Humble Beginnings- Why ALL Sports Science and S&C Graduates Should Start As A Personal Trainer
Updated: Oct 20, 2020
Upon reflection, starting out as a Personal Trainer at a local Commercial Gym turned out to be fundamental to my professional career. Many of the people I went to University with, including tutors and lecturers face would say it all when they asked what you do for work while studying- "I'm a Personal Trainer." I can count on one hand how many people said that's a good thing to be doing while studying- actually applying theoretical learning in a practical environment makes sense, right?
Here are 6 lessons I learned being a Personal Trainer that have helped me make the most of out my Degree.
Lesson 1- Work With Others
Seems pretty straight forward right, most (if not all) workplaces require you to work with other colleges. Have a think the last time you were in a commercial gym, what type of trainers/coaches did you see? At times it can look like a circus, middle aged women doing some representation Squats on a Bosu Ball, the "Functional Trainer" who only uses Kettlebells and TRX, the Powerlifting coach, the Weightlifting coach- you get the picture. For at least the first 2-3 years I couldn't figure out why members would actually pay for these PT's. I'd often glance over and be amazed at some of the ridiculous and many times dangerous exercise clients would be doing- it didn't make any sense. What it did teach me was that everyone has their own way of training (even if I think it is wrong). It took time, but I accepted that Trainer X did this, Trainer Y did this, and it didn't matter what they did or why they did it. As long as you can say "Good morning" or "How's it going" every morning, have a chat here, what they do doesn't affect me. You don't have to agree with everyone, their opinions and coaching methodologies but you do have to respect them, their time and learn to work with them.
Lesson 2- Learn to Communicate With Others
In the commercial gym environments you tend to witness members with all sorts of training goals. General Population, Weight Loss, Disabilities, Youth, Elderly etc. Everyone of those people and training goals I worked with at some stage whether that be in a 1:1 setting, group fitness class, bootcamp etc. One thing you quickly learn or you either a) don't have any clients b) it's the most awkward 30,45,60 minutes of your day c) you don't last long in the industry) is that 15 year old Tom, 30 year old Sally and 70 year old Garry don't really have the same interests and the "How was your day", "How was your weekend" and "What's on the rest of the day" cards get old real quick. You have to learn to communicate to the person in front of you, know some of their interests and how they liked to be coached.
Lesson 3- Make Mistakes
Early on in your coaching career you make mistakes every day- errors in programming, cueing etc. It is far better to make these mistakes early on compared to when you are "Qualified", charging between $100-300 a session and think you know it all because you have a degree. It's a massive ego check knowing you don't have all the answers, and when a client doesn't get the desired results.
Lesson 4- Find Your Niche
As mentioned before early on I trained absolutely anyone. At the start it was just great to have a steady stream of income, regular clients and such a large variety of training goals. However, quickly it became going through the motions -although I always was prepared, engaged and enthusiastic in sessions I tended to enjoy focusing more on Youth Athletes and those clients training for a performance goal ie Marathon. That was my Niche, Athletic Development- and while I was about 2 years in my coaching journey, this was where I wanted to focus on. One of the hardest things to do is to say no to a new client (and the obvious $$), especially when you're not "busting at the seams". Overtime this allows you to double down on what you enjoy, find mentors, courses and upskilling that correlate to where you'd like to be. This may even result in changing or transferring University courses, a PT who enjoys rehabilitation could potentially swap into EP or Physio.
Lesson 5- Business 101
Very quickly you learn that the promise of a "flexible schedule" and most of the other promises made during your Cert 3 or 4 and University course simply aren't true. Early starts, big gaps, late nights, weekends are all apart of starting out as a Personal Trainer, Strength and Conditioning Coach and Allied Health and most aren't willing to put in that type of work. The free rent period finishes and you're making $400 a week, $200-300 of that goes to rent or your employee takes 50% and your left with $100 to live off- sounds great! If you can last long enough to create a regular client list then you have to worry about payments, booking systems, scheduling peak times (6-9am, 4-7pm) where everyone wants to train, having an ABN, paying taxes and the list goes on. Very rarely does University expose you to how to run yourself as a business, or teach the basics of being a Sole Trader, yet is fundamental to your success.
Lesson 6- Sell and Promote Yourself
Most Personal Trainers suck at this, making a sale for most people is the hardest thing they will do. First you have to have a lead, some are hot and some are cold. Then you have to make an appointment (most of the time this is a "free" or "complementary" sessions). Then you have to convert, with the hardest part bringing up session costs. I'll be the first to admit, I failed many, many times and often got the session cost point and sold myself far too short (sometimes less than half price) because I a) needed the client b) wanted to work with the client. Then I was overworked and underpaid. A mentor at the time told me to double my prices, which was terrifying. Long story short I did, and everyone stayed. The fear of a potential client saying no becomes far less important when you know your value, that is determined by your beliefs, formal education, upskilling and the market. If you have so many sessions you can't eat lunch- chances are your prices are too low. If you have no sessions- chances are your prices are too high.