By TONY ADAMStadams@ledger-enquirer.com
Staying fit and helping other people do the same is Jillian McLachlan’s life and passion. And you can find her regularly at the John P. Thayer YMCA in downtown Columbus, leading classes that put folks in a solid position to reach their goals of good health and energy.
McLachlan, 31, also is in demand at the D.A. Turner YMCA in Columbus, as well as the gyms on the campuses of TSYS and Aflac. She’s been in the fitness arena since 2008 and holds an exercise science degree from Columbus State University.It is group fitness instructors like McLachlan, a Louisiana native, that YMCA fitness director Heather Franklin says are invaluable and will be sought out by the exercise crowd in January, invariably a time when many come in fresh to fulfill New Year’s resolutions.
Franklin’s primary piece of advice for all looking to get in shape or maintain a healthy body is to find the proper balance to avoid physical and mental fatigue and walking away from the gym for good.
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“It’s not just coming once or twice a week and checking it off your list,” Franklin said. “It’s making it a part of your lifestyle, and doing something almost everyday is what we say. That doesn't mean it has to be an intense workout everyday, because that’s when you get burnt out.”
There are days when you need to take it a little bit easier to keep the metabolism moving, she says, possibly doing several light physical activities instead of a single vigorous one. That can include a 15-minute walk, going to the gym for a few minutes, or maybe waking up in the morning and doing some yoga or deep stretching.
Fitness instructors and personal trainers will remain in demand for the foreseeable future. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be a need for 33,500 more through the year 2020, on top of the 267,000 already working.The Ledger-Enquirer visited with McLachlan recently at the downtown YMCA to talk about her job and its benefits for both her and those taking classes, as well as avoiding the no-pain, no-gain mentality.
First, what’s the difference between an instructor versus a personal trainer?With personal training, you’re with one or maybe two people at a time, and it’s very specific to their needs. Some people want to focus on cardio. Some want to focus on strength or learn how to swim with some pool exercises.Whereas with group fitness, we have set types of classes where one class is lifting weights, and maybe one class is body combat, where you’re punching and kicking and acting like you’re beating up somebody. So the instructor has a set plan and you come in the class and follow that plan.How large can classes get? I presume after the new year they will grow?They do. Some of it is people who have just fallen off (their routines) during the holidays. Some of it’s new people that come in. Probably 30 or 40 is about as big as the classes get. In the evening, you kind of get your bigger rush of people.
Is it the bigger the better for class sizes or do you prefer smaller ones?It’s really neat. With a smaller group, you get to almost individualize and focus more on each person. With the bigger classes, they tend to have more energy, and sometimes they give more feedback and stuff. So it’s fun to teach different times, then you get different groups of people. People that do 6 a.m. have a certain different mindset than people who like to work out at 6 p.m., usually after work.
Classes at the YMCA are at various times all day long?We usually have 6 a.m. classes, then we do a mid-morning, 9 or 10ish. Then we do a lunchtime, 11 or 12, and then you have a little gap in the afternoon and it picks back up at 5 or 6 o’clock.
It’s flexible with your preferences? How does scheduling work?What we have here are quarterly schedules. Every three months, we let our boss know when we’re available to teach classes and she kind of fills in the spots. So it’s up to us to say when we want to teach. Some people never like 6 a.m. (laughs)You’re an early riser?Yep, I do 6 a.m. classes, I do evening classes, daytime. I’m all over the place.
For many instructors, this is like an extra job for them?Yep. I always describe this as my fun job. Right now I don’t have another job. This is my only one.
What primary occupations can blend in with part-time fitness teaching?Anything. I used to work for a police department. I wasn't a cop; I did inside statistical work. I worked construction. We have some people who are teachers, work at banks, social work. You can be anything. We’re forced to work out because we have to teach class, but we have fun with it. You worked in construction?I did a little bit, yeah. I worked for an engineering firm, more of supervisor-type stuff. I wasn't outdoors with the hammer and nails and everything. We just checked to make sure the work was actually done.
What’s life like for an instructor and what goes through your head when you’re giving classes?Everything. (laughs) Our lifestyle is we listen to music all the time because our classes are music-based. Some of it is you have music set to a certain tempo and you follow new moves that way.And then we have some classes, like body pump and body combat, that are pre-choreographed for us. The songs have exact moves that go with them. You don’t really stray from that. So our brain is going through remembering the moves that we have to say to correct peoples’ form and make sure that they’re safely doing exercise.And then it’s just having fun with it — getting the class involved, asking them questions in the middle of class, having them hoot and holler, say “ow!” if they need to
Do you have to be able to read people a little bit and make sure they’re doing OK, and maybe tell them to take it easy at times?Yep. We give them options to where if you are super-high intense and want to go 110 percent, you can do that. If you’re a beginner or coming off an injury, you may need to take it to a lower level, maybe with no impact like jumping in the air.There’s options for everyone. That’s the big thing. We always have to go through the different options and make people understand they don’t have to go all out, all the time.
Do you have safety or medical knowledge?We all have to be CPR-trained in our group fitness certification. That’s on a general basis for that. But if you do have extra (medical) background, it helps, because people in class come up with all sorts of questions about aches and pains in different places (of their bodies).
You mentioned music. Do you like a particular type of music for classes?It’s a mix. There are all kinds of music. We go from hip hop to rock music, and they put different beats and tempos to it, and kind of do remixes with some songs.
