Training to train: The fitness instructor mentor program

Group Fitness Instructor Paige Perkins leads the participants in a series of cool down stretches in Beyer on Jan. 31.

Amanda Wymore

They’re there to guide us to the unachievable. What seems impossible today will one day become a warm-up — a common maxim for working out, but not that common to achieve.

That’s why Recreation Services offers the help of a fitness instructor, but even fitness instructors need instruction. Recreation Services offers a mentor-mentee program within its instructor program.

Paige Perkins, sophomore in kinesiology and health, completed the group training during the fall semester to become a fitness instructor. She was paired with Justin Wilder, senior in kinesiology and health.

“I started as a group fitness instructor last semester,” Wilder said. “I went through the same training as Paige, and I had a mentor during my first few weeks of classes, too.”

They met twice a week for a lecture and a practical session at the training, Perkins said. Her love for fitness inspired her to become an instructor. 

“I love fitness, and I wanted others to discover their love for it as well,” Perkins said. “Since starting, I’ve learned from participants, and it puts me in a good mood to see them do well.”

Perkins teaches Insanity Express, Cardio Kickboxing and Cross Training Fitness through Recreation Services at Iowa State.

“It’s hard to pick a favorite class because they are all so fun,” Perkins said. “But I think Cross Training Fitness is exciting because it is a brand new class this semester, and strength training with weights lets you create a large variety of workouts.”

But Perkins was not always so optimistic about instructing classes. 

“I was nervous about being in front of people,” Perkins said. “I have never been good at public speaking, so that was something I thought would go wrong.”

She overcame her fear by unexpectedly teaching a group fitness class alone.

“[A few weeks ago], I subbed a cardio kickboxing class by myself,” Perkins said. “It was so intimidating to teach a full class alone but it ended up going really well, which made me feel more confident.” 

Her confidence continues to rise class by class, and she encourages others who love fitness to attend the training sessions.

“This was a great way to meet others with similar interests,” Perkins said. “ If you’re feeling nervous too, it’s OK. Just trust your abilities and take as much as you can from the training and your mentor.”

Wilder mentors Perkins in her Cross Training Fitness class, advising her on how to give appropriate instructions to participants.

“Tonight was the first time Paige has taught the whole class by herself,” Wilder said. “I wanted to let her get through as much as she could, and I added comments when I felt necessary. She still did a great job.”

This is Wilder’s first semester working in the co-teaching program. He mentors another new instructor for the same class. He also teaches a TRX Strength class and leads the Fit 2 Climb program.

“I was a personal trainer prior to working for Rec Services, and I was a member of the Marine Corps,” Wilder said. “I try to implement some of the things I have learned into the classes I teach here.”

Wilder didn’t worry as much at the beginning because he knew Rec Services would assist him throughout the training process.

“I wasn’t nervous when I started,” Wilder said. “You are trained and helped constantly. The co-teaching program allows you to learn as you go, even after you finish the training.” 

Wilder said he was even trained how to be a mentor to give the best directions to the newer instructors.

He reflected on when he was a new instructor and when he taught a cross training class with a larger-than-expected crowd.

“I was really surprised when 20 people attended one of my cross training classes when normally there were only three to six participants,” Wilder said. “It is really encouraging to have a big class, but I liked having a smaller class so I could learn the names and faces of my participants.” 

Similar to Perkins, Wilder encourages those interested in fitness to work as a group fitness trainer.

“If anything, I wish I would have started training with Rec Services sooner,” Wilder said. “If you’re into fitness, no matter what your major is, you’ll have a great time. Share your love for health and learn how to help others enjoy it, too.” 

Group fitness instructor training began Jan. 24, and Rec Services will offer yoga instructor training Feb. 19, for a total of 10 hours in training. New instructors also will participate in a six-week co-teaching program with a mentor. For more information, visit