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American Senior Fitness




SFA president Janie Clark, M.A., says, "I couldn't agree more with the point of this article. As usual, Mary Ann has hit the nail squarely on the head! Instructor burnout is an important issue, and having a plan in place to combat it can make all the difference." 



by Mary Ann Wilson, R.N.


Mary Ann Wilson, an SFA National Advisory Board member, is the host of public television's popular Sit and Be Fit@ workout series. She teaches in retirement homes where participants are 80 to 100 years old and often use wheelchairs, walkers and canes. For a brochure describing Sit and Be Fit@ video products, contact: P.O. Box 8033, Spokane WA 99203-0033 (509) 448-9438 or visit the SIT AND BE FIT website at www.sitandbefit.com .

If you are a viewer of the time-honored television program, "20/20" hosted by Barbara Walters, the words "Give Me A Break", most likely conjure up visions of journalist, John Stossel, who opens his segment with that well-known phrase, "Give Me A Break". In his commentary, he chooses a topic or a practice that is obviously flawed, in his humble opinion, yet the entire population adheres to it, nevertheless. His comments poke fun and illustrate that we often do or say things repeatedly without questioning "why". Originally, there may have been a good reason for the act in question; however, it has no basis in todayís world.

While the subject of this article will not poke fun at mindless activities or explore a variety of curious rationales, it will question an assumption made by fitness professionals that is unhealthy and can lead to burnout. However, Iíll offer a solution to the problem that I hope youíll find useful.


You are feeling tired, worn out and uncreative. You know you need a break from teaching your classes but you canít just take off for an extended period of time. Your students depend on you for motivation as well as instruction. You have looked for a substitute instructor but all the qualified instructors are overloaded and cannot help.

Adding to your dilemma, your children are out of school for the summer and your very large Italian family is planning a two-week long family reunion half way across the country. You want to go but just canít leave your students for that length of time.


Making time for yourself and your loved ones is a must. Many times just a change of pace, scenery and a break from routine is just what the doctor ordered. Everyone needs to re-charge their batteries from time to time without feeling guilty about their responsibilities to others.

Here is an idea that will allow you to leave your classes for as long as a month or more without the slightest twinge of guilt. It will also promote a sense of responsibility in your students by putting them in charge of their fitness program.

Remind your students or clients that they have made some wonderful functional gains over the last several months including improved posture and leg strength. You donít want them to backslide. Ideally you want to equip them with the tools to continue to progress during your absence.

One way to insure that they donít become couch potatoes while you are on hiatus is to give them HOMEWORK!! Everyone who completes the assignment is awarded a small but useful prize when you return.

Here is one way to accomplish your goal:

On one side of an 8 Ĺ by 11 sheet of paper, print a calendar covering the time you will be absent from class and they will be on their own. The calendar should have enough space in the blocks to allow students to check off the exercises they do.

On the other side make a list of the exercises you want them to perform. Assign each exercise a point. When you return and collect their homework, tally up the points to discover the winner.

Explain the rules and ask them to display their homework sheet someplace where it will remind them to exercise ( i.e., the refrigerator.) List any other instructions regarding technique, repetitions and any encouragement.

At SIT AND BE FIT, the students we teach are quite frail so we concentrate on functional exercises that focus on leg strength, balance and abdominal awareness. Instead of using a point system, we gave our students a choice of doing one of three types of exercise each day. The choices included a set of pre-assigned exercises, the SIT AND BE FIT television program, or any SIT AND BE FIT video. For a perfect score, we required them to perform their exercise assignment 5 days each week we were gone. Winners received a coffee mug (that we found on sale) with personalized SIT AND BE FIT exercise instructions.

If you would like to receive a copy of our homework assignment, please write or call. You may also e-mail us your postal address. You can customize your exercises and prizes to suit your clientsí needs.

During your time away you will regain focus, clarity and creativity. Having allowed yourself the luxury of re-charging your batteries, you will discover your life is full and once again in balance. And guess what? ÖÖ.NO GUILT!


You will return to a challenged and motivated class who is happy to have you back. Whatís more, you will have provided them with a good role model, who understands that everyone has a need for respite to maintain mental and physical energy. You did all this by simply GIVING YOURSELF A BREAK!

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