Michele Gordon, a.k.a. Miss Motivational, is a New York City-based based instructor and fitness leader. She is the creator of Cardio Sweat Party. We spoke with her about her journey that eventually led to starting Cardio Sweat Party, the responsibilities of managing a gym, and the key traits required to be a successful fitness instructor.
You became interested in fitness during college, got certified as an instructor, and eventually started Miss Motivational. Were you involved in sports growing up?
While I was never the most athletic kid, I always enjoyed being active and playing sports like tennis and lacrosse. I learned at a young age that I need to let my energy out and exercise is a great outlet. When I got into high school, it was harder to commit to doing a team sport since I also wanted to be involved in non-athletic clubs and leadership activities. That is when I signed up for MMA classes, since I could train three times a week instead of six. After the first class I became hooked and kickboxing remains a huge part of my life today!
How did you come to be an instructor and what eventually prompted you to start your own independent class?
When I was in college, I was working out and noticed a sign in the school gym that said, “Are you Energetic? Are you Motivating? Are you Outgoing? Become A Group Exercise Instructor!”. Though I was really shy, I was looking for a way to break out of my shell. The instant I put the microphone on and stepped out of my comfort zone I fell in love with teaching. Leading a group of people, making them feel strong, and empowering myself to do things on my own all stem from my pursuit of group fitness.
Once I started teaching, I drew a following before I was even certified. I was passionate, energetic, a strong communicator, and teacher. People looked at me like a celebrity and would sign-up for my classes far in advance. Lines would go out of the room and I turned weeknights into a gym parties! It was so much fun.
After college, I taught at numerous gyms and studios. I started to teach, what’s now Cardio Sweat Party, at big box gyms but some places had an issue with it. My class didn’t quite fit into the bucket of classes you typically find at a gym, it’s not just dance and it’s not just kickboxing. After seeing other instructors launch their own programs, I decided to go out on my own. For my first class, I rented a dance space and had three of my friends come. Over time, it developed and grew. I still get so giddy when people tell me how good Cardio Sweat Party makes them feel!
You have worked in various roles within the fitness industry, including a district manager for New York Sports Clubs and a director for a specialty fitness spa. What are the things that go on behind the scenes that might surprise people?
On the management side, I really enjoyed finding new talent, hiring instructors, and coaching and managing them. I found that the mentoring/coaching process of other instructors helped me to be a better teacher. It was also very gratifying to see them succeed. While it is exciting on the one hand, it is also very challenging on the other. As a manager, I’ve dealt with unhappy members due to instructors not showing up, facility cleanliness issues, poor customer service, broken stereos, and more.
But some of the challenges have been great. For example, when my budget was cut at one gym, I had to be creative and resourceful on how I was going to offer members the same, fantastic experience while working with less. Some people think that running a gym and being in workout clothes all day is easy-breezy. While it’s almost always fun - it’s hard work. My goal, whether it’s when I was running gyms or now just teaching my classes, is to make sure YOU have the best workout experience ever. The great managers listen, take in feedback, support their teams, and go out of their way to make class participants smile.
What makes an instructor good?
Preparation, positive attitude, a willingness to learn, and presence. After years of teaching, most of us pros can show up without any class prep and teach a solid class. However, that’s all it will be - solid. If you’re here to inspire and change lives, you must prepare. Being prepared demonstrates your level of professionalism and it is what earns you respect in the fitness world.
Positive Attitude is self-explanatory. You need to be positive to inspire and empower the people in your classes. Working in fitness isn’t easy, but a positive attitude will help you to keep going.
Just like any other profession, a good instructor will have a willingness to learn. Exercise is a new science and there’s something being discovered everyday. Take classes, read research, do what you need to do to LEARN. I take workshops, read journals, take fitness classes lead by others, and regularly sign-up for online courses to keep me aware and up-to-date.
Lastly, I can always pinpoint a good instructor by his/her presence. I check out how he or she is standing and if he/she generates authentic, positive energy.
What is the biggest challenge you have experienced so far?
This work is very physically and mentally demanding. There were days when I was teaching 7-8 hours a day. While you have to eat to maintain energy, you need to balance that with not eating too much. You are also up at all hours (5AM to 8AM, 5-8PM, holidays, etc.) since fitness is a leisure business. But you need to find a way to balance that with enough sleep, massage, stretching, etc. You figure out your needs. For example, you won’t see me doing a lot of jumping moves in other instructors’ classes because I save those explosive moves for Cardio Sweat Party and running. In addition, when you’re teaching or training, your brain is always on. I remember in the beginning my friends would say “it’s so great that you get to workout for a living!” but it’s not MY workout. When I teach, I think about everyone who is taking my class or training with me.
There is a lot of hustle involved too. When I started, any chance I had to sub a class I would. I would also use an email list to reach people before Instagram was around. I still use emails to get more direct responses. You also don’t make much money from fitness until you work really hard and are in it for awhile. That being said, working in fitness is rewarding and the payoff is huge. Nowadays, I don’t rely on teaching as my sole form of income, but I’ve been there. If it’s something you truly want to do, it’s going to require a crazy amount of dedication, perspiration, and hard work.
What was the process of working with an outside brand, how did that come about?
I always wanted to be a leader in the industry and that has worked out by doing many different things: management, teaching classes, consulting, and writing my own ebook. When Reebok was trying to grow in New York City, I went to a meetup they had and introduced myself. I used all my resources, and went above and beyond to make sure the brand reps knew me and made a connection happen. They brought me on as an ambassador and, eventually, I also started helping them with their experiential store where I brought in other trainers to shop there and host classes. It was grassroots community marketing. Over time I moved up the marketing ranks and was teaching and speaking and was able to intertwine everything. However, after two years I outgrew and decided to move on. Now, I’m focusing on Cardio Sweat Party, leading empowerment events, and spearheading the marketing at Paragon Sports. I get to do all of the things I love and want to continually grow in.