Group Fitness Instructor or Professional Coach?

The economics of a group class instructor vs the opex model

Would You Rather Be a Group Fitness Instructor or a Professional Coach?

The client, the coach and the business: If you’re in the fitness industry, the hope is that all three can be successful.

For this to happen, the client needs a solution to his/her problem—to get and stay fit and healthy. The coach needs job fulfillment and an opportunity to make a professional wage so he can have a long-term career in fitness. And the business needs clients and coaches to stick around in order to be profitable.

None of this is possible if your gym is run by part-time group fitness instructors who are getting paid $20 an hour to run a class. This is only possible if coaches become professional fitness coaches.

In the fifth article of this six-part series, we’re going to look at who would you rather be, an OPEX Coach or a group fitness instructor?

OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES:

#1: The Economics: Group Fitness Instructor vs. OPEX Coach

#2: Client Perspective: Group Fitness Instructor vs. OPEX Coach

#3: Job Fulfillment: Group Fitness Instructor vs. OPEX Coach

#4: Incentivizing Your Coaches to Care: Group Fitness Instructor vs. OPEX Coach

Would You Rather Be a Group Fitness Instructor or a Professional Coach?

So you’re super into fitness and want a career helping others get fit. There are a multitude of avenues you can take—you can be a group fitness instructor, you can take a weekend course and work at a personal training studio, you can coach boot camps or spin classes…

In other words, you can become a group fitness instructor and provide people hard workouts and earn around $20 an hour.

Or, you can go through The OPEX Coach Certification Program (CCP) and learn the tools to become a professional coach. During CCP you will learn how:

• To assess clients based on their unique needs, wants, weaknesses, limitations and goals.

• To create individualized training programs that fit their lives.

• To mentor clients via monthly consults in order to help tackle other important areas of their lives, like nutrition, sleep and stress.

Further, you will learn the business side of the industry, meaning how to grow a book of your own clients so you can earn a professional wage and become a true professional coach.

Let’s take a look at some of the other distinctions between instructors and professional coaches.

1. Professional fitness coaches assess. Instructors guess.

If you’re an group fitness instructor coaching a class of 12 people through a group workout, it’s impossible to accurately assess each individual in the group, even if you have the tools to do so.

In this environment, more likely than not, you don’t have a personal relationship with each person in the group. You don’t know that Mike has insomnia or Susan is dealing with a lingering knee injury. As a result, when Susan says she can’t do squats today, you take a guess and provide a temporary Band-Aid solution: “Sub in KB swings”.

Professional coaches, on the other hand, have the tools to adequately assess clients based on their strengths, weaknesses, needs, lifestyle and goals, and then draft a plan of attack to help the client make lasting changes.

Prior to becoming an OPEX CCP coach, Whitney Reese worked as a part-time group fitness instructor, as well as a physical therapist. She was never able to properly assess clients in a group model, she explained.

“CCP armed prepare me to have difficult conversations with patients (and clients), and it armed me with supporting people better…And it has actually made me significantly better at managing my chronic pain clients,” Reese said.

Similarly, learning how to accurately assess his clients was one of the biggest takeaways Brandon Burchfield, the owner of OPEX CDA in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, said he got from CCP.

(Resource: Learn how to assess clients in this free course.)

“It really opened my eyes to the idea that the assessment process doesn’t just happen at the beginning when someone new comes in,” Burchfield said. “It’s a constant assessment—and then repeat and analyze—not just their physical capabilities and training metrics, but assessing them as a whole: work, stress, family, life balance, how they’re sleeping. Figure out their deeper purpose.”

2. Professional fitness coaches personalize. Instructors template.

No two people are the same, so why would a gym of 150 people of various backgrounds, training and injury histories, and skill and fitness levels, follow the same generic template? This is the type of workout plan group fitness instructors apply to their athletes.G

A professional coach, however, treats each person as an individual, and drafts a training program designed specifically for them.

Get an introduction to personalizing programs here.

Andrew is an OPEX client at OPEX North Scottsdale in Arizona. He used to follow a generic program in a group.

“But it was kind of like the law of diminishing returns. Eventually I was like, ‘This is stupid. There’s gotta be a better way to train,’” Andrew said of how he grew tired, burnt out and injured from randomly testing his fitness in a group every day. After this, he dabbled with various other templated strength programs before settling on an individual program.

It has made all the difference to his fitness, and has been especially valuable because it considers more than just his fitness, he explained.  

“It really takes into account all the variables in people’s lives, from their lifestyle, to their goals, to their training history, to their injury history. It’s the most methodical and holistic approach out there,” Andrew said.

He added: “Finally it (doesn’t) feel like I (am) trying to shove a square peg in a round hole. The whole idea with OPEX is they meet you where you’re at. And depending on where you want to go, your coach will chart a path to get you where you want to go. When I did CrossFit, it always felt like we were throwing random shit into a blender and the (group class) coaches were kind of like PE teachers.”

