The Plus Factor: Why a New Generation of Fitness Pros Is Going Free-Agent—and Big-Time

Photo: Instagram/@fit__house
Fitness instructor Lindsey Clayton’s alarm goes off at 6 a.m. on the regular. By 6:30, she’s packed her Puma bag with a change of clothes, a second pair of sneakers for her late-afternoon run, and a pair of headphones. Before the clock strikes 7:30, she’s already had a cup of coffee, cranked up the beats, and is 20 minutes into coaching the first of many workouts for the day at cult-favorite Barry’s Bootcamp. And that’s only three days a week.

On the others, she trades in treadmill sprints for a different vibe at CrossFit gym Solace, where she partners up with best friend Amber Rees to teach Brave Body Project, a 45-minute beat-based, dynamic full body workout combining strength training with light weights, gliders, resistance bands, and cardio. 

While the playlist always differs, one thing’s for sure: Clayton isn’t the only one hustling to build her personal brand, teaching at more than one studio. In fact, she’s part of a rising trend of super, free-agent instructors.

Why fitness instructors are going free-agent
Photo: Instagram/@lindseyclayton23

In major cities where boutique fitness destinations and workout hotspots are popping up faster than you can refill your Bkr bottle, more and more certified trainers are partnering with multiple venues at once. While that's been common in the yoga world for a while, on the extra-sweaty side of things, it used to be that instructors had to be super loyal to a studio in order to make a living (throwback to SoulCycle banning the competition’s boutique fitness instructors from its classes). But now? As they amass cult followings, they’re starting to essentially go on tour. Many of them, like Clayton, are leveraging large social media star power to grow their influence and business.

For the biggest stars in the sweat game, this is nothing new. In fact, some marquee names, like Aussie online phenom Kayla Itsines, are free-agent by definition—since her "home studio" is virtual. But now early-career, budding free agents have more tools than ever to make the jump from company man (or, more likely, woman) to brand-name draw.

Early-career, budding free agents have more tools than ever to make the jump from company man (or, more likely, woman) to brand-name draw.

With Talent Hack—a new site created by Alexandra Bonetti, founder of buzzy New York City-based fitness chain Bari Studio—launching with an eye toward becoming the LinkedIn of fitness, studios and trainers can find each other more easily than ever before—making it easier to work out unorthodox arrangements. Or fitness pros can pop in at studios like Los Angeles' Booty Works, a studio-slash-innovation space (think of it as an like incubator for fitness pros to test their new concepts).

And the massive digital boom happening right now that's giving you at-home workouts that range from spin-and-stream giant Peloton to celeb-fave superstar trainers like Anna Kaiser is also potentially creating platforms for up-and-comers to get a place on your screens—and, they hope, your hearts. To help them with that? Places like NYC's Performix House, which opened this spring. Attempting to be the SoHo House of fitness, it offers its instructors more than studio space: Trainers who join the team have access to an exclusive media and content studio to help them pump up their Instagram and grow their brand in the digital space (and IRL).

Why fitness instructors are going free-agent
Photo: Instagram/@alexsilverfagan

Alex Silver-Fagan, Nike master trainer, has definitely noticed a shift over the last few years. “When I was starting out in the fitness industry back in 2015, everyone stuck to one specific studio,” she says. Earlier last month, Silver-Fagan started teaching her Flow Into Strong class, a blend of yoga and strength training, at Performix House.

FitHouse, another newcomer studio startup set to open 12 locations in New York City by the end of the year, is also in on the free-agent action. “People love being influenced by ‘real’ people as they are more relatable and easy to connect with,” says Chase Rosen, brand director and founding partner at FitHouse. “It’s all about authenticity. Here in New York, instructors are able to build their personal brands by getting in front of hundreds of people per week. That’s why we support our instructors, both at FitHouse and on their own personal journeys.” 

“When I was starting out in the fitness industry back in 2015, everyone stuck to one specific studio.” —Alex Silver Fagan, Nike master trainer

A trainer’s bustling personal brand is what Aaptiv, a workout app that uses trained instructors and perfectly timed playlists to bring the boutique fitness experience to the palm of your hand, relies on to draw in new users. Rather than lock talented individuals into non-compete opportunities, they’d rather offer a pedestal for the best talent that comes their way. “Every one of our trainers has different strengths, philosophies, and backgrounds,” says Meela Imperato, director of program development. “Meeting with clients can send them all over a city. So, we do everything we can to support them because we know that their success is also ultimately our success.”

Yet, other studios have seen results keeping things the old-fashioned way. Instructors at Rumble, the New York City-based boxing-inspired group fitness, teach there and there alone. The company, already valued at $80 million after only one year in operation, places a heavy investment on their talent, spending mass marketing dollars to promote them as a key part of their business strategy.

Why fitness instructors are going free-agent
Photo: Instagram/@rumble_boxing

“I’ve been teaching group fitness for nearly 10 years, and I know that the bouncing from gym to gym lifestyle isn’t always sustainable,” says Andy Stern, general manager and founding trainer at Rumble. “Our trainers, who are all superstars, are the ones that make the class an experience every time. All of [them] receive equity in Rumble, so we all work together to increase the value of the company. We’ve created a culture where you, as a trainer, don’t want to work at another studio.” 

The question remains: Is the free agent instructor here to stay? Silver-Fagan says yes, for sure. “I think at first there was definitely some hostility from certain places about working at various studios,” she says. “But because this is the way the industry is headed, so many of my bosses understand that it’s a necessity in this industry. This is the future.”

Whoever's teaching your class, here's the right way to hydrate, mid-sweat—and 5 yoga mistakes you might not know you're making (and exactly how to fix them).

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