As a Gyrotonic® and Gyrokinesis® Master Trainer and a Pilates Teacher Trainer I have the opportunity to meet a lot of trainers, studio owners, and other Master Trainers from all over the country and all over the world. Because our work is fairly specialized and somewhat unusual we tend to befriend each other and open up quickly, as not everyone in our lives understands truly what it is that we do. In meeting all these talented, dedicated people, the majority of whom are women, similar themes keep arising in their stories. These leaders and role models of the mind body fitness industry, these whole food eating, meditating, regular exercisers are very often actually pretty sick.
Among my friends and colleagues in the industry a seemingly disproportionate number of us experience symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, adrenal fatigue, hormonal issues, autoimmune diseases, and just overwhelming, generalized fatigue. Among my trainer friends there are serval who are recovering from various cancers (keep in mind as you read, I do not at all mean to imply they are at all to blame for their cancers because of lifestyle choices they have made, there are many environmental and hereditary factors involved). In many of these cases the onset or flare up of these issues have coincided with periods of prolonged, elevated stress.
I myself have had at least two serious instances of what I can see now was stress induced illness, primarily due to the nature and intensity of my work. And even with the recognition of the consequences of my tendency toward overworking I still fall into the same trap repeatedly.Why is this happening to us? Here are some of the biggest contributing factors I see
We have a really skewed perception of “full time”is for our industry. As trainers of private clients and group classes full time should really only be 25 hours, 30 max. Why? In addition to our client hours, for which we are paid (unless, of course you’re a studio owner, in which case you may not get paid for teaching hours at all) we may also have prep time for classes, material review, research on the injuries or dysfunctions of our clients, scheduling, phone calls, emails, and texts to answer, client file notes to write, as well as professional reading. In a 9-5 desk job these tasks would generally be done during compensated “work” hours. For most of us these are unpaid hours tacked onto our daily and weekly work loads.
One on one sessions, group classes, and teacher training courses require a high energy output. I think we often underestimate the amount of focus we give our individual clients during their sessions and how draining this can be. Teaching eight private sessions a day, five to six days a week will quickly leave a trainer depleted. Group classes require still another sort of focus, as you try to address the needs of several clients simultaneously, while keeping them all safe, challenged, and entertained. We often enjoy our work so deeply and are energized by it on one level, so we might not noticed the ways in which its slowly draining us on another.
We need the money! This work is feast or famine, ebb and flow, and not always predictable. The panic of a slow period, when clients may be away for the holidays or at their summer cottages, can cause us to overcommit for the months that follow.
We love our work and can’t say no. I’m very guilty of this one. I get super excited about invitations to teach courses, or creating a day of Master Classes because students have requested it and I do happen to have one Sunday open in April where I could just squeeze it in. Students request courses after I’ve “finalized” my teacher training schedule for the year and I use up my last free weekend to fit in just one more. This past autumn I worked myself until I was completely run down when I had to finish the last of five Pilates manuals I had enthusiastically agreed to write, so it would be done in time to get to the editor and then the printer before the course started. I finished it on on a train from Frankfurt to Freiburg, on my way to still another course, which leads to the next point…
Our work often requires travel, which is fun but exhausting. While this is more of an issue for Master Trainers or teacher trainers, who travel to teach courses, many trainers do a good bit of traveling for continuing education. This is a great perk of our industry, but we have to recognize the toll it takes on our energy reserves.
So what do we do about it? I’m still working on this and will be the first to admit I don’t always take my own advice, but I have had times when I’ve hit that sweet spot of productivity and free time. Even just a month or so, when it all feels balanced and manageable. Here are some tactics that have worked for me (and which I am currently in the process of re-implementing).
Always have a day off. Every week. Maybe even two. You need the down time. You may think that days off are for wussies, but they’re not. Even you, super-trainer-extraordinaire, need a break. And you teach better when you’re refreshed, trust me.
Set your maximum workload and don’t schedule anything that will exceed that. This is not what you probably could teach, rather, what after careful consideration you’ve concluded you actually should be teaching. Do this for your daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly schedules. Maybe Wednesday is your crazy long day where you hit your absolute maximum, but then Thursday had best be a light day when you can fit in a walk in the woods or spend some good time with friends or family.
Make your household budget based on your leaner income months, stick to it and put any extra that comes in into an emergency fund and/or a “dry month” fund. This way you know you’ve got your expenses and spending covered each month and won’t be tempted to take on extra workload every time an opportunity presents itself.
Sleep. You know this. You’re a fitness professional. But we often neglect this basic, crucial key to our health and wellbeing. Set your bedtime so that it allows you your full night’s sleep before you need to be up in the morning. And then defend that bedtime against anything or anyone that encroaches upon it. And for traveling, I have a sort of wedge shaped travel pillow that sits on the tray table on the plane and lets me lean forward into it and actually sleep on flights. I even managed to sleep through most of a flight from LA to China with it and actually felt pretty refreshed when I arrived. That may not be the travel sleep hack for you, but consider what might be helpful to you, such as a day off when you return before going back to work.
Remember, your clients love you and want what’s best for you! The relationship between regular clients and their trainers is a pretty special one. We care about them and they care about us, too. If you need to adjust your schedule in a way that effects them so you can get home to have more time with your kid after school, or need to drop your Saturday sessions so you can have some downtime they will probably be more understanding than you think.
You might prep them a couple weeks in advance of a big schedule overhaul, saying something like “I’m realizing I’m working too hard and it’s effecting my health/family-life/kid/(whatever it may be for your situation). I’m looking at ways I can reorganize my schedule to take better care of myself”. This way, when you do have to move them to a different time slot, or maybe even transition them to another trainer, they’re less likely to see it as an inconvenience and will probably feel good about being able to be supportive of you. If they’re unpleasant or overly upset over it they may actually be one of the energy drains in your week and you’re probably better off focusing your time on you more positive clients.
It may be challenging to make these changes, in fact I know it’s hard because I’ve struggled with it throughout my 22 years of teaching. But it’s critical that we take care of ourselves to prevent excessive stress, burnout, and the health problems that follow, so that we can have fulfilling, prosperous, and sustainable careers for the long haul.
Have you experienced some of these issues? What are the challenges you face in staying healthy and balanced in your career? Have you come up with solutions that work for you? Let me know in the comments!