I have always hated the word “trainer”. To me, it implies that, as fitness professionals, we are doing something FOR our clients, when in reality, we are doing something WITH our clients. We are guiding them. Teaching them. Ultimately, we are COACHING them. I spend a long time personal training people, and while I enjoyed some aspects of it, and formed some great relationships, ultimately, it wasn’t something I wanted to do long term.
As a personal trainer, I am not suggesting that you stop working in the fitness industry altogether, however here are 5 reasons why I got out of PERSONAL training, and what you can do instead.
I like to think of myself as a pretty tough dude, mentally at least. I rarely complain about being tired, I always give 110% to the task at hand, and in general, I love working with people so much in the large group setting that often times, THEY provide ME with energy. With that said, in personal training, that was never true for me.
You see, I am an introverted person. I actually LOVE talking to large groups, and spreading my social interactions across a larger spectrum of people. The intense one on one interactions are what really drain me, and wear me down emotionally, and at the end of a long day personal training clients, physically as well. I had personal training clients that I really came to have a very tight bond with, people I still look up to to this very day. But for every one of those clients, I had 2 clients that were extremely emotionally intense, pessimistic about just about anything, or who clearly didn’t want to be there. Some clients used me as a therapist more than for my expertise in fitness. Others wanted to complain about everything we did. When you have to be “on” all day in front of these people, there is no break, again, not so much from the physical sense, but from the mental standpoint, and let me tell you, that is FAR more draining.
When you don’t vibe with one of your clients, an hour can seem like 3. When they cancel on you, you are almost relieved, even though you don’t get paid. Slowly but surely, it dawned on me that this was NOT the kind of relationship I wanted to have with my career, a sense of dread going into a long shift, or a sense of relief when clients, who I was supposed to be helping lead a healthier lifestyle, did not come in.
As a personal trainer, having these intense interactions with people all day (sometimes 4-5 in a row before you get a small break, then another 4-5) can WIPE you out, and give you a level of fatigue that few can appreciate.
Paid time off.
Do you have a job or a career? A simple way to answer that question is: do you receive compensation if you are under the weather, or if you want to go on vacation? You see, if you are working full time hours, if your employer does not provide those things, you have a JOB. If your employer sees value in you, invests in you, and wants to add years to the length of your “work life”, then you have a CAREER. In former arrangements, whether I was working as a personal trainer for another company, or by myself, there was no time off. If I didn’t work, I didn’t get paid. So what did I do? Instead of taking care of myself, and recovering, I would selfishly work when I was sick, not because I wanted to, but because I had no choice. I would skip vacations, because a week away from a pay check was a CRUSHING blow for me. I simply couldn’t afford it. Was this how I wanted to live my life? At someone else’s beck and call, with little regard for my own mental and physical and mental health? The answer quickly became a resounding NO.
Money isn’t everything, but damn, it sure helps! As a personal trainer, you are faced with a giant dilemma: you have to charge a substantial amount of money for 45-60 minutes of your time in order to make ends meet, but that is not the perception outside people have. They think you are just “banking” that money. You either have to pay rent and turn the lights on in your own facility, or you have to take a pretty significant hit if you work for someone else. Potential clients don’t care about this. All they care about is how much money they are spending, which in turn places a lot of pressure on you to deliver a fantastic product, and quite often, results that are simple outside the realm of reason.
Let’s say you charge $75/hour for private training, a pretty standard rate. By the time you have to pay all of your expenses, you will be lucky to see half of that. What happens when Tom the banker decides he can’t come in, because he had an important meeting? You don’t get paid. Oh, you have a cancellation policy? That’s cool…good luck getting Tom to re up with you when his sessions expire. You have a tight day, and Lisa is running 10 minutes late, but still expects you to train her for the full hour. 2 other clients no show. You have a 3 hour gap from 1-4pm, because you can’t find anyone to fill that time. What was going to be an 8 client day at $75/hour, has now turned into a 10 hour day, where you are taking home $40/WORKING hour on 5 clients. Did you make a couple hundred bucks? Yes, you did. Did you kill yourself to do it, and spread yourself too thin? You sure did.
Personal trainers are some of the hardest working people I know, and unfortunately, often struggle to make ends meet, with no end in sight. No vacations. No relief.
Retention Rate is poor.
You can be the best trainer in the world, but unless you have a steady stable of clients with a TON of disposable income, who really happen to like you, you are constantly going to be “restocking the pond”. The issue is, if you live in a mid level market like Syracuse, NY or Hartford, CT, eventually that pond will run dry. If you live in a major metropolitan area, with millions of people, like New York or LA, there are literally thousands of trainers competing with you every single day, fighting over the same potential client base, or even worse, stealing clients.
In my experience, people who are wealthy also have an excellent sense of value. They have no problem paying good money for something if they see the value, or if you can provide them with results. The issue for us in the fitness industry, is that people with wealth are often very social. They like to eat. They like to drink beers on the golf course. They go on winery tours with their girlfriends. They take 4 vacations a year. It can be extremely difficult to deliver a result that matches expectations given these circumstances, and even though you very well may be making them a healthier person on the inside, they will always be bothered that they are paying upwards of $1000 per month with not a lot to show for it on the outside. They will move on to the next trainer, or just slowly ween off of you in time, leaving you on a quest to fill that slot with the next person who in all likelihood, will also slowly not see the value over time.
Limited number of people you can reach.
Why did you get into this space to begin with? Was it for money? God I hope not. Fame? Your odds of making the New England Patriots and becoming the new Julian Edelman would probably be better. So why then? Ahhh….you have a love and passion for fitness that you want to share with people. That you want to spread. You receive fulfillment and a warm feeling of accomplishment when you help people reach their goals. So let me ask you this…since some of you clients no show on you, cancel, are negative, or are not really fully commited…how often do you feel like you are achieving what you set out to achieve in the fitness space? As a personal trainer, you may have an amazing gift and propensity for helping others, but you are SO limited with the number of lives you can truly reach, and effect in a positive way.
Related to any of this? I thought you might. Personal training is an incredibly admirable, necessary profession, but there are a number of issues that can limit the lifespan of a trainer, or make it feel like a never ending summer job more than a career. So what to do instead?
Listen, I have BEEN where you are. I have lived that life. I have also evolved to discover another way. A way that allows you to have tons of personal interactions with the clients you have a tremendous amount of chemistry with, and who really want to elicit your help, and a tolerable amount of interactions with the clients who you don’t. I have created a business where my trainers do not have to work when they are sick, and can go on vacation to recharge their batteries, allowing them to do this job for far longer than they would ever be able to personal train for.
Financially, whether you work for another company or for yourself, would you rather train 40 clients for $5-$10 each, or 1 client for $100. What type of expectation do you think those respective clients will have? How about retention? Do you think someone who pays $1200 a month to work will keep coming back, and seeing the value the same way a person who pays $120 a month will? I can assure you, they won’t.
As a large group coach, perhaps the biggest takeaway is that you get to positively influence and impact literally 10-20x the number of people that you otherwise would have. Literally 100-200 clients per day could have a positive experience with you, and decide to keep going, to lower their blood pressure, lose 40 pounds, keep trying to get stronger, or better yet…maybe you just made their day today with a smile. If you want clients, and always want to search for new ones, then continue personal training, but remember, now you have a job. If you want members of a community that values you, respect your time, and will in all likelihood become permanent fixtures in your life that provides you with the ability to derive a level of fulfillment that you never dreamed possible, then you my friend are in rarified air in the fitness industry….because now you have a career.