On the blog today we're speaking with Annie Counsel - one of foldUP's Brand Ambassadors, a Pilates instructor, fitness coach and founder of Street Pilates in Melbourne. We're chatting all things pilates, her experience in the wellness industry and how to develop your skillset to teach confidently and inspire your students. She dives deep into opening and running her business while maintaining some sort of work life balance. We're so excited to chat with Annie today!
- How many years have you been in the fitness and wellness industry?
This is my third year in the Pilates Industry, which sounds crazy when I say it out loud! I’m 28 this year and it’s strange to me to think that I worked on the ASGV Sporting Scene as a Coach for the last 10 years, which has always kept my foot in the Fitness world I guess. Being relatively new to this industry, always seems to shock people when they find out - I feel like I’ve done this forever and that it’s always been my life, when in reality I’m still very new to the scene myself! But I guess that comes with the territory of moving as quick as I have, I realised this was my passion and decided to jump in head first with everything I had.
Not a lot of my clients know this, but I talk about it a bit on my Pilates Instagram - I went to University and completed a Honours Degree in Interior Architecture and it’s still very much a big passion of mine! I actually think it’s partly the reason I’m so attracted to Pilates, it feels like it’s the architectural equivalent in the Health and Fitness world. It’s beautiful, focuses on form, function, has a strong connection to the foundations and structural side of the body, while allowing people to be creative, imaginative and work closely with clients … I might sound insane to some - but I personally really see the connection haha!
- What made you decide to become an instructor and were there any challenges you faced to get where you are today?
I hate to sound like I stumbled across my love for this industry… But that’s really what happened. I was working in Social Media Marketing at the time that Covid hit (yes, I have had many professions haha), and I had made the decision to step away from my current workplace with the hope to work somewhere new. In came the hiring freeze and we welcomed our first lockdown. I was pretty miserable at this point, unemployed, locked in my house, completing my last year of a 6 year degree completely online… I felt pretty lost and bored. I was a client at a local Reformer Studio at the time, while smashing the gym every day of the week - Pilates became what I thought was my form of recovery (oh how naive I was). My trainer at the time was actually the one who suggested I looked into doing my own training, I thought he was nuts. But I did some research, found some courses and thought - what the heck, it’ll be a distraction at least. I remember being so nervous on that intake call, handing over the last amount of money I had left - I had to go on a 12 month payment plan just to do my cert! But I did it, and I still remember week 1 of the course thinking to myself “wow, I think I really love this”.
Taking that leap of starting something completely new and having to wrap my head around becoming a newbie in an industry again was pretty hard. But I have to say, the biggest challenge I personally faced when becoming a trainer - was my social anxiety. When people meet me now, they always say “there is no way you had anxiety! I don’t believe it!” But that’s the beauty of being a good trainer in todays world, we can hide so much from the people right in front of us. The thought of meeting new people used to send me into a tizzy, then came the fact that you were the focal point of everyone’s brains for 45 minutes - Jesus Christ. But I learnt the biggest and best skill possible in not just this industry, but all industries - ‘Fake it til you make it’ - and I have carried that with me every single day. Imposter Syndrome is a whole other kettle of fish! I’ve had my fair share with this too, especially with taking the leap of opening Street. There’s been countless nights where I’ve had to face myself with the thoughts of “What do I even think I’m doing?! I’m no expert?!” I still face this now, I often find myself thinking - why would people want to be trained by me? What makes me think I’m any better than anyone else out there? And I’ve learnt to develop techniques to deal with these thoughts, because when it comes down to it - I remind myself that I’m doing what I’m meant to do and I’m doing not god damn well.
- How did you feel when you first finished your training, and how was it as a new instructor?
God, part of me feels like I’m still a new instructor! But that’s kind of the beauty in it, I’m constantly still growing, developing and learning when it comes to the Health and Fitness space. But I do remember those days when I was brand spanking new, god they were wobbly there for a while haha. Like I said, I struggled with social anxiety rather badly when I first became a Trainer and if I’m honest - Covid probably helped me with that. I know, wasn’t the response you were expecting. But being inside and in my own space, helped me feel comfortable and gave me the confidence to do new things remotely with the Internet. I started AntheaPilates, I did my training online, I started hosting zooms from my spare room… it all helped my confidence levels grow. When you only have the option of Camera on Zooms … there’s really no where to hide haha. I kept faking it until it became second nature, and now it’s become one of my most valuable skills that I always try to reflect with my own Trainers. Being able to step into your work space and leave whatever is on your mind in the Carpark, is the best thing you can do. Pretend to be someone else, Clients don’t know you’re petrified unless you show them! Don’t tell them you’re new, come in with such confidence that they think you’ve been doing this your whole god damn life.
- As a trainer, what changes have you noticed about the industry over the years?
