Last year, I had the opportunity to go through the certification process of becoming a group fitness instructor and to be hired on staff at our campus gym. I have found so many aspects to this job that I have loved, including how it has affected my personal views on health. I come from a background of being a competitive dancer and playing sports for most of my life. Before college, I had an athlete’s outlook on exercise. After a certain amount of time teaching, I began to see my mindset shift in many areas surrounding health and now I’m here to share a few of the unexpected lessons I have learned on this journey.

1. Exercise should be enjoyable and there really is something for everyone.

I’ll admit, a year ago, I may have looked at Florida State University (FSU) Campus Recreation’s trademarked phrase, “Find What Moves You,” and brushed it off as a simple marketing quote. However, I have since come to know just how essential this concept is. In high school, I saw a definite divide between “practice” and “conditioning/workouts.” I didn’t consider myself to be “working out” when I was at dance for hours or playing a soccer game. I think college, in general, shifts that idea for many of us. In hindsight, it’s clearer to see that those things that didn’t feel like exercise were actually the very best types of exercise.

Humans were made to move, so first and foremost we should do what we would want to do anyway if there were no rewards or labels. This could be going on hot girl walks and listening to your favorite podcast. Maybe you enjoy stretching, hiking, swimming, biking, dancing, playing sports or lifting weights. While it is important to have goals that may require certain cardio or resistance training, there are ways to do this that you enjoy. That is where trying new things comes into play. If you enjoy or want to enjoy running and/or weights, go for it! Show up because you love it but know that the treadmill and lifting are not the only acceptable forms of working out if you feel like they are not for you. Be open-minded. Try some classes, new sports or maybe an outdoor adventure. I know from experience, you will find an outlet you love and one you look forward to fitting into your schedule.

2. Being surrounded by others can be a HUGE benefit.

Anyone who has played a team sport can attest that there is a different energy in the room when everyone is pushing themselves together compared to a solo day. The atmosphere you work out in can be just as important as your workout. Something I found myself being so grateful for in this job is having a small part in creating that atmosphere for people. I’ve seen firsthand how many people push a little harder in group settings, almost like they are doing it for the team. What people might not know is that the instructor, too, often puts more into the group workout than if they were alone out of a responsibility to the class to lead by example. It is a special feeling when everyone is pushing each other to improve and persist while still being open and accepting at individual levels. Overall, I have found group workouts of any kind give a unique opportunity to get into a flow state with the whole room. While I can definitely appreciate a good solo gym sesh, I highly recommend everyone to at least try out some sort of group activity for this reason.

3. Showing up for yourself is a win. there are no “bad” days.

Before instructing, I would consider myself a pretty consistent gym-goer. However, there were definitely days that got the better of me. Feeling tired or busy was enough of a reason to stay home. Now though, when it is my job to show up for 15-35 other people, that is not an option. This may seem surprising but those days when I was feeling super overwhelmed, stressed or sad were the most rewarding days for me to show up to work and sweat with a group of inspiring people. Endorphins are real. In my opinion, the importance of movement for mental health cannot be overstated. Of course, it is important to listen to our bodies and rest when needed, but I have found that showing up and giving that day’s best (even when it is less than normal) often helps improve my mood more than staying home ever would. Those days that I once may have labeled as “weaker” or “off,” I now see as an accomplishment simply because I can appreciate how important it is to just show up.

I have also had countless participants give feedback on how their hard day was turned around from coming to class or how much they appreciated having a safe, supportive space for an hour. That is what it is all about for me. Being an instructor has taught me about true consistency and responsibility to yourself and that even one hour of moving in a way that you love can have just as much of a positive impact on your mental health as your physical health.

FSU Campus Recreation provides many outlets to move and be active in a way you love. These include many outdoor activity opportunities, intramural and club sports, free personal training sessions for students, F45 training and, of course, a variety of group fitness classes. These can all be registered for easily on the campus rec app. Also, clubs on campus, such as CHAARG, let female students try out a variety of fitness formats in an encouraging group environment.

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