A fitness instructors areas of expertise can vary from one trainer to another, but what are the mains things that you will be expected to know so you can confident that you will be able to answer gym members questions?
Well worry not, in this article, I will be talking you through exactly what you need to know.
I did this job for about three years, so I have pretty good experience of what people will expect you to know.
Firstly, I wouldn’t worry too much about needing to be an “expert” at too many things as a fitness or gym instructor.
Most people understand that this is an entry-level position, so most of the questions you will be dealing with are fairly simple. You won’t be getting many people asking you to write up a perfect diet plan for a diabetic in their forties (you wouldn’t be allowed to give it to them even if you did).
So, what I’ve compiled below is a list of the things that after several years of working in the role, I think you would actually need, to have a pretty good level of knowledge to be considered a good fitness instructor or gym instructor.
Let’s get into the meat of the article!
Expected expertise of a fitness instructor
1. Exercise prescription
Exercise prescription is one of the main tasks you will be asked to perform on almost a daily basis, it was pretty rare that I didn’t do at least one per day.
The exercise recommendations you make will be fairly basic, as the idea is that you are creating workouts that a gym member can perform on their own without needing to come back to you and ask again and again what each exercise is.
You will need to use your judgment on how to write up a program that is applicable to the experience level of the person you are writing it for.
For example, a person who has lifted free weights in the past may be disappointed with a machine-based routine, and a beginner may be intimidated by a free-weight workout.
It would also need to take into consideration any injuries, and helps the member achieve the goals they have outlined to you.
2. Basic nutritional advice
You will be expected to give them nutritional advice, so what to eat if they are looking to gain muscle and what to eat or not eat if they are looking to lose weight.
There is a very important factor to remember when giving out nutritional advice in these situations.
You are not expected (or even allowed in some cases) to give out detailed nutritional plans to gym members. This is advice that is almost always only allowed to be given by personal trainers as they have had more training in this area.
My advice is to keep it simple and general!
If a member insists on getting more specific dietary advice, point them in the direction of a personal trainer or nutritionist.
This is one area you are not expected to be an expert in, but you are expected to be able to give simple advice.
3. Basic anatomy
You’ll need to know and understand basic anatomy in order to pass your exams, but it will rarely come up when instructing people.
All you will really need to have a good grasp of are what exercises work which muscle groups so that you can make sure the program you write up works the areas your trainee is asking for or will help them reach their overall goals.
The keyword here is “basic“, you do not need a doctorate to get into the fitness industry. Keep things fairly simple, and learn what you need to from the workbooks and sheets you are given.
If you are interested in learning more, there are some good books and courses on which movements work what muscles. These can be useful, but as long as you know the basics you can get pretty far in the industry.
4. Injury prevention
One of your biggest duties as a fitness instructor or gym instructor is the ability to teach gym members how to complete exercises safely and effectively.
Knowing how to prevent injury from misuse of cardio or resistance equipment and being able to demonstrate the correct usage should become second nature to you.
Being able to advise and prescribe exercises that take a current injury into account and prevent worsening of that injury is something you should also be expected to be able to do. Look into this, but again, do not worry about becoming an expert, if it’s too complicated, refer to a PT.
5. Expert knowledge of cardio and resistance equipment
I’m a self-certified geek so this one was no problem for me.
You really should know the equipment in your gym inside and out. If you are running people through inductions day in day out, you will learn pretty quickly how to set up most of the machines.
The really cool stuff (if you are a geek like me), is knowing how to set up all the complicated programs on the cardio machines. If someone wants to set up a program on the treadmill to simulate hill climbs mixed with interval training, you really should know how to do it.
After all, if the gym instructor doesn’t know how to set up the machines correctly, who is there going to be to show them. Trust me, you’ll look pretty silly if you don’t know how to do this, so in your first few weeks take the time to learn.
6. Exercise class delivery
Taking gym floor and studio classes is part of your role as a gym instructor.
You have a golden opportunity with these to become an absolute class master!