3. Professional fitness coaches talk with clients. Instructors talk at clients

Being an group fitness instructor isn’t easy. You have to yell a lot to herd the group of 10 to 20 often inexperienced gym-goers together to explain the workout. Sometimes you put on your cheerleader hat and encourage people through a hard workout. Other times, you’re a babysitter barking at adults to make sure the class is running smoothly and that it finishes on time. Essentially, you’re spending the hour talking at people hoping they’re enjoying themselves and aren’t getting injured.

A professional OPEX coach, on the other hand, meets to talk with their clients each month in the form of a lifestyle consult. It’s a chance to really figure out what’s going on in their clients’ lives so they can then create a practical plan of attack for betterment.

Tiffany Wolf has been a client at OPEX Regina in Saskatchewan for six years. Without her one-on-one consults with her coach Steve Volke, she wouldn’t still be there, she explained.

“This is the longest I have stuck with anyone in my life that I’m not related to,” Wolf laughed. “And particularly with someone who sees me at my worst. And it’s certainly the longest I’ve ever stuck with something fitness-related.”

Her coach is more than just a programmer and workout deliverer, she explained. He’s a mentor who has helped her with other aspects of her life, such as nutrition. Through their consults, he even helped her come to the decision to leave her job and become an entrepreneur.

“He helps me look at my physical health today and in my future, and my mental and emotional health and how they all tie in together, with consideration to nutrition, of course. It’s a holistic approach that works better for me than anything else out there,” she said.

Learn how to build trust between you and your client with this free infographic.

4. Professional coaches give clients what they need. Instructor coaches only give clients what they want.

In the group class setting as an group fitness instructor, you’re constantly getting badgered by clients who want “more strength days,” or “more cardio workouts.”

You want to keep everyone happy so they don’t quit on you, so sometimes you let them bully you into programming workouts that they really want to do. And because it’s pretty tough to educate each person individually about what they need and why, they often get what they want in the form of workouts, but at the expense of what they actually need for long-term success and health.  

Does your 50-year-old client who loves doing cleans really need to do 30 clean and jerks for time and risk re-injuring his shoulder?

A professional coach, however, takes the time to assess and educate their clients about what they need and why, so the client gains a more in-depth understanding of their health and fitness. As a result, clients appreciate that you’re not just there to deliver a fun, hard workout: You have their best interest in mind and want to help them succeed.

As a result, clients trust the expertise their coach brings to the table.

Nicole Chambers, a client at OPEX North Scottsdale explained it this way: “When I go and talk with (my coach), I feel like I’m going to see a doctor,” Chambers said. “I just totally trust him. I trust the process, the programming, everything.”

5. Professional fitness coaches teach people how to exercise. Instructors give people exercises.

As a group fitness instructor or personal trainer, your job is to provide exercises, to count reps, to monitor the workout. Your clients rely on you to tell them what to do, often to the point that they don’t know how to do it on their own. Proof: Every group class gym has clients who don’t know how much each bar weighs after two years, and other clients who don’t know the difference between a muscle clean and a power clean after five years.

In the OPEX model, clients follow an individual training program and have a better understanding of what they’re doing and why—and of the training session’s intended stimulus—so although they value their coach’s expertise, they’re not 100 percent dependent on their coach to get their training session done.

Burchfield experienced this with his clients in the group class model: They were so dependent on him to babysit them and hold their hand through a workout, he explained.

The OPEX model is more sustainable for both the coach and the client because the coach empowers the client, as opposed to just providing them movements to complete, Burchfield said.

“I also like that it helps create an independence in their fitness, so there isn’t this reliance, almost codependency, on a coach being there every moment,” he said.

As a result, clients become more fit and stay fitter, the coach is more fulfilled and can earn a professional wage in the process.

And as Wolf explained, she’s more than willing to pay a premium for a professional OPEX coach because of the value it provides to her life.

“If I were to break it all down, the amount I would have to pay (individual experts) to get what I’m getting (with an OPEX coach)—a personal trainer, access to a facility, someone to support me emotionally, a business coach, someone to hold me accountable to all my goals, and someone to help me with my nutrition—it would be so much more than (what I’m paying for a coach). It’s absolutely worth it to me. – powerful

She added: “I will dye my hair out of a box, but I won’t get my fitness out of a box.”

Get an introduction to the same professional coaching education used by OPEX Coaches world wide and learn the basic principles taught in The OPEX Coaching Certificate Program (CCP) with The Free 7-Day OPEX Coaching Course.

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CrossFit® is a registered trademark of CrossFit, Inc. OPEX Fitness’s uses of the CrossFit® mark are not endorsed by nor approved by CrossFit, Inc., and OPEX Fitness is in no way affiliated with nor endorsed by CrossFit, Inc.

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