How To Be A Successful Gym Instructor: Complete Guide

Instructing exercise is a fantastic career, you can help people live longer, feel more confident, you get to make some really great friends along the way and importantly, it’s a great step towards a career in personal training.

So, how can you become a truly successful gym instructor, learn tons, and have a great time whilst working in a gym environment?

Well, the good news is, I have done it, I’ve done it in a few different gyms actually, so in this article, I’ll be telling you exactly what you need to be doing to be recognised as one of the best and most successful gym instructors in your area.

Sound good?

Let’s go…

how to be a successful gym instructor
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What do fitness instructors do?

Before we jump into what you can start doing to make sure you are seen as being the best of the very best when it comes to gym instructors, we need to take a quick look into what it actually is that gym instructors do.

After that, I will break down each point and tell you what you can do to absolutely smash it out of the park in each area.

You’ll either have people begging for you to be a manager, their personal trainer or climb the ranks in any other way you wish.

Here’s a quick list of what gym instructors do:

  • Create training programs for beginners to the gym
  • Demonstrate and teach how to use the equipment
  • Keep the gym clean and safe for everyone’s use
  • Teach gym floor and sometimes studio classes
  • Cover some reception work

So that’s basically it, there are not really any particularly complicated aspects to being a gym instructor, it’s a pretty simple job, but that’s not what we are talking about here, we are talking about how to be an exceptionally successful gym instructor.

So, you are going to need to take these tasks, excel at them and then add a lot of your own personality into what you do so you can stand out in a sea of other instructors as the best of the best.

Let’s get going with what you need to do to become a successful fitness instructor.

Of course, before you become a super successful gym instructor, you’ll need to pass your exam. Take a read of the article below to get a sneak peek at my article on the easy way to pass your level 2 gym instructor exam.

Passing The Gym Instructor Assessment: 15 Super Actionable Tips

1. Brush up on your people skills

man and woman enjoying conversation

As a gym instructor, you will be meeting people from all different walks of life, cultures, personalities and temperaments.

If you want to be successful as a gym instructor or eventually a personal trainer, then brushing up on your people skills is not only important, it’s vital for your career.

People will only listen and pay attention to others that they like, and as a gym instructor, it is your responsibility to be able to get on with the vast majority of people you meet.

Do not mistake this for being a pushover, of course, if someone is being rude to you, then you need to explain that it isn’t on and stand up for yourself, but you do need to learn to be as personable as possible.

How do I do this?

People love to talk about themselves, their aspirations and their interests. Use this to your advantage by learning to ask open-ended questions that will allow people to start talking about themselves to you.

You will be amazed what people will tell you and it will make conversation really easy between the two of you.

If you really want to delve into this topic (which I would recommend), then there are some great books and courses you can take to learn how to communicate effectively with others and get them to like you almost as soon as they meet you.

How will it make me successful?

Being a gym instructor is primarily about helping people, and you are going to meet a hell of a lot of people from a lot of different backgrounds.

Effectively communicating with these people is essential for you to be able to really get to the core of their goals and understand why it is that they have decided to join and gym and why exercise is important to them.

Without fully understanding a person, you will not be able to write up an exercise programme that meets their individual needs, and when you start asking the right questions, people will realise that you are starting to get to properly know them and they will instantly start liking you.

People only trust other people that they like, so by brushing up on your people skills, you will help your gym members out by giving them a fantastic level of service, and if you’re looking for a promotion one day, it certainly couldn’t hurt if you get on really well with your current managers either.

2. Create outstanding exercise programs

I’ve seen gym instructors that write up the same “cookie-cutter” programme again and again to pretty much any person they talk to.

They will sit down with a new member who is super excited to have joined the gym and whilst they are explaining all their goals and answering lifestyle questions, the trainer is nodding along whilst not even really listening to a word they are saying.

Don’t do this, this is not how to become a successful gym instructor.

Take the time to put in the effort to write up individual programmes that you genuinely think people will enjoy completing.

Explain each exercise you have prescribed to them, why you have added it to the programme and how it will help them achieve their goal quickly. Don’t forget to ask them if there are any exercises they don’t like doing.

It may make writing a programme more difficult to have to write around people’s preferences, but there is no point in taking the time to write up a programme that a member will never complete. Listen to them and write up something they will really enjoy doing.

How do I do this?

Practise writing up programmes for friends and family. Sit people down and ask in-depth questions that will help you write up first-class training programmes for them.

I would also suggest that you learn as many exercises as you possibly can. There are tons of ways you can do this, from Fitness apps, books, websites and YouTube videos.

The more options you have, the more fun you can have with your programme writing!

How will it make me successful?

Remember that trainer that writes up all the cookie-cutter programmes?

Yeah, people aren’t going to ever go back to them ever again.

