- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 6, 2007

Kursten Wood wants to help people get in shape. The 24-year-old Arlington resident enjoyed taking exercise classes so much that she decided to learn to teach them.

Since the end of January, the instructor-in-training at Gold’s Gym locations in Arlington has been team-teaching with more experienced instructors, until she completes her certification.

“I was up for a new challenge, to earn some extra cash and meet new people,” Miss Wood says. “It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of practice. Overall, it’s a ton of fun.”

Learning to become a fitness instructor is not as easy as it may look. Instructors must meet the standards of local gyms, and training requirements vary from gym to gym.

The instructor’s certification depends on the exercise format, says Beverly Brown, group exercise director at the Bailey’s Crossroads and Rosslyn Gold’s Gyms in Arlington.

For freestyle exercise classes, step classes and cardio kick boxing, Gold’s Gym recognizes certification from the American Council on Exercise based in San Diego, and the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America based in Sherman Oaks, Calif.

Gold’s Gym also recognizes certification by Les Mills, which has its mid-Atlantic offices in Nottingham, Md. Miss Wood is finishing the training for Bodypump, a 60-minute barbell class that strengthens the entire body using squats, presses, lifts and curls.

All yoga instructors are required to attend a 200-hour training program and be certified by Yoga Alliance based in Clinton, Md. Instructors in every field must be certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

It is the instructors’ responsibility to keep their certifications current, Ms. Brown says. Once a year, she reviews all of her instructors. She wants instructors to be confident and have bright personalities. They should be able to teach people of all skill levels and help their clients stay safe.

“I audition everybody,” Ms. Brown says. “I don’t care how many years of experience they have. I want to see them teach.”

Instructors should be prepared for every class, especially by memorizing the choreography, says Susan Hinsdale, a group fitness instructor at Gold’s Gym locations in Arlington. She has been teaching for 18 years.

She has a group fitness certification through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America. She also has received training with Les Mills.

“You have to stay abreast of the current fitness industry in magazines, continuing your education,” Ms. Hinsdale says. “You have to be perceived by your participants as someone who knows what they are doing.”

She encourages other instructors to be themselves and practice, practice, practice.

“You can’t take on the personality of anyone else when you’re teaching,” Ms. Hinsdale says. “I’m innately shy. I’ve had to overcome that.”

Charisma is a key characteristic in any fitness instructor, says Allyson Donnelly, director of the group exercise program at Washington Sports Clubs in the D.C. area, which is a part of the Town Sports International network of clubs.

An instructor needs six months to a year of experience before Miss Donnelly will consider him or her for an audition, she says.

“You can have the most knowledge in the world,” Miss Donnelly says. “If you can’t make the class fun, you are not someone who will be valuable as an instructor. You don’t want to be all personality and no substance, but you want to find a balance between the two.”

A primary group exercise certification is a good foundation for many other exercise fields, says Jodai Saremi, managing editor of American Fitness magazine, the trade journal for Aerobics and Fitness Association of America in Los Angeles.

She has a doctorate in podiatric medicine. She is a certified fitness instructor in multiple specialties and a certified personal trainer.

“When you want to teach a specific course type, such as step aerobics or kick boxing, you usually take a one- or two-day course to be certified in the field that includes being tested in a practical sense,” Ms. Saremi says. “You have to show the master trainers that you can teach. Before they will give you a certificate, there is usually a written exam, too.”

When Ms. Saremi studied for her certifications, the toughest part was learning the choreography, she says.

“You have to know your music,” Ms. Saremi says. “You have to know what is coming next and be familiar with the workout itself.”

For most people, she says, the toughest part usually is learning the human anatomy. Learning anatomy helps instructors explain why their clients are doing a certain exercise and what muscles they are using. By learning about metabolism and diet, an instructor can safely advise class members. The client should not be at risk when participating in a fitness class.

Mastering the skill of talking while exercising is extremely important, Ms. Saremi says. It should become second nature to instruct class members while doing the choreography.

“If you’re a good instructor, you’re telling people how to perfect their form,” Ms. Saremi says. “You spot people and say, ‘Suck in your belly. Lift your knee straight up.’ It’s a matter of being familiar enough with your format and the workout you’ve put together.”

The Aerobics and Fitness Association of America also coaches people in the legal and business aspects of being a fitness instructor. Instructors should act professionally and know how to communicate with physicians, health professionals and insurance companies.

When creating a curriculum for certification, interviewing professionals in the field helps to identify a list of critical tasks that students should master, says Cedric Bryant, who has a doctorate in physiology and is chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise in San Diego.

Therefore, the tests created by the American Council on Exercise can successfully determine a minimal level of competency for up-and-coming instructors, he says.

“Certification is really the foundational building block to becoming a professional,” Mr. Bryant says. “Training helps to ensure that the individuals out there serving the public actually have the requisite knowledge and skill to safely provide that service. We want to protect the public from unqualified or ineffective trainers.”

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