Update 12/22/19You want to become a personal trainer. You love working out and helping others. You've picked a certification and are studying to take your certification exam. Great! What comes after you get certified? In over 800 fitness certification classes I've taught, one thing I've noticed is most fitness certification focus more on the science of exercise than life in the real world. This leads to frustration and depression among fitness trainers when they realize being successful is more than just getting certified. To help you, here is straight talk on things you need to know if you get into the fitness business. Fitness textbooks and college classes do not tell you this – but I will.
1 Certified Does Not Mean Qualified
The world is full of certified personal trainers and master trainers. Once people get certified they think they know everything. They are wrong. When you earn your personal trainer cert, you only know the minimum. You don't know anything. Certified and qualified are not the same thing. A qualified personal trainer is someone who knows more.
Sometimes being qualified comes with making mistakes. We all make them. Experience is the fruit of the tree of errors. While mistakes are inevitable for all of us, one of the best ways to minimize errors is to be as educated as you can. Personal training and teaching group exercise classes can be very difficult.
It's hard to find time in your day for yourself to continue to learn.
But, the good news is most personal trainers are lazy. They do the minimum- like only getting certified. They spend more time in the gym working out than they do in the library. As such, it doesn't take much effort to know more than your competition.
If you devote just 15 minutes a day to learning about health and fitness – after you get certified – in less than 3 months, you will be light-years ahead most certified personal trainers. I guarantee this.
2 Fast Money Doesn't Come
Some fitness trainers think as soon as they get certified, the money will start rolling in. They quickly learn it doesn't. If you want to become a personal trainer, here's a couple of things you should know:
- Most fitness centers don't pay much. Some gyms may only pay you when you are actually personal training people -and pay you nothing for “floor time,” in other words, the time you spend being available to help members in ways that are not related to personal training. While most, gyms do pay an hourly rate, it will probably be minimum wage.
- You will get commissions when you train clients but the gym will take at least 50% of what you make. If you add in taxes, this leaves less than most people think they will be making.
If you decide to forget the gym and go straight to starting a personal training business, then you have other hurdles. You'll have to market yourself and find your clients. How will you do this? Most certifications do not cover this stuff in their textbooks. This can be done but it will probably take some time to build up name recognition and a client base.
3 Most Gyms Don't Care About Members
You got into the personal training business because you want to help people. That's a great reason! When you start working in a gym, you will eventually find out some fitness centers would prefer to have members who never show up. Why do I say this? Well, many gyms have PT software which logs members in when they enter the facility.
You can use this to highlight members who have not attended lately. But, if you try to call these members to get them to come back to the gym-and sell them on your personal training – the gym owner may shut you down.
They are afraid the member will remember she/he is paying for a gym membership each month – but are not using it. They are afrid if they remember this, they will cancel their membership. In short, they don't care about the members. They only care about the reoccurring income every month.
Some fitness centers no longer allow membership dues to be paid in cash. Rather, they mandate you give them either a credit card – or worse- direct access to your checking/savings accounts. This is called “EFT” electronic funds transfer.
If they allowed you to pay for your gym membership in cash, you'll have to come back to pay again when your membership expires. With EFT, you continue to pay for your membership until you go into the gym and cancel.
Another reason I believe they don't care because many gyms don't require all staff to be CPR/AED certified.
4 You May Need To Do CPR On Clients
One truth bomb you need to know is how important it is for you to have CPR and AED certifications in addition to your fitness cert. Whether you work in a gym or are self-employed, it's possible you may one day be faced with a medical emergency. When you consider many of your personal training clients will have heart disease, high blood pressure, and other health problems, this should be expected.
Yet, when I discuss this possibility in classes I teach, I'm astonished at how it has never occurred to people that their clients might die during exercise. This is true for both novice and experienced personal trainers.
I have seen people die in the gym and I've known personal trainers whose clients have died right in front of them. You must not only be educationally prepared, but emotionally prepared as well. Watch the video for more on this.
Most gyms also need to step up and do active shooter drills too.
5 Clients Can Be Annoying
So I'm just going, to be honest here:
- I have had clients accidentally farted on me during exercises -and did not even say excuse me or sorry!
- I've had clients assume I would train their family members for free because they were living with them
- I've had –potential clients – yell at me because they thought I was charging too much
- I've had clients insist I train them a year AFTER their training package expired
- I've had clients negatively judge me because I mentioned I drink diet coke (you try getting up at 4 am!)
