Updated: Apr 12, 2020
I was recording the latest episode of the 2 Guys on Fitness podcast the other day (always a fun thing to do!) with my podcast buddy Allen Therisa and, purely by chance, we ended up talking about how I became a personal trainer.
As part of the episode we were recording, I interviewed Nicol Bedingfield (pictured with yours truly), who works at Jubilee Hall Gym Covent Garden and has ambitions of being a personal trainer herself. What was interesting, as the interview proceeded, was the difference I realised was between us, due to our age and experience. Nicol is in her twenties, has a background in dance and at the early stages of her career in fitness, while I am approaching my fortieth birthday and have been working professionally in the sector for a little over a decade now.
Which set me thinking to the lessons I have learned over the years and the principles I hold, which I believe are important in forging a successful career as a personal trainer. There are many routes to training clients in how to become stronger, fitter and healthier, though for me the key points are as follows:
Find a way into the business
There are various careers in fitness and a whole raft of employment opportunities in the sector (and particularly working in gyms). Starting in a gym, in whatever capacity that can put you in touch with the public is a great way to start in the industry. For myself, I began my fitness career at Jubilee Hall Covent Garden and this gave me my first foothold in the business. It was also a great way to meet people, get an understanding of the skills I would need as a personal trainer and it motivated me to choose it as a career.
Learn the skills you need and get the right training
Personal trainers are usually expected to have credible experience of fitness instruction and a recognised industry qualification, such as a Level 2 Certificate in Fitness gym Instructing; a Level 2 Diploma in Health, Fitness or Exercise Instruction; or a Level 2 Diploma in Instructing Exercise and Fitness. There are many professional organisations, colleges and agencies that offer such training and it is one of the key stepping stones to launching a career as a PT. So, go online, take reputable advice and research the best training providers to get started if personal training is what you want to do.
Develop a fitness ethos that is authentic to you
Before personal training, I played rugby (which was and remains the passion of my life). This grounding in the sport then filtered through to my PT career and shaped my approach to training and fitness. It gave me the expertise which I would later apply to train clients and an ethos to underpin the technical training I provide on the gym floor. Successful personal trainers have specific knowledge and a passion for what they do that goes beyond knowing how to lift or stretch. Find that passion within yourself and develop it, because it will be what you become known for.
Get good at what you do, then get better
Personal trainers can look as fantastic as they like and wear all the right gear, but if their training skills are not technically correct, or if they do not train with the health and safety of their clients in mind (or follow the right guidelines) they will not go far in the industry. More importantly, they will not carry the confidence of their clients. Because of this, development training and constant practice are vital to being a respected and successful personal trainer.
Personal training is, at the end of the day, a people business. Those personal trainers that can make a lucrative career in the sector are those that are good with people. This means being an empathetic listener, a strong communicator and focusing on the client at all times. A personal training session is about the client, not about the personal trainer (regardless of how much he or she is paid!). Respecting that dynamic is vital. So if your communication skills are not as strong as they need to be, strengthen them.
Put in the hours
I cannot emphasise this enough. Typically I work seven days a week from early in the morning through to the evening. I keep time for myself on Saturday and Sunday afternoon, but apart from that, I am open for bookings from clients, which can mean very early starts and some late finishes. This is not the life for everyone, to put it mildly, but it is a reality of the business, so if it is not going to work for you, find another job.
Build a reputation and work will follow
My career in personal training began when I was asked by people to train them. From that beginning, my reputation as a nascent personal trainer grew and more people asked if they could train with me. The oldest (and in my opinion truest) rule of marketing is 'word of mouth', which I believe is the most powerful promotional tool on the planet. That's not to say there is no place for other forms of marketing or promotions in personal training, but building a credible reputation is priceless where working with clients is concerned.
Get the economics right
Typically, in a city like London, good personal trainers can look to charge clients something like £30-70 an hour (with the opportunity for bespoke arrangements or fixed blocks of training over specific periods and specific training programmes). Understanding the economics of personal training and what realistically can be achieved (or effective business planning, as it is known) will be the difference between sinking or swimming for most personal trainers.
Working in the sector can also typically involve paying rent to train regularly in a gym (unless training is delivered at the client location or certain outdoor venues), plus overheads for professional support, insurance, communication and presentation assets (phone, website, photographers, graphic designers etc.) and it can all add up.
Understanding the economics and being on top of them is just as important as anything else when you train clients, if not more so.
Enjoy the training, enjoy the work!
Because if you don't it will show and your clients will go elsewhere. Plus, you will quickly become frustrated and jaded by what you do. So, if you don't enjoy the work, find something you do enjoy and move on.
I will be recording a full episode of the podcast specifically on this topic with Allen in the near future as I think that, in a growing industry such as ours, offering helpful advice based on experience is vital in moving ahead.
So listen out for that in the months ahead and in the meantime, feel free to contact me with any questions you may have about personal training as a career.