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Fitness industry seeks millennium-old skills – and knowledge of how to become bootylicious

Fitness industry seeks millennium-old skills – and knowledge of how to become bootylicious

| Text: Björn Lindahl, photo Ilja Hendel

More than four million Nordic citizens are members of gyms like Sats Elixia. As a result, the demand for skilled instructors is considerable. We joined one student of theology, one accountant and one brand expert in their spinning, yoga and shape classes.

“What I am doing?”

Monica Nevado has just finished hosting a 55 minute long exercise session. She is warm, but not particularly out of breath. 

“I’m pushing the participants to their limits. I’m there to assure them that it is not dangerous if their muscles ache and their hearts are racing.”

A workout consist of participants using 55 exercise bikes lined up next to each other in a room with glass walls. All of them are wearing heart rate monitors and each one of them can follow their own heart rate on a screen next to the instructor. It goes from the blue zone, which represents 60 percent of maximum heart rate, via the green zone at 70 percent up to the yellow zone, where they work out at 80 percent of their maximum heart rate.

Monica Nevado is from Colombia, where cycling was her chosen sport. After six years in Sweden she moved to Norway and started studying at the Norwegian School of Theology, a freestanding university for students of theology. 

Monica Nevado

In her black cycling outfit and black hair she looks strict. It is not hard to imagine her as a vicar.

“Body and soul belongs together, you know,” she says. 

Spinning, or cycling, is for those who want to improve their fitness. Monica’s workout class starts at a comfortable pace. 

“I see your shoulders are tense,” she tells the 14 participants.

“Lower your shoulders, so we can work out with the same intensity. Get comfortable in the saddle!”

Music is pumping out of the speakers. Through the glass walls you can see an atrium filled with exercise equipment and Sats Elixia members working out on their own. They are lifting weights, standing on balance trainers, swinging a big rope and doing other types of exercise. In the spinning room, however, everyone’s focus is straight ahead. 

“Put in some resistance now. We will spend the next three minutes reaching 70 percent of our maximum heart rate.”

The markers on the screen climb from blue to green. As the participants stand up on the bikes and start pedalling in a standing position, we sneak out of the room, travers the atrium and enter a larger hall where Bjørn Nigard hosts a yoga session. Around 40 people are standing on all fours on their exercise mats. 

Bjørn Nigard

“Sun salutation, breath in, arms out!” Bjørn encourages them.

We were expecting a hall with a more meditative atmosphere. But here too the tempo is high. Instructions are issued rapidly one after the other, with only a few seconds between each position:

“Breath out! Hands on the floor. Upward facing dog. Breath in! Downward facing dog. Warrior number 1, right hand on hip, then the left – hip forward – stretch!”

Bjørn Nigard praises the participants and tells them there is no right or wrong way of doing things.

“There are 7.4 billion different ways of doing yoga, and all of them are correct!” he says.

A Sats Elixia veteran

Bjørn Nigard is working full time as an accounting assistant at the Oslo Stock Exchange. But he is a Sats Elixia veteran, he tells us after the class has ended.

“Hot yoga, cold yoga, pilates, build'n burn, bootylicious - you name it! I have been an instructor for most things,” he says.

What is the most difficult thing with being a fitness instructor?

Bjørn Nigard has to think:

“The hardest thing is when you get no response from those who are exercising. That’s the same regardless of what you are teaching."

Having passed 48 years of age and worked as an instructor for 25 of them, he has started thinking about what he can carry on teaching when he grows even older. Yoga is a good idea. His own philosophy is that yoga should not be something mystical.

“What we teach is built on the thousand years old traditions which yoga represents, and the 100 or so yoga positions – asanas – that exist. An Indian yoga teacher visiting us would recognise all the positions. In my class today I used around 25 asanas. I look at the participants first to see whether there are many tired shoulders and crooked hips for instance, and make my choices based on that.

“I never only use sanskrit. If I ask them to do a chaturanga (a low plank), or a trikonasana (a triangle), I always use the Norwegian name too. My aim is that everyone should be able to do yoga, and for it not to be something mystical. Not everyone should be able to do the Lotus Position!

Marte Ruus

“But people who do yoga become more supple, stronger and improve their balance. I can guarantee it!”

We move on to the biggest hall, where Marte Ruus has just started a shape class. The aim is to become stronger, tighten up your body and improve your body control. The group consists nearly exclusively of young women. We only spot two men among the 60 participants. Although Marte has nearly twice as many participants as the other two instructors, she is not paid more.

“No, the only thing that counts is your experience and any further education you might have. Anything else would have been unfair, because the time of day determines how many come to class. This is prime time – from 4pm until 9pm,” she says. 

She commands the participants from one strenuous exercise to the next. To make their muscles work even harder, she uses boxes and weights. The tempo is high. Marte laughs when we point out that she nearly sounds as if she is commanding a group of soldiers.

“I have a military style, but with a glint in my eye,” she says.

She has been an instructor for 11 years, since she was only 17. 

“I now teach three hours a week – I used to do ten. But I have a full time job as a marketer for Adidas, and there is a limit to how much time I have.” 

How long did it take you to study in order to host a session like the one you did today?

“Six months, if you include the basic stuff at the beginning. I construct my programme on my own, and make sure all the major muscle groups get a workout. It is not enough to simply learn the exercises if you want to be an instructor. It is all about being able to instruct people, how you use your voice and also your personality.

“How long I want to carry on? Until I’m 70, I hope,” she says.

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Marte Ruus

group training instructor at Sats Elixia Bislett, hosts a shape training session


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