Martin McLoughlin is the owner of Extreme Fitness Personal Training in Fallsington PA. Marty not only has an inspirational story to tell, he also has been nice enough to share his insights and knowledge about the personal training industry. He does not hold back his straight talk / tough love on what he feels personal trainers need to be doing to be successful ―and also what they should stop doing!
JC. How long of you been in business?
MM. In 2001, I began the brand of functional fitness called Extreme Fitness Personal Training. It has been one amazing journey, but one that I have been thankful for every day.
JC. What is your fitness background?
MM. My fitness background started in 1982, I was 12 years old. It was in that time that my dad found fitness himself, bought “The Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding by Arnold Schwarzenegger ” and began his own training. He really didn't know what he was doing but how would I know that at age 12 in 1982? However his body began to transform very quickly. He suddenly looked younger, stronger and had great muscles. Something that in my very Irish family, I didn't see very much of.
So I decided to ask him if I could borrow that book and start on my own. I read the book cover to cover, several times. He bought me my first Marcy weight bench and the old weight plates that were plastic on the outside and filled with concrete on the inside. This was definitely old-school!
I was bitten by the fitness bug in an instant and to this day at age 44, only when I was in my worst conditions, I've never missed a day. I remember seeing Jack Lalanne on TV and was amazed by what he was able to do, and was totally inspired. I joined the local YMCA, because I could walk or ride my bike there and stayed there until I was old enough to drive.
Then one day it became apparent that I was going to become a single father of two young boys, age 6 and two. My wife at the time no longer wanted to be married and just wanted out – no kids, no house, etc. – and she was gone. At the time I was a landscape architect having graduated from Delaware Valley College in 1992 and very quickly had to reevaluate my working situation.
There were some days where I left for work before my children woke up and came back home after they were already asleep, always juggling a handful of babysitters and family members to help out. I needed to change and personal training was my shot.
I decided to get certified through ISSA, the International Sports Science Association, because I believed it was one of the most thorough certifications. I passed my exam with a 98% and the day my certificate came, I was hired at the gym as a staff personal trainer. Two weeks later I had a full book of clients. Turns out as soon as people realized I was training there they jumped at the opportunity to work with me very quickly.
In six months I was promoted to head personal trainer, a position that in that company had not existed before me. I was given the authority to hire and fire training staff and design all training protocols. It was an amazing time.
I never looked back…
Today the other certifications I hold are:
- TRX suspension trainer
- ISSA master trainer
- ISSA elite trainer
- ISSA senior fitness instructor
- ISSA youth fitness instructor
- ISSA fitness therapist
- ISSA fitness nutrition specialist
- ISSA sports nutrition specialist and certified functional training specialist.
I have also attended numerous workshops on working with clients of special needs, populations and conditions.
JC. What did you like most about ISSA?
MM. What I liked best was the thoroughness of the final exam. I knew many people at the time that I was getting certified, who went online and got certified in one weekend. They answered 20 questions, multiple-choice and printed their certificate as soon as it was over. There were no standards set by local gyms on what certifications would get you a job as a personal trainer, so most people did not care. I did however. It did not seem proper to take charge of clients health situation without having as much knowledge as possible.
My final exam was almost 80 typed pages when it was done. There was no way to pass that exam without having complete knowledge of anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, exercise design, nutrition and more. I found very quickly that it was very recognizable to the fitness community as well. It instantly put me on a higher level as a personal trainer.
JC. Where do you do personal training?
MM. I left LA fitness, where I was working at the time, in late 2002 and opened Extreme Fitness Personal Training at my home. I lived in a Levittown rancher and converted to 150 square-foot upstairs rooms into two separate workouts bases that were hardly big enough for two people to be in at one time. I purchased about $3000 worth of equipment, machines, barbells, stability balls, medicine balls, dumbbells and bands.
Clients began coming to my home as early as 6 AM knocking at the front door while my children slept the last one would leave around 7 PM just in time for me to start cooking dinner. I rotated my schedule each day so I had time to exercise myself, prepare meals and do homework with my children and still have time for myself. It was not easy and the days were long and most weeks I worked seven days but it is what I had to do because I had a dream of success.
