How to Give Constructive Feedback to a Fitness Instructor

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Some people say that those who can't do, teach. But in reality, those who can't teach also teach! If you've ever taken a fitness class or invested in a personal training package, you may have encountered a bad fitness instructor or personal trainer. Sometimes they play weird music. Other times they call you out or embarrass you in front of others. And occasionally, the workouts they lead are just plain bad, boring, or downright dangerous. Poor experiences like these do more than ruin your workout session—they affect your wallet and your motivation to go back to the gym again. Instead of stewing about it or vowing never to return to that 6 p.m. Spinning class (despite the fact that it's the most convenient class for you), I have a five-minute fix that can help.

It's simple: Offer feedback. It only takes a few minutes of your time, and it helps you deal with the situation directly. You don't have to be mean or malicious, either. I've worked as a personal trainer and a fitness instructor for several years and the constructive criticism from my students and clients helped shape me into the instructor that I am today. I always welcome feedback. In fact, I tell everyone at the end of every class to come to me if they have any questions or general feedback to share. And even though it's not always what I want to hear, I still appreciate and respond to the concerns of others. After all, I get paid to lead a workout for them, and I want them to enjoy it and be successful. Like any employee, I want to improve and do a good job.

Now, you might be nervous about providing feedback, especially if it's negative. No one likes confrontation. So I'm going to share with you a few tips that will make the conversation go more smoothly, so that both you and the instructor/trainer can feel good about it.

  1. Speak privately. If you're giving feedback to a class instructor, do so after the class is over and be somewhat discreet. Introduce yourself if you haven't already and be friendly.
  2. Start with the positive. Begin with something nice, no matter how small. Say that you like the music, the workout variety, or even the instructor's energy or attitude. Then move into the rest of your feedback.
  3. Be constructive, not critical. It's all about framing your feedback in a way that sounds helpful and suggestive, not angry or condescending. If the music bothers you, let the person know that you like the class, but would appreciate a little more variety in the music. Be as specific as you need to be. "I don't like rap lyrics," for example, or "Sometimes the music is so loud that I can't concentrate or hear what you're saying." If you're confused about whether you're doing something correctly or not, ask a specific question, but mention that sometimes the instructor isn't very clear when it comes to describing the moves. If segments of the class are too easy or too hard, ask how you can modify them to suit your level, and mention that you'd appreciate it if the instructor let people know about those choices during class, too.
  4. End on a good note. Thank the instructor for the class and for listening to your feedback.

If you make your concerns known, but don't notice any changes, I suggest bringing it up one more time before you talk to the group fitness coordinator or training manager at the gym. Chances are, you might not be the only person who has had a bad experience. But unless you—and others—speak up, no one will ever know that you're unhappy, confused, or bothered by a class or training experience.

That said, I also recommend that you provide positive feedback, even if you don't have anything negative to say. It's positive reinforcement for an instructor to hear that you enjoy their classes and teaching style. And if you have a stellar experience, tell the manager, too. That will ensure that the instructor or class you enjoy stays put, and increase the chances that they'll add more like it to the schedule.

No one—especially a paying gym member—should have to suffer through classes or training sessions that don't meet their needs. Next time you have an opinion, whether good or bad, speak up! Five minutes of your time could result in big changes that help you get fit, stay motivated and have more fun in the process!

Have you ever had a horrible experience in a fitness class or personal training session? Have you ever confronted an instructor or trainer and told them what you really thought? If so, what happened?

