For the great
majority of individuals who pursue personal training careers, it’s
so real that it hits very close to home.
Can you earn
a living as a trainer? Of course you can. Thousands do, and hundreds
probably earn enviable incomes in line with professionals of other
fields. It is estimated that there are over 400,000 certified personal
trainers. In two separate independent surveys I was involved in
conducting, 50% will not even bother to renew their certifications.
And more than 80% of respondents reported earning less than $30,000
if you know me at all, you know I love this field. I truly believe
a dedicated personal trainer can have an immeasurable impact on
hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of lives. There are
few pursuits as noble and altruistic as personal training. The cynicism
I just displayed comes not from any discontent aimed toward the
mission of trainers. It comes from three places: Firstly, the subtle
and masterful way the health club industry has pushed trainers into
a place where profitability becomes a struggle. Secondly, the manners
in which advertisers and product marketers have removed common sense
from the common public. And thirdly, the unwillingness
of those who desperately want to find lucrative careers in our field
to step beyond their 21st century sense of entitlement.
The health club industry gained steam in the 1970s when Newsweek
and Time ran cover stories on “the aerobic craze.” And then,
John Travolta and Jamie Lee Curtis joined forces to star in the
movie Perfect, putting the spotlight on what had once been
a subculture — the “regulars” who frequent health clubs. The larger
regional chains grew and consolidated, and a paradigm was established
for health club operation. The paradigm was simple.
get people to visit the club with a free trial pass, and then, use
pressure to get guests to commit to annual contracts with irresistible
1980s, this paradigm proved highly effective, but despite the quest
to quell a need to pay for service costs, within the health club
environment, a more professional “service” provider began to emerge.
Certification agencies offered courses and credentials, and the
term “personal fitness trainer” began to evolve beyond being just
a luxury for the rich and famous. Health club operators began competing
for a diminishing market share, and as the industry became saturated,
independent club owners had difficulty competing with the buying
power and price compromises that the large chains prospered from.
If there was an opportunity for these clubs to increase revenues
without increasing payroll, it had to be considered. The catch was
the clubs weren’t ready to change the paradigm, not fully, so they
modified it. The adjusted paradigm became:
get people to visit the club with a free trial pass, use pressure
to get guests to commit to annual contracts with irresistible renewal
offers, connect them with service staff via a free trial, and then,
give the trainers (service staff) an opportunity to sell their services
for a fee.”
itself was flawed, and from the onset, it devalued the personal
training offering. The perception became, “membership is valuable,
and the trainer is a throw-in.” Unlike country clubs where tennis
lessons are conducted for a fee by “tennis pros” or in golf clubs
where lessons are provided for a fee by “golf pros,” the health
club industry set up the “pros” as freebies and established a valueless
service offering. Worse yet, they failed to provide their trainers
with any sales training, so the free-for-all led to a large-scale
trainer turnover and a wide pool of job seekers on short stints
taking people through machines. To offset the lack of sales ability
in their trainers and in hopes of generating some significant revenue,
clubs began offering “packages,” where the sessions were discounted
in exchange for a commitment.
When an industry
begins to mature and spin off from its host industry, as personal
trainers in the 21st century are spinning off from health clubs,
it’s important to question the paradigms, but trainers seem to want
to follow convention. Why do trainers conduct free consultations?
Because the health club industry set the paradigm, and trainers believe that’s what trainers are supposed
to do. Why do trainers discount their rates in packages (one session
for $50, 10 sessions for $350, 20 sessions
for $500)? Because the health club industry set the paradigm,
and trainers believe that’s what trainers are supposed to do. If
you begin to question the conventional practices of “most trainers,”
it might become clear why professional earnings present a challenge.
Blaming the state of an industry does little to change it; however,
I’m suggesting the new paradigm, one which positions trainers as
true professionals, which can only emerge industry-wide when an
elite few are willing to question convention and break the rules.