I did this in my home for one year and was so busy I realized I needed to get it out of my house so I built and exterior building in the backyard of my Levitown home. A whopping 385 ft.². It had air conditioning and heat and I moved all of my equipment into it. And that is where I stayed until I had a near fatal motorcycle accident in 2007 where my neck was broken.
I was hit while riding a motorcycle by a unlicensed, uninsured drunk driver. By the end of 2007 however, I had pushed myself to get back to work almost full-time. I was back on my feet and training clients again in the building in the backyard. In the spring of 2008 I decided it was time to move the business. I found my first commercial location, which was 1000 ft.² It was like moving into the Taj Mahal.
In November 2011 we moved to a 7000 square-foot facility, our current location. It is one of the largest and most unique private personal training facilities anywhere. Three pieces of equipment and lots of toys! Sledgehammers, atlas stones, chains, kettle bells, boxing ring, artificial turf, exercise rig, jump ropes, Jacobs ladder, sandbags, tires, kegs, logs and more.
JC. What got you interested in personal training?
MM. While I was in the gym watching the trainers walk around, with their bright blue shirts on that said “trainer” all in capital letters on their backs, I observed everything that they did and evaluated their methods. I felt because I had been involved since a young boy, that I was justified in doing that, to myself. I realized very quickly that I could do a different job, not necessarily better but totally different. I knew I had already had my own brand of fitness and thought, if I could bring it here I would do well.
No one was doing any type of functional fitness at the gym. Trainers lead their clients from piece of equipment to piece of equipment, counted their repetitions and then said “goodbye see you next week.”
I led my clients from the training floor and into a racquetball court where there were bands and balls and ropes waiting for them. We got away from the equipment and started really working functionally and burning some serious calories. All of my clients were achieving their goals very quickly. They were gaining strength and losing weight faster than any other of the clients in the gym. One morning one of my clients looked me in the eye and said “Marty you are meant for something more than this place, you really need to get out on your own”. I took that advice.
JC. What was the hardest part about a business?
MM. The biggest hurdle was trying to build it! I had no other income at the time and had a mortgage, two young sons and a life to live. It forced me to work very hard to spread the word about my business and to find a way to outdo every other personal training facility in the area.
I needed to provide something to my clients that no one else was, something that would make it more marketable than other programs. I provided results! I kept in constant contact with every single client, by text message, by phone and by email. I help them stay accountable to what they were doing every single day. It absorbed every minute of free time that I could spare and that was very difficult. I truly did live and breathe the business.
I was working before my children woke up and was working after they went to bed but I knew it would pay off in the long run.
The trouble with people I see today is that they do not think they need to invest any of that time into being successful.
They believe that as soon as they open their doors, the people will just come in because they are who they are. They don't see that they need to build a reputation or have a special brand. They have no serious work ethic. They expect, like some clients do, instant results and progress. That is why there is such a high turnover rate of personal trainers and personal training facilities in the area.
JC. What should trainers know about starting a business?
MM. My advice would be “at first you will be a horrible trainer, then you will be an okay trainer, then you will be a good trainer and eventually you will be a great trainer. “
“You will be no one in this business until you become a great trainer. No one starts out as a great trainer.”
Fitness has a culture all its own, full of loyalties, politics and drama. You have to learn to steer clear of all of the negatives and stick to your plan, your brand and live your dream. Try hard not to get caught up in the “mud-slinging” that seems to be an endless tactic of how personal trainers attempt to lure clients into their business whether they are right off the street or clients that belong to another personal training facility.
I never really have seen this type of behavior anywhere like I do in the fitness industry.
- Everyone says “they are the best”
- Everyone says they produce results for their clients
- Everyone says they have the best facility
But where is the proof? Where is the consistency in the proof?
Did they have one successful client, five, 25, 1000? More and more people seeking out certified personal trainers are looking for proof. They want to know who they are working with and that their money will be invested properly. If you do not have the statistics behind you, you will always struggle for new work.