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CHUNCHIU 4/23/2021
dig and kick kick at 2000 pound punch at 3000 pound two chair workout carpet cover the all floor at home Report
CECELW 4/5/2021
ive never done memberships Report
YMWONG22 10/18/2020
Thank you for the info Report
NEPTUNE1939 9/6/2020
ty Report
VHAYES04 9/5/2020
Ty Report
ELSCO55 8/4/2020
Nice Report
Awesome...thanks!! Report
I’ve never corrected a fitness instructor. Report
I have NEVER had a fitness instructor! Report
good info Report
ive never had any memberships anywhere Report
Excellent article. Thanks. Report
Thanks for the information. Report
Sorry... app is acting up. We wore regulation t shirts, anonly four colours !!!! It was a learning experience and what I learned was that each workout was different. And the members often drove the programming. Report
Performance snd music were huge issues as was your apoearance. One facility has rules for Report
Where I taught over the years we had regular instructor meetings, update sessions, guest master trainers, and formal evaluations.
Perfo. Report
Thank you Report
What about when the aerobics room is so small or there are so many patrons they're wall to wall and you can barely move? Is that a management issue or instructors issue?
I was a fitness/aerobics instructor for almost 25 years. I totally appreciated student feedback. I bought music and developed choreography based on feedback. What I didn't appreciate was the person who did not care for my class and made a public spectacle while I was trying to teach. I knew I couldn't please everyone; however, I felt this person's behavoir was rude to the other 25 people trying to get a workout. Mz. disgruntled aerobicizor easily could have told me to my face what she didn't like about my class as well as complained to my boss. I can take that. She didn't need to be rude to my patrons week after week though. Report
It's like any difficult have to use "I" messages. "I" need this to make it work for me. Go into the conversation by sharing your needs, instead of criticizing. Makes a difference in your later relationship. Report
I have taken a few aquacise 'classes'. Most of the instructors do the routine in the water. Not only was it impossible to see what they were doing but the acoustics made it equally impossible to hear any instructions. I made up my own routines and quit the classes for lack of inspiration. I did not complain but when the instructor did the movements out of the water I was profuse with compliments. Report
I have stopped going to my Sun a.m. spin class because they added an alternate instructor and her music was HORRENDOUS (to me) (i.e. country, slow ballads, Def Leppard, Poison, Ratt, etc.) (sorry, not meant to offend anyone) I contemplated saying something before but didn't want to offend her, but I this has inspired me :) Report
"Those who can, teach. Those who can't get a cushy high-paying job in an office somewhere." :) It's on a refrigerator magnet in my kitchen--I'm a group fitness instructor and my husband is a middle school teacher.

Besides the polite criticism, don't forget to tell us what we are doing right so we can make sure to keep doing it! Report
I am a newbie to going to a gym, shy and unccordinated. So going was a huge leap. But my instructor for Body pump is simply incredible. He motivates the class with his high energy, singing, making jokes and beaming smiles and he lifts massive amounts himself while teaching. He never embarrases anyone if they need something adjusted or fixed its a general...."everyone remember to do this....or watch your form"...he may make eye contact and nod so you know to fix..but it's never horryifying. He constanly tells us what weights is low, medium to heavy and what we should be adjusting and when we should be pushing a little more. But form, safety and routine is what he makes us concentrate on first so we don't injure ourselves. SO helpful! I always thought I exersized right until I took a couple of classes and realized...I didn't have a clue and no wonder I was always hurting and not a in a good way. He has made me a gym goer! Report
This is great advice. And to those who say they just stop going, don't! Trainers need feedback and we appreciate it. No one should ever worry about hurting the trainers feelings everyone is different and not all exercises work for all people. I am more hurt by people who won't tell me what they need and expect than I am by those who do let me know. In fact it really upsets me if someone complains to everyone but me. Myself, and I'm sure other trainers are not mind readers and we don't know what living inside your body is like. Great work Nicole Report
At my gym the instructors are very good even the new ones Report
Nicole should get a raise. And we need a ZUMBA work out. Report
I had a membership at Curve's for a year and the first few months were great, but then they got new staff and they had the music so loud you couldn't hear the announcer say "Next Station Please." I wasn't the only one who couldn't hear it.

So I asked the trainer nicely if they could turn down the music a little and she barked at me she couldn't change it. My hearing is important to me, so I left and never went back. I still hear people complain it's too loud. Report
I used to have a trainer that would yell "cheater" in the middle of the gym if I used bad form. To most people this would be mortifying...well OK to me it was too, but I appreciate it now. I have been told by other trainers I have excellent form...and it was all because I was learned the right way to do things fromt he avoid being embarassed. That trainer knew me and knew what it took to motivate me. He didn't do that to all of his clients, he found things that worked to motivate each person where they were. I think that is a sign of a very good trainer:) Report
I've never had a bad instructor or trainer, only bad facilities, ranging from broken equipment to lack of heat, and just plain dirty. Report
I find the coaches on this site are very good. Most of the time I see coach Nicole with the execise of the day or boot camp, etc. But occasionally I see a different coach and they are all explicit and caring - making sure we do the exercises correctly. Thank you all.

