Trainers Want to Know

The Riddle, The Answer, The Course of Action

by Phil Kaplan

This is going to be deep, philosophical, and may get you to re-think a concept you thought you had all figured out, and just to put your brain to work immediately, allow me to begin with a riddle.

What is it that we fear, yet we need, and on a daily basis we are driven to destroy?

Quite a riddle, huh?  Think it through.  I know you can come up with the response.  OK, we’ll think it through together.


We fear it. Hmm.  Well we all fear failure at some level, so perhaps “it” relates to the threat of our defeat.  We all are said to fear success somewhere deep down within our psyches.  Maybe defeating “it” can lead to our success?  Any idea?


Let’s continue to sort this out.  We “need” it.   Hmm.  We need food.  We need water.  We need human interaction, but these are not things we fear.  What might we both fear and need?  Perhaps it’s something that drives us, that motivates us to move forward and to thrive while still tapping into our “worry” systems.


Now the clincher.  We are driven to destroy it.  Why would we destroy something we need?  Maybe we won’t.  Maybe the desire to destroy it is somehow the element that we need in order to face fear and prosper.

By now you’ve either figured it out or your brain hurts from trying.  Recognizing that the primary topics of this newsletter are fitness and business, we’d have to assume it has something to do with one or both of them.  You want the answer?  Or would you prefer to think a little longer.  For those of you who are either too weak willed to ponder the riddle (of course you can pause here and keep thinking), or for those who have come up with an answer and await validation, the solution follows.


We fear, we need, and we are driven to destroy our competitors. That’s it.  That’s the answer.  Competition. 

Whoever you perceive to be your competition must at some level evoke fear, otherwise you would not even put them in the competition category.  Why do we “need” competition?  Without it we become stagnant, we fail to face challenges, and we are pushed into a relaxed state where the idea flow and motivation shift into neutral. That’s not a place where you want to be if you seek growth.

We can approach life as if we haven’t any competition, which is certainly an option, but it’s analogous to walking out into the ocean believing you won’t get wet.  Sure, you can make the walk, but ignoring the water doesn’t make it go away.

There are some strange philosophical dilemmas that surface when we really explore this topic.  We want to destroy our competitors, yet, if they go away, we are competition free which we already determined is not where we want to be.  So what is the best way to approach this?  Let’s better understand our own abilities, our own internal systems that lead us to prosperity, and the control we have over framing issues and concepts so we become better empowered to address and master them.


We are capable of facing fear.  Watch Jaws and you’ll think twice before going out into the ocean for a midnight swim, but with the summoning up of courage and a compelling enough reason to face the fear, most of us would be able to at least get our feet wet.  We don’t ignore the existence of the sharks, and while we can overcome the potential paralysis the fear can evoke, we move forward with trepidation and determination, never forgetting what may lie beneath the surface.


Now that we agree we are capable of facing fear, let’s throw in the compelling reason for doing so.  Let’s suppose the only available food was on an island ½ mile away, and you had to walk or swim across a small segment of the ocean to get to the island. 

We have a clear destination and if we arrive on that island we are successful.  So we have fear and we have need.


Let’s make the scenario just a little more interesting.  Let’s assume that the waters around the island are filled with sharks.  At any given moment you can see those threatening fins skimming the surface.  You realize you need to get to the island, you fear the sharks, but you can enter the water prepared.  Perhaps you arm yourself with a spear gun, perhaps you have some sort of mobile cage that is impenetrable and shoots explosive devices guaranteed to send sharks to shark heaven, or perhaps you order a can of “Shark Away” miracle spray sold on an infomercial for only $29.99.  OK, forget the Shark Away.  At least for now.  We’ll address infomercials in a short while, but let’s stay on track.

Given the scenario I laid out, you have need (food on an island) fear (of sharks) and a desire to destroy.  

Now let’s integrate what we think of when we think of competition.  Suppose a mile down the beach someone just as strong as you, just as smart as you, and just as good a swimmer as you is starving and has identified the food.  Now you have to be fast, you have to tap deep into your powers of creativity, and you have to establish maintain an edge.  If we take all of those elements and transfer them to an analysis of our business, we find the ground is ripe for a very concise analogy.

In business we want to know our destination.  In fact, we need to know our destination.  We want to be driven and motivated and we benefit by finding a compelling reason to take calculated risks.  We are served by the fear that someone else, a competitor, might arrive out our destination before we do. We know if we’re going to reach the pinnacle of success we are going to have to establish and maintain an edge.  We are willing to do what it takes.  All of those elements make for a potentially strong platform for business success.


