Slug to Instructor

Her senior year of high school, Gina Portolese began to feel sluggish. She decided to do something about it by going to her local gym.

“I was very unhealthy about it in the beginning,” said Portolese. “I would go to the gym twice a day and be there for two hours. So it really wasn’t a good way to start off, but it did spark a fire for my love of fitness.”

Her appreciation of fitness continued in college at Ball State University. During her sophomore year, Portolese applied to be a fitness instructor at the university. When she didn’t get the job, she instead worked at the front desk of Ball State’s rec center.

Three years later, Portolese decided to apply for an instructor position again. This time, she got the job. In the fall semester of her senior year, she began teaching step classes two to three times a week to alumni, fellow students and professors.

“My workout routine changed [in college] just a little bit. I began to look more into circuit training, which is actually what I’m teaching now. The difference is, back in the day, I would just go to the gym for a couple hours, run for like three miles then go — either if it was leg day or arm day — on those specific machines and try and build up as much strength as I could,” explained Portolese. “But now, it’s more about agility and the function of the body. When I was starting at university, I started to look more into the circuit training aspect of things.”

Portolese took her love of fitness from high school, to college, to her professional career. Since graduating last May, Portolese moved to Denver, Colorado and began teaching circuit training classes at the University of Denver and at Push Fitness, a local gym in her area.

“I didn’t study anything around fitness or nutrition. I have always wanted to help improve other people’s lives ­­— either by doing a nonprofit job or volunteering,” said Portolese. “Then it really shot out at me, ‘Oh, I’m good at working out. And working out is good for you. And I see these people teaching, I could do that and that would help other people improve their lives as well.’ I thought it would be a very hands-on, helping thing for me to do.”

Though she is happy with her job at Push Fitness, Portolese is excited about the opportunity to connect with students more her age at the University of Denver. Despite the fact she started by teaching at a university, she says the teaching opportunities at Push Fitness have better prepared her to teach at the University of Denver.

“I think that there needs to be more of a learning aspect in [how universities prepare their instructors],” said Portolese. “They could bring in a very educated instructor and have us shadow each other’s classes and take bits and pieces of how each other teach. Have more of an observing period before you’re thrown into it.”

Thinking back to how she taught at Ball State compared to her teaching methods now, Portolese said she notices a drastic difference. She feels more comfortable being hands-on with her students so they can be safe and ensure they perform all the movements correctly.

“It’s different in a way that now I’m more aggressively hands-on, so people don’t hurt themselves. I study more movements rather than stick with a couple to use that I know people would be OK with doing. It’s challenging, but it could be more challenging,” added Portolese.

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