Dear trainers: So you want to help people? Here’s the thing…

You’re not helping anyone if you start training people tomorrow without developing your skills. 

You think you are helping, but in reality you are hurting. Think about it – these people come to you at their most vulnerable. Many have pain and injuries they aren’t aware of. Lots have tried everything else and reached near desperation. If you were in that state – physically or mentally – wouldn’t want a doctor or therapist on their first day?

Obviously, everyone has their first day at some point, and I’m not saying you can’t get started.  But expecting to make thousands from top-quality training during your first month is unrealistic. You’re doing the exact same thing you tell your clients not to do – expect overnight results. 

Everyone gets in to this industry thinking it’ll be one thing, and soon finding another. The following are the common assumptions and objections I hear from new trainers. I wanted to share them with you so that you can go forth and build a long-lasting, successful career.

“Plenty of people want to train with me already”

That’s great! How much will they pay you?

Friends, family, and acquaintances might line up for your services, but they’ll likely expect them for free. Even if they agree to pay, will it be more than $10 or $15? That’s going to be tough to make a living off of. 

Even if you have tons of Instagram followers who like your fitness posts, how many of them will give you real money for advice? The ones that do will take it and run. It’s not a recurring source of income. 

“But I want to be an online coach”

Again, back to the above – your social media followers are likely one-offs. You can sell recurring services, like memberships or personal training packages, but how saturated is that market? You have to find a way to stand out from the thousands of cheap (even free) options they have. And you know what stands out? Experience and knowledge. That comes from training in person. If you’ve never learned the nuances of coaching someone through their first squat, learned how to adjust a session on the fly, or know how to intervene when life gets in the way – how will you do so from a distance?

“But I have THE best certification. A few in fact!”

Certifications are great. They’re valuable assets to learning the basics, and requirements to train at almost any gym. They’re valuable steps as the first line of separation between a professional and recreational trainer. But the ability to connect with someone is a million times more important than any certification. 

We work in a human industry, and most of the time it’s connecting to the person behind the weights. If you truly want to help people, basic program design isn’t the way. Real coaches make the people they coach better with individual attention and investment.

“Okay, but I also have a college degree…”

I can’t discount the four years of learning experience that is college. Much like a good certification, it teaches you more than most people on the street. But the people you work with won’t really care. More than likely they don’t know what they don’t know, and they’ll jump around between fads well into their 40s. Why would they listen to someone they don’t know with a college degree, when their two best friends just lost a ton of weight on their juice diet?

People love a shortcut… until they realize there aren’t any. It’s going to be tough to convince people you can help simply based on your college degree. If you have the opportunity to attend conferences – do it. You’ll learn more about actually working in this industry by networking than anything.

“I want to train elite athletes”

Have you ever looked at the statistics at how many athletes actually get to the pros? Even college athletics? They make up like .000000000049% of the population. And they probably won’t appreciate you, as they’ve gotten this far on their own talent. 

But you know who will? The general, typically older population who’s trying to get out of pain and live a healthier lifestyle. Those people a) actually need you, and b) have the money to hire you! They crave real trainers with experience who will actually invest in their quality of life. If you can be that person, you’ve got a client for life.

“Can’t I just train everyone?”

You can’t serve everyone. You think you can, but you have to be a specialist to make a long-term career out of it. Business is built on retention. The things that can’t be taught in a textbook will be your difference maker. By specializing in a certain population, you’ll learn the nuances of working with them.

But in order to become a specialist, you have to train everyone at first. Yes, I know that’s counterintuitive. But it’s the only way you’ll discover what you’re truly great at. Maybe it’s prenatal care, and you develop the ideal progression through the trimesters, learn everything about balancing energy needs with exercise, and what issues to expect during a typical session. That’s something of value. It’ll get you more business than being sort of good at lots of things.

“I want to own my own business”

This one is inspiring – we need good trainers like you running the show in this industry. If you’re taking the time to read this article and develop, I want to help. Here’s a few steps to get there.

Go train people for ten years. Get acquainted with the reality that this isn’t a 9-5 job. Personal training, and especially owning a business, involves showing up before 5 am and staying after 9pm almost every day. You’ve got to get in the trenches to be able to understand what your members want AND how to connect with future staff. 

Do an internship. Get a good mentor. You’ll want to know the business inside and out, from training and equipment management to sales and staff development. It’s impossible to cover everything on your own, so seek out new information. Learn from the best and share ideas. Go to conferences. Read books and continue to foster knowledge. 

Don’t take the easy route in this industry, or you’ll burn out in a few years. Find some work/life balance. Notice it’s work/life – with work first. If you’re 22, working a few hours every day, and on 5 kickball teams, it’s time to work. You have to invest real time in your craft to become the best. However, don’t forget to breathe, take a break when you’ve earned it, and enjoy the process. 

Final thoughts

I’m that old guy now. I accept it. The unfortunate reality of overnight social media trainers exists. It’s easy to collect a few dollars because you look fit, can find the right lighting, and know how to organize a workout. People are attracted to short cuts. But those results will fall off quickly, as will your source of income. 

It’s true that if you want to help people, you have to start somewhere. But there’s a balance between getting your feet wet while learning on the job, and selling a life-changing solution without anything to back it up. Find the balance, and you can actually help people for a long time.