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June 2024
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From Speaking Exercises to Cardio Class

How Toastmasters helped me become a better fitness instructor.

By Hongjin Du

Woman in black sleeveless top posing with arms crossed
Hongjin Du

I was standing on the stage in a fitness studio with another instructor. My mind went completely blank as I stared at the faces in the crowd. The script I had memorized disappeared from my brain. I started doing what my muscles could still remember, completely out of sync with the music, while uttering the counts of “one, two, three, four.” After what seemed like an eternity, the music ended, and the main instructor took over. Finally, I was able to take a deep breath.

This was during my first co-teaching experience as a soon-to-be Les Mills Bodystep instructor. For the last two years, I had fallen in love with this high-energy, music-filled group fitness class. It helped me lose weight, keep fit, and stay happy. I wanted to become an instructor so more people could enjoy this fun class.

At this point, I had already completed the initial instructor training. The last requirement was to record an assessment video teaching a full 60-minute class with 12 tracks of music in front of a live group of participants. But after that first class, I knew I had a long way to go.

My Toastmasters friend Jessica Lang was in the class that day. As the former President of my home club, Shanghai Xujiahui Toastmasters Club in Shanghai, China, she congratulated me and compared my teaching experience to an Ice Breaker speech. “Just like when you go onstage for the first time to give your Ice Breaker, things may happen that aren’t what you had expected. But at least you had the courage to take the first step, and I look forward to your next class!”

Her Toastmasters analogy struck me. Maybe there are more similarities between Toastmasters and fitness class coaching. Why not use what I learned on the Toastmasters stage and apply it to the stage in the fitness studio?

As a seven-year Toastmasters member, one of the first things I learned was that to conquer the fear of public speaking, we need to take every opportunity to go onstage. It’s important to start in smaller meeting roles, like the Ah-Counter, then gradually move up to Toastmaster of the Day. Applying that same principle to Bodystep teaching, I asked different instructors if I could shadow their class and later co-teach with them, starting with the warm-up, then moving up to the harder cardio workout.

Why not use what I learned on the Toastmasters stage and apply it to the stage in the fitness studio?

In Toastmasters, we improve through feedback from our evaluators, so I asked the instructors for advice after class. Their evaluations were a good mix of encouragement and constructive feedback.

Another thing I learned in Toastmasters is that I need to record and watch my speech to improve. So I recorded every fitness class and watched the video. At first it was harder than watching my speeches. It was glaringly obvious when the participants were not following me. I discovered beats I missed, distracting movements, and places where I needed to be clearer.

As time passed, watching the videos became easier. More and more participants could follow my instructions, and I became more confident. Eventually, I practiced all 12 of the required tracks, and two months after that first teaching experience, I recorded my assessment with a group of instructors and Toastmasters friends. Two weeks later, I became a certified Bodystep instructor.

Recently, I finished teaching my 100th solo class. It is still a learning experience. I discovered there are more things in Toastmasters that can be applied to teaching Bodystep, such as how to assess the audience and adapt to their fitness levels, and how to use vocal variety and body language to make the class engaging.

My club officer experience also helped me. I started planning the combination of tracks to teach in each class, much like I planned the club meeting programs as the Vice President Education. And like the Club President does, I strive to create a positive and supportive environment for the participants.

Members from my club now visit my classes. It’s those moments that I feel proud to use what I learned in Toastmasters to make Bodystep enjoyable for them and others. If you find yourself entering a new stage, whether it’s a stage in a fitness studio or a stage in life, think about what you’ve learned on the Toastmasters stage. You might be pleasantly surprised by how many things you can apply.


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