You have to be dedicated to the profession more than you already think you are, trust me. Train every day to be the best possible personal trainer you can ever be. Never be comfortable with who you are and what you do, always strive for more quality.
JC. Do you network with any medical professionals?
MM. All of my life I have been very careful about people in the medical profession that I choose for myself and my family. I spend the necessary time, doing my research, going to websites, reading reviews, talking to everyone in the business that I know. From my primary care physician, orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists and coaches, I have developed “personal relationships” with everyone I refer. Most medical professionals will not refer personal trainers to patients if they don’t know you are safe. You need to develop very close relationships in order to achieve referral status.
JC. Did you make your website yourself?
MM. Yes. Every year I say to myself I am going to hire someone to do a “very professional job” of designing my website but I have learned to teach myself over the years how to keep it interesting, make sure it is found on search engines and make it as interactive as possible.
It is just one more thing that takes time in my schedule every single week to maintain but it is well worth it in the long run. If they cannot find you online, they will not call. The power of word of mouth advertising is truly the best endorsements a personal trainer can receive. But they can only take you so far.
The power of the Internet and social networking sites is profound. It literally can make you a household name. We post our website every single day on every social networking page.
We attach photos, videos, transformation stories, testimonials and anything else we can to help get the message out there that we are serious about what we do and consistent in achieving results.
Currently my website gets about 5000 visits per month, with around 8000 page views per month. That is a very impressive number for any personal training website. I constantly keep track of all of my site statistics both social networking pages and my business website. It is critical to know that we are staying current on the search engines. When I see them start to drop below average, I know it is time to start making changes on the website.
Tip. Here is a step by step tutorial on how to make a website in about 1 hour.
JC. Has your website helped get you clients?
MM. Absolutely! At first the website did not seem to generate much traffic either online or through my door. The longer I stayed in business, the bigger my business became. More serious clients began to find me through the website because of the results I was able to help my clients achieve. They had heard of me through the grapevine in the fitness industry, from other local fitness professionals and gyms as well as my own personal clients and that led them to the website to do their research.
That research led them to make the phone call, to set an appointment and come meet me in person. As I said previously, you can be an incredible personal trainer but without website presence you will have serious trouble becoming a success.
JC. Do you ever do boot camps at outside parks?
MM. We started our own brand of functional Boot Camp in 2008. We have never diverged from that brand of Boot Camp since that day. It is exactly what Boot Camp needs to be, what it should be. It is challenging and effective. We do it indoors and outdoors, year round even when weather is not permitting.
We do not do them in public parks because there are serious liability issues that most trainers ignore. A reality of it is that you need to get permits for each individual day that you run a boot camp. You may not ever have an issue doing it but that is the law.
If you do not get a permit, if someone gets injured, they can sue:
- You as the trainer
- The township that the park is located in
- Or the owner of the property
You have no control over the terrain, rolling and sprained ankles, injured knees, broken glass, rocks or any other dangerous obstacles that could be located on the ground. And if, someone does get injured, you have no control over the situation as you would inside the facility prepared to deal with certain issues.
Most townships charge anywhere between $30 and $100 for a one day license to work in the park. Therefore if most trainers did this legitimately, they would stop doing it because it would become too cost prohibitive.
JC. What challenges do boot camp trainers need to know?
MM. The biggest challenge is the lack of consistency between abilities of your students. You may have a 14-year-old, 45-year-old and 70-year-old show up for the same class. You need to understand how to properly scale down all exercises so that everyone, no matter what their age or lack of abilities are, can get a great workout and want to come back and spread the word about your class. This by far is the biggest challenge.
In my personal opinion, most boot camps I see are more of a social gathering, party and laughing atmosphere then truly effective exercise. One Boot Camp instructor, overwhelmed by how many people attended the boot camp, put a piece of duct tape along the floor for people to walk on like a sobriety test and called it an exercise!
There is no consistency . It can be whatever and instructor wants it to be, therefore they have no accountability to their quality and some people are really thrown off by a real boot camp experience.
