I just saw that another personal trainer that I know has now become a real estate agent. I’ve noticed this happening a lot. Maybe they simply love real estate more than personal training, but, I would bet that they were seeking a way to make more money than they were as a trainer. While some continue to do both, I’ve seen many trainers simply change careers, often times, to become a real estate agent. Maybe it’s the ease of getting into it or the dream of big commissions, but ultimately I find it truly disheartening.
Personal training can be one the most rewarding careers and we have never been more needed than we are right now. “Why are trainers leaving?”, you may ask. I have a few thoughts on that.
- New trainers are not taught and don’t understand the business side of personal training and without the business knowledge, including marketing and sales, it is very difficult to make a living.
- They don’t realize that it takes time to build a clientele. This means that, even if they had the business knowledge, they are unlikely have a full schedule for quite a while. I knew one trainer that showed great promise, who, after only a few months into their position at a health club, started feeling financial pressures and is now a salesperson at a lumber store.
- I also think that we are in a time, with boutique fitness studios and CrossFit-like boxes opening right and left, when it seems that being your own boss is the new expectation. This can be a huge mistake. So much can be learned from working for others, particularly in a larger club. This not a sell-out, it’s a smart move. I spent most of my career working in other people’s clubs and, at every new club, I acquired new skill sets.
So, before you go off and start selling real estate (or lumber), know that it takes time and knowledge to build your career. Get the training that you need to be a successful personal trainer and enjoy a lifetime of helping others change their lives. I’ve been at it almost 40 years and can’t imagine doing anything else.
P.S. If you feel stuck and don’t know what to do, feel free to shoot me a message.
The idea of turning down work seems crazy, doesn’t it? Early in our careers, many of us scrambled to make a living. We took every client and every job opportunity we could. That was a mistake then, and it’s a mistake now.
Taking every client, any time of day, any day of the week, sets us up for creating a schedule that is chopped up, with no real time for ourselves or others in our lives. Imagine a schedule where you have hour-long sessions with clients at 6am, 9am, 10am, 3pm, 5pm, and 7pm. Six client hours per day is not bad, but those hours are going to old really fast. Set the hours that you want to be working first. (I used to set my hours so that I finished for the day when it was time to pick up my kids from school.) Then, work at filling those hours in. When asked to take on a client outside of those hours, explain that you only take clients from ______ to ________ and if they can adjust their schedule to meet between those hours, you would be happy to work with them. If they can’t, refer them to another personal trainer that would be a good match for them. The person inquiring about working with you will appreciate it and may well refer others to you that can train in that time frame.
Being able to say no to work is not just about training clients. It could also be additional jobs (or tasks) that we get offered throughout our careers. Taking every opportunity that comes our way can turn our lives into high pressure, stressful times that don’t leave time for the things that really matter to us. Maybe you were asked to serve on a committee, a board of directors, head a special project, take on an extra part-time job,… whatever. In each case, you need to weigh the benefits with the cost of time and effort. If its benefits, either financially or career-building wise, outweigh the cost, by all means take it, but you need to take the time to scrutinize it.
What got me thinking about this was that I was just offered (and was contemplating) an opportunity to create and teach a video course for a college in Ireland. Sounded like a very cool project. I was flattered that they asked me and it would be rewarding to create something like that. I took a few days to think it over. The money offered wasn’t great and it was going to eat into time that I really do need to put elsewhere (family, our business, and a project that was going to have a greater, long-term financial reward). So, after weighing the benefits and the cost to me, I turned them down.
Time is a precious commodity and we need to make the most of what we have. Learn to say no. Carve out the time to do the things that are most important to you and then only take on work that fits around that schedule.
Through the almost four decades that I’ve been a personal trainer and health club manager, I’ve seen a lot of personal trainers come and go. Only a small portion create a sustainable career as a personal trainer. In my opinion, this is because, for some reason, entry level trainers are not thinking about it like other careers. They think that they can jump in, get some clients, and life is good just doing the same old, same old. To really succeed in this industry (well, in fact, any industry) you need to plan long-term. You need to map out the steps your ideal career.
If you look at other careers, what do you see? Someone planning to be a lawyer, maybe they plan to go to a top school, pass the bar exam, get hired by a top company, and make partner by age forty. How about and architect? Go to a top school, work for a top agency, and their own firm by fifty. What these have in common is that they have the end game in mind and steps to take them there. With a specific vision in mind of where you want your career to go, you can break it down to those steps necessary to carry you to that goal.
What is your career end game? Let’s say you want to own your own health club or studio as an example. What things do you have to accomplish to get you there? Start with the major steps and then you can break each major step into smaller (not unlike periodizing a client’s program).
- Start saving money for your facility (oh, yeah. You better start as soon as you can. It could be $10/week, but start now. This is something that I wish I had known when I began my career.)
- Get a degree or accredited certification.
- Intern or get hired by a fitness club to get hands-on experience
- Seek out opportunities in management (assistant fitness director, manager on duty, assistant manager)
- Become a general manager
- Open your own facility
Simplistic? Definitely! It may take 10-20 years to achieve, too. That depends on how ambitious you are. (Shortly after college, I started as a personal trainer at a fairly large health club in Boston and became general manager within two years. Granted, there weren’t as many fitness professionals back in those days, but I was still very career focused.)
The key to reaching your career goal once you have mapped out your ladder is to look for the opportunities to learn and utilize the skills that will take you to that next step. Learn more about training, behavior modification, business, interpersonal communication, professional writing, public speaking, and any other thing that could make you a better rounded professional.
Make the most of your career in health and fitness. There’s nothing more rewarding.
When choosing what you hope to be your life’s work, there is often that moment, something that makes you have an epiphany that tells you that this is your mission. What was the tipping point for you that made you choose your career? This was my story.
A long time ago, in a university far, far away, (the University of Maine, to be precise), I worked in a human performance center. There we performed maximal stress tests, blood chemistry, body composition assessments, lung function tests and many other measures to get a complete health and fitness profile on individuals that came through our various programs.
Among these programs was a cardiac rehabilitation class. Leading that class was one of my responsibilities. Susan was a class participant. Susan was 75 years old, about 5’2″, frail, and was recovering from a heart attack. At first she was challenged to simply walk around. By taking this class regularly, she was finding herself able to do more and more.
Six months after starting the program, Susan came up to me and said, “Mark, I’ve been thinking about doing more in my off days. Do you think it would be okay if I got a stationary bicycle?” Of course, I was thrilled to hear that she wanted to get more active.
About six months after that, still coming to class and with added biking to her program, Susan approached me with some news. “Mark, I’m feeling great and I decided I am going to start taking swimming lessons. I’ve always wanted to learn, but never got around to it.” At 75 years old (actually, then 76) she felt confident enough to do something that she’d never done before. I hugged Susan, kissed her on the top of her silver-haired head and was sold on the idea of how much we, as personal trainers/instructors, could help people live healthier, more active lives.
37 years later, I still get the same thrill seeing the successes of my clients, watching them gain the ability to do things they never thought possible. It keeps me excited about continuing my personal training career for decades to come (and I’m almost 60 now).
What was the moment when you knew what your life’s work would be?