Friday, October 14, 2016

The personal trainer “career” myth

If you take the time to do a little research about having a career as a personal trainer, you are bound to become very confused.

This is due to the enormous amount of contradictory reporting based on shoddy research methods and biased sources.

Many certification companies have gotten in on the game of providing information or participating in the propagation of personal training job statistics that are often misleading, if not completely slanted toward their particular agenda.

The certification companies and schools are a business and they need to make money, so they will always make the reality a little rosier than even rose-colored glasses can make it.



I recently came across this particular personal training job info-graphic that you may have seen on the Internet:



Now although the summary of the infographic on the lower right is:

“The lowest paid personal trainers make as much as the highest paid waiters,” that does not tell the whole story.

Yes, that would be a nice thought, but unfortunately, I feel that it is a pleasant fiction.

The reason is that waiters in nice restaurants who do a good job make most of their income in tips and personal trainers rarely if ever get tips (there are exceptions to this in certain markets, but overall it is rare).

Another problem is the wording. “The lowest PAID personal trainers…” The problem here is the most trainers are just barely beginning to get paid anything significant at all, and likely are not getting paid yet. The reason for this is that most of the people in the industry aren’t even in the industry yet, they are just trying to get in the industry and there is a big difference between being an intern, a student working at a front desk, and a paid professional fitness trainer.

Of those that are working, 48% of people (according to this info-graphic) working in the industry have only 1-4 years of experience!


What does that tell you? ...That most people either don’t make it to one year, or don’t stay past 4 years. Either way, that is NOT a good career path! Now many difficult careers have a high drop out rate in the beginning. That is normal for many jobs or careers that require a lot of education for instance. Not everyone that starts med school finishes med school. However, once someone becomes a doctor, they probably are going to need to stay a doctor long enough to at least pay down some of those school loans right?

The reason for this discrepancy in personal training and group fitness instruction is due to the fact that there is a sexy appeal to being in fitness and much lower barrier to entry. Those that get jobs at big box clubs end up making enough to survive (barely) and then often get disillusioned and want to quit and move on to something better. It’s truly sad.

Those making the higher end of the personal training salary spectrum ($58,346) tend to be a very small minority and are almost always self-employed, meaning they had to start their own business to earn serious income. Now you have to add an entirely new form of education, an entrepreneurial education, on top of the personal trainer education. Sadly, most trainers have absolutely zero business education, and therefore fail in owning a business. They think it will be easy just because they know how to train, and then reality bites them in the butt and they are back to square zero, but now with more debt.

Those that go the corporate route can vie for a coveted position as a fitness director, but there are pitfalls to that decision too. Most of the fitness directors I worked for or met were overworked corporate slaves who were under constant high-pressure sales stress from executives and owners and who took the brunt of the work. The were lucky to make serious money, and only then at a huge cost to family and social life. No thanks.

Now, truth be told, I was a Corporate Sales Manager at a large corporate chain at one point in my career, so I got a little feel of this, but it was a different from having to run an entire club. When I managed a gym, it was a small mom-and-pop, and then later my own club, so I got to escape the traditional crunch of the big box chains. Thank God.

However, there must be a way to have a career as a personal trainer, right?


I mean, all this doom and gloom might make you want to give up, but that’s not my intention. I just want to make sure you have some perspective before jumping into something you might be all googly-eyed over.



The myth tends to be that you go to school or through a certification company, take a course or two, get the certification and go to a gym and get a job and work your way up into something that is fulfilling, as well as pays the bills for you and your family within a reasonable amount of time.

As you can probably guess, I think that is a pretty big risk to take with your future, based on real life data and experience.

The truth is, that for the vast majority, personal training is a job, not a career.


To make it a career, you have to seriously take it one step further and become an entrepreneur. Even if you work for someone else, you need to treat it like your own business so you can acquire and maintain enough clients to stay afloat.

Being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean just getting a business license.

It means getting a real fitness business education.

It means learning all aspects of a business, including marketing, sales, systems, cashflow, budgeting, investing, equipment, forecasting, strategy, and many others things above and beyond what a personal training certificate can teach you.

A career is more likely to happen if you become a free-lancer and collect accolades to make you better than the competition. It means staying light on your feet at first so you can make adjustments to where and how you work so that you can navigate the stormy waters of the market place. It means playing it smart and working harder than everyone else on your business instead of just in someone else’s business. It means thinking strategically and growing in personal development.

Do you have a plan to advance your fitness business education?

The true personal trainer career path is one of being your own boss. Otherwise, it really isn’t much of a career, according to statistics and real world experience. You might be perfectly content to just idealize it, but you might be in for a rude awakening.

Otherwise, you might end up out of the industry in 1 to 4 years and just be another statistic.

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