just felt so uncortable the whole time, and felt like I was doing something wrong.

    • Lesley Wayler, MSW says:

      Isn’t it amazing how socially acceptable it is for instructors to encourage us to push past our limits? As if that’s the only way to having a successful workout. I hope you were able to listen to your body and go at your pace.

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About the Author

Lori Wright

Lori spent her teens and twenties with self-loathing and body issues, but changed her life after discovering yoga. She feels that yoga helped her become a better mother, lover and human being. She became less judgmental against herself and others. Finding ways to bring humor and self-compassion into movement activities, Lori’s mission is to help others fall in love with fitness while taking care of the body they have today. Lori uses mindfulness tools such as meditation and positive affirmations as well as running to de-stress to support her in raising her two young daughters. Lori has recently received her certification in Curvy Yoga, a certification designed to encourage and support women of all sizes and shapes to reap the wonderful benefits of Yoga. She utilizes this certification to instruct Curvy Yoga classes at Green Mountain At Fox Run.

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