Qualities that make an exceptional teacher

Anyone can be an instructor, that’s a given. But what makes one stand out from the rest? Here, our expert teacher training team unpack what it means to be a world-class fitness instructor.

1. Presence

We can guide people through movement, but being present means to make space in class to pause, look around the room, see what’s going on and then make corrections, rather than just rattling off pre-rehearsed cues. That’s the difference between talking through movement and actually teaching. Another way to cultivate presence is arriving early, setting up the space, using music and props to get yourself into the flow and be 100% there. It also gives an opportunity to chat to clients when they arrive to establish a relationship with them. This way, the class becomes more conversational rather than a performance “in front of them.”

2. Connection

Utilise hands-on adjustments, personal touches, address clients by their names and give them gentle encouragements. In short? Make them feel seen. You’ll be surprised how many clients love one-on-one attention. A good rule of thumb is to try to “touch” every client at least once or twice during a class. Even just a smile to connect with a client goes a long way. You might also like to stand near the equipment at the end of the class where clients put their mats away and thank them for coming. Hot tip: make a comment about how you’ve noticed they’ve advanced to have a final moment of connection!

3. Challenge

Prepare your class with the strongest/most advanced student in mind and make sure that what you’re teaching will challenge them. At the beginning of the class, mention there will be options and modifications so each person can adjust to what their body needs. An exceptional teacher will make their classes accessible to everyone, and one way to do this is to layer. Start with the essence of the exercise and then invite clients to add on progressions. Transitions and not having many breaks can also make feel classes more challenging, as rest time is minimised. Another handy trick is to finish with a very strong exercise. This way, the feeling of working hard will stick in your client’s minds. 

4. Authenticity

This can be tricky at the beginning of your teaching journey as you’re still working hard to follow your class plan, use the right cues and get the words out. But you should absolutely bring you to your classes! If you’re a dancer, sneak in a few of your favourite moves. If you love yoga, incorporate a spicy sequence, and if you love jokes bring your humour to class. Don’t be afraid to be yourself and develop your own unique teaching style. 

5. Creativity

Don’t be afraid to get creative with your class within the format you are given. The secret to being an exceptional teacher is all about showing you the magic of teaching: what exercises go together, how to create flow, layer and transition to create an enjoyable, juicy class. Get creative with how your class feels. It could be dynamic, strong and to the point or it could be more gentle, moving through different poses. And remember: creativity can come back from so many places! Think directions in the room, theming your classes with a body focus or music. 

6. Reading the room 

Being adaptable is crucial if you want to be an exceptional teacher. Read the energy and the vibe. If you have a class planned with a sequence on your belly and three people who are pregnant join, you need to be able to adapt and change up the exercise to provide a great experience for everyone. Or, if you feel that clients are exhausted and you have a very strong dynamic class planned, you might need to tweak this on the go. Also, don’t be put off by serious looking clients, they’re often the ones enjoying the class most!

7. Modifications and levels

How do you cater to different needs, injuries, pregnancies and people who want a very strong class at the same time? 

Speak to your clients about their expectations before class and give them modifications if needed. Anticipate what discomfort clients might be feeling in an exercise and speak to this. For example, “if you can feel this in your lower back, pop your feet down or give me a wave and I’ll come over.”

8. Voice

The tone of your voice needs to ebb and flow with the class to guide the pace and intensity. Beginning at warm up, it will inevitably be softer, but it will need to pick up during challenging sequences to motivate your clients. Pockets of silence are totally okay. You don’t have to cue everything – just what’s relevant for the people in the room! Don’t feel that you have to fill the space with counting, or empty fill words. And always keep your language positive.

9. Musicality 

An exceptional teacher will lean on music to support them. Design a playlist that builds with the class. Softer music for warm up, then more upbeat music, then soft music again for cool down. Music is a huge motivator so it’s worth putting some thoughts into your playlists.

10. Self-development

To keep growing as a teacher, you need to observe yourself as a teacher. Watch how your clients are reacting to different sequences. Are clients repeatedly rolling their shoulders during your arm sequence? If so, ask “is there something I need to change to balance it out more?” Continued development is also important to keep feeling inspired. The key here is to attend workshops, courses (we also have plenty of short courses), and participate in as many classes as possible.