What It's Really Like To Be A Trainer - A Conversation With Juliana Estrella

Juliana Estrella is a New York City-based based trainer and health coach. She leads classes at Rumble Boxing. We spoke with her about the hectic life of a trainer, all the work that goes on behind the scenes to create an awesome workout class, and how she got into the fitness business.

Given that today you work as an Instructor at the popular studio, RUMBLE Boxing, I think some people might be surprised about your journey. You first became interested in fitness through Zumba, worked at Equinox, and eventually moved to RUMBLE, can you tell us more about your path?
I originally got into fitness through pilates when I was a teenager. I was struggling with an eating disorder and I was obsessed with the idea of getting a six pack and pilates was the big thing at the time. I worked the front desk of a pilates studio in New York City in order to get free classes and from that work experience eventually moved to Equinox (this was around the time I started college). During that period I was still dealing with an eating disorder, and for the first year, I didn’t make it past the front desk to actually workout in the gym. I was fearful - it stemmed from being in a dark place and struggling with depression, anxiety, and not knowing what I wanted to do with my life.

One day I just got tired of it and had a breakthrough which enabled me to take some spin classes, but I didn’t stick with it because I found it boring. Someone suggested that I try this dance class, which was Zumba, and I stuck with it. Out of an impulse, in one of my bouts of not knowing what I wanted to do with my life, I decided I wanted to be an instructor and signed up for a course.

Eventually, after teaching Zumba I decided I wanted to get a Personal Training Certification and take my group training to the next level.  Several years into my career I was looking for something different, new, and bigger. I wanted to challenge myself and grow with a new company and so I decided to join Rumble.

What is your average day/week like?
There is no average day in an instructors life. I can’t break down my day like a 9 to 5 job since every day is a different schedule. This means that you automatically have to be adaptable to routines within the chaos, which is something I struggle with the most.  

On a typical day I teach three classes, at most, but not always back to back - which can turn what would just be three hours of classes into a 12 hour day. During the week I have to find time to train for myself and practice what I preach in maintaining my own wellness and balance as an instructor. I always have to set aside, at the very least, an hour for myself to zone out or chat with a friend, etc.

Every day I am thinking a little bit about programming. I also spend time studying nutrition, fitness, or a topic not-related to fitness. Going back and forth from the gym and home and switching between studios to teach, surprisingly, requires allocating a lot of time. I make sure to take other instructors classes to show support and to continue to learn. Lastly, if I have a little extra time I will try to take a class in a different area like cycling or yoga, to learn and to maintain my balance.

How much work is involved in prepping for a class?
There is a lot of work and preparation that goes into every class. On average, I spend about 20 hours a week between preparing for my Rumble classes and the work I do with private clients. For the classes, I have to think about programming for floor exercises, bag routines, and how to mix the music in with both.

When I create a class there is a mix of having to find what people need and what people want. Part of the job is to give people what they are not getting themselves in their life, but also to make it enjoyable while figuring out how to implement functional “boring” exercises in a fun way.

What are some of the misconceptions that you hear from people who take your class, the general public, or clients?
People have the misconception that I am motivated all the time, or “oh you are fit because you work out all the time.” I, just like other trainers/coaches, have to work just as hard as everyone else to maintain my fitness level and health and wellness. Some people think that as trainers, we are these super-humans that don’t deal with the issues they have. I believe that a lot of fitness and health professionals have had the same issues and the only difference is that we have chosen to deal with them through our profession. Also, people think that we are confident and always completely secure about ourselves. In reality, I think this something you train where you have your good days and your bad days; it is like a muscle.

You are known for your high energy, is this just innate to you or do you have some secret potion you can share with us?
Definitely, for me, I am an upbeat and energetic person. I generally keep coffee to no more than two cups a day. Believe it or not, I still get butterflies before teaching a class, it can be the same program but it is a new crowd. I think that you also have to love this in order to exert the energy that is required.

There is also a selflessness that you have to bring, and you have to put your feelings aside. You don’t always feel great but I look at it that I have to be 100% on, even if it is my third class of the day since it could be someone's first time taking my class. There are people that are literally putting their most vulnerable parts of themselves in a room full of strangers and they are trusting you to know how to guide them and help reconnect with themselves. It is also a way for people to let go of their stress and inhibitions or discover things they didn’t know they could do. There is so much more about coming to class than just getting a workout in.

What are some of the challenges that you have to deal with day-to-day?
There are a lot of day to day challenges that come with the job. Since we are like freelancers, you have to build your own personal brand. So I think one of the challenges for any instructor is how to stand out from everyone else, especially on social media. There are a lot of non-fitness professionals who often have bigger followings than the certified & trained fitness professionals. This also translates into needing to steer people to credible sources since there is so much noise and misinformation online.

Taking care of my body is a big challenge as well because you only make money if you are teaching. Sleep is a big part of this because of how important it is for your physical health, but it is one of the things we lack the most, because of how demanding the schedule is. I can finish teaching a class and then have to turn around and teach another in less than 10 hours so people can get a good beginning or end to their day.

You had a small role in the 2014 movie “Worst Friends”, do you find there are any similarities between that experience and teaching a fitness class?
I actually went to Laguardia High School for performing arts (in NYC). I recently ran into a friend from high school and the conversation got me thinking about how much there is in common between acting and teaching fitness. When I was in college and I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, acting was something I considered. Teaching a class is very much like acting in terms of the energy and prep. I even sometimes do vocal exercises to prepare for a class. 

It has become popular for people to take photos with the trainer from their fitness class and to post those photos on social media, do you ever feel like a mini-celebrity when people ask to take a photo with you?
Totally, and I feel a little awkward sometimes because I am just that person. But I have grown to embrace it because it is an honor that I have touched someone's life and that they want to remember it. It has grown from feeling awkward to feeling amazing and I definitely don’t take it for granted. Some people even say “you are a lot shorter than I expected,”  and I say “ya!”.


To learn more about Juliana, check out her website or connect with her @juliana_estrella

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