Personal trainers and coaches are creating classes and constantly lowering intensity in order to boost up attendance so they can make more money per class, rather than designing programs that are actually challenging and effective to keep people advancing through muscle confusion and growing effort.
The other thing I should mention is the competition through discount sites like living social and Groupon. A personal trainer I know just put a special up offering 24 hour-long boot camps for $45. Do the math, that's about two dollars per person per class and Groupon takes 50% of that deal leaving the trainer with one dollar per person per class.
How can reputable Boot Camp classes compete with a one dollar attendance fee?
More importantly, how can a trainer effectively and safely oversee a class with 50+ people in it doing functional exercise to make sure that quality and form is being upheld? It saddens me every day to see the next deal pop up on my Facebook page.
JC. Any tax advice for personal trainers?
MM. The fact is that they have to pay them! Let's take the trainer I mentioned above who did the group on deal for example. What personal trainers forget is that every quarter they need to set aside approximately 30% of their total revenue to pay quarterly taxes.
Everyone is in search of a creative accountants who will get them as many deductions as possible, but the bottom line is that taxes have to be paid. Your income must match what you spend. Personal trainers that are charging $15 per hour session in order to generate a bigger client base will be devastated when their first tax bill comes in and they have no money to pay it because they weren't even charging enough money to survive.
Meanwhile personal trainers that are charging $25 and more are trying to constantly decide what is the appropriate fee? I know personal trainers in California that charge $250 for one hour of their time. So there you have it, a range from as little as one dollar to as much as $250 per hour to do the same thing. No one really knows what to do but the bottom line is at the end of the year the taxman calls.
JC. What do you like most about the fitness industry?
MM. What I like most is being able to impact people's lives in such a positive way. Watching their faces light up when they see that their body fat went down or watching them cry as they tell me that they no longer have to take their diabetes medications anymore or when they flip a tire over for the very first time. Each story is a life changed. Each day is a new journey and it is the most fulfilling thing I've ever done in my life.
JC. What do you like least about the fitness industry?
MM. What I like least is the inconsistency from personal trainer to personal trainer. Having a standard level of excellence between personal trainers is what really needs to happen in this country. I believe that the same level of education, internship and effort it takes to become a physician in this country needs to be duplicated in order to be a personal trainer, as it does with a physical therapist.
I overheard a client working with a trainer in a gym, she was doing bicep curls while the trainer watched with his arms crossed. She said “what muscle in my working right now?” And he said “that would be your arm muscle”. I almost fell out of my chair. That's my competition!
Personal trainers standing behind clients who are attempting to barbell squat, not even flexing at the knee or hip more than 30° and they're allowing it to happen. Of course I understand some clients have physical limitations, but when you see it happening throughout an entire day or from client to client it becomes disturbing.
JC. What is your average client age, gender?
MM. Our average age of client is probably 40 years old.
JC. What's the first session with a new client like?
MM. Our first meeting is called a “strength assessment” our assessments are thorough and we do not put a time limit on them except to tell everyone to set aside at least one hour of their time. Upon arrival at the gym, our layout is very specific, they come through the door and into our office which doubles as a kitchen. This is where they meet Linda Stout. She handles all the initial arrivals of our new clients and gets them acclimated to the gym. She does this with her own client as well as my staffs.
After the initial handshake is complete the first thing we do is have them fill out a full medical history questionnaire. It is very thorough, several pages long and gives us a great base of questions to go over with them during the verbal assessment which follows.
After the paperwork is completed, we subject them to our BC-1500 Ironman TANITA scale. It is a very high-tech computer software driven scale that is a full segment body composition analyzer. It is a sophisticated bio impedance measuring system based off the same versions they use at the Ironman competitions. It gives total body weight, total body fat percentage, total pounds of lean mass, total pounds of fat mass, level of hydration, metabolic age, visceral fat rating, basal metabolic rate, daily caloric intake and it breaks down the body by segment to tell us how many pounds of muscle and percentage of body fat are in each arm, each leg and the torso area.
This is where the first tears are shed, this is where we bring reality to our clients for sometimes the first time. I have 20-year-old clients with a metabolic age of 90. We routinely have clients who are over 50% total body fat. Our heaviest client was over 500 pounds and our most challenged clients, as light as 75.
