How To Be A Personal Trainer

By Jonathan Goodman
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When asked how to get started the right way to a successful, fulfilling, and profitable personal training career, my answer is not as quick as you might expect.

First, becoming a trainer is easy. Check this out: Poof! You’re a trainer!

molly-coaching-alli-birddog-450x299The term is unregistered. This means that anybody can call himself or herself a trainer. In this article I’m going to lay out the steps to getting started (including some discussion about certification vs. qualification) and how to become über successful.

It’s important for you to understand what a top personal training certification is actually good for. Certification agencies may promote a scope of practice, but the reality is that without any governmental backing, it means nothing. The repercussions are pertinent to note before deciding where to spend your valuable education dollars both on your path to becoming a trainer, and as you grow within the industry.

First, your clients won’t care about your certification

Sure they might nod their heads when you extol the benefits of it, but they’ve nothing to gauge their opinion on. Clients care about the results that you can get them. No matter how good you are at sales and marketing, your success, or failure, is solely dependent on the results that you can help your clients achieve.

The best personal trainers are those that have the combined knowledge and passion to provide a high quality service. A piece of paper doesn’t give you either of these.

A certification is a means to get your foot in the door. Most gyms won’t hire you without one. If you’re independent, many insurance companies won’t cover you without one. Occasionally gyms ask their trainers to obtain the same cert. If there’s somewhere specific that you want to work then ask if they have a preference.

Certification ≠ Qualification

A certification will not prepare you for training clients. In order to do a great job, you’ve got to have tons of practical and varied experience. In reality, this is no different from any other profession. An accountant isn’t ready to take on a wide variety of cases right away. Upon graduating and getting a job, he or she ideally goes to work at a firm under the supervision of a mentor or manager.

The difference is that personal trainers are often thrown into the fire immediately when they start. There is no way that a new trainer will be ready to train a 15-year old girl wanting to lost a few pounds and a 70-year old woman with arthritic fingers and a torn ACL on Day 1.

I’m not dismissing the years of experience that you have working out or reading fitness magazines. That’s important. But it’s very narrow. Up until now your research has likely been focused upon making your own workouts better and healing from your own injuries.

Unless you’re going to be training people precisely like yourself then it’s going to take some work learning new methods.

ignite-the-fire-307x350Not only that, but you’re likely so far removed from being a beginner that you forget how it feels to be uncomfortable and unconfident in the gym (a point I felt was so important that it takes up the entire first chapter of my new book, Ignite the Fire: The Secrets to Building a Successful Personal Training Career).

Perhaps more important than choosing “the best” certification is finding a place to work that has the best opportunity for growth. This means two things:

  • There’s a manager or mentor that supports you and allows you to ask questions.
  • You get the opportunity to get your hands dirty and work with a ton of different clients.

Always remember that it’s OK to say that you don’t know as long as you follow it up with, “but I’m sure as hell going to find out”.

Next: let your passion dictate your education

Spend excessively on your education (and don’t ever stop, it’s the best investment that you can make). Just don’t bother yourself whether or not it has a certification tag attached to it. Stop following somebody else’s template.

Remember what I said above about personal training being unregulated? That means that anybody and their dog can create a certification for fitness professionals. Save your money on expensive certs and put it towards books, workshops, conferences, mentorships, and internships.

Seek out the best resources on whatever topic that you’re interested in. Don’t ever be cheap when it comes to your education. This is how you qualified, not with a piece of paper.

And now, some strategies for a successful career

Strategy 1 - You’re an entrepreneur now!

I want to emphasize two points here:

1.  You, and only you, are responsible for your business. Whether you train people with a couple bands out of the back of your car or you work for a nation-wide commercial gym, you are on your own.

Take initiative. If you don’t have enough personal training clients, do something about it – don’t complain that management isn’t supporting you enough.

Figure out what is the biggest need of your target clientele and become an expert on it. Write a pamphlet on the subject (for example fat loss for busy mothers) and leave copies at reception, post it up at the gym, and in the local coffee shop.

If you don’t think it’s allowed, do it anyway. It’s always easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.

2. Put a value on your time. I worked my butt off training clients and on my professional development but that’s not solely responsible for my success. I also paid somebody to clean my apartment, cook my food, and I shopped at the expensive grocery store because it was closer.

I’m not lazy – I’m efficient. If I can pay somebody $50 to clean my apartment that would take 5hrs of personal and professional development time away from me it’s worth it. It would have taken me an extra hour to save $15 on groceries; an uninterrupted hour of study is worth more than $15 to me.

I did these things when I didn’t have much money. Take a look at the time-consuming tasks that make up your day. Some of them can be outsourced and others ignored. Coupon clipping to save a couple cents is almost never worth it.

Strategy 2 - The Cheers Effect

When anybody comes into your gym smile a big smile and say hello. If you don’t know them, introduce yourself and remember their name. Be sure to introduce your clients to every member of the gym. Always give people a big smile and a handshake the minute you see them.

Make your clients the cool people at the gym. They should love walking in through the door because you greet them by name. Not only that, but they’ll be more prone to share word of the gym and your services if they feel popular.

Strategy 3 - Your body is your livelihood, train it, but don’t be stupid.

Learn how to deadlift well. A strong low back will save you from getting hurt.

Long days spotting clients and demonstrating exercises meshed with your own workouts can put you in a precarious position. Tailor your own training around your weekly flow of clients. If you know that you will have 10 clients on a Wednesday then Tuesday is probably a bad day for a heavy leg workout, save it for the weekend.

Training a lot of clients while sore sucks – it’s also dangerous. If you need to jump in and help a client who is pinned by a barbell on the bench press your spinal erectors shouldn’t be sore. If they are, you will compensate and put your own body at risk.

Strategy 4 - Wear good socks

Because nothing is worse than standing and sweating for 10 hours in the half-inch cotton socks you just bought 5 pairs of for $10 at Wal-Mart.

Strategy 5 - Empower first, educate second

Confident trainers don’t try to impress, confident trainers educate.

You should never worry about teaching a client too much. Teach your clients everything you know and empower them to make positive decisions. I know what you’re thinking:

“But if I teach them too much, doesn’t that mean that they won’t need me anymore?”

Giving your clients autonomy over their fitness plan is the best way to ensure adherence. Educate them on the right choices and let them work with you in creating the plan. Instead of a dictatorship, make the session a democracy.

Empowering your clients will have them getting better results and one of two things will happen:

  • They will be so happy that they will never want to leave you.
  • They will move on and train by themselves but tell everybody they know how great you are.

Strategy 6 - Build Systems

I wrote an article a while back called What’s in My Desk; it’s still one of my favorites. I had developed systems all originating with my desk at the gym that enabled me to fluidly train 12 clients in a day. I was ready for any interruption.

Another system I built was that I had clients on call. I built a spreadsheet of clients that lived close to the gym that wanted to be squeezed in at a moments notice. On this form was which day(s) they could make it and what times. Going back to the story that started this post, if my client cancelled 30 minutes before a session, I opened up my spreadsheet and was able to fire off 5 text messages in a minute. I could usually fill the spot.

But really, it comes down to one thing …

It’s Never About You.

If you’re wondering how to make it as a personal trainer my #1 tip is to always put yourself in your clients’ shoes. Look at things from their perspective, not yours.

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About the author:  Jonathan Goodman

Jonathan Goodman is the author of Ignite the Fire, a book that teaches how to become a personal trainer and build a successful career. To learn more about his personal training books and free collaborative resource for trainers, go to the Personal Trainer Development Center.

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