Oh, I could talk about this for hours! For me, I’d say the biggest shift has happened over the last 12 months. The pilates space, especially in Australia, has started to shift from the Health and Wellness space, into the Health and Fitness space - which is where I personally think I belong more haha. People are starting to recognise Pilates as a form of exercise on its own, instead of it being categorised as recovery. It’s one of my biggest ‘icks’, when someone refers to our profession as something that belongs on the shelf next to Stretching - not that there’s anything wrong with stretching! Pilates is such an amazing form of exercise and when paired with the correct routine, it can help you take every other field of your fitness journey to the next level. It’s honestly amazing. So I’m really excited that people are finally starting to give us that credit, I also think the rise of more Strength and Fitness based Pilates is making a big difference here. It’s also great to see so many trainers being comfortable with embracing their own personal teaching style - previously it felt like you had to fit the current mould of mindfulness, mind-body connection, meditation practice kind of vibe - whereas now, there’s so much room for every style of training, it’s really exciting. I personally love seeing the way Pilates is also being embraced by more and more Males every day - it’s one of my biggest drivers to get more men on reformers.
- What are your 3 favourite things about being an instructor and studio owner?
Cliche, but being able to build a community. Whenever I saw other studio owners talk about this, I always thought - yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it before, you love ‘helping people’ we get it. But it honestly still makes me buzz with electricity when I hear that people feel comfortable in our space and are enjoying it, also bonus points for seeing clients chat and interact who might not have ever met if they didn’t go on the reformers next to each other!
Second is probably a bit more personal, I love the way becoming a trainer has effecting my relationship with my body. Previously, I thought I had good body awareness, was happy with myself and lived a balanced, sustainable lifestyle. When in reality, I was constantly calorie counting, obsessing over how many calories I burnt in a gym session, lifting too heavy, eating too little, not sleeping enough, over working, over stimulating and burning myself out every 3-6 months. God, how perspective can change things haha. Becoming a trainer, made me slow down. I had to start prioritising my energy for my clients, which meant no more 6am workouts into 10 hour work days, 6 days a week. It was time to pull it back and really listen to my body. I hit burnout before I started this Pilates Journey, I wasn’t allowed to step foot in the gym, I had chronic fatigue, was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and light depression… Pilates and becoming literally changed my life. I can’t even begin to think whereI’d be today if I had stayed on that road!
Finally, being able to educate others. It might be the sport coach in me - but this has been an unexpected passion of mine. It’s where the idea of Street Academy came from, because I was having a lot of trainers reach out and ask for advice, tips, just want to chat or have a vent and it made me think - wow people really value me here. So I started to accept the direction the universe so obviously wanted me to go in, helping other trainers become … not better, because they’re already amazing, they just need to back themselves, so helping them level up their own abilities.
- How do you find a balance between running a business, teaching multiple classes, nourishing your body and resting? + 6.What advice do you have for new teachers or those wanting to open their own studio?
I wish I had this one figured out honestly haha, it is a constant battle - one I’m still trying to manage at this current moment! I’m trying my hardest to prioritise my own personal practice, fitness, sleep and wellbeing now that Street is finding it's feet. Finding the time to exercise yourself seems impossible, at the beginning it was all energy output and I was wondering how sustainable this can really be. People think it’s been 6 months, because that’s how long the doors at Street have been opened, when in reality it’s been a marathon of nearly 18 months of development and endless hours. When we opened Street, I made the controversial decision to take 5 days off within the first 3 months, but I honestly think it was the best thing I ever did. I took time off from teaching, packed my iPad and headed up to Queensland to see a friend, for a working holiday I must add, but still a relax and reset. It gave me the best perspective when it came to my business, allowing myself to step outside the Studio and identify where I needed to invest more time and energy for the business to flourish. I spent 4 days outing what steps I was going to take next, what aspects I was going to drop and what I was going to pick up - it completely changed my business structure and gave me the direction and push I needed - it was honestly life changing for Street.
That would be one of my biggest suggestion for Studio Owners, it’s really easy to fall into the trap of thinking your business cannot possibly stand without you for a week or so. If that is the case, then you’ve got a bigger problem on your hands than you may think. In reality, your business is going to be fine - as long as it’s not a life and death situation, people will understand you not being there for a while. Take some time to step away from your current environment, some distance can really make a world of difference when it comes to trying to figure out your next steps. This is advice for not just new studio owners, but existing as well, it’s okay to step away and work remotely, even when the guilt kicks in - it’s for the better of your business.
- Tell us about your new program!
Not being a Trainer veteran myself, I found there was a really big gap in the market when it came to courses, plan and programs for existing Trainers. We get given all this information within a short time period when we do our initial training, then you’re thrown into the big bad world - which can be super intimidating! Looking back on the experience I had as a newbie, it became clear that the most beneficial practice after finishing the qualification - was actually mentoring with an experienced trainer. Paired with the fact that recently a few fellow trainers had been reaching out for advice, the concept of Street Academy was born. It’s our new Trainer Program or Course if you like, for qualified trainers. The idea behind our community is to get trainers from all levels of experience, into the one conversations - allowing old trainers too pick up new tricks, new trainers to bottle up that wisdom and all the things in between. It’s an online forum where we create visual aids for teaching, class templates and example flows, create conversations around topics that might be ’taboo’ when it comes to this industry. Being a trainer can also be a bit of a slog in the financial department and we all know it, it’s hard to invest in ourselves when we are working hour to hour, so we made sure Street Academy was affordable for everyone with our monthly subscription coming in at just $5.00 after the initial purchase. I’m really proud of where this community is already heading, with trainers jumping on from all over Australia and even Internationally!
- Visit https://www.streetpilates.com.au/ to learn more about Annie and her business, and book into one of her epic classes!