Don’t Be Alarmed; I’m Just a “Normal-Looking” Fitness Instructor…

I had a great class last night, thanks for asking!

Becoming a fitness instructor is something I’ve wanted to do since I was 24 and got heavily into taking aerobics from one peppy instructor at my tiny little gym in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Mary was a powerhouse: a petite girl with big(ish) hair, and huge muscles. She taught cardio classes and was a bodybuilder. Not a professional, but boy, was she “cut” (slang for “toned”: am I the only one that says that?)! What I loved was that in spite of her slightly intimidating presence, she had an absolutely adorable personality, and—off the microphone—she was very soft-spoken. She motivated me so, so much—and that was very important, considering the fact that, at age 24, I was struggling to take on my first regular physical activity of my entire life. (“My name is Melisa, and I was a Couch Potato.”) If I saw her today, I would reintroduce myself and thank her for being such an inspiration to me.

I’ve had a couple more mentors in this area, but I’ll save those stories for another post…

I found that, while enjoying my aerobics classes with Mary, I “had the beat”. That’s a very, very important element in an instructor. I can follow cues on the 32-count beat, down to 16, chopping it to 8-count, 4, and then 2. If you’ve taken aerobics classes (or slower tempoed classes, but tempoed just the same), you’ll know what I’m talking about: there is a distinctive, pulsing beat that should drive the movement of the class.

After I discovered that I could stay on the beat, I started having little thoughts of myself as an instructor. And then I pushed them down. I could never do that, right? Besides, I did not have, do not have, and will never have the stick-thin, Queen of Aerobics body. I am “blessed” (Hmmm…) with genes that require me to really, really watch what I’m doing when it comes to food as well as exercise like a Crazy Person if I want to be even moderately slender. (I don’t think I’ve been slender since I was a High School Senior: and even then, though “slender” for me, I was heavier than all my friends!)

A few years later, while enjoying classes at the long-time club I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I started thinking about instructing group fitness again. By this time, Spinning had come along and I really, really enjoyed that. Although I was slightly intimidated by teaching an aerobics class—something where I would have to prance my whole body around in the front of a mirrored, florescent-lit studio in front of a hopefully large group of people—Spinning (or Group Cycling), though very, very physically demanding, didn’t require me to be “out there” in the “Bright Lights, Big City” of it all.

I put it off again though, because I was taking my good friend’s classes four or five days each week, and I was happy with that. When she left the club and we had a falling-out around the same time, I made up my mind. I asked to take over her classes since I knew all of the people in them, and I started working on my certifications.

I earned my Schwinn Group Cycling Certification in 2004 and then my A.C.E. Group Fitness Instructor Certification, and I’ve been teaching (I started with low-impact aerobics and resistance classes along with group cycling, but now I just cycle) ever since. Obviously it’s great to get paid to exercise. Truth be told though, I usually get a better workout when I take someone else’s class because there’s that element of surprise in being told what to do instead of doing the telling. My real blessing here is a huge combination of getting paid for doing what I love, exercising, being with fun people, and hopefully inspiring others to be active.

I love when I set somebody up on their bike for the first time and then, after a rip-roaring class in which I see them smiling but obviously not wanting to draw attention to themselves so I would call them out personally (I never tease and taunt people I don’t know VERY well), they come to tell me how much they enjoyed the environment my friends and I create, and then before I know it, they’re one of my regulars.

I’ve had a few moments though, that test my self esteem even though they weren’t meant to. On a couple of occasions, people have approached me after class and expressed how much they liked it, and then continued to say…


I hate typing it…

“I’m so glad that a normal looking person is teaching a class here.”


“I’m so glad you’re not real skinny.”

Ick. I really, really don’t even like typing that.

When I hear that, I smile and nod and finish up the conversation gracefully, and then I have a few minutes of being upset within myself because I am a group fitness instructor that doesn’t fit the mold of a typical group fitness instructor, quite literally.

But then, I remember the advice that I give my class on a regular basis: “It’s all mental. Mind over matter!” I think about the comments and, hey, the comments are true! I’m NOT skinny. I AM normal looking. Heck, these poor people are trying to compliment me! What is wrong with me that I can’t immediately see that? Most women in the US are not a size 0. Most women don’t look like the celebrities that are on all the magazine covers. What I remember is that I can out-spin almost anybody I come into contact with. I’m fit, I’m healthy, and overall although I have weight to lose (and I’m working on it), I am happy with myself overall. So there, right?


And so, I just keep on doing what I’m doing: having fun doing what I love and hopefully inspiring others to move, just like Mary did for me.


  • Melissa

    And that my dear is what we call good body image. It’s so hard for woman to grasp they can be a little overweight and still be healthy and live a fulfilling life. I’m working on it myself. I’d love to try spinning but I’m afraid I might kill myself.

  • Patty

    I wish your trained at my gym. I’m scared of the spinning class…the claustrophobic room and just no being able to keep up with everyone. Maybe one day I’ll try it.

  • Andie

    Yep. It dawned on me this year… that I may not be super thin, but I’m healthy and I’m happy with myself. I don’t have to look stick thin to be happy with myself! it’s really a liberating feeling, isn’t it?

    and one of my very best friends is a spinning instructor as well. Spinning freaks me out though. I never tried it. Honestly, i ilked relaxing exercise… spinning doesn’t fit that category- yoga, pilates, strolling around the mall and shopping- that’s my sort of exercise! 😉

  • The Microblogologist

    Ah the slightly back handed compliment! My nemesis is the “I’m going to put myself down in complimenting you”, I HATE those so much. They tend to make me feel sad/guilty for the person and self-conscience because it is drawing attention to my being scrawny. People need to think a bit more before they speak, and you are fabulous!