Working As a Fitness Class Instructor Sure Sounds Like Hell

In the increasingly crowded boutique fitness marketplace, trainers are trading their own physical health for a living wage.
Hannah Smothers
Brooklyn, US
Fitness instructors suffer vocal injuries from teaching loud classes
Thomas Barwick via Getty

A New York Times report published Thursday morning details yet more horrors of working as a group fitness instructor: extreme vocal strain, to the point of injury that requires surgery. Instructors describe pushing their voices beyond the brink by shouting encouragement for upwards of 15 hours per week, which is only the latest glimpse into the impossible infrastructure that barely supports our rush to work out more and preserve our health.


Coco Cohen, who leads group classes at an Equinox in New York City, told the Times she developed vocal nodules that eventually led to total vocal paralysis, which required surgery. Patrick Frost, who coached at Barry’s Bootcamp, gave a harrowing anecdote about waking up voiceless some mornings as a result of teaching 22 classes a week; he later learned he’d developed vocal polyps with some hemorrhaging, and left Barry’s for a quieter, less shout-y job. And the issue only stands to get worse, or at least more widespread: As the Times reports, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment for trainers to grow 13 percent by 2028, “faster than most occupations.”

In December 2019, the New York Times cracked the door on the hell of being a personal trainer at Equinox in a report on the “Hunger Games”-esque conditions of working there, describing a depraved situation in which new employees essentially have to panhandle for clients on the lavish gym floor. Equinox trainers told the Times they work 80-hour weeks, portions of which are unpaid, in an effort to make enough money to pay rent. Outside of Equinox, at boutique fitness studios, the accessibility of fitness classes (thanks to services like Classpass and Mindbody) has made earning a living wage as a trainer increasingly more difficult. Frost said leading 22 classes a week at Barry’s Bootcamp helped him rise through the ranks, even as it was wrecking his vocal chords.

The irony of fitness instructors wrecking their own physical health for the benefit of others is so glaring, it hardly needs pointing out. Adding further insult, the New York Times reports that many fitness trainers work as freelancers, and don’t have employer-sponsored health insurance for when they develop vocal nodules, or wake up voiceless someday. Our collective desires to pursue healthier lifestyles isn’t without consequence; as things stand, the businesses marketing fitness to us can’t actually support what they’re advertising. Or they can, so long as they ignore the physical health of everyone but their paying customers.

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