By Aly Teich
When I started The Sweat Life, my mission was — and still is — to change the way we approach the conversation around health. I wanted to encourage people to lead a healthier lifestyle with the actual goal of getting healthier, as opposed to the goal of just wanting to look better. No matter how strong your goals start out, eventually it has to be something greater than abs to truly motivate us to make a serious lifestyle change. The choice to get healthy has to come from within, but setting those greater goals and finding that long-term motivation comes from the incredible leaders of this fitness industry and the language they choose to use with their students and clients.
Every day at The Sweat Life, I am inspired watching our health and fitness leaders change people’s lives, and feel fortunate to have them changing mine as well. There is a reason people are “OBSESSED!” with their favorite fitness instructors, trainers, nutritionists, doctors, and healers — because they empower people with the gift of health, inspire them to be the best versions of themselves, and offer them the space to truly change their lives for the better.
With that said, just as in any industry, I have come across professionals and experts in this space that make me question how or why they decided to choose the path of working in health. These are people that seem to be driven by their own motives, ego, or have decided to jump on the bandwagon of health because it’s THE trendy space now. When I walk into a classroom, studio, or practice led by such individuals, it is palpable. In some cases (particularly in the fitness space), class-goers don’t always notice or mind how or why an instructor ended up in the front of that room — they paid their $35 or so for class, carved out the hour in their day, and understandably just want to get their workout done. If it’s a popular class that already has a fairly set structure, and the instructor has put together a decent enough playlist, it still can feel like you are getting your money’s worth — and maybe you are. However, in my opinion, following by the studio playbook and playing good music should not be enough to qualify you to lead people through such an important part of their health journey and their lives. You should be a true motivator, a role model of health for health’s sake, a positive force in people’s lives.
So I challenge all of the instructors, trainers, leaders, and practitioners in this space to step back, take a moment with yourself, and really think about why you chose to go into health in the first place, what you are choosing to do with it, and how you feel you are affecting the lives of those around you. I challenge you to really take some time to ask yourselves the following questions. I challenge studio owners alike to push your instructors to answer these questions, and make sure they are leading your classrooms with the values you would hope to instill in your clients.
1. Is it about you or is it about them?
This question largely ties back to WHY you decided to get into health in the first place. Now, I want you to be truly honest with yourself on this one, and don’t be scared if the answer ends up in some sort of personal motivation - be it money or notoriety. There are so many industries where this is the case, and there is nothing wrong with wanting either of those things. (I mean, we all need to make a living and pay the rent!) However, if that is not paired with a true and deep desire to want to help people get healthier, I truly believe you are in the wrong industry. When those motives start to be the leading factor in how you are teaching your classes, that’s when I feel things begin to go array. Even if you got into this industry for fame or fortune, those factors MUST stay out of your classrooms and stay far away from the people who you are leading for an hour per week or day. Your classes and your practice MUST be lead by your pure desire to want to motivate people to get healthier — period. While I understand it takes a certain element of performance to command a large and full room of often tuned-out clients (performance skills I have SERIOUS respect for), that hour is not and should not be about you. It’s about giving people the best hour possible they can get with you, and having them walk out of that door feeling empowered, stronger, and hopefully having learned something new about getting fit, getting healthy, and about themselves. Does this mean the workout should be completely void of your personality, personal touches, and personal stories - no! That is what makes people feel truly connected to you. However, when it becomes something you are doing FOR you and not FOR them, so much of what that hour should be about is lost.
2. How are you motivating people?
When you are making the playlist for your class — something that can be a dealbreaker on whether someone makes it through a tough hill, long sprint, heavy set, or burning ab blast — are you also putting time into thinking about the messaging you want to get across that day and what you want people to take away from that room? If you are teaching a morning class, how do you want to set the tone for those people’s days - because, guess what, you most likely are! You hold more power than perhaps you know, and you, your choice of words, and how you choose to motivate people can not only change the course of someone’s day, but can change the course of their health and their lives. Do you want them to simply be motivated by getting a tighter butt or a flatter stomach, or do you want them to feel empowered by the fact that they feel stronger than they ever have before? Do you want people to feel motivated by a number on a treadmill, bike, or kettlebell, or do you want them to feel empowered by the fact that they have surpassed old milestones and reached new heights? Do you want them to feel like they somehow let themselves and you down, or do you want them to feel like they have just achieved something truly great and positive for themselves and their health? Do you want people to feel like they are alone in this journey, or do you want them to feel like a part of your tribe and your community? Do you want people to feel defeated or uplifted? You have the power to set the course of how these questions are answered and offer the experience you truly want your students to have. However, if you are only putting time into your music, the moves you will teach in your class, and only thinking about the physical results you want people to get, or moreover, thinking about how you want people to think about you when they walk out of class - I don’t believe you are reaching your own potential, or helping your students reach theirs.
