Statistically 90% of newly qualified trainers have given up within 90 days’. I cannot remember where I read this statement, nor can I confirm its validity but having worked in the fitness industry for a long time I would say it’s probably spot on. My first answer when anyone asks me about becoming a Personal Trainer is this – don’t do it. Chances are, you will fail. You will spend a lot of money and have little return for your investment if any at all.

What’s with the negativity bro?

I’m not negative, I’m realistic. I have spent my adult life training and working in gyms and have seen more Personal Trainers come and go than I care to remember. I’m sure everyone knows a few newbie PTs who dreamed of making it big but got chewed up and spat out by the industry. New trainers often start out thinking they will be living the Dan Bilzerian lifestyle within a few months of working in the industry. If you don’t know who Dan Bilzerian is he is worth a Google.

Why do they fail?

First lets consider the industry. When I started working in 1999/2000, Personal Training here in Ireland didn’t exist, except for a few renegade mavericks playing by their own rules. As Personal Training became more widespread, fitness instructors were phased out and gyms instead had Personal trainers paying rent to work there. Imagine the difference to a gyms bottom line when they sack or convert existing fitness instructors into personal training staff that pay them. It’s the perfect business model. Go on Dragons Den with that idea and you will have paper cuts from the wads of cash being thrown at you. Gyms make a lot of money from their staff and often do very little in return. They will seemingly employ anyone willing to pay the high rental fees so before forking out cash to courses or gyms consider this next point.

Would people pay me for my advice?

It’s a simple question many newbies fail to ask themselves. It sounds harsh but if you are out of shape, smoke 50 a day, hate training and have the drive of a heavily drugged sloth you will not make a great PT. You will fall into the “90% in 90 days” bracket. Clients do not always seek the super buff trainer but the one who inspires them. A trainer doesn’t necessarily need an 8 pack but having some level of accomplishment with themselves or other clients is vital. I have witnessed many trainers start in gyms, pay the rent and make no money because they aren’t as strong or look worse than their clients! The problem now is that people can fast track their way into the fitness industry. You can be a 9-5 office worker and 2 weeks later work in a new industry as a self employed trainer. You could be paying big rent to a big gym with and have minimal knowledge and or experience. Add in some competition from other trainers and things start to get tough.

So how do I stay in the 10% bracket?

Trainers need to learn to walk the business before they run a business. As a PT you are not just training clients but take the role of web designer, marketer, accountant, social media expert etc. Heres a few top tips for walking before you run.
  1. Train. You might laugh but many trainers don’t enjoy training. Its a chore. If this is you, don’t read on. You have already wasted time you could spend doing something else.
  2. Live it. If you don’t spend most of your day reading articles, listening to podcasts or debating fitness then you are only partly invested. To get up at 6am and train clients and still be in the gym at 9pm takes a passionate individual. If you are in a 9-5 and think PT is an easy option you are wrong. Those who make it look easy have spent years in the trenches doing the hard stuff.
  3. Train yourself, friends and family with a reasonable amount of success. You will make mistakes but you will learn from them. Keep reading up, tweak routines and enjoy the process. Most of us start off training others then  discover a love for it. Remember not to try anything mental like getting your 90 year old granny to do a crucifix on the rings. Oh and don’t go charging anyone until after you get qualified and insured.
  4. Get qualified. It seems strange that this is the last point but qualifications do not make the trainer. Qualifications are often just the legal step to getting insured and showing you have a base level of knowledge. If you go onto a course out of shape and with no experience of training friends and family the course will not transform you into a buff PT with heaps of experience.

What PT courses are out there?

There are two main types of courses. Those you need if you want to work in the mainstream ‘Globo’ gyms and those which make you a better PT. Now this is where it gets confusing. If you want to move into a big gym they will want to see a level 3 certificate. Unfortunately, many training providers throw out cheap courses,  make a fortune and churn out inadequate trainers that are classed as industry ready. I stress this is not always the case but common enough to be an issue. The other types of courses that actually give great advice are often not recognised by large gym chains because they may not be affiliated with the right governing body. If a manager has to choose between a PT with years of experience but no recognised certs or a newbie with no experience but the necessary certs then they may have to side on the newbie purely due to health and safety reasons or ‘head office’ criteria. The public generally have no idea of who’s who and class all trainers as trainers regardless of qualifications.

Which should I choose?

