December 11, 2011

The Fitness Industry Exposed 2 - What To Expect If You Want To Become A Personal Trainer

When I first got into the fitness industry, just under a decade ago, my perception was that a personal trainer did one thing: train people. Sounds logical, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, I learned rather quickly that this industry, much like every other one, comes down to one thing: money! That’s right, and the sad reality hit me, and completely altered the way I looked at the path I had chosen. It’s one of those things where “if I had known then, what I know now” I may, or may not, have ended up where I am. So that’s why I’ve decided to write about the industry, and what you should expect if you want to become a trainer yourself.

I’m sure there are many young adults out there that are trying to figure out what they want to do with their future, and those with a legitimate interest in helping people may think that becoming a personal trainer is for them. As they should, because at the end of the day, the general idea is to help people accomplish things that are important to them, and improve their quality of life. Unfortunately, the “helping” people part of the job, is probably one of the most minimal focuses of what the job entails, especially in the commercial gym industry (which just happens to be where the most job opportunities are, and where the majority of hopeful trainers will get their start).

What goes on “behind the scenes” per se, is very different than what is seen by the public eye (clients, members, etc).  Being a trainer, especially in a commercial gym, requires you to be more of a sales person, believe it or not, than an educated trainer capable of delivering results. Upon employment, you are usually given a quota with how much revenue you are required to bring the company each month. That quota by the way, is not a “fixed” number, and in most cases goes up on a monthly basis. Especially if you hit your quota, because the system is set up in such a way that you bring in “X” amount of dollars per month, but if the quota is slightly out of reach, the company doesn’t need to pay you what you’re worth.

For example, a common starting quota for a beginning trainer is $10,000/month. If you sell $9,999 worth of training, that means the gym basically keeps all of that money (aside from what you get per session, which is usually less than 66% of what the member is paying), without paying you the 5-10% they would give you, should you have sold ONE more dollar worth of training. Fair? They think so. Should you hit your quota, it will likely be raise by a few thousand bucks. And here’s what’s going on, in case you don’t already realize.

By hitting your quota, you have now proven to your employer/manager that you are “capable” of hitting that number, therefore you should be able to hit that each and every single month. I mean, why wouldn’t ya? (Give me a f***ing break! Sorry for the profanity, I just get sick when I think of how gyms treat their people.) So if they raise it, to let’s say $12,000/month, but you hit $11,999 for example, you just made the gym another $11,999, but they don’t have to pay you a bonus. Whereas, if your quota remained the same, you still would’ve made the gym the same amount of money, but they’d have to pay you more, so they essentially make less (even though 5-10% of $11,999 is peanuts compared to what they’re making, not including that they are pinching as much as they can from all the other trainers on staff as well).

Not to mention, those are only the stresses you’ll face IF you’re hitting your quota, or at least coming close, and therefore making the company money. If you don’t hit your quota, god forbid, you’ll likely be written up, and told that you will be terminated if this “lack of production” continues. Usually it’s a three strike type of deal, so you can essentially be in, and out, of a job within a quarter year (which is typically the case for those who have zero experience in sales, and are working as a trainer for the first time). What once felt so good, by getting a job doing something you felt was as rewarding as it gets, can end up leaving you with a bitter taste in your mouth regarding the profession, questioning yourself as to whether or not you want to go through that again and try to get a job in another gym.

What you likely do not realize though, especially if you are new to the fitness industry, is that your employer/manager is just bullying you with empty threats, because they realize it is hard to actually find good people that are willing to put up with the bullshit that they give you. I’ve been around long enough to see trainers that know this, and really don’t care about the threats handed down from upper management for not producing the results they are asking of you, because they know the chance of them actually getting fired is slim. The only real worry about accumulating write-up after write-up is that, should the time come that they found someone to replace you, they can literally let you go without warning, because of all the write-ups.

For those who are young and just getting into the business though, these empty threats can cause unnecessary stress that literally follows you everywhere you go. When you have a superior on your case from sunrise to sunset, it’s hard to “let go” and forget about it when you are not physically at work. This combined with the fact that you are only taking home a small percentage of what your clients are paying can have you thinking to yourself, “is this even worth it”? The answer to that question is different to each and every individual, but in my experience, most faced with that question say, “no, it’s not worth it”, and end up quitting.

The most important variable to take into consideration is, what you are getting for your efforts, as in pay structure. This is probably the most de-motivating factor of them all. When you look at how much clients are paying to spend an hour with you, only to be compensated with a fraction of that amount is enough to almost resent your employer, as you naturally feel like you’re getting “ripped off”. I can’t speak for gyms in the States, or even all around the rest of the world, but I know in Canada the cost to hire a personal trainer ranges anywhere from $60-100+/hr. The average wage that trainers are paid is between $15-50/hr (I’d say there are less than 10% of trainers that work for a gym making $50+/hr). In fact, it’s not likely that regardless of how much revenue you bring the company that you will ever be paid much more than $30/hr (best case scenario, you’ll get half of what your client is paying).

