So, You Want to Be a Personal Trainer? Better Listen Up
Personal training looks like such a good job from the outside. You get to wear pretty comfortable clothes all day long, hang out in the gym, and have a job that can have a massive impact on people’s lives. The hours are flexible and there is a type of training to fit nearly everyone, from outdoor bootcamp type training to CrossFit affiliation to becoming some type of strength coach in organized sports. But is it such a great job? The statistics in Australia show an industry that is hemorrhaging badly, filled with inexperienced workers and little or no control.
With a population of just 22 million, Australia has a population of personal trainers that numbers roughly 30,000. That seems like pretty good odds and means that for every trainer in Australia there should be more than enough clients per trainer to make a decent living. But those 30,000 trainers don’t last long. In fact, we have roughly 15,000 new trainers entering the industry each year. This seems like a lot and would make you think there can’t possibly be that many jobs available for so many new people entering the work force, but the total number of trainers remains stable at around 30,000. To make matters worse, of the total amount of money spent on fitness only five percent is spent on personal training, with eighty-two percent going towards memberships at gyms.
But, the most surprising and painful statistic for me to read is always this one – in every year at least 10% of the trainers will leave to go do something else. At the fourteen-year mark there is a 90% likelihood the trainer will quit. The peak years for this exodus are from four to six, where the number jumps from just over 10% to a startling 70%.
What all this says to me is that personal training is a job that for many seemed appealing on the surface, but after spending a few years in the trenches, and seeing how difficult it is to make money, many leave. If you’re determined to give it a shot anyway, and join those of us in the 1% club (according to statistics in Australia that is the number of people in the field who have done this job for more than fifteen years) here are some tips:
Relentlessly Improve Yourself
The human body is an amazingly complex machine. Every time you train someone you have the capacity to either do great harm or great good for them. If you can’t name all the major muscles in the body, where they are, and at least what their function is then quit now. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to read then this job is not for you. Perhaps it was ten or fifteen years ago, when much of what we thought of as fitness was still deeply mired in the aesthetics of bodybuilding, but in these days of FMS, Primal Move, and paleo diets you’re more likely to need to read something by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi than you are by Lee Priest.
What I’m trying to say is, if you truly want to be successful in this job you need to be relentless in your desire to improve. I literally cannot think of a time since I was thirteen years old and read Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Body Building for Men that I haven’t been obsessed by training. And because of the huge volume of subjects that relate to fitness, trying to cram it all in your head is the work of a lifetime. That means that despite what you think, when you start out you are going to suck. There is going to be so much stuff you simply won’t know that you won’t even know where to start.
Specialize, Don’t Generalize
That leads me to point number two – don’t try to be all things to all people. Pick one or two complimentary things and specialize. About six years ago I took a break from working in the fitness industry and spent about eighteen months working alongside it teaching personal training. I spent those months really taking a solid look at what was hot in fitness and what was going on in Australia compared to the United States, the United Kingdom, and Asia.
I saw a few things, and the kettlebell was one of the tools that stood out as something no one here was really known for. So I bought some kettlebells and started researching who I should train with. I discarded all my other training tools for a six-year period and worked only with kettlebells (and we’ve actually only just started allowing clients to use barbells in their training this year). I immersed myself in kettlebells and learned them inside out. With no other tools to rely on in training I can tell you with no doubt now what you can and can’t achieve with them. Now when people are looking for who person who knows the kettlebell they come from all over the country to see me at Read Performance Training.
I’ve been very lucky that through the RKC I was introduced to the FMS and Primal Move systems and we now use these, too. I also went back to my strength coaching roots about three years ago and spent time doing some Olympic weightlifting under super coach Robert Kabbas. So, in a six-year period I did four things – RKC/kettlebells, FMS, weightlifting, and Primal Move. I took those four things and I worked the hell out of them twisting and turning them, experimenting and playing, and seeing exactly what I could do with them. Luckily they’re all great additions to training and the results have been great with our clients.
So don’t waste time going off on forty different unrelated certifications. Pick one a year and go to that, and then go as deep into it as you can. Within a five-year period you’ll have some world-class knowledge about the use of that system (and given most trainers quit at the five year mark all of a sudden you’re going to look pretty damn impressive compared to the newbie who just got out of personal trainer school).
If I was starting out in personal training right now, I know the first thing I would be looking at – bodyweight training. It ranked number three on Google last year for fitness searches and the popularity of Convict Conditioning, activities like parkour, and events like Tough Mudder all confirm for me that bodyweight training is the next big thing. It fits perfectly with today’s modern-primitive, paleo-eating, tribal-tattoo-having fitness dude or dudette. In fact, I think it’s so important that I’m making a trip with all my staff to the United States in a few months for Dragon Door’s inaugural Progressive Calisthenics Certification based on the Convict Conditioning books.
These two points – specialization and education are vital to making a good living as a personal trainer. Keep an eye out for part two - I’m going to share some of the hidden secrets to success as a trainer.