I could go on but you get the picture: Some of your clients can be a big pain in the butt. True, this will not be the norm. Most of your personal training clients will be perfectly great to work with. But some people will really get on your nerves.
6 You'll have To Know A Little Psychology
Some of your personal training clients will tell you some really crazy things as you work with them. Some may have eating disorders, be dealing with grief and depression and others may have family problems. While you should not try to be their psychologist, it may be a good idea to take a course on the basics of psychology.
I know some personal trainers actually have a degree in psych and this gives them an advantage over other trainers. One good free resource is The Kahn Academy, which has a nice video series on depression as well as a bunch of other things too.
7 Sales Trumps Fitness Certification
If you've ever interviewed for a fitness trainer job, you have probably been asked the dreaded question “what do you know about sales?” For many certified trainers, the answer is nothing. Here's something you need to know; major fitness centers, value trainers withe sales experience more than
fitness trainers who don't.
You could have the best fitness certs and education but if you don't know anything about sales and marketing they will pass you over for a lesser experienced trainer who does. I don't like this but that's what happens in big-box fitness centers.
A sad truth in the business is a personal trainer who understands selling will be better able to pick up clients and keep clients. For the gym, that means more money. I know this is true because gym salespeople have told me so. Some fitness places even try to get their salespeople certified as personal trainers too.
So what do you do if you're a personal trainer, with no sales experience? Well, the first thing to know is you don't have to be the used car salesman type to get a job. When the question of “what do you know about sales” comes up, say something like this:
“While I don't have any formal sales experience, I do know that:
- sales is all about solving peoples problems
- I know everything people purchase, they do so because it solves a problem or a fear they have
- I understand one of my jobs to help people is to try to be the answer to their problem.”
If you say something like that during an interview, you WILL stand a better chance of landing a fitness job than a trainer who says nothing. This is especially true for younger personal trainers, with little fitness experience. Remember, after you get that job, you need to be prepared to back up those words.
Read my fitness marketing book. It WILL help you. Trust me.
8 Stay In Your Lane
Remember, you're a personal trainer and/or group fitness instructor. You are not a:
- massage therapist
- marriage counselor
In other words, don't try to be all things to all people. If you're qualified to be a personal trainer, then stick with that. Now, I know some of you may be massage therapists, nurses, etc. If you have that specialized training, great. Just make sure if you are working in a gym, you know the gym's policy about this.
For example, supposes you are a nurse who hired to work as a personal trainer. The fitness facility may have a policy that prohibits you from acting as a nurse while you are being paid as a personal trainer. As you can tell, all this deals with legal issues.
If you have special knowledge or experience that's outside the boundaries of what fitness trainers usually know, it's best to speak to your manager or gym owner first.
See my 10 commandments of personal training.
9 Be Careful With Supplements
Your personal training clients WILL ask you about dietary supplements. They will assume because you are a fitness trainer, you know about them. You may think you do but if your dietary supplement knowledge comes from reading BodyBuilding.com, then you don't know about them. I've investigated supplements for over 20 years – and I STILL don't know everything.
Odds are you might not too.
So what should you do when you are asked about dietary supplements? Well, you can take a stance that you don't believe in supplements. That's one way to go and I know some fitness experts who do this. While I am usually OK with giving general information about them, I would not recommend supplements. The reason for this caution is:
- you might not know the health history of the person
- some supplements can have side effects
If you recommended the wrong thing and something bad happened, you might be sued. This has happened. Also, your personal trainer liability insurance probably won't protect you. I know some trainers also work as independent sales associates for supplement brands. While there are some good brands out there, reach out to your upline and ask to see the protections you are awarded by the organization.
10 Social Media Pitfalls
I like Instagram. I know from the personal trainers I follow, some like to post pictures and videos of their training sessions. If you do this, remember you need to have your client's permission first. Also, if you work at a fitness center, ask about their social media policy.
Some fitness centers are very strict about what employees can post online.
Some gyms don't allow their staff to post anything to social media which identifies the fitness center. The reason is they are trying to control their brand. They want to do the social media posting so they can control what people see. Companies also don't want anyone portraying them negatively.
Personal trainers have told me stories of gyms threatening to fire employees if they did not remove their social media posts taken inside the gym. One fitness trainer even told me how a well-known gym forced her to take down her own website because it was competing with where she worked.
Think before you post online. Your employers/clients will look at your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. accounts BEFORE they hire you. If they see anything controversial, you're finished. You will NOT be hired.
