I remember seeing trainers at the gym working with clients, wearing their personal trainer uniform shirts looking ripped, and thinking how awesome it would be to do that. A trainer gets to hangout at the gym, workout whenever, get all the pretty girls to talk to them, and make a nice living. Sure, there is some work involved, can’t be all that hard to look amazing and have people pay you? From experience, looks are deceiving!
Since the fall of 2008, I have been a personal trainer working in California, Mississippi, and Louisiana. I have a marketing degree and lack any experience except being a gym member at that time. Passing the first certification test was a part time job itself because I had no education in any anatomy, physiology, or biology. More trainers came from a background away from health and fitness than those who went to college for a related degree.
The job of a successful personal trainer is much more than standing around a gym in your personal trainer shirt and members throwing themselves at you. In this blog, I’m discussing three major mistakes new trainers make that set the good ones apart from those that never pan out. I’ve been a manager at multiple gyms across two states and seen trainers with prior experience and newbies. The fundamentals apply to any gym, anywhere in the world.
1. Trainers just have to look good to get clients: this is the biggest mistake new trainers make. Being a personal trainer has nothing to do with how big or fit you are, how good you look in a bikini, what sports you played, if you were/are a bodybuilding competitor, or how much you can lift.
2. Trainers don’t have to workout and spend time where they work: another false idea for new trainers. Being a personal trainer is not clocking in and out like at a fast-food restaurant.
3. Trainers do not need sales skills: unfortunately, every personal training certification gives 95% of their courses to anatomy, physiology, biology, workout planning, and their own takes on lifestyle, only 5% is given to sales and marketing.
The role of a personal trainer is glamorized, and young people fall into the trap more than experienced workers. This new Gen Z group are terrible at putting in the work and listening to instructions. Social media has falsely put into their heads all they need to do is post half naked pictures and people will throw money at them. The major demographic of training clients are females in their 40s and 50s, with both genders in their 60’s and up. Buying personal training is a luxury item, people in their mid -20s to mid-30s are usually not able to spend $500 or more per month.
Good personal trainers build relationships with prospects and clients. You’re providing a personal service; people have to trust you with the insecurities of their physical fitness and function. For trust to happen, a trainer has to be seen working out and being in the gym in uniform. Members have seen trainers come and go for decades, what makes you different than the last 24-year-old big dude or pretty girl that was seen for two weeks and never again? Go talk to members and get to know them, offer tips when you see incorrect form, laugh, joke, and smile with them. Some members will never buy training, they will give referrals to friends based on their relationship with you, that’s pure gold!
I am blessed to have an outside sales background and marketing degree before getting into the fitness industry. The majority of personal trainers came from jobs and industries that did not involve direct selling skills. Because of our pay structure, we basically are independent contractors, even if we get a W2 from a health club. Sales skills are more important than remembering every muscle in the back, and every certification I’ve had gives lip service at best to sales and marketing. A personal trainer isa seller of personal training services, not a paid workout professional. If we don’t have clients, we don’t get paid just to stand around and flex.
Like any other career, it takes time and effort to build a client base to sustain an income. The average trainer earns under $36,000 a year. For new trainers, this is a hard pill to swallow when they realize they aren’t paid hourly like their previous jobs. A full-time trainer has four-to-six-hour long sessions per day. It’s not a true 40-hour week in that regard. Are we underpaid? I’ll say yes, because of the many hours of unpaid time needed to build a long-term client base. It truly is a job of love, to work unpaid and make the income we have on average.
For anyone interested in becoming a personal trainer, know it is not glamorous for 99% of us. You have to sell and be rejected. You have to constantly sell, sell, and sell again to replace clients you lose for reasons out of your control. Instagram is not an accurate reflection of how personal training works in a gym. Finally, you have to like working with people in their 40’s and older, because they are the ones who can afford your services regularly like rent. If you can handle it, personal training is a rewarding career with lifelong friendships, and accountability to be your best self-daily.