In order to set in motion a course of action in dealing with our competitors, let’s shift back to the shark infested waters for a moment.  If in pursuing the food we need, we use our spear gun to destroy a shark or two, we have not made the threat go away, we have simply carved a path for ourselves to get through.

So at times, you don’t have to destroy the whole of your competition, but you can benefit greatly by walking a line your competitors can not walk (or swim, whatever the case may be).  Selective destruction or the establishment of a position of power in a given area can weaken the threat of any competitor.  That’s one alternative.

Let’s take another approach. Suppose we think this through and realize we have the ability to make fire, we have a spear gun, and we happen to like seafood very much.  Couldn’t we make a simple adjustment that no longer makes the guy down the beach a competitor?  Sure!  We can feast on shark.  So another alternative is to change the territory.

A third approach might involve a meeting.  Suppose you sit down with the other starving man and decide that while you both make the journey, one will focus on moving forward, the other will focus on keeping the sharks at bay.  You’ll then share the food and work together to cultivate a system for providing meals for days, weeks, and months to come.  This offers a third alternative.  You eliminate your competition, not by hostile destruction, but by forming a win-win alliance.

There are three ways we can effectively deal with competition.

  1. Selective destruction or the establishment of a position of power in a given area can weaken the threat of any competitor. 
  2. We can change the territory
  3. We can create allies so our competitors participate in a win-win

With a buy-in of the theories I’ve discussed this far, I can assure you dealing with competition is relatively easy.  The hard part in dealing with competition isn’t as much the plan of action, but rather the identification of the enemy.  Sure, there are sharks that swim with their dorsal fins above water, but the ones that lie beneath, the most dangerous, don’t always readily identify themselves.


When I ask trainers who their competitors are, the response is usually “other trainers.”  I don’t see other fitness professionals as my competitors.  I actually see them as allies.  As the territory changes, my perception of the inherent risk upon the health of my business created by the presence of other fitness professionals may very well change, but with the state of the industry being what it is, I have yet to meet even a single trainer I would call a professional whom I have personally deemed to be a competitor.  There are those “trainers” who would not fall under the heading of “professional,” and they are yet in a new category which I’ll address shortly.

Before I go further into my own views, let me turn the focus back to you.  Who is your competition?  Who is the potential enemy of your business?  Is the enemy making his or her or itself apparent, or is the enemy elusive?  Once you identify who the enemy is, you then have to ask where that enemy might be.

Once you’ve clearly identified your competition, there’s one final question that precedes the actions you’ll take to address the enemy.  With a clear distinction made, a clear identification of who the competitor at hand is, is it better to embrace it, disempower it, or obliterate it?


Are other trainers your competitors?  I believe if you said they are, you’re selling yourself short, putting yourself not in a category of elite trainers, but of fitness wave riders.  Sure, there are many who will enter the field, believing they are professionals because they have a love for fitness, but without the commitment to succeed, without a self governing morality, and without an exceptional ability to help people achieve results, few of them will ever rise beyond the level of an also-ran.  I know subscribers to this newsletter have already escalated themselves above the also-rans.  They are elite professionals or they’re already on the path.

I often use the analogy of medical professionals to illustrate some of the views that are prevalent among professionals in other fields yet absent in our own.  When I spoke before the Cardio Thoracic Surgeons Association, was I speaking to a field of competitors?  It certainly didn’t appear that way.  They were at this conference seeking to further not only their own education, but also the impact their field as a whole had on medicine.  They are peers.  They are allies.  If they spent their energies figuring out how to shoot each other down, how to steal patients, and how to prove their independent superiorities, cardio thoracic medicine might still be in the stone age.

I see amateur trainers bad-mouthing each other far too often.  It’s clear to me that our entire field needs to escalate its position in the public eye, and that can only happen when the elite professionals find unity, not as competitors, but as allies working to grow independently by furthering the field, and everyone with this perspective benefits in the process.  Here’s an area where I’ve found a unity to offer the most powerful solution. 

With that said, the also-rans, those trainers who are polluting public perception by carrying business cards that offer the same titles as ours do, they are in fact the enemy.  No, we don’t want to obliterate them, but we can create a massive rift between what we do and what they do.  Here’s where positioning becomes vital.  By getting yourself on television, radio, and in print, by conducting seminars and positioning yourself as an authority, and by making certain you stand before the fitness wanting public, not as a “trainer for hire,” but rather as an expert who serves as a resource for basic understandable truth, you will join forces with the other fitness professionals who jointly will escalate our ability to connect with the medical community, to set up a nucleus of “pre-hab” that takes the concept of “wellness” the next level, and to stand very much as doctors and lawyers do as the icons that proudly represent the best the fitness industry has to offer.

