Missy Gray

The Rise of Group Exercise Classes: One Instructors’ Journey

Stepping on the scale can be a wonderful surprise, or the worst part of your day. Sometimes no matter how hard you try you just can’t seem to shed those few pounds, or cut those pesky inches. Luckily there are people who have dedicated their lives to make stepping on the scale easier. Personal trainers and group exercise instructors make it their goal to help you reach yours. In 2012, the United States Department of Labor said there were approximately 267,000 personal trainers and instructors. That number is estimated to grow 13% by the year 2022. At least 13,000 of these instructors are Les Mills certified instructors. Les Mills is the fitness world’s best kept secret. A company that started in 1968 now stretches across 80 countries with 18 fitness programs including Body Step, Body Pump, and the newest addition; Grit. These ever growing classes are spotlighting group fitness and Les Mills is in the forefront of the revolution. 

Fitness is her forte.

Marathon Missy Gray Endurance Runner

Les Mills Wouldn't have taken off without the help of their dedicated and educated instructors. As an instructor, I have the opportunities to see what it takes. I learned how a successful group exercise class is achieved. I continually have the pleasure of working with a woman who has done it all, and continues to accomplish goals and break down barriers. At age 43, Missy Gray is running marathons (even an ultra), teaching group exercise classes, and the morning of our interview had put in her letter of resignation as a personal trainer. Missy was a personal trainer at Gold’s gym for the past three years and has been a group exercise instructor for the past six. A member and a frequent participant in Gray’s Body Step class, Gerri, recalled her first time meeting Missy: “It was in an aqua class, she was very motivating, energetic and thorough.” Stopping for a second to collect her thoughts, “She is one of the best. Just great at it all, but I like her step (Body Step) and I don’t love step. She really pushes you to your limits.”

Never a Gray day as a fitness professional.

I asked Gray to walk me through a typical day. She started, “I am usually up between 4:30-4:45. My first session is at 5:30 in the morning, so I would train a client from 5:30 to 6:30 in the morning. Then I would get my middle schooler off to school at 6:45, and my high schooler leaves at 7:10. Then my youngest leaves at 8:00. After that, I am back at the gym from 8:30 to 9:30 sometimes teaching a class, or sometimes doing a personal session. I come home to have some lunch. That’s when I would either get my groceries, do the laundry, or cook dinner. Then the kids get home we do their homework for an hour then I am back at the gym. It’s a lot of coming and going. Not your normal job where you clock in and clock out, and in the meantime there are texts all the time. ‘Can I eat this?’ ‘Is this safe?’ There is a lot going on. There is constant contact in between sessions. Lately, I have had between 8-10 clients, but it has been higher before. That’s close to 20 hours a week.” Gray has worked like this for three years, and finally thought it was time to hang up the towel.

How did I end up here?

Gray never imagined she would be working as a trainer in a gym. She graduated from Missouri Valley College with a Master’s in Education, and taught middle school for nine years. Gray said she always saw herself being a principal. “But middle school kids don’t want to learn.” Gray says recalling her years as a middle school teacher. “I stopped teaching to stay home with my kids” she says, “I always worked out and took classes. I got this bright idea one day, ‘Hey I could teach that class’ I could make money, get back in the workforce, and get a workout. So I started teaching classes.” Gray started teaching six years ago, body step was the first class she taught. Since then she has achieved certifications in five programs, and does not plan on stopping anytime soon. 

Miss Gray Les Mills Gold's Gym

Always a Team Player

Before Gray and I started talking about her life as a fitness professional she warned me that she had just resigned that day from her personal training position. “I hope that doesn’t ruin anything!” she exclaims. In fact, it made the story that much more interesting. Gray started off with her reasons for putting in her letter of resignation: “It’s tough as a personal trainer, people feel compelled to tell you things, I always knew all the gossip. It puts a lot of pressure on you as a person when your clients feel the need to tell you everything it’s a lot like being a therapist.” Gray confessed, “Then people get frustrated when they weigh in, or go to get measured and they haven’t lost any weight or inches. I feel personally responsible.” Sounding heartbroken, “I am only with them for two hours a week. There are 24 hours in a day, I can only control what they do for one hour. Which means there are 23 hours where I am not with them.” The emotionally taxing job of a personal trainer is just one reason Missy decided her time as a personal trainer had reached its finish line. “People have the mentality that ‘hey I worked out today I can eat whatever I want’, and that’s not how it works.” Gray never intended to be a personal trainer; “I got my personal training certification to train myself better, and help me be a better instructor. When my boss realized I had the certification he said I should personal train.” Getting into the job Gray realized she didn’t fully understand what she was getting herself into. She loves helping people, and she thought it would be another outlet to do so, but these weights may have been a little heavier then Gray intended.

Raise the Bar.

The life of a personal trainer is not for the faint of heart. The fitness revolution has created ways to get in shape using a multitude of platforms. Group exercise has taken hold, not only in America but around the world. Everywhere from Lori Patterson’s Boot camp to Les Mills’ global empire. Instructors are helping make this world a healthier place; one class, one squat, and one rep at a time. The rise of group exercise is upon us; will you join the revolution?

-- Written by Jonah Munzer

Having earned a Master's in Education, Missy Gray, a mother, marathon runner, group fitness instructor and recent personal trainer explains what she does on a daily basis to fulfill her life at both work and home.

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