You, on the other hand, will have people coming back to you again and again because you took the time to put in the effort to make them a programme that they enjoyed and would be beneficial to them.

This is also incredibly important for career development as if you decide to become a personal trainer, writing up effective and fun routines for your clients is an essential aspect of client retention (keeping their training with you as long as you can).

3. Really learn to listen to people

man and woman having a deep conversation

We have already said that listening is very important when creating outstanding training programmes for gym members, but it is also the only way that you will ever really establish rapport with someone.

Once again, the trainer we said about that was nodding away and not listening to a thing the member was telling them. well, whilst taking gym members through their induction session, they would be doing the exact same thing again.

They’d show them the exercise, ask a few questions they were obliged to ask and be nodding away again not listening to anything they were saying.

No one is ever going to be impressed with this level of service, and the members will be able to clearly see they are there just to pick up a paycheque at the end of each month instead of enjoying their role.

So all you need to do is the exact opposite of this!

Ask people questions about themselves during the consultation, and the induction and let them know they can come up to you and ask questions about their training whenever you are available.

Letting people know that you are always there to listen to them and answer questions makes them feel very comfortable and increases their confidence in a gym.

How do I do this?

This is easy, you’ve just got to pay attention!

Once you’ve asked a question, it’s really easy to be so preoccupied with what you are going to ask next that you don’t actually listen to what the person is telling you.

You don’t need to be in a gym to practise this one, during conversations with friends and family, really focus on listening to what people are saying, every word!

You will be amazed at how properly listening changes the direction of a conversation, it will also become very apparent to the person speaking that you are paying close attention and this builds rapport too.

You may find that by practising this technique you will become closer to your family and friends than ever before, which can only be a good thing.

How will it make me successful?

This skill goes far wider than being a successful gym instructor or personal trainer, this is a life skill that will pay dividends.

No matter what industry you are in, the ability to be able to listen to people and pay attention when they are telling you something or answering questions will put you leaps and bounds ahead of people who lack this simple skill.

You will perform better in interviews, as top employers have stated that the ability to listen is one of the key components they look for in new employees.

Practise your listening skills as often as you possibly can, you will quickly start to see how big of a positive impact it will have on your career and life in general.

4. Study how to teach people

female teacher writing complicated equations on chalk board

Not everyone learns in the same way, and as a gym instructor, it is your duty to be able to teach people in multiple styles so that you can make sure they are exercising both safely and effectively.

I am sure you remember being in school and some people in the class would instantly understand what the teacher was explaining, whereas others would really struggle no matter how many times the teacher repeated the information to them.

The reason for this may have been it wasn’t the information itself that was the issue, but more likely the way that it was taught to them.

People learn through aural (hearing), visual (seeing) and verbal (repeating the information) and also physical learning (kinesthetic).

Learning how to determine which of these teaching methods will work best with the members asking for training programmes will make a huge difference in how effective you can be as a trainer.

Trying to teach people in the wrong style will be a giant waste of time for a lot of your sessions. You can ask people if they are aware of how they prefer to learn, as I for example know that I prefer to learn through movement and repetition rather than reading.

How do I do this?

The internet is your friend here, there is no need to go on expensive courses to learn this (although you can of course if you want to) but there are plenty of websites dedicated to showing you how to teach people effectively through different styles.

You can obviously look for books on Amazon too, but to be honest it really isn’t that complicated. It’s about learning to decipher what kind of teaching style you think your client or gym member will benefit from the most, and then apply it to the situation.

As I said, you can always ask the person if they are aware of what style they would prefer to be taught in, but not everyone knows what works best for them, so you might need to use your own judgement every now and then.

How will it make me successful?

You can spend weeks or months trying to teach people, only to have them learn nothing if you are using the wrong teaching style.

By fully understanding teaching styles and how they apply to anyone you are trying to train, you can become a far more effective teacher.

Using the example of a gym instructor or personal trainer, if your trainee can understand your teaching in half the time, they can make progress in half the time too.

As a gym instructor, if your trainee can’t understand the way you teach, they will ask for a different trainer, and if they are a personal training client, they will leave your services and move on to another trainer, significantly decreasing your income.

This stuff’s important!

5. Ignore the less glamourous parts of the role

mop cleaning wooden floor

I can’t pretend that every part of being a gym instructor is glamorous because it isn’t.

You will need to be cleaning the changing rooms, rub down the sweaty gym equipment and help injured people, which could involve blood and other gross stuff.

This is all just part of the role, and there is nothing you can do about it. If you treat it as being a very small obstacle that needs to be overcome to get to the next step in your career, you might not resent it so much.

How do I do this?

Each shift you will probably have to clean at some point. Instead of dreading it, just accept that it’s something that you need to do and don’t overthink it.

You might be looking at the personal trainers or managers and wishing that you didn’t have to do this part of the role anymore, but remember that they probably did do this at some point in the past.

