The first time I came across a personal trainer, we almost got into a fight. Despite the fact that the gym was almost empty that day, the trainer was collecting equipment and taking up much more space than he or his client. The last straw was when he stuck my ass in my face, when he saw his client on a bench next to me.
We had words, but we avoided violence, and, in the end, we both learned something. I learned that a “personal trainer” is a profession, and he (hopefully) found out that his profession does not have a license to act as a member.
Today, after more than 30 years, everyone knows about personal trainers. There are over 300,000 in the United States, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects their number to increase by 10% by 2026. In the end, the number of college graduates with a degree in natural sciences has also increased significantly this decade.
But make no mistake, higher education does not even guarantee you entry-level work. Most gyms still need at least one personal training certificate before they give you a company shirt and put you on the floor. And once you are on the floor, you will have to attract and retain customers.
And this is just the beginning. In order to actually make a career as a personal trainer who brings good income for the work you love, you need to make some important decisions: what do you need to know? Should I specialize in a specific type of client or training? How to attract attention and build your profile?
To find the answers, I asked the nine most experienced fitness professionals that I know to share their best tips for beginner trainers.
Master the basics
Most often, coaches become coaches because they love training. Many of them are lifelong athletes and sports rats with a passion for finding new challenges. But this is the opposite of what the average client needs, says Megan Callaway, personal trainer in North Vancouver, British Columbia.
“So many trainers underestimate the importance of becoming truly proficient with basic exercises and having a wide range of regressions, progressions and modifications,” she says. “Too often, they find that brighter and more advanced exercises are better or more interesting.”
Start working with people and you will quickly see that few clients are really ready for technically complex movements, and no one needs to be entertained. They must be trained! Even with a more advanced client, as rare as for an inexperienced trainer, you are likely to still get better results by focusing on fundamental exercises and methods.
“When in doubt, the basic one works best,” Callaway says.
Complete your toolkit
Sticking to the basics does not mean using the same exercises in every workout. This is not even an option if you train clients in a crowded gym; You will need alternatives when you cannot get to the equipment you need.
For this reason, a good trainer should know at least 37 options for each basic movement pattern – bench press, rowing, lowering, squatting, lunge and hip hinge.
Where does this number come from? Nowhere. I just did it. But I bet that every experienced trainer reading this article can get almost 37 options for everyone.
Ethan Benda, a personal trainer in Kansas City, Missouri, offers the following task: can you come up with a good workout for the whole body using only one moderate dumbbell, and then scale it for both the primary and advanced student? Here's how he would do it:
Training with one dumbbell
Basic training: 2-3 rounds
- Reverse lunge with front loading 10-20 reps per leg
- Split position 10-20 reps per arm
Floor press 10-20 reps per arm
- Front squats 10-25 reps
- 10-25 reps
- Shoulder Press 10-25 reps
- Jumping forward crouching, 5-10 reps per leg
- Inclined row 10-20 reps per arm
Floor press with a slow eccentric movement of 10-20 reps per arm
- Explosive squat for 10-25 reps
- Single stretch of 10-25 reps per arm
- Full spin 10-25 reps
Benda shows the exercises in this video.
Do not rush to the specialty
Think of a trainer who is well-known, and there is a chance that this is because of the trainer's specialty: Bret Contreras and buttock training. Eric Cressy and the Jugs. Mark Verstegen and the best NFL drafts.
This may lead you to think that the path to success begins with narrowing your focus to a specific type of client or training system. This is usually not the case.
“The specialization is sexy,” admits Kevin Mullins, Equinox's master instructor in Washington, DC, “but it comes at the expense of depth. A universalist is best suited to move the needle with the population that most often employs instructors. ”
Not only is an experienced and experienced station wagon in the best position to succeed with a niche. This is because the market tells good coaches what they do best. Satisfied clients recommend the trainer to people like them, while other trainers see these results and guide people with similar goals.
How long does it take?
“At least 5,000 sessions with individuals or small groups,” Mullins says, which corresponds to 3-4 years of full-time study.
Earn Multiple Certificates
I previously noted that most gyms require basic credentials before they hire a new coach. Unfortunately, this does not tell you which one you need! If you're not sure which one to use, check out Jonathan Goodman’s personal training certification guide.
But this is only the beginning for an ambitious fitness professional. Danny King, National Development Manager for Life Time Team Members, says that the most popular and most sought after trainers usually have at least three special certificates.
One reason is institutional. “The more certificates, the better the title,” says King. For example, in Life Time, “a level 5 trainer has more certificates than level 1, and clients and participants tend to trainers of a higher level.”
But probably more importantly, he says, "this is the confidence and skill associated with learning." And not just learn from a book or a seminar, "but actually pass the exam and get a certificate."
Develop your people skills
According to Chad Landers, the owner of Push Private Fitness in Los Angeles and NSCA's personal trainer in 2018, the credentials are only far away.
“Most customers have no idea about diplomas or certificates, or that something is being done wrong or dangerous,” he says. “What they know is that their coach makes them feel good when they are with them, and feel good when they are not.”
Landers adds: “If you don’t need anything, you should be able to talk about something other than training and nutrition. The more you have in common with customers and potential customers, the better. ”
It goes without saying (but still need to be said) that you also need to make sure that you respect the boundaries and the right relationships in the gym.
