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The Nova Scotia Fitness Association is a non-profit organization.

10,000 Hours = Professional Expertise

21 Jun 2019 10:43 AM | Kaycie Lane (Administrator)

There is value in reminding your clients that you are a fitness professional

Now, most of us who have been consistently teaching in the fitness industry do consider ourselves professional.  How could we not?  Between the hours of prep time, the recruitment of clients, and the hours in the gym, we’ve put in the time to get really good at what we do.  But not everyone recognizes us as professionals; in fact, they may not understand how much work it takes to be a fitness instructor or personal trainer, and will not know the difference between our paragraphs of certifications and someone who is just really good at weight lifting or dancing or running.

That can be frustrating.  To say the least.

And unfortunately, if we don’t self-promote, it won’t get any better.

But here’s something to think about.

People like statistics.  No, really, they do! Not many people like to do statistics, but most people like to quote statistics.  Case in point: the number of followers you have on Instagram or how many people have completed the same marathon as you.  People like to get an idea, numerically, where they stand in comparison to the rest of the world.  They like to know that they are paying for professional services, the really good quality stuff. 

So here’s what you’re going to do: figure out how many hours you have dedicated to the fitness industry.

Malcolm Gladwell, the author of Outliers: The Story of Success, dedicates an entire chapter of his book to specifically looking at how much time it takes someone to become an expert in their field.  He looks at Bill Gates and Mozart, to name drop only two of his case studies.  What did his research show?  The magic number is 10,000 hours.

Let me say that again.  Ten. Thousand. Hours.

Now before you tell me that’s a super high and unreasonable number, consider this example of a group fitness instructor.

To be a group fitness instructor, first, you have to get certified.  Let’s use the NSFA’s model here (shameless self-promotion ahead) to figure it out.

Step One: Exercise Theory

You spend 3, eight-hour days learning anatomy, basic exercise principles and tips to be successful.  You write a 2 hour exam.  Twenty-six hours.  (You should have a calculator on hand, this is an interactive blog post).  You can also factor in some (honest) study time as well.

Step Two: Group Exercise Leader

Now we get into your speciality.  You do two, 8-hour days in the classroom plus a two hour exam.  Then you have a practical: a one hour class you teach to prove you know what you’re doing.  Do you just go in and teach?  Um, no.  You practice.  And practice.  And practice.  I remember taking 2-3 hours, Monday thru Friday in the three weeks leading up to my exam to pick music, get ideas, and practice choreography and fine tune my class.  I will freely admit to being a perfectionist, but even if you aren’t, by the time you finish this exam you will have put in anywhere from 50-75 hours to just get certified.

Step Three: The Actual Job – Teaching

Okay, you’re certified and ready to go!  Now what?  Oh, right, more practice.  Whether you had a job lined up or have to sub for the first couple months, you’ll need to practice to get good at what you teach.  There’s no way around it: if you want people to keep coming back, you have to deliver content they enjoy.  That content is different class to class too.

Let’s do a hypothetical five-year trajectory.

Year One – you pick up one class of your own and you sub 1-2 classes a week from September to May.  If you add in an hour of practice 2 days a week, in the first year you’ll have …. I told you this is interactive, where is your calculator???  Fine I’ll give you this one.  Low Range: 160 hours.  High range: 320 hours.

Year Two – You’re getting noticed now for your great classes.  You have three of your own classes, you sub 1-2 classes a week, year round and you’re practicing even more, 3 days a week for an hour to learn your new formats.  Low range: 364 hours.  High range: 728 Hours.

Year Three – Established! People know you and they keep coming back.  You teach 4-6 classes a week, year round.  Subbing is tougher with your busy schedule but you still try to sub once a week once in a while.  You don’t practice as much as before because, let’s face it, you know your stuff but you still clock in 1-2 hours a week getting new ideas, listening to new music, etc.  Low range: 320 hours.  High range: 446 hours.

Now, in years four and five you have two options: keep doing the same as Year Three (we call this “steady-state” in the engineering world), or you can be an overachiever and keep going (this would be “exponential growth”.  At least until your body very firmly tells you, “stop, you nutcase”).  If you are steady-state, just add your number from year three two more times to your total.  If you are an overachiever, here is your formula:

Hours of teaching = (# of classes per week * weeks per year) + (# of classes subbed per week * #of weeks per year) + (# of hours of practice per week * weeks per year)

Didn’t think you’d have to do math again, did you?  Hint: if you count beats in your group fitness classes, you are doing math. 

Did you do the calculation?

**Impatiently waits for reader to calculate hours**

Okay, so in my year four and five, I was an overachiever.  My number was: 1,486 hours over year four and five.

Now let’s total it all up.  If you were on the low range of my estimates and you were “steady-state”, in five years you have built up a total of 1,560 hours.  If you were on the high end and an overachiever, in five years, you’ve built up a total of 3,076 hours. 

But wait, you say.  Miss Blogger, you said we need 10,000 hours to be a professional.  Yes, dear reader, I sort of did say that.  And I stand by it.  Because if you read closely, I said expert, not just professional.

Think about all of the things I did not include.  Conferences.  Workshops.  All those events you go to to get CECs.  Classes you attend to watch other instructors.  And remember, this is only five years.  This year, NSFA turns thirty (Happy Birthday to us!) and guess what?  Some instructors have been with us for all thirty years.

All 30 years.  Can we get a round of applause?

So if you’ve done this for 30 years, you definitely have 10,000 hours of expertise (go ahead, check my math), most likely more.

What does this boil down to?  Well, Malcolm Gladwell does not define a professional, he defines an expert.  Professional expertise = 10,000 hours.  Being a professional?  Well, I’ll let you decide.  Remember, this is an interactive blog post.  The point is, as fitness instructors and professionals, we put in the hours, the sweat, and maybe some blood and tears, to be what we are.  Your clients and participants deserve to know that number, the number of hours you have taken to get better at your craft.  Own the fact that you are a fitness professional.  Even if you are in year one, and haven’t cracked 100 hours, you still have more knowledge and experience that someone who hasn’t. 

And who knows?  Ten thousand hours is probably a lot closer than you think.

Like this blog post?  Tell us how many hours you have as a fitness professional!  Tag us on Facebook or Instagram @nsfitnessassociation  Check out the book: Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell if you are curious. @malcolmgladwell

Happy 30th Anniversary NSFA!


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