- REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Not too long ago, a trip to the gym might have inspired dread. You’d have to slog through miles on the treadmill or the elliptical, alone. It was daunting.
Sure, there was the option to take a group exercise class, but unless you were step aerobics acolyte, you probably steered clear of that room.
Now, group exercise is all the rage; it’s redefined fitness as we know it.
Zumba CEO Alberto Perlman chalks it all up to the rise of the instructor. Consumers are increasingly willing to pay for an expert to show them how to exercise.
“You’re seeing all these trends from boutiques to Zumba to CrossFit, and everything, because the fitness industry realized that it was about the instructor and it was the consumers who told the fitness industry that.”
The rise of the instructor, he says, is “the underlying trend behind everything that is happening.” As consumers turn to boutique gyms, it could pose a threat to traditional, bare-bones athletic facilities.
Star instructors have been the center point of branding business empires and at-home fitness – from Jane Fonda and Tracy Anderson to Billy Blanks in Tae Bo videos from the late ’90s – but that trend has been ostensibly been moving from television screens to people’s gyms.
Think about it: If you’re a spinning fan, you know which classes you like to go to – maybe that teacher has the best playlist or says the right platitudes. There’s probably an instructor who just yells at you and makes you hate working out. Unsurprisingly, higher-end gyms – like Equinox – tend to get top-notch instructors who make the workout about the people in the class, as opposed to people who are just looking to get paid to get a workout in.
Popular indoor-cycling studio Flywheel always places an emphasis on hiring top instructors.
Creative Director Danielle Devine-Baum told Business Insider last fall that instructors should be knowledgeable about music so they can curate great playlists. She said the company looks for people who are motivational, enthusiastic, confident, and most importantly, come equipped with “athletic prowess.”
- Flywheel Sports
And SoulCycle has made its entire business model around the excitement of a good instructor … though it might be to a fault.
“SoulCycle is open about the fact that the company recruits performers as much as, if not more than, people with a fitness background,” New York Magazine reported in 2013.
Master trainer Janet Fitzgerald even told the magazine that she “would rather not take an outdoor triathlete” as opposed to a dancer or SoulCycle enthusiast.
While that could make for an entertaining class, experts say it doesn’t lead to a safe class.
“These instructors know little, if anything, about physiology, biomechanics, or real cycling technique. This is also a sad exposé of this industry-and not just at this studio,” master Spinning instructor Jennifer Sage wrote for the Indoor Cycling Association, referring to SoulCycle, but also shedding light on other instructors in the cycling industry. “Far too few instructors in the United States have sufficient experience and education in exercise science and anatomy. A one-day indoor cycling certification is usually not enough to provide a new instructor the materials needed to put together and teach safe and effective classes.”
But Perlman believes that all of the trends in fitness are linked to the focus on top-notch instructors, which makes sense – millennials will spend money on fitness. (It’s an experience.) Even more so, fitness experiences have lent themselves to acting as communities, as “Sweaty Equity” author and Bloomberg New York Bureau Chief Jason Kelly explained to Business Insider earlier this month.
“What seems consistent is building – and I say this word with some trepidation – kind of these authentic, community-driven brands seems to be the big lesson here,” Kelly said. That people do react in a lot of ways to something that they feel they want to be a part of, that their friends are a part of, and that’s a brand that really understands them and caters to them, and people like them.”
And most communities need a leader to guide people through their journeys – hence, the instructor.