Should you be a personal trainer?

I’ve been asked a few times lately by teenagers doing their leaving cert how to get into personal training. In my opinion they’re asking the wrong question. What they should be asking is “Should I get into personal training?” Here’s some advice for those just starting out.

  • Just because you like training doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy being a trainer.

People say all the time “God I’d love if my job was training people in a gym, you must get to workout yourself so much.”

Firstly, when I’m working I don’t get to train at all. Whether you like it or not, when working, your job should be about the clients that you have booked in or that are in the gym. I actually know trainers who have just made their clients join in on their session because they wouldn’t have time to train themselves otherwise…just a tad unprofessional. Sure I get a few hours a week where I’m free to train but not as much as most people seem to imagine. I know for a fact that most personal trainers struggle to get four sessions in a week themselves. Now, this is for a number of reasons.

  • When you’re trying to train you will be constantly interrupted by people asking you questions. You work there, it’s not their fault.
  • If, like us, you’re usually the only member of staff in the gym and you’re trying to do some conditioning work but a prospective client walks in with questions about membership, group training, personal training etc. You have to stop your own session to answer those questions.
  • The phone might not ring all day, as soon as you unrack a heavy squat, I can guarantee that it will.
  • The hours suck

“Become a PT, feel free to book whatever hours you want with clients.” That’s the tagline you hear all the time right? Well yeah it’s somewhat true but what it should read is “Become a PT, feel free to book whatever hours you want with clients, but remember that most people can only train early in the morning or late in the evening or on weekends because they have jobs too.”

So, now book as many clients in as you want. But be aware that you’re going to have to work some unsociable hours. There are no days where I leave my house after 5.30am. There are also no days where I’m home before 9.30pm. Even if you get some hours off during the day everybody has jobs so there’s nobody around to do anything with.

You want to book a full roster of clients? That’s awesome, but be prepared to put in some long ass split shifts, at least when you’re first making a name for yourself.

  • People will treat you like a phsyciatrist/physiotherapist/doctor

This is just part of the job. You may want to only coach people to squat, bench and deadlift. But that’s not realistic. For most of your clients you’re going to know more about the human body than most of the people they interact with. So if they have a niggly pain in their neck, they’re going to ask you to fix it. They’ve had a shitty day at the office? Get ready to hear all about it in between sets.

  • Remember, at its core, it’s a customer service job.

You might be the single best strength coach in the history of the world, doesn’t mean shit if everybody hates you. For those of us who are a bit more introverted and prefer their own company to the company of other people this can be a real struggle.

The most successful trainers I know aren’t necessarily the best trainers I know, their clients don’t necessarily get the best results…but they sure as hell know how to build relationships.

Client retention is an absolutely huge part of having a large client base. If you want people to come back, then you better be someone they actually like.

  • You’ve got to have a genuine interest in helping people and be able to communicate well.

If you get into this industry because you like training yourself then you won’t last. This job is all about helping other people. There are times when you’re going to be exhausted, you’ll be on your 12th hour of coaching in a day and your client just isn’t responding, or they’re moaning…you’ll reach a point one day and want to blow a fuse. That’s when you have to remember why you got into this job in the first place.

Your motivation for doing this job has to be bigger than “I like training and I want to make money” If that’s why you’re in this game you won’t last. You HAVE to have a genuine desire to help people.

  • The clients results often have nothing to do with you.

Sure, we all like to claim that the clients’ results are down to our hard work…when they’re good results. What about when the client who wants to lose weight actually puts on weight and then complains? Don’t think that happens? You better believe that happens every goddamn day. You can have the most perfect plans in the world, backed up by research and studies…doesn’t mean anything if your client goes and stops in McDonald’s every night on the way home from work. Or doesn’t stick to the plan you have for them. People are people and when they don’t get the results they think they deserve then you better be ready for backlash.

I’m painting this in a bad light so far aren’t I? Truth is, that no matter how many things I can complain about, this is the single best job in the world and I would never trade it for being a desk monkey again. Sure the hours suck, the pay’s not great and it’s frustrating as hell sometimes…but genuinely making a difference in someone’s life is worth more than all of that.

Some of my greatest moments as a coach are things that I’ll honestly never forget. The client who was barely able to walk when he first came in due to previously having broken his back and being bed ridden for months hitting his first squat to depth. The powerlifter who cried to me after his first meet when he hit a squat goal he’d set himself over a year beforehand. The people who actually like how they look and feel for the first time in years. The extra confidence a woman has after being able to wear a size 10 pair of jeans again for the first time since having a baby. THESE are the moments that make this job worthwhile, they are the reasons you should want to get into this profession.

Plus…getting to wear trackies to work is pretty awesome.

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