Get attention close to home
Social networks can distort a young trainer's view of how success in the fitness industry looks. Although some do a great job of monetizing their “influential” status, there is no clear correlation between income and popularity.
“If you don’t run an online business and you don’t have outstanding authority, social tracking is not likely to result in a loss of dollars in your business,” says Lisa Simone Richards, a fitness PR consultant.
What works? Local advertising: writing articles for a public newspaper, appearing on a local radio, and a TV channel covering events at your gym.
“This is a free way to attract attention and attract customers, especially for practicing trainers,” she says.
Yes, it looks like a little potato when you compare it to a global platform such as Instagram. But which ones are more likely to reach people who could actually check out your gym and consider hiring you?
One of the extremely underestimated ways to increase your profile and authority is to win the "best of" award. Each city or region has a newspaper, magazine, radio or television channel that issues them every year. “You will be surprised at how many people do not pretend to them, believing that they will never win,” says Richards.
They may be right when it comes to rewards such as “the best gym” or “the best personal trainer” in their field. The same people tend to win year after year. But you can increase your chances by asking the organizers to create a new category specific to your business. For example, "The best sports facility" or "The best group cycling instructor."
When you come in, Richards says, make sure your clients and gym members are aware of this, and give them incentives to vote for you.
Even if you do not win, you will increase your profile in your gym or community, and this opens up new opportunities.
Online customer training
Potential clients who cannot train with you personally sometimes ask you to train them online. The same goes for customers who travel a lot. The same goes for friends or relatives of customers who have heard that you are awesome but don’t live in your area. So be prepared for this, because it can definitely help blow your training business.
The first and greatest advantage is income.
“I can still work with online clients while traveling,” said Dean Somerset, a trainer and rehabilitation specialist in Edmonton, Alberta.
This will smooth out your salary, so you won’t bother paying rent when half of your clients get sick or go on vacation at the same time.
It also makes you a better coach.
“One of the biggest challenges in online learning is also his biggest gift,” Somerset says. “Because I am not in the same room as the client and cannot touch the muscle to say:“ This is where you should feel this work, ”it’s much more difficult to pass me what I need and get them to buy something what they should do. "
Online customer training made Somerset improve his communication and coaching skills, both personally and in writing. He also began filming his own videos and created an extensive library of guides on YouTube. The more content he created and shared, the more opportunities he had to write and present, as well as train as many clients as possible, both personally and online.
Somerset became influential, not even trying to pass himself off as “influential”.
Create a customer avatar and become the hero of this person
Suppose you train your clients completely or mostly online. You think a large audience will be the key to your success. But the important thing is not how many subscribers you have, but whether the people who follow you are ready to spend money on your goods or services.
Take, for example, Brittany Bird. Despite a small audience (her Instagram account is private, with only 1,000 subscribers), her business is booming. The reason is simple: she focuses on one type of client — women, in her case — and tries to be the best coach for that client.
If you trained clients long enough to specialize in one niche, here is the process that Bird recommends:
- “Write a list of all the attributes you like in current clients and all the things you don't like,” she says. This is an avatar of your client, and your content on social networks should communicate with this person as directly as possible.
- Rely on what makes you unique. “When I think of my favorite entrepreneurs, they make you feel like you know them,” Byrd says. “Do the same for your audience. You are the only one, so be sure to truly be yourself. ”
- All the least beloved entrepreneurs are those who publish messages only when they have what they are trying to sell. No matter how much you love a person or a product, you don’t want you to be treated as the commercial equivalent of a booty call. According to Byrd, the goal is to ensure that the frequency, volume and quality of your content is consistent. You will remain at the height of their customers, and they will not be offended by you because they sell them several times a year.
Back in 2018, when I interviewed Arnold Schwarzenegger for Men's Health, I asked him what he would say to himself if he could return to the past. His answer: he will not say anything. His mistakes, he told me, made him a better person.
It's a lesson trainers should learn, says Melody Schönfeld, owner of Flawless Fitness in Los Angeles and NSCA Personal Trainer of the Year 2019.
“It's important not to beat yourself up too much when you make mistakes,” she says. “From experience I can say that this is a waste of time and energy.”
The way you respond to your mistakes shows who you are. To deny that you are mistaken in something, or to pretend that you have never defended exercises or systems that you would not recommend today, is to renounce part of yourself.
“Everything that I have done so far, even fools, has led me to where I am,” says Schönfeld. "This is how you grow."
Never forget why you became a coach
Let's get back to my first meeting with a personal trainer. Despite the fact that this happened 30 years ago, I still share the story at every opportunity.
This is not because I have something against coaches. As a fitness writer, I interviewed, consulted and talked with them since 1992, and I currently work at the Personal Trainer Development Center.
These days I cite history as one of the worst examples of how to behave. Did anyone who witnessed his routine with a big dog think about hiring him, even if they understood what a personal trainer is?
As a trainer, you are always on display – in the gym, in the community or online. Someone is always looking, and this person can be a potential customer. Will they see anyone friendly, polite and professional? Will they see someone with whom they would like to work 2-3 hours a week?
The answer can very well determine how far you've gone in the fitness industry.