approximate reading time: 6 minutes

It’s a funny feeling, because I’m still in my 20s, and still feel like I haven’t accomplished a thing in this industry, looking at the big picture.   

As a matter of fact, I probably won’t feel like I’ve legitimately developed any sort of mastery over my craft until I’m at least 40.

But as my popularity as a coach and writer increases, I receive more and more emails from trainers and coaches asking for my input on taking strides to better themselves, get more business, and be more successful at what they do. Many times the trainers sending these messages are young, or in their first 2 to 3 years of their career, and they’re turning to me for advice. Because of my age and their closeness to it, I’m sure it could act to soften some tension and help build a rapport bridge right off the mark, versus going after a dude who’s been in the game for 25 years.  So I get it.

I won’t use this blog article to comment on advice I give concerning formal education and certification choices – that’s a whole other conversation in itself.  What I’ll address here and now is based on practical experience, and by extension, one of the most common desires I see within a young trainer’s mind: running a private training business.

Now, that sentence may sound a bit more daunting that it actually is. It doesn’t necessarily refer to owning a studio to pay huge overhead fees for a gym stocked full of equipment that you had to buy with your own capital, or via a gigantic bank loan.  A private training business can be run by doing house calls, having clients meet you at a hub location, or even through outdoor training systems if your climate is conducive to that.  I’ll be the first to say, there’s really nothing like working for yourself, and in the gym and fitness business, there are surely a lot of advantages to doing so, as long as you do it right.

It sounds like a simple enough task to get a quick certification, start a blog, shoot some videos on YouTube, and go off to the races building your client base. But it’s not that easy.  This is why I recommend green trainers to build practical experience in ONE way, and no other:

PUT IN THE TIME WITH A COMMERCIAL GYM.

I mean it.

Now, it’s one thing if the luck train hit you right out of high school and you’re able to connect with a top grade strength coach or performance centre to take you under their wing. But for most of us, that’s not the case. Especially in a city as saturated with trainers as mine, it’s going to be a difficult road to get a break because personal trainers simply are a dime a dozen.  For people who are driven, it will be very trying to stay within the mould and work for a box chain gym, but I can’t stress enough how necessary a step it is towards your training independence.

A big mistake people make is “going out on their own” far too soon, and I can’t emphasize it enough: if making 6 figures in a short period of time is your goal, then you’re in the wrong industry, and you might as well quit while it’s still early. Making a good living doing this takes time, and plenty of it. Not only do I speak from the experience of a difficult beginning (more on that later), but if you examine the “coming up” story of basically any other popular and respected trainer out there, I’ll bet your bottom dollar you’ll hear similar words.

Nothing stops you from trying the solo business thing right from the gate, but in my opinion, putting in the time at Globo when it counts can preserve your career in the long term.  As a fresh, green trainer, a box gym will feed you a variety of clients to build experience with, and you’ll also be working with a team of usually over 20 trainers on staff. That means you’ll be able to learn from trainers who are more knowledgeable and experienced than you currently are, and that gives the opportunity to bounce ideas off of them.  The money is likely around 30 percent of what you would try billing on your own, but charging that kind of money per hour consistently is difficult for a reason – and you have to be able to prove your worth first.

Lots of good can come from working alongside those with different levels of experience and different styles of training. Box gyms can give you just that.

Lots of good can come from working alongside those with different levels of experience and different styles of training. Box gyms can give you just that.

A FEW MORE POINTS ON THE CLIENTS

This is the most important factor of them all, because the strongest referral and credibility source for most trainers in the game is going to be via word of mouth.  A client who’s been working with you for a significant period of time will only have good things to say about your consistency, especially when they note the rate of turnover around you in the same gym you work at. In Toronto, trainers usually have 2 goals in terms of their target clientele when running their own training business:

  • Pro level athletes (which is a bit of a reach for most of us, since there aren’t too many running around the city, and even fewer trainers to train them)
  • Executive clientele who are high income earners

The latter of the two is slightly more realistic to bank on as a client base to aim for in order to make a sustainable career out of personal training. And I’m not in Hollywood, so meeting a dozen celebrities is out of the question also.  So when you’re face to face with a 7 figure earner from Bay Street, chances are you’ll already be a “kid” in his eyes. If you also haven’t made a name for yourself through your experience and consistency, then what will you tell him when he asks you: “why should I train with you and not that guy over there?”?

Also, think about your resume. If you happen to apply for another job at a more elite club in the future, the management of that club will also look at the length of time you spent at your previous workplace – not just the amount of years you’ve been a trainer or coach.

THE DISCIPLINE FACTOR

There’s another layer to this.

I believe that we have to get used to answering to someone before we get used to answering to no one. If you think of the game of life, there’s a reason why our parents set curfews for us as teenagers, gave us allowances, and set limitations on how much fun we had on school nights.  Those very limitations helped shape us into the proper functioning adults we grew up to be.  We’re also quick to notice those kids who were the by-product of poor parenting methods growing up, based on their behavior as adults.  I feel that the same maturation process should occur when maturing as a professional – and this is especially sensitive to the fitness world.   Answering to a boss who’s there to make sure that what we do, doesn’t make him look bad is a bittersweet factor that each of us should embrace.  We’re in the service industry, and just like it would be with anything else, clients won’t appreciate poor quality. That can be as simple as showing up late for appointments, or not handing our clients their dumbbells for their next set. All of those little things matter and being “polished” as a trainer is an easier process when another pair of critiquing eyes is making sure of that.

Closing thoughts

As I’ve mentioned a few times in the past, my first personal training job was for a box gym. I started there making 17 dollars per hour, out of the nearly 80 dollars per hour that the club billed. I got to the point where I worked extremely long days to make up for that low cut, and was able to get my foot in a few doors to raises, and a promotion or two.  Aside from learning to work with a team and to interact with others, I was able to meet a variety of clients and build a significant number of contacts. Some of those contacts were even indirectly involved with things as important to me as the website you’re reading from today.  I learned about things that gyms liked to see within their staff, and also what they disliked (and subsequently wrote me up for).  I also was able to see the difference between good, honest and fair business, versus the exact opposite – as BOTH were fully displayed to me by the management of that company.

I spent about 4 years there, and just before I quit, I decided to check the database to see just how many different trainers had passed through the club during that 4 year span, regardless of whether they were still on staff, had quit or were fired within that time. To my surprise, that number was 124. When our gym typically housed around 25 trainers at a time, that number was a staggering reality check to me to show just how transient this industry really is. As many frustrations as I may have had working for a fitness chain, I still view it as the most important venture in my career to date.

The ultimate goal in your training path should be to make whatever transitions you decide to move forward on, as seamless as possible. As tempting as it may be to just pick up and leave to pursue your own interests as a trainer, it behooves trainers who are newer to the game to focus on the bigger picture and examine whether or not that move is in good timing to make, or if it would just create the beginning of a circuitous path that leads to the same end goal. Being this discerning could mean the difference between a successful endeavor and a frustrating one.

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