If you are heading mainstream then you will need to consider a level 2 fitness instructor course which feeds into a level 3 PT course. I have tutored both levels and can tell you they are pretty good but lack depth in many areas. These courses will only get you to a legally certified level and are in no way the be all and end all of your journey. The problem isn’t the fact these courses are basic but the fact the industry thinks this is enough for newbies. Imagine taking up a martial art that you have never done, two weeks later you have a black belt and a week after that you set up a martial arts school charging £40 a session for one to one. Its ridiculous but akin to what happens in the fitness industry. The initial course is just the start and should NOT be the end of your education. One of the reasons I tutor part time is so I can try to prepare newbies for the real world and put them off jumping in at the deep end once qualified.
If you want to head away from bigger gyms and into a private club, find out what they prefer to see on your CV. I studied under guys like Poliquin, Dr John Berardi, Gray Cook etc. and loved how their work was applicable with clients but many gyms wont accept study that again isn’t linked to bodies they recognise. Do your homework and invest where necessary before finding out your expensive cert is useless in the context of getting started. The future of the fitness industry with regards to courses is changing and hopefully for the better. Trainers who have spent years on the gym floor disillusioned by industry standards have taken matters into their own hands and have started designing their own courses. I think this is a massive step forward as students learn more when they hear about personal experience as a PT and not just textbook jargon. Do your homework!

So I’m qualified, now what?

The big gym chains generally employ anyone that has a level 3 certificate and can afford the rent. You pay them to work there and in fairness a rent is affordable if you’re busy but if you’re just starting off it can feel like you’re ice skating uphill. There are a few scenarios when you start out, all with various pros and cons.
  1. You pay rent. This is the option for many new trainers but often the worst option as the rent far outweighs income starting off. Gym rent can vary from £50 a month to £1000 a month plus, depending on things like location, gym type and membership size. You gain clients by approaching members on the gym floor and try your best to upsell PT. If you are new to the industry, out of shape and inexperienced, the selling side can be the most difficult. Even good trainers with plenty of experience can struggle with the sales side of PT. If its an established club with a big PT team you could spend your days approaching members who are either with a trainer or who have no interest in what you have to sell.
  2. The club takes a percentage of your income. This option is much better for the newbie than a busy PT. You may lose a big chunk of your hourly to the club but you don’t have the rental overheads and can essentially work part time if needs be. You may, for example, charge £25 a session and lose half to the club but while you gain experience and a client base this works well until you reach the point where a fixed rental becomes more affordable.
  3. You work for the gym. This is a great option for the newbie. You offset gym rent by doing work for the club. This can be everything from classes and inductions to cleaning and helping out behind reception. The downside is that the club has you by the balls although the option is often there to move towards less ‘gym hours’ and pay a rental. Some gyms will have fitness instructors who get paid an hourly rate and provide PT off shift. This is again a much better option for many than heading full rental before knowledge and experience warrants it.
  4. You avoid the gym altogether. If you have the space and spare cash it might work out better to buy some kit and fit out a spare room, garage or even start bootcamp style training. I personally follow some great American coaches who started off in a garage with a few friends and not much else. I’m not too sure of the legality with insurance so you need to check this out before you take clients from home.
  5. This isn’t even an option so don’t f*cking do it. You become a stealth trainer. A stealth trainer charges gym members for PT under the nose of the gym and the trainers paying rent to work there. The fitness world is a small one and if you get caught doing this you may be burning career bridges or even open yourself up to legal issues with regards insurance. Training friends and family as you gain experience is fine but training people this way shows two things. You are an amateur and you have no respect for real PTs.
The next stage is going beyond white belt. When you become a PT you need to continue to stay under the bars and above the competition. Education is key and coaches will agree that the more you learn the more you earn. When you start generating an income you should be putting money aside for continued education. This is tax deductible so although there is a dent in initial cash flow it can be written off when your accountant does the books. If you are totally skint you are lucky given the free amount of online content. At IRONFIT we strive to be one of those free online resources although we do accept tips and gifts.
Thanks for reading one of my longest articles to date! Myself and the rest of the IRONFIT crew come from various backgrounds including professional rugby and martial arts to physique modelling and competition but our bread and butter is Personal Training. We have produced more happy clients than a busy Bangkok brothel yet still consider ourselves students of all things fitness. If you do decide to head into the fitness industry we bid you good luck and hope one day to cross paths. If you make it through the first few months and years you are doing great and could, like us, have one of the most rewarding careers in the world.
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