From cover to cover

Every new instructor has to start somewhere. Nobody is going to give you a permanent class a day after you get you indoor cycling qualification. This is how most of us began their careers as instructors: taking on a cover or as American like to call it “subbing” a class.

I will never forget mine. I just gained my YMCA Keiser certificate and was about to volunteer for YMCA as a gym instructor and an occasional indoor cycling cover. Then I went to visit Inka, my instructor friend at my own gym, who says: “I am going home for Christmas. I need my classes covered. I will put your name down. You will be fine!”. God Almighty! I could not sleep between that conversation and the date of the class. Which was a fair few days.

The class was on Boxing Day if I remember correctly so the gym was quite empty. Which was great as I thought that if I failed there would be not too many witnesses. The night before I was waking up every hour… I was a nervous wreck! Only 3 people turned up but it was good. It gave me the confidence.

Then I got onto a FB cover page for London instructors and agreed to cover a class at 7am in Canary Wharf… Very wise Izabela as it meant getting up at 4:30am to make my way across town…

Anyway, with time you get more picky about what covers you accept – mainly depending on transport connections and time constraints but it is an invaluable part of becoming a good instructor whatever you teach, for a few reasons.

1. You become a sound engineer.
From technical point of view you get to teach on various kinds of bikes so you become familiar with their set up and quirks. But the main point is the SOUND SYSTEM! iPod only here, CD only there, finding magic buttons in dark corners of the room which finally make the sound come to life after turning hundreds of dials in various combinations for 10th time. You also learn about existence of battery sizes you have never heard of and you start carrying a bagful of them everywhere you go. Just in case.

2. Turn up really EARLY.
Due to the very reason described above you learn that turning up 30min before the class is not crazy at all. especially if it’s for a 7:15am class, fully booked, and the sound system is DOA and NOBODY from the gym management can revive it. Thanks to a MacGyver though they put your back up CD into the DVD slot so you play your music via TV screen which makes it crap sound quality but beats you having to sing.

3. Back up music.
I use iPad since my iPod died due to sweat damage and overuse 🙂 I have a couple of playlists on my iPhone but also carry back up CDs. NOTE: make sure the CDs are not from 2005 and you actually remember what is on them! And yes, get two: 45min, 60min and a just-in-case-the-other-ones-skip one.

4. Riding gear.
Covering classes especially last minute puts you in good books of gym managers or fellow instructors and you can be sure you will need them to return the favour sooner or later. So be ready! Have a spare kit in your office. I have in the past nipped to my local Sweatshop next to the office to buy a new kit so I could take a class. And on two occasions GymBox have been so desperate for cover that hearing that my only obstacle was lack of kit, they gave me their branded top, leggings and socks 🙂

5. Challenge for every instructor.
You have been teaching your regular classes for a while. They know you and like you. You have your loyal followers. Then you turn up in a new place to cover a class with a smug smile on your face and… they don’t get you. It is a fantastic way of keeping you on your toes. You learn the importance of different types of motivation, how to explain the same thing in a different way. Sometimes it’s the opposite: you know you have a good class but the reaction at the end is a raucous applause as if you just won an Oscar because suddenly your usual jokes are new and so are your catchphrases. It’s a great feel. But the main lesson is that different gyms attract different crowds and your teaching approach needs to be flexible.

6. Ask the right questions.
To minimise any unnecessary stress when getting to a class make sure you don’t only ask where they gym is, how long the class is and what the sound system is like, but also what bikes there are, what type of workout people are used to. Are there towels? You may be like: what? towels? Yes! I sweat. OK. A lot. I have to have a towel across my handlebars. Now you’d think it’s a standard that every gym gives you a towel. Some actually would give you two if you are an instructor so I assumed that was a standard across the board. Until I accepted a cover in Brixton and once in Angel. Believe me, here is when coming early comes into play again as I had to rush out and look for an M&S or TKMaxx. I found them on both occasions but have you ever tried to use a NEW towel that has never been washed to dry yourself? Mission Impossible.

I am sure there are a few more points you could add here – feel free to put them in the comments. I like covers to keep it fresh and interesting. And it’s a great way of building a reputation of being a reliable and solid instructor.

Oh, and one more thing: please do not think that every time you cover you have to deliver HIIT class so they all crawl out of the room. Leave an impression of an instructor who “knows their shit”, cares about the participants. Chat to them after the class, get their feedback. They may be instrumental in you being asked back.

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