Until three weeks ago, I had never—not even once—engaged in a single conversation of interest in my work that ended with, “Oh, it’s $20? I can’t afford that! I thought it was free.”
I now have this conversation literally every single day, often multiple times a day.
Many of us have been bombarded with offers for free fitness classes in the last three weeks. It’s tempting to take advantage of these offers. After all, who offers to pay Costco for the samples (in volumes that make up a lunch) when we get it for free?
At the moment, any of us could make that same proverbial meal out of free fitness classes.
I have not taken this approach as a teacher. I charge for my services. That does not make me superior or inferior—it’s simply a statement of fact.
It’s simply not viable for me to earn a living by volunteering, no matter how much the world potentially needs my work.
I own a studio with fully intact commercial overhead, as my landlords haven’t adjusted my rent by even one penny. I’m also a lone parent and I have earned our entire household income in the last many years by teaching. I have continuously invested in my education and training to offer my best professional skill set to my clients and students.
For the teachers who are reading this:
I know that it’s not my place to determine what another teacher wants to offer as a gift or an act of service.
Many of our students are emotionally and financially hurting right now. Exercise and yoga are excellent salves for stress. I truly do understand the tug at the heart strings, but can we not also exercise discernment in who we make such offers to?
The wave of free classes has created, in my online inboxes, an expectation that our collective work be free. In just a few short weeks, it’s no longer considered a gift, an act of compassion, or a generosity to give our services away; its become nearly an act of offence that there is a fee.
Just because something soothes the soul doesn’t mean we need to acquire it at no cost. Food, too, is an excellent salve for pain, and we don’t collectively expect food to be universally free right now. The farmer needs to get paid or there is no food.
I am aware that some of these classes are also “trials.” This is not a model we see in other businesses: we don’t expect accountants to do a free trial hour so we can see if we “like it.” We pay for the hour they deliver to us, because it also honours how they earn a living. A trial class can be by donation or at a discount if it’s truly a test for either a teacher or a student.
Many of our students are suffering financial losses. We can address these students in many ways: sliding scale, karma trades, pay-what-you-can. Rather than making classes free and hoping some students pay, can we all do the opposite and create a universal paid model with one or more of the compassion offerings above?
After all, if the reason someone cannot pay is that they lost their job, perhaps they have a skill they could offer the us, as a teacher, in kind.
They can stand up and identify themselves as being in need rather than having us universally volunteer to waive everyone’s fees for service. This is how the relief program works for banks, power companies, and landlords, so why not for our industry also?
Compassion is a gift. But we also might consider it an act of compassion to consider the industry impact: the impact to fellow teachers, who are also trying to earn a living or feed children or keep a commercial studio afloat. And the impact of attracting students who can’t pay today, and may not be able to tomorrow either. Will it be an act of compassion to remove this?
For students and clients:
Assuming some teachers continue to offer free classes without some of the examples of discernment measures above in place, I strongly encourage you to pay for services for classes unless your teacher has specially offered you a free class for a reason (for example, I am personally giving services to healthcare workers but I am approaching these individuals directly and explaining why).
If you can’t afford to pay, please offer to trade your time for small administrative jobs or other in-kind services in your area of work for classes or services. Give the teacher the gift of making a decision to accept or decline.
If you are part of a Facebook group and someone asks where they can find fitness classes, consider recommending a teacher who charges for classes rather than one who is offering free sessions.
Not all teachers have other jobs.
Not all studio owners have been relieved of the obligation to pay corporate rent.
Not all teachers have spouses or other income sources.
In recent days, I’ve seen multiple threads in community group pages asking for fitness recommendations. Invariably, the page fills with free offers, and not once did I notice a mention of finances, budgets, or economic hardships in the original post.
Unless specifically asked to be mindful of costs, please make recommendations for teachers who charge a fee of some kind. Support a teacher. Support a studio owner. Support someone remaining employed, as behind the face of every “free” program, there is a teacher who dedicated time, intellectual capital, and energy to the programming.
If you are called to do so, contemplate the following with your recommendations and support:
Consider recommending and paying for classes with a teacher who teaches full-time. The same way you would recommend a lawyer or dentist who does full-time work. As a professional, and speaking from my own experience, there is a vast difference in my expertise between the six years I was part-time and the eight I have been full-time. This professional development and expertise will likely be evident in your class delivery and experience.
Consider recommending a teacher whose income depends on teaching. They need your support and they care deeply about not only bridging this gap but also future ones. I have never been so personally invested in my clients, my students, and my future as a teacher and a business owner, and that’s the kind of teacher you want to both utilize for yourself and recommend to others right now.
Consider recommending a teacher who invests in continuous education. A teacher who learns is one who has invested in not only themselves but also in their students. Not all fitness classes are led by teachers with deep certification levels. Ask for qualifications and recommend teachers who have a history of continuing education. Trust me on this.
Consider recommending a teacher who is working today. Many are not able to, but if your choice is supporting a live class that’s happening in real time or watching a free YouTube video, invest in the accountability of today. That teacher is transitioning with the entire industry today simply so that the studio or club of your choice will still be in business in six months. You will get accountability for your workout and you will also be working with a teacher who is taking the difficult steps of moving through this transition and investing in being there for you tomorrow.
Free is not a business model.
Free would not be an acceptable household income for any profession, including your own.
Please compassionately support fitness professionals by paying for services and recommending those who request to be compensated in kind.