Though you will be told upon hire that there is “so much room to grow with the company, as it is ever-expanding” the truth of the matter is, the interviewer/employer is “programmed” to say that to you, as they have been brain washed by their superiors, which is why they are in the position they’re in, in the first place. At the end of the day, to move up in the company, you essentially need to prove that you yourself completely by in to the “vision” of the company, and basically live and breathe it, day in, day out.

Should you be interested in being more than a trainer, and getting into management, to take advantage of this “opportunity to grow” they speak of, you will need to be willing to make “sacrifices”. So what once began as a journey to help people accomplish things they never thought possible, has turned into a sales oriented, high stress lifestyle, should you want to move up. Gyms that see “potential” in someone, as in, talented individuals who are willing to take shit, will try to push them into getting more involved in the sales process, and also management of the other trainers. Some gyms call this position “head trainer” and others actually have a managerial title to go with the position. Either way, they hype it up, and basically say if you want to start making “real money” then this is the step you have to take. All of a sudden, you realize that there wasn’t much room to grow initially, and that there plan was to get you to this point and put you in a position where you either have to stay where you are, and never see another pay raise, or take on additional responsibilities.

This role still consists of you hitting an “unattainable” quota, but also becoming the guy who now places pressure on the other trainers to hit theirs. Basically the minimal increase in pay, comes with an insane amount of hours in and out of the gym, and additional stress of worrying about whether or not the other trainers hit their quota or not. They’re goal becomes yours, and if they don’t hit their quota, you will likely not receive your bonus. Now you’re probably realizing where all the stress came from that was placed upon you when you initially took the job as a trainer in the first place.

Being a “head trainer” is ultimately the same thing as a regular trainer, only everything is increased. Yes the pay is better, but the increase in wage is minimal compared to the increase in stress and hours required of you. In most cases, if you do the math, you are actually making less per hr. than when you started. Though the absolute amount of money on your pay check may be higher, the amount of your personal life that you need to sacrifice may become overwhelming. Starting to see a pattern here?

This vicious cycle basically continues as you work your way up with the company. With each promotion, comes ten times as much responsibility/stress. As someone who’s worked their way up from trainer, to “fitness consultant” AKA sales person, to General Manager of the personal training department for a major commercial gym, I can honestly say that the fitness industry isn’t really about health and fitness at all, and has become a money hungry, get as much out of people as possible business.

The funny thing is those are the biggest issues you will likely encounter should you want to get into personal training, especially at a commercial gym, and those have nothing to do with the actual job itself.

As it is anywhere, with any profession, being the new guy or girl means you are left with the responsibilities that no one else willingly wants to do. As a trainer this means that your first bunch of clients that are given to you, if any are given to you at all, will be ones who can only work out at ridiculous times, and that’s why no one else wants them. For example, your boss may say to you here’s so-and-so’s file, they can only work out at 6 in the morning, I want you to give them a call and set something up. Obviously as the new employee, you’re probably not going to object and are now stuck with an early morning client. I do realize that some people like working mornings, but in most scenarios it’s usually perceived as a hassle, and not looked at as “what you’ve always been waiting for”.

Aside from the early morning clients that no one else wants, are the ones who come in the mid-afternoon. Like 2 or 3 o’clock. This makes for very scattered days, which is extremely common for new hires. You’ll have one client at 6 in the morning, another at 2 in the afternoon, and possibly another around 9 or 10 at night. If you live close to the gym, then at least you don’t have to worry about blowing money on gas, going to and from work 3 times a day, but for those that do need to travel, for the $20-25 your making each time, you may not even be breaking even. So you’re left with a choice to either hang around the gym for over 12 hours, and be pressured by your boss to “get out on the floor” and sell somebody, or go home and come back repeatedly. Both options are less than favourable in my opinion, but everybody is different and may not be deterred from either of those options.

As far as the clients themselves, well, that’s another story. I’ve heard some client horror stories, and have heard many, many great stories about clients that trainers have worked with. I can say in my experience, I have pretty much nothing but positive things to say about nearly everyone I’ve worked with. I guess I’ve been blessed in that sense that everybody I’ve worked with over the years has been a pleasure, and rarely have I not gotten along with them on a personal level.

But life’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and you have to realize that the people you will encounter may in fact have absolutely nothing in common with you, and you may have more than your fair share of awkward moments with some people. Now is this really a big deal? No, because your job is entirely about getting results, and if you happen to get along with the person, great. But as a human being, if you’re not stimulated by your work, then it is likely that you will not put everything into it, even though you should.