Joan W1 Report
I went to my first class yesterday--Body Pump--and had a blast, but needed some modifications. This is a good way to approach, should I need it. Report
I have never had a complaint to give to an instructors, but if I particularly enjoyed the class, I am sure to let them know and I always say thank you. Report
Well said Nicole & important info to get out there to. Thru my 20 yrs of being a Fitness Instructor there is 1 Gal who comes to mind who spoke out about her discontent after 1 class. She had been a regular attendee to my Active Older Adult (over 55) Land & Water 2 hr workout Mon/Wed/Fri for a looooong time.

55 yr old Ada was very disturbed by the sudden disappearance of her flat tummy. She was even more disturbed that the Dr. said she had developed high blood pressure & needed to get on meds, change her diet & increase her exercise routine. She followed all orders & was a one of my most devoted early bird to walk the track before class for 6 months.


Eyes popped out, ears tuned in, red flags were going up all over the class of about 60 members. I ran to Ada (who was always in the front row) & asked the others to convert into walking around the gym downstairs. Ada's flushed face & tearful eyes were the first sign for her to sit down while I held her hand (& took her pulse) while quietly asking:
"did you take your medicine this morning? YES"
"did you sleep well last night? NO
"have you told your Dr. you don't like working out anymore?" NO
"can I call your Husband & ask him to pick you up early today?" YES - GET ME OUT OF HERE.

Together we called Al (I couldn't leave her) & asked him to please pick Ada up immediately. I waited at the front door for him to arrive & asked him to take her straight to the Dr.

That night he called & to say the Dr. was reducing her BP meds. He didn't think she needed as much since she was working out so much. The reduction in dosage made her feel normal again so she returned to class. Six wks later, the Dr. took her off the meds completely & wrote her a prescription to "Keep up the good work & come back in 6 months"!

BINGO! Ada became our Success Story & others in the class were highly motivated too! Many success stories continued to come out of that class, because of Ada speaking out. Others were a little more subtle!! Report
I belong to a local gym and have a "Lifetime Membership" that I don't feel comfortable going too. For a few reasons. First and foremost, the "children" that are there to "train" me....I don't think they honestly know what they are doing! I mean, they have gone to a few classes and got "something" that tells the owner that they are "qualified to work" there.... but each time I talk to these trainers, I am blown away with just how much they DON'T know. I have learned more from all my fitness magazines and even more from watching Nicoles' (and others too) short workout videos and SparkPeople, than I have ever learned from one of those "trainers". I have decided to take my exercises and advice from SP with me in a notebook when I go to the gym. For my piece of mind! Report
Great suggestions Nicole :)

ARCHIMEDESII -- right on with the teaching quote! :) (I'm currently going to school for special education and history)

LECATES--I can totally relate with the bust issue lol.

I find instructors sometimes don't remember to mention modified movements for whatever reason (medically restricted movement, large-busted, or very overweight, etc.)

There are certain movements that as a large-busted and significantly large woman I cannot do, no matter how hard I try. Things get in the way, lol.

On the other hand, I find that people assume because of my size that there are things I cannot do, and I can (being very flexible, for example) and instructors often neglect how to "go farther" thinking that I won't be able to based on my physical appearance.

That being said, I love "my gym". It's my first gym and women only and there really are women of all abilities and sizes who go there, and many overweight women take the group classes, too, so most of the instructors are accomodating. :)

- Josie Report
This article is right on. I was working out at Curves a few years back and while on the stepper felt something pull in at the back of my leg, behind my knee. The instructor directed me to get back on the machine and "work it out." Listening to her resulted in a torn ligament that still gives me trouble. I learned to always LISTEN TO MYSELF first and foremost, no one, not even an instructor knows how your body feels. Report
Great article! I am going to use some of these suggestions. Report
I had a not-so-fun experience with a trainer once but that's because I was afraid to tell her I wasn't strong enough to do what she was asking me to do. I pushed myself too hard and made myself sick - literally! Then I spoke with the manager of the gym and all is good. I love working with my trainer now and we talk openly about what I can and cannot handle (...yet). It's all about communication folks and to add to the teaching bit... I agree with ARCHIMEDESII 100%. There are good and not so good examples in every profession. I hope that those of you who were turned off of the gym decide to go back. It's worth it in the end! Report
I've never joined a gym or other exercise class, partly because of the expense, but mainly because of memories of high school gym classes. Our teacher was right out of college, and she must have been a standout athlete. She had high standards and little sympathy for those of us who couldn't reach them. One time, I took a direct kick to the shin. I hobbled around the rest of the day and that evening my parents took me to the dr - he said I had a hairline fracture, and to stay off the leg for the rest of the week. By the time I went back to school and to gym class, my leg was black & blue from the knee to the sole of my foot. The teacher took one look and said, "My, some of us bruise easily, don't we?"
I'm sure there are good, caring instructors out there, but like many others here, I'm afraid I'd end up with the other kind. That said, I do appreciate the SP videos and the frequent comments to "do what you can" - eventually we can do more, and the movements are easier. Report
BRILLIANT, Coach Nicole!