The scale sometimes breaks bad news to our clients but gives us the most accurate tool of measuring their results. Whatever weight they have lost, the scale shows us exactly what it was. We know if it was water, fat, muscle or any combination of the three.
After the scale, the trainer meet the client and they proceed to sit down for a minimum of 30 minutes going over all of the health history questionnaire information, getting to know their daily routines, what their work out or Trainer experience is or isn't, finding out what their basic nutrition schedule is currently, questioning about medical issues, prior injuries, food allergies and as much as other information as we can gather. It all helps us generate a custom personalized program for the person we are dealing with.
After the verbal assessment is complete we do a thorough strength assessment that covers strength, power, endurance, balance, cardiovascular condition, core strength, exercise proficiency and form, personal drive and pain tolerance and of course reception to direction. This is the trainers first opportunity to lead the client by the reigns, to establish trust and to show them the ropes of functional training. It is much different from what most people are used to in regular gyms.
After the workout is over they are offered an area to sit and recover and then they see Linda to schedule another session or they schedule it directly with their trainer. And that's it!
Within 24 hours of their session they received a custom meal plan based on their nutritional issues if any, and their goals.
We partnered with Custom Fit Meals last year and it was one of the best choices we've ever made. An awesome company that delivers fresh, organic, free range prepared food to our gym every week. It helps our clients learn proper portion control, how many colors should be on their plates and keeps them from going to the fast food restaurants at lunchtime.
They are also invited to an “extreme fitness members only” private Facebook page to communicate, share food recipes and work out experiences and to meet the rest of the community. They can rely on 24/7 text support with their trainer as we make ourselves available to help them whenever they need us post workout.
JC. Where do you get most of your clients ?
MM. It has changed over the years but currently it is a very fine balance of social networking and word-of-mouth. The word-of-mouth leads to interaction on the social networking and website, and the website and social networking pages lead to word-of-mouth advertising as they begin to talk to friends in the community about us.
Our constant presence on social networking is critical to the growth of the business. I believe however some will say we post excessively, they might be right but we post about very important things in the fitness world. We like to keep our name out there and show everybody that the success we have is never a fluke. It is constant.
JC. What's the biggest mistake personal trainers make?
MM. Their biggest mistake has to be their first mistake – they don't properly assess their clients. I have seen some trainers in certain gyms watch someone simply sign a release form and then they take them right onto the floor and begin training!
The purpose of a thorough strength assessment is to get to know all of the important things you need to know about your client. How can you create a custom exercise and nutrition schedule for your client and expect it to work if you do not get all of the necessary information?
We all know how easy it is to take a client onto the floor and make them sore. I've been training some clients for 15 years, three times a week and I can still make them sore whenever I want. Sore happens but it is not necessary. Measured, clinical, proven results are all that is necessary.
JC. What should trainers do when they get a client?
MM. Take before and after pictures! Also take accurate strength assessment so you know what all of their basic functional capabilities were. Make them create goals that can be achieved in a reasonable period of time so you can chart their progress. In order to prove results you must see shape change, you must be able to measure increased strength and endurance and see more self-confidence, flexibility and stability. That is how you will market yourself, that is how you will say “this is what I can do.” You must chart client progress.
JC. Do you remember your first client?
MM. Believe it or not, I am still training my very first client! He is now 68 years old, still comes 2 times a week and looks fantastic! He has less than 20% body fat, at 6 foot four he's got a super athletic body and is in great shape! There is not one thing I would have done differently with this client. We nailed it from the first day and after all this time we are still at it after 14 years.
JC. Any marketing tips for personal trainers?
MM. Use Facebook! Use it constantly! It's free and get your name out there in front of people as often as you want to every day. With print media, your name is put out there once a week or once a month and that simply is not enough. You need to show people every day what you can do. They have to expect the best from you every day so they start looking for you every day. When you are in their heads as a success, when they are ready to make the change, you will be the person that they call.
- Don't offer specials.