Before you start spreading the word about your business, go into your social media accounts and delete anything you would not want your mother and grandmother to see.
11 Don't Date Your Clients
No, it's not OK to date your personal training clients. In fact, it's stupid!
Dating your clients is ethically and morally wrong.
If you work at a gym, you need to know trainer /client affairs is grounds for termination. At the very least, your giving yourself a bad reputation. When you are a trainer, your reputation is one of your biggest assets. You don't want to be thought of as a predator or sexual harasser. Think about it: who would hire you if they could not trust you to be around their spouse?
And if this does not scare you, consider this: People post everything on the Internet these days. Do you really want someone posting that kind of stuff about you?
While it sounds like I'm talking to men, I'm really speaking to both genders. Women, this is not acceptable for you either. I have been contacted by attorneys looking for expert witnesses in court cases dealing with fitness trainers wrecking marriages. They were trying to sue the personal trainer.
There are heart doctors and foot doctors. They specialize in the areas of medicine they are most interested in. Why can't fitness trainers specialize too? You can – and I recommend you do. When you figure out the personal training clients you are most passionate about helping, then forget everything else and take massive action to learn ONLY about those areas. For example, these are the areas I know the most about:
- Dietary supplements
- Training people with health issues
- Training older adults
- Sports Nutrition
- Training beginners
I spend the most time learning about these topics. If someone has an issue and they fall within my areas of expertise, then those people are more likely to seek me out. Other trainers are also more likely to refer their clients to me too. If I get a client who falls outside my areas of expertise, I refer them to others more qualified than I.
Think about it. If you are an expert in tennis elbow – which is very common in lifters- most people would rather hire you than someone who didn't know as much on this topic. When you specialize, you can charge more for your time, work less and you get to work with people you most enjoy helping.
13 Age Discrimination Is Real
Many fitness centers hire younger people as trainers. What they don't tell you though is middle-aged and older folks often prefer working with trainers who are closer to their ages. I have been told by clients they preferred me over younger trainers because I was more mature. I took this to mean I was “older” (ouch!).
I call this reverse aged discrimination.
Why does this happen? If you are a 20-year old, your personal training clients will be thinking “I have grand-kids older than you. What can you teach me?” Or, they will say “there is no way I can get my body to look like hers/his.” That's really how some people think. Does this mean you shouldn't be a personal trainer if you are younger? No. It just means you will have to work harder to demonstrate your knowledge.
Older personal trainers can take advantage of this. Even if you are just starting out, If you are older, your clients will think you are more experienced, because you are closer to their age.
14. Don't Try To Do It All Yourself
As you are trying to grow your fitness business, you may be tempted to see other trainers as your competition. Odds are, most are not. It's in your best interest to find others who you and network with. Some of those people might even end up being your mentors.
For years I've been interviewing fitness trainers in the hopes of helping and inspiring others. Take advantage of those interviews. Here are a few interviews to get you started:
- Teresa Giordano Interview
- Krystina Gorman Interview
- Martin Mcloughlin Interview
- Patrice Jones interview
- Yolanda Bowls Interview
- Brandon Long Interview
15 Personal Training Is Personal
I remember hearing the story of a power-lifter personal trainer who trained everybody the same way – as a powerlifter. This is wrong. No two clients are alike. Everybody will have their own health problems, injuries, fitness level, likes/dislikes, etc. Your job as a personal trainer is to personalize the exercise prescription (frequency, intensity, time and type of exercise) to the person you are working with. Notice I used the word prescription. Exercise is a medication. It has powerful effects if you prescribe it in the right dosage.
OK, that's all the straight talk I have for you. Leave a comment below if you think I missed anything or want to share experiences from your own personal training career.
You are so right about them asking about sales experience during interviews! I just got out of an interview with LA fitness and my sales experience – I have some – seemed to be the only thing that was important.
I want to be a personal trainer -not a sales person
Hi Portia, I understand and I empathize with you. While I do think having some a sales experience is a good thing, fitness centers can value that over qualified individuals. At the end of the day its about helping people
Ginger Chiodo says
I am a personal trainer who travels to my clients home or other preferred location. I train indoors and outdoors.
I am interested in offering outdoor small group training Sessions to my training programs but I do not know how to rate the fee per person. Can you offer me any suggestions on how to base a cost per person?
Hi Ginger, have you scoped out your competition to see what others in your area are charging? That might give you an idea of at least a base price. when setting your rate, consider how you are different from others too. You might also want to offer a fee based on whether the person brings a buddy to train too.