Many times when someone pursues personal training, they have this perception in their head that they are going to be training a certain type of individual, whether it be someone in the corporate world, a stay at home mom, etc, but the reality is you will likely be training people that you never thought of when you first decided to get into it. I don’t mean to come off as if there’s anything wrong with any type of client, that’s not the case at all, I’m just saying that many trainers who first get into training find out quickly that what they thought the job was like, and what the job is really like are two different things.

The majority of people that invest in personal training are NOT fitness models, or bodybuilders, or professional athletes, etc. All though fitness models, bodybuilders, and professional athletes all have trainers, I’ve never heard of them walking into a commercial gym with the intent of working with one of the trainers there. In those cases, they usually have sought out someone that has the resume and credentials to get them what they want. Someone that has had success with many others in the past, and therefore will likely be able to help them achieve the success they are looking for.

The people that come into local fitness facilities looking for help are usually, but not always, people that have thought about getting into better shape for a very long period of time, and have finally taken the step towards achieving something that they may perceive as impossible. Common issues of the average client are high blood pressure, diabetes, and occasionally victims of some sort of accident and have an injury. A lot of times, especially with new trainers who are only used to training themselves, or their friends who are on the same level as them, will perceive the job as simple because they know how to work themselves out, so working out somebody else should be a piece of cake.

Unfortunately this is one of the most common mistakes that beginner trainers make. I see it all the time, and when they realize that the client is not on the same level as them, there is a visible sense of frustration, primarily because they are used to working out at a certain pace, which is typically faster than a new client is capable of.

As a beginner with no prior experience, it’s a job in itself learning how to push people in a positive way, without risking injury, or anything of the sort. But this learning curve that one must go through can be fast tracked, if the manager who hired them has any experience training people themselves, and realizes that this is something new hires are faced with.

I know when I was a manager, each and every new hire went through an on-the-floor interview, which was basically a screening process, so I had a good idea of where their level of knowledge was, and how much time and effort would be needed to have them ready to be comfortably training clients. Unfortunately these days, since the turnover rate is so high, and trainers are replaced daily because they get fed up rather quickly, managers seemingly do not put new hires through an on-the-floor screening process, since they may not last anyway and see it as a waste of time.

So it basically becomes a cycle of failure, in which the new hire is not properly set up with the tools necessary to be successful, the manager doesn’t bother providing them with the tools since they expect failure anyway, and the one who pays the most is the client. They are virtually left with going from trainer, to trainer, usually never being able to stick with one, and ultimately get fed up, and end up quitting. Sounds like a healthy industry doesn’t it?

For those of you that end up making it in the commercial gym industry as a trainer, good for you. As someone that’s been involved in it for the better part of a decade, I can appreciate the amount of stress and bullshit you’ve been subjected to over the years to get where you’re at. For those who are thinking about getting into it, I hope this helps give you an understanding of what to expect.

I know, when I made the decision to get into this industry, that my perception was it’s a nice low key type of job, and all I really have to do is a good job with my clients and keep them happy, and I’ll be happy. As I got deeper and deeper into the business I realized that it is a very cutthroat industry, where people will try and get as much out of you as they can, and superiors will expect you to do the same. You will be told about the “great possibilities” that the company has to offer, and ultimately realize that they are just dangling a golden carrot in front of you. That promotion is so close, but you just need to prove yourself one more time. It never ends, but that’s sales.

All of that lead to me finally making the decision that many before me have made, which is: If I want to make it in this business, I’m going to have to do it on my own. I’m going to have to develop a clientele, and basically use the gyms, the same way they used me, and take the clients they’ve given me to a facility where I can train them, and charge them whatever I want, while taking home 100% of the profit, not less than half!

To basically sum up what to expect should you want to become a personal trainer, I’ll say this. You CAN make it in the fitness industry working as a personal trainer. But you have got to be willing to become something you’re not, as in, a sales person. If you aren’t profitable, there’s no room for you. If you are, then you’ve got to become more profitable. You will not make a sale every single day, I can guarantee that. There will be bad days, and there may even be more than one. And when those days come, are you willing to put up with the empty threats and stress that come with it? That’s something only you can decide. I know for me, I’d had enough. I got out, and now train clients independently for cash. I started this site to generate business for myself with the goal of eventually working with athletes, and taking them to the peak of their sport. There’s only so much a person is willing to take before they turn around and decide to stick it to the industry.

So there you have it. Another twisted look into the fitness industry, and what to expect should you want to become a personal trainer. I’d encourage you to send this link to anyone you may know that is interested in getting into personal training to help provide them with insight as what to expect.

1 comment: