A few months ago, I saw an article written by a master trainer about the importance of your physical appearance, basically being ripped, when you are a cycling instructor. The message of the article was that you should be looking the part, riding the class at the intensity you want your riders to ride at, and coaching at the same time.
I have a problem with that statement.
Let me start with a clarification. There is nothing wrong with instructors who fit this description and are good at their job. I want to discuss whether LOOKING the part is necessary or important and if yes, to what extent and why.
YOU WORK IN FITNESS INDUSTRY SO WHERE IS YOUR KARDASHIAN’S SHAPE?
Firstly, we are in the fitness, wellness and health industry, there is no denying that. The main argument of most of the chiselled instructors is that people follow instructors whose physique they would want to replicate. If someone comes to a gym and is looking for a class to join with view to lose weight and gain fitness, what is the message I as instructor send when they come into the studio and see me looking (what society deems) imperfect?
The answer to this question is not as straight forward as you’d think even though we cannot ignore the importance of first impressions. If you walk into the studio and don’t think the instructor LOOKS inspiring enough, is that enough for you to leave? Or would you be intrigued why was it almost impossible to get a space as their classes are always full?
IS IT ALL ABOUT THE LOOKS? ARE YOU DELIVERING WHAT YOU SELL?
The million dollar question is what is the purpose of an instructor? Is it to provide a life-size model members can longingly gaze at, wondering whether they are ever going to look like that, or is it to understand the participants’ goals and get them to achieve these in a safe and efficient way? Again, I do not knock down instructors who put a lot of work and self-discipline into sculpting their bodies – I applaud you. But that doesn’t make one a good instructor by default.
Secondly, there is the style of marketing based on misinformation that is representative to cycling classes. I am talking about the videos showing women in cropped tops proudly showing off their six packs and guys with big guns and well sculpted traps. Again, kudos to all these people but try as they might, they did not get these muscle groups developed from cycling as they are trying to make you believe. Even with the addition of half pound weights or doing press ups on the handlebars…
I lost shedloads of weight when I got into teaching indoor cycling. My body looked more toned due to lower body fat percentage and I lost two dress sizes. I still did not get biceps or triceps definition, neither did I get a six pack, but I was not expecting these changes due to the type of exercise I was doing.
Cycling and indoor cycling are great, but you need to watch your diet and work hard off the bike to look like these people in the videos. And sometimes it is enough to be 19 with good genes. Life can be unfair…
ALL INSTRUCTORS SHOULD LOOK LIKE PROFESSIONAL ATHLETES, RIGHT?
Shouldn’t there be a requirement for all instructors to look a certain way? No, there shouldn’t. Why? Because the physique does not reflect the quality of an instructor.
There are instructors who were into fitness since young age, maybe did some sports at a high level in the past and always kept fit so their bodies reflect that. There are those who are simply genetically predisposed to LOOKING good, but again that does not mean that they are better at the job.
Others still work in fitness full time as personal trainers. Then there are those who work full time office jobs. Finally, there are those with have serious health issues and the way they look may be a direct result of medication they are on.
I have seen and taken many classes from instructors who couldn’t look more fit and healthy yet the lack of knowledge and professionalism they showed was astounding.
SO DOES THE PHYSIQUE MATTER?
If you know your craft people don’t care what you look like. What is more, they don’t even care if you are teaching on the bike. (Again, I am not saying that if you teach off the bike you are a better instructor, neither is it a debate on which style is better). You are there to make riders successful. They come to the class because they can’t achieve their goals on their own and if you are able to guide them, motivate them, and make them feel good, you could probably look like Yoda or Jabba the Hut for all they care.
Will you possibly lose out on prospective riders if they see you and make a judgement based on your physique? Possibly. But the pull of your class being well spoken of will win you more.
However, the aspect of being presentable, wearing clean clothes and smelling fresh is of utmost importance. Those of us who sweat profusely need a change of tops for back to back classes… This aspect of looks is a part of professional standard you should always represent.
My regulars never ask me for my numbers or question why I am not always up there riding with them. They know this is my style. They accept and appreciate that I have completely removed ME from the class focus. I don’t ask them to compete with me or my stats, they are their own competition. I don’t pretend to be the strongest rider in there nor do I inspire to be one. There are Iron Man competitors in my classes and I could not measure up to them.
However, I am the one with the most knowledge about what they are doing, and they look to me for guidance on how to better their performance. If they can see the results, they will come back for more often dragging their friends or families behind. I may not be a qualified cycling coach, but I see my role in these terms.
If you look at coaches across any sports competitions, they watch and guide from the side lines. They observe and pay attention which enables them to help their athletes improve. They do not always look as fit as the people they train.
I agree that to coach at a professional level you would have been a competitor in the given sport yourself and at a high level, too but I do not pretend to be qualified to do that. I am confident though that I have enough knowledge to help all my riders.
However, there have been a couple of situations in my teaching career that a rider who started with me indoors progressed onto outdoors competitions and got so good that they needed much more structured and individualised training plans that I could provide on the general fitness class platform. I advised them to move onto training sessions led by professional coaches as soon as I knew I could not improve their performance. The issue was not my lack of fitness but the limits of my knowledge of the subject and confines of having to accommodate a wide spectrum of fitness goals of a large group within the same session.
Therefore, I would like to reiterate that yes, a cycling instructor should be fit enough to ride the class profiles they teach but not necessarily while they are teaching it. And getting or not getting a job in a club should not be based solely on the instructor’s looks. What we are meant to do in front of the group of riders is so much more than simply to look good.