As we recognize those also rans as a potential detriment to our livelihood, we should do everything in our power to widen the rift.  Anyone who stands on our side of it is an ally, anyone who is across the great chasm a foe.  In our media appearances and our writing opportunities, we should bring to light the importance of selecting a “fitness professional” as opposed to a “trainer for hire.”  We should be very comfortable explaining the differences between credible certifications and money-making certificate sellers.  We should stand to maintain our own standard of excellence and work together to set that standard as a definable line between “professionals” and “trainers for hire.”

So when dealing with the prospect of the competition of other trainers:

  • Change the territory for the “trainers for hire”
  • Create alliances with the professionals


It’s all a matter of perspective.  If we’re defining competition as, “someone or something who is taking money from individuals we are capable of helping in the promotion of our business by making promises of the precise result we deliver,” the answer would be yes, but with a shift in perception we can instantly turn them into allies.

Health clubs are competitors if they are viewed as “solutions.”  We know the truth. They are not solutions, they are facilities.  Facilities are locations where solutions may or may not be available, but the only value in a membership is in the ability to enter a building.  As people sit in their homes watching national health club advertisements showing hot sweaty fit bodies, the perception will remain skewed, and that’s the power the national chains have.  Because we do not have the financial wherewithal the national health club chains have, we can’t beat them at their own game.  To attempt to compete head to head would be unrealistic, but here’s where a strategic alliance can nullify the negative impact a health club can have upon your business.  Position yourself as an ally where the club prospers as you do and the competition element is gone completely.

“You keep an eye on the sharks, I’ll lead us to the food.”  It’s a win-win where the rewards are shared.

“You keep driving memberships and I’ll lead members to their results, to renewals, and to referrals.”  It’s a fantastic strategy that allow you to root for the health club as it continues to enroll new members, and puts the ownership in your corner as they realize you are the vehicle to member longevity and enhanced lifetime member value.


In my mind, we have tens of thousand of competitors, but they all stand under the same umbrella.  They are those who aggressively market fitness products and solutions with fraudulent or deceptive claims.  They are the sharks in the water.  They are the enemies along the beach.

If we all lived in beach communities where food was available only on islands suspended in shark-infested water, it would only take days until the sellers of “Shark Away” miracle spray started earning their millions.  It would be all over QVC, on late night and Sunday afternoon infomercials, and in inserts in the Sunday newspapers.  It would show up in direct mail pieces, in multi-level-marketing programs, and on “new” internet sites with “special offers.”

What would the end result be?  Lots of people would get eaten by sharks and the sellers of the product would be living in mansions with refrigerated storehouses filled with food.

While that example seems far fetched, it is a very real illustration of how the “solution sellers” operate.  They offer Oil of Oregano as a cancer cure, Sea Silver liquid vitamin / mineral supplement as a solution for reducing risk of heart disease, and veterinary products which can legally be sold by mail order as AID’s cures.  They offer wafers, cookies, and collagen as great weight loss cures.  They find a vulnerable market, an inexpensive product, and they go to town using fraud and deception to get the vulnerable to part with money.

They are in fact our competitors. They are clouding the minds of our true prospects, sending people we are capable of helping on wild goose chases believing the magic lies in some potion.  They deserve the sharpest edge of our marketing swords, and our ability to battle these actual competitors lies in our willingness to cling tightly to two things:

  1. Truth
  2. Our ability to scream at the top of our lungs

By sharing truth, consistently, and by screaming with all the fervor we can muster, we can reap the benefits facing our competitors has to offer, and while we can create alliances to nullify the competitive nature of other trainers and health clubs, when we do battle with this unethical ill-directed core of true competitors, we should turn to other means.  Remember:

Selective destruction or the establishment of a position of power in a given area can weaken the threat of any competitor. 

We will not eliminate them completely, but we will clear a path by focusing on aggressive education and a willingness to jump into the arena revealing those who can not stand up to careful scrutiny.  Our goal in battling these actual competitors lies in a word I use frequently, empowerment.

By empowering people you destroy the impact of your competition, but thankfully, new competitors will emerge.  Welcome that new competition.   It brings you a renewed motivation and a new moving target.  By the time you’ve destroyed the impact of one competitor, you’ve then developed a system or methodology for dealing with competition on an ongoing basis, so you’ll continue to fear, need, and destroy, and you’ll grow in the process!

I hope I did what I strive to do most. I hope I got you thinking.  We start with a riddle, we wind up in deep thought, and that’s precisely where I wanted you to go.  With a new perspective on competition, we can further unify as “the ground army,” increasing our impact upon the health and fitness of our customers and prospects exponentially.

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