But what if your clients want to date you?
Hi Shelia, if you have a personal training client who is asking you out on dates, I don’t think that is appropriate. You did not say if you were interested or not in this person but if not, just tell him you not interested. if he persists and its uncomfortable for you tell him its best if he sees another trainer. Tell your personal trainer manager about this so they are aware of it. Here is my review of sexual harassment in the gym
If this is a person you are interested in, then I still think its best if you dont mix business and pleasure. If you date him its best to drop him as a client first. Think about it, if you date him, he may think he gets his personal training from you for free. This creates an awkward situation for you who still needs money to pay your rent, car payment etc. You also do NOT want to get a reputation as “the trainer who dates her clients.” A reputation like that will follow you wherever you go and will be difficult to get rid of.
I hope this helps. if you have any other questions, just ask.
Hey Joe, I wish I saw this last week – and your review on fitness interviews – before I had my job interview last week. Thanks for what you do.
Hey Kath, me too. I hope they helped regardless 🙂
Dr. Timothy Manson, CVT, PT says
Really goof information.
Dr. Timothy Manson CVT
Hey Tim, thanks so much, I’m glad you liked it!
Joe, thanks for posting those interviews – the interview with Yolanda made me cry. She is so inspiring. Is she on facebook or instagram?
Hi Catherine, yes Yolandas interview is my favorite. she really opened up about her diabetes. I always remember what her doctor said to her when she said she wanted to stop taking insulin. Gives me shivers every time… yes she is on Facebook and I also believe Instagram too.
Your #4 point got my attention. We recently had someone have a heart attack where I work. Id rather not give the name but you have heard of them. It was crazy. I didn’t have to do CPR on her but someone else did. I think she lived.
A week after this happened, we all had to get CPR certified.
Hi Jenn, I’ve heard stores like this before. Fitness centers are reactionary. They sometimes institute CPR policies after a medical emergency rather than before.
Here’s my gym emergency procedure review. Show it to the gym owner. Hopefully it will help you all if this ever happens again
I was in an interview and mentioned I have some clients I train in the home. The person interviewing me said they would not hire me as long as I have the in-home clients. They wanted me to either give them up or try to get them to join the gym (they’d give them a discount to join) if I still trained them.
Can they make me get rid of my clients?
Tom, The gym CANNOT make you stop training people on your own time. The only way I could see this is if you were hired as a full time employee and had benefits etc. If you are working part time, I don’t think they can make you get rid of your existing clients.
Because you are probably making more training your in-home clients, I would not give them up. As I see it you have 2 options:
1. just keep training them and tell them you are not anymore. How will they know
2. Tell them no and move on to another fitness center that does not have this terrible policy
I was offered a job teaching a Zumba class for $20 a class. Is that a good price?
Hi Stephanie, Zumba is a tough class. I’m not an expert in group fitness but I think $20 a class is a little low. Do all the Zumba instructors make $20 a class or is this an introductory rate because you are new? Do they give you more if your Zumba class gets popular? What happens if your class has 30 people – then you are getting less than $1 per person in the class.
You are so right about the sales stuff. I recently interviewed at an Anytime Fitness and the interview was ALL about sales! I wish I had read this before I had the interview. I dont have any experience so I doubt I’d get the job (wont know till next week). One thing I remember was no health insurance for full time employees. Is that normal?
Hi Sam, I’ve heard that about Anytime Fitness before – no health insurance even if you work full time. I don’t understand how that’s possible. When your full time, you should get benefits including health insurance. If you are employed full time at a gym and working at a gym 40 or more hours a week, you should get health insurance. Full time employees also often get other perks too like vacation time, bonuses and sometimes even pension.
I agree its not good to date clients -you dont pee where you drink – but what if the client is making passes at you? that’s what I’m going through now
Hi Jane, you should not be forced to deal with sexual harassment where you work. Did you bring this up to the manager or owner of the gym? if not, I suggest you do that today.
Read my review of sexual harassment in the gym. I cover what you should do.
Do let me know what happens.
You are so right. I work at LA Fitness and was told to remove my instagram pictures that were taken inside the gym. Nobody ever told me this. I didnt post anything bad.
Sue, yep others have told me heard LA Fitness will do this. They dont care if the posts are flattering to them. I believe this is mostly about the gym trying to control their brand. They want to post the pictures. Sometimes companies will even have social medial departments with employees whose job is to only do this type of stuff. Hopefully, removing the pictures wont be too much of a problem for you.