The words “eat right and exercise” ring
true, but they appear to be completely impotent in attempting to
coax the de-conditioned two-thirds of our population to take consistent
action. It’s easy to accuse the folks who are unwilling to maintain
an exercise habit of being lazy, of somehow lacking in willpower,
but that’s a short-sighted view. The sad reality is people believe
they have choices. Eat right and exercise or . . . just take
a fat burning pill. Eat right and exercise or . . . just go to the
doctor and get a prescription. Eat right and exercise or . . . just
buy a device that electronically contracts your abs. Eat right and
exercise or . . . just go on the diet of the week. Our population’s
struggle with fitness is less of a struggle with willpower than
it is an unwitting cannibalization of rational thought. Ours is
not a battle of wills as much as it’s a battle for the minds of
the marketplace. The idea that a trainer is going to “just take
people through workouts” is an idea that severely limits potential
for growth. The most successful trainers I know go way beyond the
limitation of being workout leaders. They empower their clients,
they remove false beliefs, they educate, they coach and they commit
to ensure results at all costs.
OK, with the spotlight moving away from the health club industry
and the product marketers, there’s one other view trainers have
to take if they want to understand why professional failure is so
common. They have to look in the mirror. One thing I learned long
ago is that I, and I alone, have power over my choices, and those
choices can empower me or disempower me.
With the recognition of power of choice comes an innate sense of
being in control of your destiny.
If you ask to
be treated as a professional, then it’s important to recognize that
professionals earn their stature. Professionals recognize that acquiring
a baseline of knowledge is a vital step, but this is far from enough.
Professionals separate themselves by mastering skills that allow
them to excel, and if anyone is going to excel as a personal fitness
trainer, the willingness to influence, to persuade, to market and
to plan is of paramount importance.
the idea of “selling” because of the preconceived notions they hold
of salespeople, but nobody’s asking personal trainers to do anything
outside the realm of ethics and morality. The threshold that begs
to be crossed is the one that brings trainers to recognize that
if they’re not willing to “sell,” to spread the word of their virtues,
to positively infect people with the desire to improve, then the
public will fall for all of the other so-called solutions.
an obvious dissection of the word responsibility, suggests that
things will happen, clients will disappoint you, people will opt
not to train, although you know they need help, and some health
clubs will continue to devalue our profession. Professionals have
learned to respond to those obstacles that fall in our paths by
trying harder, finding other clients, tapping into untapped markets
or finding valuable strategic alliances. Professionals aren’t burdened
by convention, aren’t pulled down into the pit of “what others do.”
Professionals escalate themselves and operate under their own paradigms
of excellence. Mediocrity will continue to exist, but the muddled
waters of mediocrity suggest to the successful few that there’s
a clear opportunity to rise above.
trainers I’ve met believe they’re entrepreneurs, and some are to
be admired as such, but many fail to understand what this title
means. Entrepreneurs live by a code. Produce or starve. I’m not
suggesting anyone in our field should put themselves at risk, and
granted, there are those few positions available for those who simply
want to perform a service when asked, but I am suggesting that for
most who aspire to find personal training excellence, expecting
an industry or a segment of an industry to hand-feed you sets you
up to fail, to blame and to commiserate with others who weren’t
willing to wear the badge of professionalism. The bottom line is
simple. There is an immense need for fitness professionals seeking
excellence, and excellence requires continued toughness since it’s
a moving target. Commit to mastering exercise science and human
movement, and then, recognize those other skills fitness professionals
often lack but desperately need. By gaining some insight into why
some of those who might have found excellence opted to step away
from the field they once found compelling, you might find a mindset
adjustment is all you need to propel you right to the very top.
Kaplan’s fitness career spans two decades, and he’s dedicated to
helping personal trainers emerge as true fitness professionals.
Find info on his explosively powerful e-program, “Change
Your Mind - Change The World” or find a listing
of articles and opportunities for
high level fitness professionals.