You've noticed, you've hit a 'sore spot' with a couple of instructors? but...

you do have a couple instructors (AMONTALV- kickboxing, and REDSWAN, dance) right 'up there' on the same page with you, plus SP_STEPF (what a nightmare that was- you should-a' had BDETTE263 with you- she'd a' given him WHAT FOR!!) LOL!!

I can fully understand PAM19681, because I've 'been there' in that type of setting, where... you're 'oh, so, part of the team, IF you worship the leader, but... if you don't... you'll know it's TIME to move on BECAUSE... nothing you do or contribute to is acknowledged, or accepted... and IF it is... it's done begrudgingly- due to onlookers, circumstances, etc.'

CHEBERT22, excellent analogy!!


I have hadn a gymn membershp since the mid 80's. From Boxing to jazzercise, I have done it all. Over the years i have employed many trainers. Almost all of them motivated me to get the job done. However over the last few years I have noticed that Even as the volume of " scientific' information has increased the quality of what passes as ' scientific' information has suffered. As I scientist i realise that what is scientific FACT today will transform as new information comes in. It is therefore appropriate to be flexibilile in what you are recommending at any given time.
MINI Report
"Those who can't do, teach"

That really IS an insulting remark. It's not a wonder no one wants to teach anymore with that kind of condescending mentality.

No, it goes like this... "Those who can, do. Those who can do more, teach".

It's true, I'm an instructor and some of my co-workers do need to update their routines. I have one friend who's students have come to me asking if I could politely tell that person, they need to change their routines. The student love him and think he's a wonderful instructor.

They'd just like it if he changes his routine periodically.

I love getting feedback. As the article said, it's how I make changes if I need to make them.

However, one thing that wasn't mentioned is that you can't please everyone. Even if you did institute the changes someone recommends, there's no guarantee that the person will be happy.

You can't please everyone. You've got to realize that some people may not like your teaching methods. That's okay. that's why there are different classes and different instructors.

Try different people. Find the best fit for you. Like I said, you can't please everyone and you shouldn't be expected to either.

I took a spinning class last week at my gym. Although the trainer is EXCELLENT when it comes to technically breaking down what is occuring with your muscles at that time & stressing the importance of not suddenly stopping, breathing deeply, etc., she NEVER EVER stops talking and ruins the rest of the class. Finally, her music is about 20+ years behind the times & not upbeat - it's a rough class to get through because of those simple things so I decided I would find out what days she teaches & just not attend.
I am working with 2 trainers right now & they are both fantastic! I already knew I was blessed to have them ... now I know I am doubly blessed!

Thanks for the blog and y'all's comments. I LOVE to learn. Report
I've only taken one fitness class so far, spinning, and the instructor is great. She picks fun music, is high-energy (even for 5:45 am) and says just enough to get the job done but not be annoying. I enjoy class with her very much. Report
Most instructors want to help you out and want the best for you. You've got to tell them how it was and what you want. But be nice....we are people too, a lot of us put a lot of work into preparing a class. Report
Most personal trainers aren't like Jillian Michaels on television. I have a personal trainer, and he is absolutely wonderful. He pushes me to workout at my maximum potential - something I find really difficult to do on my own. I find him to be very inspiring, and he doesn't "yell, or cuss or scream." Remember, just because you saw it on television, doesn't necessarily make it so in reality..... Report
Sure hope Nicole reads this one---I got the Spark kit and her video---was trying to do the exercise with the ball where you bend over and lift it up and down to your chest---Well, Nicole, no problem for you---but as I am big chested, I brought it up and it bounces off my chest---too funny for words---and my cat, who was watching me, just shook her head at what I was doing---thought you might enjoy this little story----and remember that not all of us are built like you---LOL Report
I will proably never use a trainer, well let me rephrase that. I won't use one that cuss or insults me. I'm not going to pay money for that. I know they are trying to get results but there is a way to get results without all that. I can only take Jillian Michaels on tape I would not deal with her in real life! Report