Top 7 Attributes that Make a Great Fitness Teacher

By: Mariska Breland. . Since I started offering teacher training several years ago, I really started asking myself – what makes a good teacher? Actually, what makes a great teacher? Because right now, there are dozens of different types of fitness classes and training regimens out there, each of them with their own training requirements, and in all of them, some teachers seem to come to the forefront.  Some even become “celebrity” teachers – featured in magazines, with clothing company endorsements, and clients who have a lot of money or fame or power. Of course it’s subjective, but here are my thoughts on great teachers. (And it’s not about whether they’re affiliated with an expensive brand or whether they boast a famous clientele. It’s because they genuinely rock.)

Let's not forget the value of a good hands-on assist!

  1. They know their shit.  Although some people get out and start teaching with as little as one weekend of training (fodder for another upcoming blog post, I promise), the teachers who are great are well-trained.  And “knowing their shit” should not only include the workout they’re teaching, but the why of it, the anatomy and exercise science behind it, and how to modify it to make it more difficult or easier.
  2. They know what they don’t know. A good teacher will tell you if he or she doesn’t know why you feel X when Y.  And, a great teacher will refer you to the person who does know, or try to find out the information and “get back to you."
  3. They walk the walk.  Great teachers practice what they teach.  And by practice, I mean they are serious about doing the same workout they’re teaching.  They should know every exercise they teach in their own body.
  4. They know how to cue. They have found the words that work to get you (and sometimes dozens more at the same time) into an exercise and moving.  And they do it quickly. If it takes a minute of explanation (and you didn’t ask one of those why questions), they aren’t a good cuer.  Keep it simple – move what where.
  5. They offer compassion, but not idiot compassion. My husband is a Buddhist, so I hear a lot about this thing called idiot compassion.  Basically, it’s being an enabler. Take a student who says, “I can’t do a roll-up.”  If a teacher feels badly for that student, offering to help pull her up the majority of the way, that’s showing idiot compassion. What a great teacher does is analyze the problem, encourage the person to work on what they need to work on in order to do that roll up, and help the student help herself.
  6. They’re charismatic motivators.  Making people love learning is an art.  It’s part creating a welcoming environment, developing trust, and offering a touch of humor.  Great teachers also understand that people have different learning styles and differing reasons for coming to class.
  7. They love doing it. Great teachers love to teach. Simple as that.
We’ve all encountered a wide range of teachers. And I want to hear about some of yours –from kick ass to pain in the… you get the point. How did that teacher’s teaching make or break a class for you? Stay hard core, Mariska      

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All Comments (5)

  1. I like so much your post, in fact, I would like to translate it to spanish and publish it at my blog if you are ok.

  2. Mariska Breland says:

    Hi Pedro – Sure, no problem as long as you leave me as the author. 🙂

  3. I’ve had teachers with the 7 atributtes, even at college… In Pilates I specially remember one that could perfectly mix feldenkrais with Pilates, letting you explore the movement, but holding your hand por tour mind (verbal and no verbally) during all the session 😉

  4. Anastasiya says:

    Great article, Mariska!
    I had an experience with both types of teachers: great ones (mostly) and a horrible one.
    The first time that I took a Pilates training course was a disaster. My instructor (from a well-known Pilates training school, with a bunch of credentials and experience) almost extinguished the Pilates fire in me. If you don’t mind, I would love to add one more attribute (from my personal experience) of a great fitness teacher.

    8. They are focused on the student and not on showing off themselves. My teacher trainer was so focused on talking about his past, his achievements and showing off his Pilates skills that he never took the time to pay attention to the students. A great instructor makes the student feel comfortable and important in every class.

    At the end of the training course the teacher told me and some other students to “have realistic expectations.” Charismatic motivator? I doubt it 🙂

    Thankfully, my other teachers were wonderful. I learned a lot from them, saw how beautifully they combine different teaching techniques and fitness modalities, how through and compassionate they are and how eager they are to learn something new every day.