Fitness Instructor Dilemma: Choosing the Right Fitness Studio
Finding the right fitness setting to instruct in can be a tough choice. From the industry’s biggest fitness chains to individual studios, there are an endless amount of options to choose from. After working as a Pilates instructor and personal trainer for close to a decade, I’ve had experience at numerous settings, from big box gyms to tiny, bespoke studios. Finding the right place to instruct at is actually a lot like dating: trying out different partners, getting excited at the new prospects that inevitably don’t live up to your idealized expectations, and then quitting and starting all over again. To save you time and heartache, here are the pros and cons of working at corporate and indie studios that I’ve learned over the course of my career.
Corporate: Ah, the dark side of fitness. If you’ve already worked a corporate job and quit to teach fitness, the idea of teaching in a corporate franchise might make your skin crawl. In a corporate setting, you can expect the mandatory meetings, dress codes, and long lists of instructing dos and don’ts (probably a very long list of the don’ts). There may be plenty of rules and may not be a lot of creative wiggle room. These studios are often franchises that need to maintain uniformity across hundreds of storefronts. On the plus side, they typically have well-oiled infrastructures and the funding to create innovative workouts and marketing strategies. Many corporate studios also provide their instructors with continuing education and incentivized bonuses. Usually these studios will offer instructor levels that can be climbed based on experience and continuing education certifications, which can mean an increase in compensation. In other words, you can expect to get paid more.
Corporate might work if: you’re a rule follower who values streamlined processes and upward mobility.
Run far away if: you’re a free spirit who fancies him/herself an independent thinker and detests being told what to do.
Indie: Indie doesn’t mean your interests in vinyl or oat milk. It refers to boutique fitness studios with locations that number in the single digits. These studios can march to the beat of their own drum. Many value independence, community, and creativity. Working at these studios may afford instructors a wider berth to teach and wear what they want (no corporate logos here). The downside of being so informal is that sometimes things don’t run as smoothly (i.e. online scheduling, studio operations, etc). Indie studios often have less variety and flexibility in scheduling than their Goliath counterparts. And if you’re all about making a big paycheck, indie studios may disappoint with lower hourly rates.
Indie might work if: you’re an autonomous thinker who won’t miss having a corporate hierarchy to follow, and you don’t mind making less money in exchange for having a more flexible work atmosphere.
Run far away if: you want a clear path up the fitness ladder or inefficiencies make you want to pull your hair out.
In the beginning of my fitness career, I preferred indie studios. I really did enjoy being a part of smaller, inventive teams. I loved the contrast of such an informal atmosphere with the corporate career I had left. I didn’t miss the superfluous meetings and calls, the strict day to day routine that never swayed. Over time, this changed. I was tired of working with brilliant movement professionals who sometimes lacked any sense of business acumen. I found myself frustrated when facing low attendance classes, cancelled workshops, or paycheck issues. After a few years at indie studios, I craved more structure and was struggling to see how I could advance as an instructor.
I now work at a corporate fitness chain and have never been happier professionally. For me, having more rules to adhere to was a fair trade-off for a higher hourly rate and blocked scheduling. I’m no longer exhausted from working the early mornings and late evenings at small studios. I’ve been able to move up the chain as a lead instructor, mentoring other instructors, and leading workshops.
There’s a wide spectrum of studio choices to pick from. You may need to try out a couple different studios to find out which one is the best fit for you. Don’t worry if it takes time; it’s ok to ricochet around a few locations until you find the right place. It took me awhile, but I’m so glad to have had the chance to try out so many different settings.
About the Author:
Stefanie Gordon is a STOTT PILATES Level 2 certified instructor and PMA-CPT. She completed a mentorship in Pilates for Runners and Prenatal Pilates with the Kane School in NYC, and is a Pre/Postnatal Pilates Specialist and Diastasis Recti Recovery Specialist with The Center for Women's Fitness. Stefanie is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist, and is additionally trained in CoreAlign levels 1, 2, & 3. When she isn't teaching fitness, she can be found writing or spending time with her husband, daughter, and husky.