Burn out. Such a dirty word and most of us would never want to experience this. Unfortunately it happens to a lot of us and is a major contribution factor to the high instructor attrition rate over the past few years. There are several reasons, but usually it starts with one issue and then we compound it with others, slowly building the case for why teaching group exercise is all too much. Below I have listed the main reasons why most instructors stop teaching and my own personal solutions and justifications that might help you out the burn-out-rut, or at least, help you make a rational decision about staying or leaving.
For as long as I can remember, there has been an ongoing joke about not teaching for the money! It is fairly common knowledge that the group fitness pay rate is varied, and with mounting costs for instructors, can appear inadequate if not completely under paid. It is true that for the time I have spent teaching in the fitness industry, my pay rate per class has not increased that much, but (and this is a big but) it is a question of being happy. This is how I rationalise my class income. Firstly, no one ever said that it was supposed to be enough to live off. How many classes can one person teach every day on an ongoing basis? Well, this is a good question as it also begs another question… how many classes are appropriate for an individual to actually deliver or how many hours of exercise is appropriate for longevity? The fact is that for most people, two classes, or perhaps three is the maximum (depending on intensity) per day as an appropriate amount of stress on the body. So, what would the rate be for 3 hours work? $40, $50, $150? From a group exercise coordinator’s point of view, it comes down to economics. If you have employees, then there is also work cover and superannuation that also needs to be paid for.
I made peace with the income I earned from teaching regular classes, by realising that I was not trapped in this occupation. I had so much freedom to come and go as I wanted. I could take holidays whenever I liked, I didn’t have piles of work to catch up on when I had time off, and no one really held me accountable for the outcome of the program. I was a cog in the machine of the timetable and in being that, it took the responsibility off my shoulders that most people have to bear when they are in other occupations. My class started and ended in a positive note and once the class was over, it was over. There was no follow up that had to happen on a regular basis and it was basically job well done. That was it! For me, that was priceless.
Ok, we all know what we have to do. We have to get our First Aid, CPR and remain accredited to validate insurance. Wow, so much! I am being sarcastic. When compared to other professions, this is a minimal ask. When I hear instructors complain about these expectations, I can’t understand what the problem is! A full day First Aid update once per three years, a CPR refresher every year (which goes for only 4 hours) or doing CEC courses that up skill us to positively affect our delivery, that is not a huge ask. As a school teacher once said to me “Making a mountain out of a mole hill”. Putting things into perspective in relation to the big picture, it really isn’t that much. The argument about ‘well, I only teach 1 class per week’ doesn’t hold. It is what is expected. If you chose to only teach one class per week, that is your choice, but the industry standard is the exactly the same for everyone, regardless of how many hours you teach. Decide early on whether it is worth your time or not.
There is the time to get to the gym; the time to prepare for the class; the time to teach the class; the time to talk to members and new comers; the time to do industry required tasks; the time to fill out paper work; etc. Everything has a time quotient. The time to get up, or get dressed or even have time out! It is about the bigger picture and remember, in everything you have a choice. I remember for the longest time I felt that I didn’t have a choice. That life happened at me or to me, rather than being in control of my own outcomes. If driving for an hour to get to a class is too long, then change it rather than complain endlessly about it. I have 8.30am classes that I leave my house at 5.30am so that I don’t have to deal with the traffic, but I know what I am taking on. I do appreciate it when people acknowledge my commitment, but it is not important. I do it because I am happy to do it. Some people think it is crazy, but for me right now, it isn’t. I like the class and I am able to occupy my time effectively when I arrive. You get to decide, not the gym, not the members, not anything. You simply have to decide whether something is worth your time, which you own and then do it. Simple? Well it depends if you want to argue for your limitations. You can argue that life is happening to you and you have no choice, but deep down, you know that this is not true. Decide what will make you a happy instructor and then go for it.
Burnout happens when people mount up a case against teaching classes and then continue to find ways to justify why they are not happy. Instead, try arguing for why you love to teach and remember why you started on this journey. Teaching is a passion in any industry and when that passion is no longer there, you and your students suffer. But when the passion is burning hot and it fulfils you, everyone benefits!