The Life of a Personal Trainer

Ahh… the occupation of a Personal Trainer.  First of all, I’d be remiss to say that the occupation of a personal trainer is one of the more highly sought after positions among individuals attempting a career change.  Incidentally, it also has one of the highest turnover rates of any occupations: almost 80% of all personal trainer s will get out within 1 year.  That’s 4 out of every 5 people!  Needless to say, it takes quite a bit to be able to be successful in the long term in this industry, and in my opinion, there are several reasons for this.  For starters, while many pursue being a personal trainer because they may be optimistic about/have passion for fitness, those are just the bare minimum of the prerequisites needed to really make this career work for you.

Speaking from my own experience, when I was working for a commercial gym 10 years ago, I struggled with the notion of having to “sell” to people in order to make a living, and, coupled with the fact that few people are willing to work out outside the coveted 7-9am – 5-7 pm block…in the end it meant that I had to work long hours and except a fairly petty pay check considering how much I’ve invested in education/certifications.  On top of that, the owners took well over half of whatever we’d bring in, resulting in a paycheck that was chopped up more times than an onion at a benihana.

So, at the end of the typical day for the average personal trainer, you train your clients, you’re only earning money when you’re training (What, you think they’re gonna pay you to harrass people on the training floor/cardio machines or making cold calls? Wrong. How are they going to be able to build their 856th facility across 46 states by doing that?) and that’s that.    No wonders why 80% peace out within a year!  But here’s the catch…what do you think the reason is why those individuals quit? This is the key take home for today, folks:

What separates the ok personal trainer on a fast track to fleeing the industry from the great trainers who stay highly successful is a unique blend of determination, integrity, a solid understanding of exercise physiology, and, last but certainly not least, the interpersonal skills to make people want to keep on coming back to you because they know you’re going to provide a high quality service that’s going to continue providing the environment for them to get better.

– Determination/Integrity – I’m going to lump these ones together, because they absolutely go hand and hand.  These traits are plain and simple, and must be in place before anything else.  If one is determined in honing his craft, they will take the necessary steps to stay organized and on top of things (client workouts, answering emails, making/returning phone calls to prospective clients, never missing scheduled appointments), demonstrate preparation for any task to be done (writing workouts/implementing them in a timely fashion, not showing up late for appointments), and the pride and integrity to ensure an overall quality service to the client. Not some of the time, not most of the time, but always.

– Solid Understand of Exercise Physiology/Biomechanics – Straight forward as well.  If your personal trainer can’t rattle off the 4 rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder, is still having you do steady state cardio as your main activity for fat burning, has you lying on the ground to engage your transverse abdominus for 8 weeks,  or doesn’t understand the value of training for movements rather than muscles, what are you paying for?  If your personal trainer isn’t taking active, aggressive steps to ensure you’re goals of fat loss, pain reduction, strength gains, etc. are being met, it’s time that you find a new personal trainer.

– Interpersonal Skills: This one is a little tougher to acquire if not so already, but certainly is teachable.  There have been countless books written on this topic.  Alot of this has to do with infusing your own personality into training sessions, something that alot of trainers overlook.  You can’t just be a walking textbook, you have to be able to empathize, listen and acknowledge your clients on a personal level.  Coming right out of grad school, I definitely succumbed to this: I felt like I always had to back up any exercise I would implement with some sort of scientific rational, lest my clients think I’m some meathead dumbass with a dumbbell for a brain.

Now, don’t get me wrong; if your trainer doesn’t have a specific plan of attack for getting you towards your goals, then that is a definite issue.  But I don’t know too many non-exercise science majors who are dying to find out more about scapular kinematics, subtalar joint motion in the first phase of gait, or have a clue about lower crossed syndrome.  The point is, as the old saying goes, “no one cares about how much you know until they know how much you care”.  There’s a lot to be said about building strong relationships with your clientele,  and at least trying to reach out to them on a more personal level (also understanding when the client is NOT interested in this type of interaction is just as important).

In other words, deep down, any client or athlete, whether they are willing to admit it or not,  is just as interested in how you make them feel as a person/how well you satisfy they’re personal needs, as they are to how well you are able to help them get the results they are after.

Passion and optimism are great for getting you in the door, but if you want to make this a career, it is imperative that you take into account these qualities, because they are going to make it possible for you to continue to flourish in your career as a trainer, keep YOU getting better at getting OTHERS better day by day, and ultimately allowing for a much more satisfying lifestyle.


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