Does a Fitness Instuctor Have to LOOK the PART?

How important is it to you that your trainers, instructors (yoga, spin, pilates) look a certain way? Do you expect them to be ripped and lean? Should they have never tasted a carb or sugar, or had a glass of wine? Or can they look like average “normal” bodied people who work out are in good shape and do a good job at working you out?

I have to admit I do have a prejudice, I do like for the people who are in front of me instructing me on fitness to look a certain way. I’ll admit it! May the fire and brimstone of hell nip at the edges of my yoga mat!!! But I have a reason. There is something to being able to look at the person who is leading you through this torture and see that they obviously go through it too and on some level have mastered it. Whether they should or not, they do at times serve as an inspiration. It’s a lot of pressure but I really am one for walking the talk not just talking the crap! I want them to look like it’s their life- it’s not data processing- fitness is a lifestyle and in my mind if you live a certain lifestyle things reflect that. Is that wrong? I’m not saying you have to be skinny but you should look like you do what you are making me do!

Trust me I feel the same way about dance instructors to a certain degree (barring age) the trained body has a certain look and carriage- it may be larger or very petite but you can see the knowledge in a person’s movements even when they are eighty you can tell what that body was capable of when it was 20. Personally I fall somewhere in the middle of that age spectrum and my body cannot execute all things anymore, and I know there are students who still want to see that leg jacked up there, or the foot hooked, or 5 pirouettes and it happens less and less these days but I feel it my responsibility to embody the spirit of the dancing dancer as much as possible. Now I have had some perfectly round ballet teachers in my day and I learned just as much from them as thin ones but then again dance is about art and technique where the world of fitness is about – well fitness! Should you not look the part?

We associate being over weight with being lazy and gluttonous and thin with being fit – in “Shape” or healthy and that is not the case at all the two are not synonymous. As a Bikram practitioner I see many students who started off over weight and even obese, practicing for a length of time and then going to training to become a teacher- they are substantially smaller then when they began practicing but do not have the tight Speedo bodies that are often associated with yoga and particularly the scantily clad Bikram practice, but they have and do walk the walk. Having witnessed their journey from former couch potato to Bikram instructor I have a new appreciation for that process and for the body standing in front of me to instruct, however I would be lying if (outside of knowing someone’s personal story) I said I didn’t have an expectation.

In this process of Blogging I have had to expose and examine some of these ideas and hidden beliefs and value systems. I try not to judge them as much as ask how they got there first place? and do I want to hold on to them? Then I have to believe that I cannot be alone in having thoughts like this and so I bring it now to you. Is it “Right” or “reasonable” to expect our fitness leaders (trainers, instructors, nutritionist etc.) to physically reflect their philosophy? Or should they be allowed to, like us have “flaws” a little extra here and there as long as they are capable of doing their jobs? (i.e. working us out, giving a good class, supplying accurate information) or is the look a part of their job? It is in dance- but not so much for dance instruction.

This is a topic that goes through our heads and we talk about after we leave the gym, or yoga studio, we comment on how this instructor talks about how you should do this exercise for your abs while her stomach is hanging out. We note if they have put on weight, or if we bump into them on the street and they are having a coffee and talk about the ravages of caffeine on the system as we lie in shavasana. We do have an opinion- and note that is a kind way of saying judgment but the question not do we (‘Cause we do!) the question is SHOULD WE?

4 thoughts on “Does a Fitness Instuctor Have to LOOK the PART?”

  1. Truth,
    I totally agree with you! I come to classes for motivation, and a fat slobby instructor – sorry – just doesn’t do it for me! I actually wrote a post about this topic as well on my blog, here:
    http://bunsofsteal.blogspot.com/2010/08/boot-camp-instructor-rant.html

    Bottom line, if you’re an instructor, you have to embody the service you are selling, which is fitness and wellness. I wouldn’t go to a doctor who’s smoking a cigarette and eating potato chips while he’s giving me a checkup. Same concept here.
    Love the blog, good luck!
    -Julia from bikram.

  2. should = judgement.

    I’ve taken Bikram to mean a practice that is consistent in its form- yet flexible in its experience. So, people get out of it different things, therefore judgement is inevitable.

    Let’s say what you want out of it is someone that inspires you to do better in your class because you admire their fitness lifestyle, or physicality, then having a teacher that exemplifies that, and satisfies your expectation, is important to you.

    yet for someone else that is taking the class because they need guidance in self healing, or discipline etc- the instructor’s fitness level may not be as important (and may never be) until fitness becomes important for that student, their experience has changed.

    Fitness, yoga, judgement- like everything else, seems to be a journey. What may be important to you now- may become less important a minute from now, a week or a year from now. so… judge on- its not like you could stop anyway 😉

  3. I think we are maybe mixing two things: looking the part and acting the part. We are all works in progress, and life is imperfect. I have been fit and strong while also being over-fat. I have been in terrible health while looking ripped. In my experience, clients respond to the energy we give off, and the authenticity that we bring to our professions. If they know we struggle along with them, that is usually enough. Research suggests that most folks do not relate to “perfect” instructors — most are actually demotivated. However if they feel we are real, and that we challenge ourselves as we challenge them, then THAT speaks to their reality.

  4. this is a good topic. i had been a fitness instructor since 1989 and during that time, it was required that we kept ourselves in shape and looked the part as well as being awesome teachers. i didn’t think that was an unreasonable request from the company…. i too expect to be taught by someone who looks the part as well. when i started taking bikram yoga, i noticed a lot of the instructors were not in shape at all. i don’t know, i get it that yoga is a practice and journey but at the same time, the instructors should be very concientious about their image. image is important when it comes to this field and that’s where you make your money.. sooo go figure. no ones asking you to be skinny, frail and unhealthy but you can still be fit and larger and look the part. i can say that because i am considered to be very fit for my size (size 10/12). this is good stuff to discuss.

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