- Don't offer things for free.
- Never under sell yourself.
- Always charge what you think you are worth and work hard to get it.
JC. How did you get started with Philly Fit magazine?
MM. At my first Philly Fit Bash in 2006, that was where I met Jami Appenzeller for the first time. I brought my crazy brand of fitness right to the bash. I had designed a exercise booth where anyone could come in and get a minute or two of my time in a functional way. I built a giant structure to hang TRX straps from and brought some other exercise tools and physically trained people for 1 to 2 minutes the entire time. At one point as I was down on my hands and knees coaching somebody through push-ups, I looked up and the entire outside of my booth was completely barricaded by people three and four levels deep taking off their jackets saying “I'm next“! It was total madness!
I asked her at one point if she would mind if I wrote an article revolving around nutrition and she allowed me to do it. Later, she commented on one of my juicing posts that we should do a juicing , smoothies article in the magazine. After I wrote the first one I asked if I could be a regular writer in the publication and she agreed.
I'm very fortunate, I get to write about whatever I like and it always seems to wind up in the magazine. I love to throw healthy organic recipes in there as well whenever I can. It's a great way for me to reach outside of my facilities and have an impact on even more lives. That's what this is all about! Jami is a great person!
JC. Has Philly Fit has helped you get clients?
MM. What we got from it was exposure. Not just print exposure but hands on exposure. Even if people we trained at the bash never came to work out with us, they told people about us. They mentioned us at work, they mentioned us to their families and friends and they are the people who called. The whole 6° of separation is real.
JC. What do you think trainers working in gyms do right and wrong?
MM. I wish I could say I see a lot of them doing the right things. I like to think they are doing the best they can. A lot of what I see would never fly in my facility. Texting, talking, looking around, doing the same routines over and over those kind of things. There's no noise, no motivation, no correction of form ever! I have yet to see a trainer in a big box gym that I would walk up to and say I want you to come work for me.
JC. What are the biggest myths trainers believe?
MM. That they are the best. There is always somebody better out there. There are many people out there that are better than myself. All we can do is continue to strive to be the best where we are. We can all be humbled by each other. All we have to do is make the decision to give it all we have every single day.
If you are not currently learning new techniques for advancing your education and fitness, there is someone else out there who is and they are applying it to their business. If you're not changing your programs to modify them along with the times and client base you work with, then there will be somebody else out there who is. You will never be the best.
JC. What are the biggest myths your clients believe?
MM. The biggest myth they believe is that they can “train off a bad diet”. They are always trying to discover some kind of balance between living the way they want to live, exercising and still losing weight and achieving their goals. Counting calories, knowing what your macros are, portion control, all of those things are a challenge, but they become more challenging when they decide that Friday night means cheese steaks, beer and ice cream.
JC. Any good books you would recommend ?
MM. Good books for trainers to read would be:
Also, they need to research Jack lalanne , who he was and what he stood for. I meet personal trainers today who have no idea who he is! It is so hard for me to believe that. I had an opportunity not only to meet him but to sit down at a table and talk with him in private and it was life changing.
I spend a lot of time on YouTube, mostly to see what people are trying to do. I take those ideas that I see and work them to perfection in my facility. We try to fuse as many different fitness concepts as possible in each session that we instruct. Bret Contreas has a great Facebook page that I look to for information more than any other. Except for yours Joe, regarding nutrition.
JC. How can people contact you?
MM. They can get me at my website Extreme Fitness Personal Training or on our Facebook page
What do you think?
Stephanie J Marlowe says
Great interview, really sparked some thoughts though. How can I inspire more people I come in contact with, not just those i’m training?
Joe Cannon says
Stephanie, glad you enjoyed it and that it made you think.
I really appreciate this interview. I found McLoughlin’s story very inspirational, and it definitely opened my eyes to some very important concepts. I had no idea who Jack Lalanne was, but I am so glad that I do now.
Joe Cannon says
Adrianne, excellent! I’m glad you found Martins interview inspirational and I’m really glad you now know who Jack Lalanne is! On Martins website there is a picture of him and Jack too 🙂