Treat it as a right of passage to becoming a manager or personal trainer.

How will it make me successful?

Getting to grips with the realities of your role will help you not resent any part of it.

If you find that you really dread the part of your shift where you need to go out and clean the kit, having that in the back of your mind will constantly drag you down and will seriously hinder your chances of making it in this carer.

Learning to live with this aspect of being a gym instructor really isn’t that difficult, and as long as you make use of the tips mentioned above, I am sure that you will really find it to be quite acceptable.

6. Teach outstanding classes

busy exercise class

Teaching classes was one of my favourite parts of being a gym instructor!

There is no better way of getting your face (and voice) known in a gym for all the right reasons than teaching fantastic gym floor classes.

This is one of those duties that a lot of gym instructors really resent doing, but it can be great fun and really enhance your career too.

A lot of trainers will half-heartedly run through the company-made gym floor class with little to no enthusiasm (especially if they had been doing it for a while). Instead, when you are teaching your gym floor classes, give it everything you’ve got.

Don’t hide away your class under the stairs or in a quiet corner of the gym, get it right out there in the middle so everyone in the gym can see it.

Shout the instructions loudly and give tons of encouragement throughout the whole session.

Don’t just stick to the company-made classes either, offer to put on your own 20 min gym floor sessions, if you get this right, people will start to love your sessions and be asking for you to take them for 1-2-1 training in no time.

How do I do this?

Most people will probably need a lot of practice to get their confidence up enough to be able to raise their voices in front of a whole gym full of people.

Start off by taking smaller classes and teaching them as you see fit, then start to slowly add more encouragement and raise your voice a little more until you begin to feel more confident with it.

As you get more and more confident, start taking your classes out into busier areas of the gym and trying to recruit more people to them.

When you really feel up to it, offer to put on your own 20-minute gym floor classes and make these famous!

Make sure that every person knows a fantastic class is happening right now, and you are the one teaching it. Shout encouragement and make your classes seriously tough, people love this and soon enough you will have crowds of people waiting for your classes.

How will it make me successful?

Essentially, confidence!

Getting used to being able to shout encouragement in front of a crowd and not worrying about it will dramatically increase your confidence, and that’s the aim of the game when it comes down to exercise instruction.

If you want to be taken seriously as a gym instructor or personal trainer you need to be confident, and teaching classes is a really fantastic way of doing this.

I can assure you, I really wasn’t into this style of training until I moved to a gym that was famous for its super-tough gym floor classes. I needed to be able to keep up and maintain the gym’s reputation, so I was taught how to give fantastic classes and it did wonders for my confidence.

Soon enough, even gym floor walking and other duties that used to make me nervous didn’t even phase me at all.

7. Make people remember your name

two women talking on yoga mats

If you have used the majority of the tips outlined above, you should have no real problem with people remembering who you are.

The idea is to get yourself famous in your gym for being a fantastic gym instructor. If people know your name then you are well on your way to becoming the “go-to” trainer.

Knowing you by name gives members the confidence to come up to you and ask you questions or talk to you generally, and that is one of the key elements of being a highly successful gym instructor.

People should be able to feel completely at ease with you and letting them all know your name is a great way of doing this.

How do I do this?

The real trick here is to keep telling people your name, let them know when you meet them for induction and whenever you finish a gym floor class let everyone know your name again.

Don’t let people get sick of you, of course, just try and make sure that there isn’t a single person in that gym that doesn’t know who you are.

For the right reasons of course!

How will it make me successful?

Whether you are looking to become a personal trainer, gym manager or carry on working as a gym instructor, having everyone in the gym you are working in knowing your name is definitely going to be a massive help.

If you carry on working as a gym instructor, you will be the most sought-after trainer in that gym which will do wonders for your confidence. Should you decide to become a manager, then who will they choose to promote, the new person no one has met or the person who every member knows on a first-name basis?

And what about if your plans are to become a full-time personal trainer?

Well, your client base will basically be sitting right in front of you as soon as you qualify. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you had a queue of people waiting to sign up for 1-2-1 sessions with you.

I’d call that fairly successful, wouldn’t you?


So there you have it, this should be everything you need to be a highly successful career as a gym instructor.

Using the tips in this article will allow you to increase your confidence, help tons of people whilst giving a great standard of service and really enjoying yourself at the same time.

Being a gym instructor isn’t a difficult job, lots of people do it, but the difference between your bog-standard instructor and a fantastic one is vast!

I hope the tips above will help you to excel in your career in fitness and become a truly successful gym instructor.

Go get ’em!

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Chris Walker

Chris Walker worked in the City of London as a fully qualified REP's level three personal trainer for just under ten years. He built and maintained a client base of 40 individuals and worked with several high profile clients, including actors, actresses, comedians and politicians.

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