For many people, a physically demanding exercise class can be an outlet to relieve the stress of a busy workweek. But what happens when that exercise class is your workweek?
“Wednesdays are my longest workdays, which means we are going to do some crazy stuff,” Cameron Dean, an instructor at SoulCycle, said at his 7:30 p.m. class at a NoHo studio.
“My brain is mush, but my body feels great,” he added before leading his fourth class of the day — a group of 60 riders — through 45 minutes of cardio including resistance training, sprints, choreography and weight training.
Nutrition, rest, exercise and mental recovery are important for everyone, but perhaps especially so for fitness instructors, who are expected to make dozens of grueling workouts a week seem effortless — fun, even. The challenge renew yet again in the first days of a new year, when a fresh wave of people looking to make good on their resolutions floods gyms everywhere.
The mental and physical toll of this work is often invisible, but fitness instructors are very much still human beings, in need of fuel and relaxation. A look at their typical days reveals the methods and motivations of the people who motivate the rest of us.
Many people like to start their days by being physically active — which means fitness instructors have to wake up with them, too.
“I wake up between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m.,” said Michelle Ditto, the director of training and technique at Pure Barre. “I’m an early riser naturally, but in the fitness world that is something you have to get used to.”
For Lindsey Clayton, a chief instructor at Barry’s, waking up early is essential. “I wake up an hour before I have to leave,” she said. “I find that the older I get, the more time I need to give to myself.”
Bethany Prostano, head instructor at the Orangetheory in Manhattan’s financial district, has worked out a routine with her husband, who is also an instructor at Orangetheory.
On days when classes start at 6, Ms. Prostano said, they typically get up at 3:50 a.m. “We get to wake up at the same time, which is super, super helpful,” she said.
Caffeine is a big part of the daily routine for many instructors.
“I live and breathe and die by coffee,” said Ms. Prostano.
Getting Those Reps In
Though their jobs often require them to teach more than a dozen classes a week, many instructors exercise on their own time as well.
“SoulCycle is a workout, but it isn’t my workout,” said Mr. Dean, who goes to the gym for personal reasons five or six times a week. “I lift because it is a passion of mine, but it also supplements my riding. Lifting helps me feel stronger on the bike.”
Shelby Adina, a yoga instructor and founder of Khona Fitness & Wellness, prioritizes her own workouts as a form of self-care. “It has made one of the biggest impacts in my life, just really serving myself first,” Ms. Adina said. “When I go to the gym, I am lifting and weight training.”
“I always feel better when I move my own body for myself,” Ms. Ditto said. “A lot of misconception can creep in when people will say, ‘Oh, you teach fitness, you just work out all day long.’ But I need to focus on myself to reap those benefits.”
Beyond physical rest, Mr. Dean said, emotional and mental decompression is the most important type of recovery in his line of work.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the spikes in emotional stamina and then the deep, deep drop-off that comes an hour after class,” he said.
For Ms. Adina, some fairly simple actions are important in bolstering recovery.
“I love saying positive affirmations — when my energy is down, just really stepping in front of the mirror and hyping myself and being my biggest cheerleader,” she said. “That gets me amped up for the day, and also it is really essential in my recovery process because it gets my head back into the game.”
When the music is off, the machines have stopped whirring, and exercise clothes have been replaced with pajamas, even the most intense instructors wind down in ways their students could find relatable.
Ms. Clayton ends her day by cooking dinner with her wife and turning on reality television for some cozy comfort. “The day is long,” she said. “I just want to relax.”
Mr. Dean’s evenings are similar.
“I’m home usually by 8, and then I make dinner,” he said. “And then my fiancé and I just chill, hang with the dogs, watch Bravo.”