Update 2/27/20. When most people write about the mistakes that personal trainers make, they focus on exercises. Granted I’ve seen them too (here’s a post about it), but I don’t want to do that here. As a self-employed personal trainer since 2002, I instead, I want to focus on career and business mistakes because, in the real world, these are things that are going to cost you time, stress, and a headache if you make them. I picked these 5 mistakes based on what trainers have told me over the years as well as what I feel nobody else is talking about. Leave a comment below and let me know what you think or if you think I missed anything.
Mistake 1: Letting The Cert Expire
Personal trainers spend so much time, money – and energy –to get certified, but then they let it lapse because they don’t pay attention to the expiration date. Failure to know to when the cert expires is one of the biggest mistakes I see trainers making. People tell me about it all the time! Most organizations require a fitness certification to be renewed every 1 or 2 years. Some are also very good at notifying people when they are coming up for renewal, while others may not be.
I’ve met trainers who were fired —on the spot—because the gym did not receive the new certification in a timely manner.
Solution: Here is the best advice I can give when it comes to getting recertified.
1. Remember the expiration date on your cert.
2. Make a reminder pop up in your calendar, at least 6 months before it expires.
3. Use, Outlook, Google Calendar, etc. to remind you of this.
4. Find out –ahead of time – what you need to do to get re-certified.
Re-certify early so you don’t have to scramble at the last minute trying to get it done.
Also, discover if you have to pay a recertification fee as well. Failure to pay this fee may mean you don’t get your new cert mailed to you.
Mistake 2: Giving Away Your Cert
If you work in a gym, the manager usually asks for a copy of your CPR/AED cert and your personal trainer certification. DO NOT give the gym your original certification. Instead, give them a copy of your certification. I say this for a reason.
Suppose you decide you no longer want to work at that gym. You want to quit. Suppose you quit under less-than-ideal circumstances. What would you do if the gym suddenly “couldn’t find” your certification? You would then have to pay to get a new one. I’ve met people this has happened to.
Even if the cert was legitimately lost. Again, you are in the same boat.
Most organizations charge you a fee to issue the new certification and it may take a couple weeks to get it to you. What if you can’t work until you get that cert?
Solution: Make your life easier and give them a copy of your cert. If you have a scanner, do it at home or take it to any office store to get it done.
Tip. even if you work in a gym, you may need personal trainer insurance. Check out this review for more info on this.
Mistake 3: Expensive Fitness Certs
Ok, this may not technically be a “mistake” however, it might be if you are on a budget. There are a lot of fine fitness organizations out there (see this for reviews on many of them) but I don’t care how good they are, I never recommend you get for a certificate if you cannot pay for it right now.
Do NOT go into debt to become a personal trainer.
This is why I say this: Suppose you plunked down $800 for the certification test, textbooks, practice tests, and other study materials – and you pass the test. Great. But, if you are going to work at many big box gyms, odds are you won’t make a lot of money at first.
Most big box/chain gyms take at least 50% of the money you make. Sometimes even more.
In that situation, how long would it take to pay off the credit card you paid for the certification with? Heck, some gyms may not even pay you an hourly salary, paying instead only for when you are doing “personal training,” which makes paying off bills even greater.
To save money, why not become certified by a lesser expensive organization, one that will at least get your foot in the door of a gym. You can then buy the books of the more expensive organization. If you own the books – and study them – you have the knowledge of the more expensive certification – without the cost of paying for the cert.
Here are the textbooks of all the major fitness organizations.
You can always opt to get the more expensive cert in the future after you are making decent money and can pay for it. Also, don’t believe ANYONE who says “This is the best cert.” I have one of those who they often say is “best” and I’m telling you that nothing is perfect.
Here are my thoughts on the Best Personal Trainer Cert if you want to know more.
Solution: Avoid going into debt by getting a lesser expensive cert and studying the books of the more expensive cert. Knowledge is more important than letters behind your name.
Mistake 4: Certified But Not Qualified
It’s hard to be a personal trainer. Don’t believe anyone who tells you differently. You work long hours, often for little pay (at big box gyms) and you work in an environment that may not offer time for reading and learning. By the end of the day, many trainers are too tired to study to hone their skills. Also, if you are the kind of trainer who needs to work 7 days a week, you find it difficult to go to fitness conventions where you can attend seminars to pick up new knowledge.
Because many trainers work out when they are not training people, this makes it even harder to stay educated.
I remember when I worked at a health club. I took books to lunch with me and tried to study in the club’s cafeteria. Even then, it was difficult because people stopped by to chat or ask questions. I had to force myself to find the time to study. For me, that meant, taking about 30 minutes a night when I was in bed before I went to sleep.
To be successful – or as I say “qualified, not just certified” – you are going to have to find time to learn new things. I know this can be hard –especially if you have a family – but even 20-30 minutes a few times a week, will pay off big dividends in the near future. I say this because I know most trainers won’t do what I recommend.