I loved teaching classes even though I am generally a pretty introverted guy. Needing to shout at a large group of people in the middle of a gym gave me a great deal of confidence and I got seriously good at delivering classes.
An average gym instructor will take a class and the members will say it was ok and they built up a bit of a sweat, but a class master (as we will call it), will have members booking classes weeks in advance and begging to be let into full classes.
Teaching classes was one of my main way of picking up clients when I was a personal trainer. You can read how I used them to pick up clients by reading the article below.
Selling personal training in a gym: Everything you need to know
7. Member retention tactics
Being a gym instructor is not exclusively about setting people up with exercise programs and shouting at people in classes (but that is pretty fun).
Another of your duties will be to help the gym retain its members for as long as possible.
You will often be asked to go out and speak to people whilst they are exercising to make sure they understand what they are doing and if they have any questions or would like to get booked in for a session with you to help write an exercise program up for them.
The expertise that you will need for this, is the ability to strike up a conversation and build rapport with people you have never met before.
You might feel pretty uncomfortable with that at the start, but it gets pretty easy once you do it a few times and it’s fantastic practice for when you are a PT (if that’s your plan).
8. Understanding of safe and effective stretching
Personal trainers will often stretch their clients for a good five to ten minutes after a session. You will not be expected to do this, and you are actually not allowed to do this in case you injure someone.
However, you will be expected to teach gym members the importance of stretching and how they can stretch each part of their body to avoid injury.
This isn’t particularly difficult to learn, because you will be taught it whilst you are gaining your qualifications, but you can enhance this with your own learning also.
The more practice you get, the better, but just remember to not get into actively stretching people yourself until you are a qualified personal trainer or you could get into problems.
9. Conducting fitness assessments
Conducting fitness assessments is actually a lot more fun than it might sound at first.
You will need to be able to confidently and professionally walk someone through a full fitness assessment and give them accurate details of their starting points on their fitness journey.
Giving people inaccurate results or making mistakes in the testing could really set someone back here and make you look unprofessional, so this is something you want to get right from the start. You will of course be trained, so there’s nothing much to worry about here.
10. Proper lifting technique instruction
This one area of specialization is what makes fitness instructors and gym instructors so invaluable to a gym.
When people are lifting heavy weights without knowing what they are doing, they can get hurt, and they can get hurt pretty badly.
It is your responsibility to not only be able to effectively teach a beginner how to lift correctly to prevent injury and get the most benefit from an exercise, but it is equally important that you stop someone from performing a movement incorrectly.
It can be intimidating to stop and try to correct a person, and some people may not appreciate being told what to do, but that doesn’t stop it from being your duty.
You are an expert at proper lifting techniques, and you must enforce them as much as possible when you see mistakes being made. You are there to stop people from getting hurt.
What skills does a fitness instructor need?
Ok, so we know what expertise you need to have to be a fitness instructor, but what about the basics?
What are the bare minimum skills that you should possess before going into the fitness industry?
Let’s list them out all nice and simple.
- Listening and communication skills
- Endurance & general fitness
- Unflappable (keeping cool when things get stressful)
- Very basic computer, literacy, and numerical skills
You don’t need to have these skills in droves for you to get hired as a fitness instructor, because a lot of them you can acquire whilst you’re working on the job.
The most important of the basic skills that I think you’d need to be successful as a fitness instructor would be, listening, endurance, and being unflappable. As long as you can say that you won’t get stressed out when things get tough (and they will), you have the fitness and endurance levels to keep up with long hours and you can listen to members, I think you’re well on your way to being a great fitness instructor.
Whilst you are working, I would recommend working on any of the expertise or basic skills listed above that you think are your weakest areas. You would be surprised just how much difference it will make to your career.
Being a professional fitness instructor or gym instructor doesn’t require you to be an “expert” in many fields.
The main things to focus on are understanding your members’ needs, injuries, and how to deal with them, understanding all the equipment, and how to teach proper lifting techniques.
Becoming an expert in these areas will carry you a long way through your career as a fitness instructor, but never stop learning in your efforts to become the best fitness instructor you can be.
Go get ’em!
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