3. Do you know what your students are carrying with them into class?
Whether it be physical injury, a divorce, a death, a bad day at work, general stress, or just anxiety over taking a class for the first time, most of the time, your students are likely carrying something from their lives into your classroom. Additionally, it is unlikely that every person in every one of your classes is at the same place in their health journey. Some people may be avid fitness enthusiasts, while others may be just getting back into a routine, and some working out for the first time in their lives. It is a fact that almost every class I have ever stepped foot into starts with the instructor asking any first-timers to make themselves known, as well as asking anyone with an injury to speak up (which in many cases doesn’t actually happen). I have a deep respect and appreciation that the 45-75 minutes spent in those rooms is a time and place for people to let go of what they are carrying around with them, and just focus on their workout or practice. In order to really give your students the chance to unplug from the outside world, you must first be fully aware of the fact that everyone is bringing different circumstances into your room - some of which may be harder to let go of than others. And while I know it is impossible to get the personal story of every person walking into your classroom, I believe just having this awareness will change the way you approach your class and the way you speak to your students. I truly encourage you to take a moment before every class and think that there are a group of human beings walking into that room or studio, all carrying around different weights from their lives and all at varying fitness levels, and approach them all through this lens only.
4. Are you educating yourself?
As stated before, I am, on a daily basis, inspired and in awe of the talent and expertise of the leaders in the health industry. There is a reason I started an entire platform dedicated to celebrating YOU! It is incredible to learn from master instructors, and just as rewarding to see the careers of younger trainers blossom before our very eyes. The training, dedication, and hard work it takes to not only become a trainer, instructor, or health practitioner is simply inspiring. However (and this is true for anyone in any area of their life), your learning process should not stop when school or teacher training is over. Just taking and teaching one method will never truly get you to the top of your game or allow you to offer the most to your students. So what are you doing to educate yourself? Are you reading about health and fitness? Are you attending continuing education and certifications? Are you yourself going to other types of classes and learning from other experts in your space? Are you taking feedback from your superiors and more importantly your students? They say to truly become an expert in something you must do it for 10,000 hours. However, I believe we are all works in progress and being a true master means appreciating that you should be learning for a lifetime.
5. How do you define success?
While this question may seem disconnected from how you teach or practice, it is actually a central factor in how you approach your work and what drives you to do that work. Is success driven by how full your classes are? How much money you make? If you are sponsored by a brand? More press? Is success defined by positive feedback from your students? Positive feedback from your boss? Positive feedback from your peers? Stories of lives you’ve changed or touched? I imagine it is likely a combination of all of these things. However, if you really take the time to think about what success in this field really means to you, you may be surprised how much you see that it directly ties in to how you approach your practice.
Please know this article is not meant to point fingers or make accusations in any way. I am also not secretly referencing anyone specific in any of the statements I made, for my readers to try and guess who these people are. This is simply a topic I am incredibly passionate about, in the space I now dedicate my time and life to — and I think it deserves honest discussion and thought. These are also questions that I push myself (and will continue to push myself) to ask on a regular basis, as I, too, have a responsibility and a role in this space that I must take seriously and respect. I also hope that this is a continuing discussion: it is through these types of discussions and questions that we will become stronger as leaders and as a community.
Aly Teich is Founder and Host of The Sweat Life.
Aly is a native New Yorker who grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She left Manhattan for Madison, Wisconsin to become a proud Badger for four years, and since then has lived on both coasts, traveled around the world…twice, and found herself right back here in The Big Apple.
Aly has always been an active kid, and now grownup (although she still acts like a kid.) She danced her way through the School of American Ballet until her teens, competed on horseback at a pre-Olympic level, lettered in three varsity high school sports, and completed three marathons and numerous triathlons. She’s also an avid skier, golfer, aspiring surfer, and can do a mean belly flop.
Following a ten-year career in television and media — including the Late Show with David Letterman, CBS Television, Tribeca Film, and Conde Nast — Aly switched her focus to health and wellness five years ago when her mother was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer. Trading in her Late Show with Letterman badge for Nikes, Aly made it her goal to help people live healthier lives. In the fall of 2013, she decided to bring all of her experience and passion to one place, The Sweat Life.