Have you used Meaghan Trainor’s song and runaway YouTube hit, “All About That Bass”?(laughs) No, we haven’t used that. But that’s a very catchy one. It’s definitely a good one.
Do you have to be a motivator as a fitness instructor?Some, yeah. It’s very different for different people. Some (instructors) do a lot of yelling and screaming, and not in a mean way. It’s just the louder you get, the more the class gets louder and maybe feeds off of you.Some people just need more of a quiet push, and you have to say it in different ways. You get to know your members. Some of them you can look at them and say: Hey, you can lift heavier weight than that. Don’t slack today. And they’ll take it and they’re like alright, and it pushes them. Other people don’t want that in-your-face approach.
You have to be able to get a feel for folks?Uh-huh. So it takes a little time to get to know the crowd.
Is Columbus a fit town? Can you tell at all with your classes and the number of people coming in?That’s a really good question.
After all, we’re in the Deep South and eat fried foods?Everything’s stuffed and deep fried, right. (chuckles) I don’t know, we tend to get the same faces, just because we tend to have the same hobbies, like this (working out) is our main hobby. I would say it’s a select few people I see. I’ll see people in sporting goods stores, but it’s kind of the same circles that we run in.
What are the qualities for a good fitness instructor if someone would like to explore this job?First, in order to do it, if you've never taken group classes, that’s where you start. Get a feel for it, and then find where you think you would like to teach.There are some classes — like I love to take spin class — but I don’t feel like I could stay with my feet moving that fast and be able to instruct. So I don’t instruct that type of class.Weights is my comfortable spot. I've always lifted weights; that’s what I started with. It’s barbell weights, smaller ones, not like the bigger ones you see.
What’s next after figuring out what type of exercise class you would like to lead?Once you get in there and find what you like, you get your group certification. Or if you need something like body pump, body combat, sh’bam we have now, or Silver Sneakers, you have to get certified in that specific program. So you go on a weekend and get trained by someone in that program specifically.
Can certifications be hard to obtain?It just depends on your background. You have to, one, not mind speaking in front of people. And you have to be able to multitask big time because you have to know the music in your mind, know the moves that you’re going to do, be able to tell people how to move their body and set it up safely, and perform the moves all at the same time, telling them how to do each move. So there’s a lot going on in your brain.(Fitness instructing) is a full-time second job, and you've got to love it. If you’re not sure you want to do it or not, I would almost sway on the ‘not’ side. Just stick with taking classes because it’s a lot of time and a lot of work.
The classes here last how long?Most classes we have here at the YMCA are 55 minutes to an hour. The spinning class is 45 minutes.
How often do most people come?I would say that most people are looking at four times a week. You have people who are part of the evening crowd. They’re usually four days a week, and they come during the week and take the weekends off. And then we have some people that come multiple times a day and they’re here six days a week.
As a fitness instructor you have to stay in shape yourself and avoid injury?Uh-huh, try to.
Is that hard to do at times?It happens sometimes. We have injuries, or you sleep wrong and your back’s tweaked a little bit or something. You still teach. And you’re honest with your class, and tell them: Hey, I’m having an issue today, or my knee is bothering me. We have plenty of that with instructors.So we just pull back and show (those taking the classes) that it’s OK to not go 100 percent every time. You can still be here and do stuff. Just listen to your body.
Where do you go from here? Is there a career stepping stone for a trainer?You can move up to be like a fitness coordinator, where you’re the boss over all group fitness. That person kind of sets the schedules, makes sure everything’s running smoothly and the equipment’s OK and stuff like that. But for most people, this is it, it’s the peak. And it’s not their full-time job.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of your fitness work?My biggest thing is I like to try to help people find what they love about working out and then that’s why they come back.That’s why I do it. I absolutely love it. Like most jobs, if people can pick something they love, they’re going to do that and not care about the money or anything. And that’s what it is. I've always loved working out. To me, that’s just always been my fun thing, my de-stressor.But it isn't for everybody. Some people have to force themselves to be here.So if you find something you like about it ... I think that’s where group fitness helps a lot is it’s a little family. If you go to class and I don’t show up one week, someone says: Hey, where were you last week? So you kind of feel obligated. And you also get to talk often to other members and instructors.
It’s a support group?Yeah.
What’s the toughest part about being a fitness instructor?Sometimes we have rough days and we don’t want to be here, just like everybody does. But a fun saying is ‘fake it ’til you make it.’ And once I get here, once I get to the gym, even if I didn't feel like coming, I don’t have to fake it anymore. I’m here. I’m feeling good. I’m ready to teach.
Bio:Name: Jillian McLachlanAge: 31Hometown: Chalmette, La.Current residence: ColumbusEducation: 2001 graduate of Chalmette High School; attended Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La.; earned bachelor’s of science degree in exercise science from Columbus State University in 2014; has been in fitness industry since 2008 and is certified through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America; other certifications include Les Mills Body Pump, Les Mills Body Combat, Les Mills Body Attack and R.I.P.P.E.D.; also has experience teaching Boot CampFamily: Husband, Wolfgang, and a pooch named AjaxLeisure time: Hanging out with the dog and working outOf note: Favorite food is anything seafood, and she doesn't really watch televisionContact info: firstname.lastname@example.org or 504-301-8167