Happy new year, dear reader, and I hope that 2017 holds fabulous things for you! Around this time of year, people think about making changes, both small and large. One of the most frequent emails to hit the FitnessOnToast inbox is from curious subscribers asking about working as a personal trainer; very often, the sender is thinking about changing their career, considering qualifying as a PT (Personal Trainer) or have been working in the job for a while and are looking for thoughts and advice about shifting direction. REALITY CHECK! Whether you just want to know what your PT goes through, or if the romantic lure of the PT-life is tempting you, read on, as it’s seriously tough! I’ve been a PT for over a decade and whilst my career has taken unexpected turns, I have often tried to share my advice, for what it’s worth. I think that for many people considering this shift, it’s a case of ‘the grass is always greener…’ This post will talk about some of my experience-based perceptions about the career of a Personal Trainer, warts and all!
WHY IS THERE SO MUCH INTEREST IN THE PROFESSION NOW?
has unquestionably helped to glamorize the gym environment. From stunning supermodels who look a million dollars when punching focus pads, to cool athletic guys wearing Yeezys and drinking vegan blends. I’ve fallen for it too, but when I started out 10 years ago, this concept of aspirational, ‘haute fitness’ was only just beginning, with small boutique gyms beginning to open up – and it was all offline, mostly word of mouth. Now, we can all live and breathe it daily, via whichever social feed, and many people feel such motivated passion that they (understandably) want to be involved in it as their main line of work. Training to become an accredited personal trainer is one of the most traveled paths towards this.
Social media is a great way to promote your work and establish yourself, but I cannot stress enough the crucial importance of experience. Achieving a six pack through your own training is very different to training other people; that’s one of the biggest mistakes I see from newer trainers – training clients the way they’d train themselves. It’s not a one-size-fits-all industry, but should be something much more indepth and bespoke!
A QUICK BUCK ?
‘The Easy Formula’, as I like to call it, is the big misunderstanding. People think that life as a PT is chilled; something along the lines of “Yeh I’ll qualify, charge £100 a session, work with 6 clients a day for just 6 hours, then focus on my own training – so 6 x 100 x 7 days in the week x 52 weeks in the year is almost £220k. Sweet. Minted.” Firstly why would anyone pay you £100 an hour when you have no experience and have literally just qualified, but secondly, it’s hard graft, tough to establish regular repeat business, and since you’re on your feet all day long, it’s physically draining too. Not to mention cabin fever at the gym, as no matter how big and diverse your gym is, at the end of a 5-hour back to back grafting session, it’s the last place you’ll want to be!
At the risk of sounding as though I hate it, I should point out that I actually love it, I’ve learned so much from it, met so many fabulous people in the process, and wouldn’t change anything if I had my time again! I do however want to point out that it’s not for everyone, it’s not all glossy and polished, and it’s a challenge that some people may regret taking on, and they should be aware of that in advance! Here are some specific observations…
1) WHAT IT’S LIKE WORKING AT COMMERCIAL GYMS:
I started out working in a large commercial gym (Esporta) after qualifying. First up, I have enormous respect for people who work in commercial gyms as it’s seriously hard work, and not particularly well remunerated. I remember getting up at 4 in the morning to get to the gym for 05:30, so that I could open it for the 6am early-birds. Then I’d train clients between the hours of 06:00 – 22:00. It’s a role in which you work long, irregular hours often for little money. In between you’re cleaning equipment, which includes going on your hands and knees and scrubbing the sweat-spattered treadmills. A humble experience, and far from the glamorous ideal you might have in mind when setting out on the PT journey.
When you start working in such an environment, you aren’t picky and you very much take the clients you can get. This means clients who want to train at 06:00, and those who want to train at 22:00. Peak hours are mornings and evenings (before and after work), which cripples your freedom to enjoy an on-demand social life. Also, that can often mean barren spells in between, which interrupts your ability to strike up a rhythm and press on. Financially, when you work for a commercial gym the client might be willing to pay, for example, £70 an hour. However, after the gym’s commission and overhead charges, you may end up with £15 in your pocket – which is then taxed, and doesn’t go far in London! So now not only are you busting your ass off trying to establish a regular rota of clients, and working crazy exhausting hours you’re also making very little money.
2) SO WHY TO DO IT?
When I started working, my team had two physiotherapists on board, one back specialist, one body builder, and a serious marathon runner. This meant I had an incredible team around me from whom I could learn, plundering their niches and expertise, picking their respective brains. I remember many times having a client wanting to train with me, but I felt I wasn’t right for his or her specific requirements, so I would send them on to my colleague, and in return he would teach me about their back problems, and run me through their programs.
You end up training so many different people in commercial gyms that you gain tremendous breadth and experience. There is no substitute for that, and it helps develop a really strong foundation for the years ahead.
3) ITS A PROPER PEOPLE JOB
Whilst you can have the best knowledge in the world, being a PT means working in the service industry, where the customer is king. It is a classic ‘people job‘ meaning you have to be able to connect with many different personality types, from one hour to the next. Working in a commercial gym trust me you quickly become a chameleon, as your livelihood depends on that ability to strike up a rapport, and influence your clients’ life.
On the flip side, you also have to BE a professional; you’re not befriending them, it’s not a 1-hour catch up with a mate, but someone is paying you a premium price, and they expect a professionally-delivered product. It takes a certain skill to tread the balance between ‘familiar’ and ‘professional’.
4) A BIG HOLIDAY ???
Also, you might like to consider that you’re there for the client; if you need to go abroad, or make a spontaneous trip, you’ll be letting down all of your clients for their regular spot. That’s a huge inconvenience to them, and there are plenty more PTs waiting to take on the business. In other words, you have to sacrifice your flexibility and end up booking time off based on your clients schedules (school holidays, christmas etc – i.e. the expensive times!).
5) EVENTUALLY, IN TIME…
If you stick with it eventually you can and will pick who you want to train. You’ll build up a client base and you can work regular hours (9-5). I remember when I started, I felt as though there were so many trainers around, and there are even more now thanks to an explosion in the popularity of the role.
Statistically around 30-35% of those who make the switch and retrain are still doing it in a years time. Perseverance and hard work is the key.
6) THE AMAZING PART!
It’s a hugely rewarding job when you’re able to truly help someone else, whether that’s weight loss or gain, getting stronger, conquering some unknown fear, their posture, energy levels, or how they feel about themselves.
This is by no means a post to deter people from going for it, but rather is a realistic review of what the work entails, aside from six packs and pretty Instagram pictures of squats.
FINAL PIECE OF ADVICE:
You never stop learning!
My other piece of advice for what it’s worth is never stop learning. There are so many different approaches, all with validity. There’s so much to take from such a diverse set of approaches. I take courses and read research constantly, all with the aim of delivering a more professional, well informed, and result-oriented service to clients. In an increasingly competitive market its a great idea to specialize whether that’s pre/post-natal, sports massage, yoga etc. Do as many courses as possible as it will help to set you apart from someone else.
I hope this frank assessment of the good and bad has helped, and good luck if you’re considering making the jump to the wonderful world of fitness in 2017!