Like it or not, there will come a time when you must decide what you’re going to study in school, and what you’ll do for work. Some of us grow up playing sports, dreaming of going pro and getting paid to play a game. Then we realize that we’re too small or too slow, or in my case – both.

The next best thing to getting paid to play a sport is getting paid to workout or tell other people how to workout. Jackpot!

We can be a personal trainer, teach fitness classes, own a gym or become a strength coach. It sounds like such a good plan; it will be so much fun. All we have to do is pick up a personal training certification and start bossing people around, right?

While it’s true that a career in fitness has the potential to be life changing, for you and everyone you work with, there are some things you should know before you get started. I’m not telling you these things to shatter your dreams. Exactly the opposite is true. I am telling it like it is because no one else will.

Everything You Need to know: 

On looking the part: Would you take advice from a financial advisor who was bankrupt? Me either.

So if you’re going to be a fitness pro, please get in shape. Here’s the catch, just because you can train yourself doesn’t mean you can train other people. What works for you will not work for everyone else. And that’s not all. If you’re skilled enough to conjure up a regimen that meets your client where they are, that doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to coach them through the exercises. You’ll have to be patient and persistent; along with a few other P’s – personable, passionate and persuasive.

Or you could just work with athletes.

On working with athletes: Working with someone who wants to exercise and has some experience is one thing. But, what are you going to do when you encounter someone who’s never exercised and has no clue how their body moves? Right, that’s why you want to work with athletes in the first place. I should have known better. Trouble is, everybody wants to work with athletes – not everyone does.

Well, you might say; “that’s why I am going to be a strength coach.” To which I would tell you, congratulations! Just be prepared to spend your entire day in a gym because you’ll be eating breakfast, lunch and dinner there. Sure, it would be amazing to become a world renowned strength coach for a division I school or pro team. Unfortunately the chances of that happening are slim. It’s more likely that you will be working at a small Division II or III school training every athlete on campus. Of course this won’t be a problem if you truly love fitness and are prepared to be worked into the ground.

On teaching fitness classes: Now that you’re rethinking the strength coach route, you might be leaning towards teaching group fitness classes. I’ve been there – it’s a pretty good deal. Except there’re going to be times when you have to deal with 30 members at 30 different ability levels. And that’s not all; there will not be enough equipment and the sound system won’t work.

Or, you’ll have to sub a class for an instructor who no-showed. You think you’re doing everyone a huge solid. Then someone in the class calls you out, “hey, that’s not how Betsy does it.” You’re bad. Better still, you’ll make it through the class without a hitch. Only to find out that Betsy is talking smack on you because members are ditching her class in favor of yours. Yeah, that happens.

The best part is, because you’re only making $15-$30 per hour, you’re probably going to have to teach multiple classes a day at multiple facilities. It has the potential to be a logistical nightmare.

On personal training: Trainers have the same issue as group-ex instructors, there’s only one of you, a limited client base and always 24 hours in a day. No matter how you slice it you are not scalable as a personal trainer.

Even if you knew everything there was to know about fitness, looked the part and were able to amass enough clients, you’d still have your work cut out for you. As my friend and fellow fitness pro Jeremey Duvall points out, personal training is more than fitness; its sales and relationship building as well. Two things you will not learn in anatomy class.

On owning a gym: This option brings us right back to the strength coach’s dilemma – prepare to move into your gym. Except in this scenario it’s your time and money on the line. Plus, even when you leave the gym you won’t be able to escape work. Since you’re also running a business you’ll have to manage people, balance the books and put out fires. All in a day’s work, right?

What now?

 Alright, you might have a few questions; like why would anyone want to work in fitness and why I choose to work in the industry if it’s such a drag?

Here’s the thing, it’s not a drag. It’s incredibly rewarding and inspiring – if you know what to expect.

On some level everything I wrote here is true. But you would never know it until you found out first hand; at which point it would be too late. You would have already invested too much time and money in an education and professional certifications. You’d be stuck.

Unless of course you are supremely passionate about getting fit and helping others do the same thing. Then everything I’ve written here will roll off your back as you move through your days with ease. Sure, it will be trying and will challenge your spirit and work ethic, but the rewards will always be worth it for you.

It’s always worth it for me. There’s not much that can compare to someone telling you how much you’ve changed their life, their body and their outlook.

Be Prepared

Are you still here? Good, that means you weren’t scared off by all of the – this is going to be harder than you think talk.

Since you’re in this game for the right reasons I am sure you’ll make a fine fitness pro. But, there’re a few more things you need to do to be successful.

Put people first: It goes without saying that you need to know your stuff, like how to design a training plan, modify workouts and address clients. But, and this is a big but, you have to perfect your people skills. You have to learn how to interact with people. You have to become a master communicator. Learn when you need to push someone and when you need to back off; who needs you to bring the hammer down and who needs you to be vulnerable. If you can build relationships and deliver results you’ll have it made.

Keep learning: You need to recognize that you don’t know it all; no one does. A better approach would just be to admit that you can get better and set out to actually become better. Do your research and reading. Try new things out on yourself. Attend every workshop you can and collect certifications like they’re going out of style. Never stop learning, never stop growing. The more you know they more useful you will be to your clients and the better off you’ll be.

Say it with me, I don’t know everything!

Get hands on: No, not with your clients; that’s a no-no. By hands on I mean practical experiences. You can’t learn how to be a personal trainer in a classroom or from a book. You must go do it. But, you can’t just roll up to a gym and train your buddies. You have to experience different people in different settings from different ability levels.

It can be volunteer work, internships or shadowing. I don’t care how you do it; just gain some real world experience.

Work with kids at a summer camp, check out a sports team, go to the YMCA, then stop at a commercial gym and see what you can take away from those experiences. You’ll figure out what you like and don’t like, if you’re cut out for this or if you’re not. But, the only way to know is by actually doing it.

So folks, there you have it. What do you say; do you still want to become a fitness professional or personal trainer?


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