By doing what I suggest, just a little regular studying will put you light-years ahead of most other personal trainers. Soon, they will be asking YOU questions to help make up for what they don’t know. Knowledge will help you get more clients and make more money.
Solution: Study to learn more than your competition.
In this post, I showed you several easy ways to stay educated. Take advantage of them.
Mistake 5: Not Saving
This is the biggest mistake of all. According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in 2012, the average yearly salary for a personal trainer was only about $31,000. That’s not a lot especially if you have a mortgage or family. If you can’t make money, you won’t be a personal trainer very long.
A friend, who I trust, once told me that 75% of personal trainers have been in business less than 5 years. If that statistic is true, it means most trainers leave the industry, probably for better paying jobs elsewhere.
I’ve already mentioned the need to not go into debt as a trainer. Truth be told, I don’t think you should go into debt for anything. Being in debt will keep you up at night, ruin your credit rating and cause stress that you just don’t need.
To avoid these problems, you will need to start saving money.
So, how do you save?
Here’s the trick I use: “Save half your age.”
Whatever your age is, take half of that as a percentage of how much you save at each paycheck.
- If you are 20 years old, save 10% of everything you make.
- If you are 30 years old, save 15% of everything you make.
And so on…
If you dedicate yourself to this simple rule, I guarantee that you will be SHOCKED at how much money you are able to save at the end of 1 year. I know I was.
Saving Gives You Freedom
The great thing about this is that the amount you save each paycheck is so small that you won’t even miss the money.
Saving now gives you freedom later.
- Freedom to buy a car.
- Freedom to buy a house.
- Freedom from the stress of bills that need to be paid.
Start by saving at least 6 months – preferably 1 full year – of total living expenses. That is your emergency fund. That way, if you ever broke your leg, or lost your job, etc., you would have something to tide you over until things got better.
This alone will save you a LOT of stress.
When you have your emergency fund saved, use the same rule (half your age) to save for the long term such as buying a house, a car, retirement, etc.
I suggest you put the money you save in a separate savings account so you can easily track how it grows over time. You can open this separate account at your bank or use an online savings account such as Capital One 360 or HSBC. There are many online savings accounts out there.
Find one that gives you the best interest rate. Then link that account to your checking account. When you deposit your paycheck – or any other money, transfer the amount to be saved to the other account.
While you’re at it, you should also check your credit rating. By law, each year, you are entitled to 1 free credit report from each of the 3 credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian).
You can get your free reports by going to AnnualCreditReport.com. This site is 100% free. You don’t have to pay anything to use that website.
Truth be told, I didn’t invent this rule of saving “half your age.” I heard millionaires talking about it on TV. If millionaires know one thing, it’s how to make money. Take advantage of this and tell me a year from how much you were able to save.
Solution: Save today so you can stay in business tomorrow.
Bonus Mistake: Not Having a Website
I speak from experience when I say having a website is the single greatest marketing tool a personal trainer can have and there is no excuse for not having one. I've written 7 books and NOTHING gets me more attention that my websites do. I've already written about the need to have a website if you are going to advertise on Craigslist but it goes far beyond just getting clients. The attention my websites get has gotten me on TV, radio and quoted in print media.
I think one barrier to this is thinking that its hard to do or that you need to know special coding knowledge. I sure don't – and neither do you.
For the fitness trainers who post to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. I tell you this is not the same as owning your website. For example, Facebook can kick you off at any time and if they do, all those “likes” you had are gone forever.
Here is my guide on how to make a website. If you follow my instructions you can have a working website up in about 1 hour. If you are serious about a career in personal training, you need to have a website.
So there you have it, the top 5 biggest career mistakes (and 1 bonus) I believe most personal trainers make. I picked these because so few in the fitness industry discuss them. Hopefully, I’ve given you something to think about. Also, read my book 101 Personal Trainer Marketing Secrets. It will save you a LOT of time learning how to get clients.
Suzanne Maness says
As a new CPT, this is valuable info especially #5. Everyone needs to be saving their money for unexpected events or pandemics. Now I better get started on that website. Thanks!!
Suzanne, thanks for saying that! I truly appreciate your feedback. Yes, saving is so important especially these days.
Here are my tips on how to make a website
Lou Drakulich says
Joe, Thank you again for all you do.
The saving and earning reality of being a CPT (Mistake 5) may scare off some who were considering this as a career.
Better to know all the facts before you take the leap.
Joe Cannon says
Lou, its my pleasure. I would add that self employed trainers can make a lot more than what the average trainer makes.
MAC Fitness says
great and helpful topics joe. I agree all trainers should know this information.
Joe Cannon says
MAC, thanks I appreciate you saying that 🙂