I’ve been a certified trainer for three years and owned my own personal and small group training studio for over a year now. When I started up, I had expectations for how my life would be different from what it was as a computer programmer, which I had been for 15 years.
First of all, if you’re thinking you want to become a trainer, do it. Really. If you’re thinking of becoming a personal trainer and leaving your desk job, you should. But probably not for the reasons you think.
Myth #1 — Personal trainers make a lot more money per hour than most jobs.
Depending on where you live, clients pay about $45-70 per hour for training services. Wow! I made a lot less than that as a computer programmer. That’s the job for me!
Only, here’s the truth about that income:
- Half that amount goes directly to the gym.
- You’ll likely have 2-4 individual clients each day.
If you have a busy gym in an affluent area or are lucky enough to be the only game in town, you could have more clients each day, but you will have to train from 5-7am AND from 12-1 AND from 5-7pm. That’s right, this is not an 8am-5pm office job. You’re available 14-18 hours a day with two dead times during the day. But don’t worry, your gym will find things for you to do during the morning and afternoon lulls, like:
- Run the front desk and answer calls
- Clean equipment
- Sell products
- Help members on the gym floor while trying to upsell them personal training hours
- Run group exercise classes
Since most of your time is spent in such general labor, you will often be paid a per hour rate closer to the one you made at McDonalds when you were 16. And you’ll have quotas to fill.
Myth #2 — Well then, if I open my own gym/studio, I’ll make a lot more money as a personal trainer.
Sure, you’ll get to keep all the money you charge per hour, which is double what trainers at box gyms keep. But you’ll also be paying for everything that you normally do as a small business: equipment, maintenance, utilities, computers, marketing, legal and financial consultants, licensing, paperwork, etc. In fact, as a small business, you’ll likely make less, since you will not be able to spread the costs around by having additional income that offsets costs — like hundreds of general memberships.
Think you can increase your rates since you’re now providing a more exclusive service? If you’re in an affluent area or you’re a celebrity, congratulations! Otherwise, clients will see the gym closer to their home has training for half your price, and they get all the other amenities like dozens of machines, free daily classes, walk-in hours, a pool, and a track — which they’ll likely never use but that’s not what they’re thinking.
Myth #3 — Personal trainers get paid to stay in shape.
When training 1-on-1 with a client, a trainer is not working out. If a client’s trainer is working out, she should leave her.
A client isn’t paying you to exercise. You’re there to educate, motivate, train, and keep your client safe. You can’t do that if you’re pumping your own guns. (There’s an exception to this in certain group exercise classes, which I mention later).
I often demonstrate a movement, then hand off the work to my client. I’m on my feet a lot, but not exercising, except for moving weights back and forth. And if my client happens to be stronger than me, I suppose I AM getting bit of a workout!
The exercise I get comes on my personal time, as if I had any other job. Of course, that I know more about exercise and have access to equipment makes my workout easier. Okay, not really. I need motivation, too. I mean, if no one’s watching, I skip those damn lunges. So, I workout at a crossfit box and join in a group class each week.
Myth #4 — If I’m a personal trainer, I’ll get to work 1-on-1 with people and change lives!
This is not so much a myth as it’s only part of the story.
Very few personal trainers are just personal trainers. Clients like camaraderie, so most of them want access to small group or class training, too. Providing group sessions also means clients can pay less which increases numbers and overall revenue. In other words, small group training provides better income. And most trainers also work at more than one facility, so they can take on extra group exercise classes.
That means you have to enjoy working and motivating groups, which is very different from 1-on-1 training.
Working with a small group requires some modification of technique, so when making the modification, I take into account that I can’t have eyes on one person all the time. I assign certain exercises and not others. I provide different instructions. I make sure the clients understand they are responsible in a different way for what’s happening in the room than when they work exclusively with me.
When running classes with set choreography, I can participate more in the workout. In fact, I should, since I’m keeping the class on track and providing example of continuous movement. This is where I can actually exercise. This is because choreographed classes are designed with less intense movements and precise movements that avoid most of the risk and become familiar enough that participants need much less direct supervision.
So, you WILL change lives, but you may spend less time with individuals than groups.
Myth #5 – I’ll get to focus on building bodies rather than things like office politics.
This, again, is not so much a myth as it’s only part of the story.
Personal training is a service profession. It’s about changing bodies, but that involves a great deal more than flexing muscles. It involves managing and discussions of stress and a client’s daily:
- Eating habits
- Sleeping patterns
- Relationship influences
- Career/Job requirements
In addition to this, the trainer must account for a client’s experience and history with exercise, health, fitness, and the toll those physical and emotional experiences have taken. For many people, especially those coming to you with desires to lose weight and fix health problems, their motivation is not a rational decision but comes from a place of vulnerability.
Understanding and working with each client requires time to build trust and a relationship where these things can be shared. As with any relationship, the trainer has to have the ability to sense how and when to probe and when to shut up. A trainer has to be able to provide the kind of support and push a client wants and needs.
Not every trainer is right for every client. Personalities and styles need to mesh. It’s hard to decline a new client and hard to see them leave, but you will learn not to take such decisions personally. Or rather, they are, of course, entirely personal, but you have to understand it’s not a criticism of you. You’ll find the kind of client you enjoy working with and can be successful with and you’ll wish the ones you lose the best in finding their success.
But Do It Anyway
Despite that I make much less money than I once did, I don’t regret changing my profession for a moment. I have changed lives. Especially mine, and that’s what I especially have to offer my clients.
I know what it’s like to have been a vulnerable client starting out fat, unhealthy, embarrassed, and desperate. I know what they need to succeed, and I won’t lie. Change is simple, not complicated. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s simple, but it’s hard. That’s what I love about my job. I can make it a little easier just by being myself and sharing the burden.