The Truth About Trainers

Everything You Think Is Wrong

The Question

What do most people NOT know about personal training or coaching?

Christian Thibaudeau

Personality is more important than knowledge... at least if you want to make a good living.

I made a 180-degree turn on this one. I used to be a coaching purist and believed all that mattered was knowledge and application. If you were good, clients would just fall into your lap. And that might be true if you're a strength coach with a great reputation for getting athletes to perform like machines.

But it isn't true when you work in a commercial gym with the average lifters. That's one thing I realized years ago: The average person in a gym isn't passionate about training. They don't know who Charles Poliquin, Jim Wendler, John Meadows, and Christian Thibaudeau are.

They don't know what "accentuating the eccentric" and "activating mTOR" means. They have no idea what a rest/pause, cluster, or wave are meant to do. And they don't care! Many of them just want results, and most of them want to have a good time.

I was once asked what the most important thing was for a trainer to help his clients get results. I gave a know-it-all answer about physiological responses and individual biomechanics, and I was laughed at. Turns out, the most important thing is getting your clients to trust you and be motivated by you.

The coach must have a personality to motivate a client that isn't passionate about training (and often who doesn't really want to do it in the first place) into loving training, looking forward to sessions, and giving a maximum effort.

And you know what? It's not about competence, but rather about personality.

I've worked with and taught hundreds of trainers. And those who are the most successful – both financially and in getting their clients results – aren't always the smartest. They're the most fun to be with. They're high energy, positive, and charismatic.

I've seen guys who were as knowledgeable as most "top trainers" barely make any money, and some with little more than basic training knowledge have a six figure income.

Think about it. If you want to make a good living as a trainer you must sell training sessions, not training programs. Let's say that you charge $80 an hour for a training session and $200 for a program. If a client hires you for three weekly sessions at $80 you'll need 5-6 regular clients per month to make around 75,000 per year. And when a client has a good relationship with you, you likely can keep him for at least three months, so you may only have to find 3-4 new clients per month.

If you want to make the same amount of money selling programs you'll need to sell eight programs a week to get there. And since most clients in commercial gyms will keep the same program for six weeks or more, you'll constantly need to sell, which is hard to do.

And if you work in a gym, you'll likely have to give the gym a percentage of pay (or pay them "rent") so you might need to double those numbers! Selling 28 programs per week is a ton!

Competency will sell programs. Personality will sell sessions.

Think about it. Would you pay $80-100 per hour three times a week to be with someone who's boring and not motivational? Maybe, but the average Joe who isn't amped up about training won't.

When they first meet you, you're selling yourself, not really your services. If they see that you're fun, motivated, and passionate they're much more likely to hire you for sessions.

"Yeah, Thib, but I'm not money-driven. I'm about results. And if I get my clients results, more clients will come."

That's true to an extent. But let me ask you this: Will a client with little training experience (those who are the most likely to hire you) get better results from being on his own with your program for six weeks, or will he get better results if he has a qualified coach with him three times a week, one who's there to motivate him, push him, adjust the program, etc.?

The answer is obvious. So if you want clients to get the best results possible, you'll always do a better job if you sell them sessions, not programs. And remember the best way to do that is with personality.

I'm not saying competency doesn't matter. It's a trainer's responsibility to keep furthering his knowledge by attending seminars, reading books/articles, experimenting, and exchanging info with other good trainers.

But what good is it to be the best-looking guy in the world if you never leave your parent's basement? Likewise, you can have all the knowledge in the world, but if people don't want to work with you and you can't motivate them, you'll never achieve much in the way of results or financial success. Christian Thibaudeau

Trainers don't work out all day.

It's weird that people think this. And as nice as that would be, most trainers fill their schedules training... other people. Very seldom does a coach or trainer have the opportunity to work out alongside his or her clients. We fit our workouts in whenever we have time. Sometimes this means waking up at the crack of dawn before anyone else is at the gym.

I've seen many trainers and even gym owners fall into the trap of letting their own fitness slide because they tried to book every free hour they had with clients.

Keep in mind, the accumulative affect of training others is physically and mentally demanding too. We spend our entire work day on our feet, sometimes loading plates and setting up equipment for our sessions. And at the end of a 7-10 hour day (that we've spent encouraging and motivating others), it can be tempting to blow off our own workouts.

If you want to get into the training industry, don't expect that your physical fitness will be at the top of your priority list. And prepare to work long hours, early mornings, late nights, or weekend and holiday shifts.

Good trainers love helping their clients, so they invest a ton of time both during their sessions with them and at home coming up with ways to deliver a higher quality of training that'll meet their specific needs.

People don't think about that – trainers dedicate a ton of time outside of the gym writing their programs, thinking of innovative exercises, brushing up on our skillset, and pursuing continuing education courses.

While it's important for us as teachers to maintain our own fitness to some degree, we tend to prioritize that of our clients instead. Overall, the best trainers invest far more time in refining their craft than many people may realize.

Training is a non-stop hustle. While we certainly are physically active throughout the day, we unfortunately don't get to spend our entire work day lifting! Arianna Hoffman

There are four big things people don't know about personal trainers:

1 The barrier to entry is woefully low and most people think they suck.

Getting qualified as a personal trainer takes little more than a weekend course and a multiple-choice exam. This is a terrible state of affairs. What's worse is that many potential personal training clients are aware of this fact. Is it any wonder they don't hold trainers in high regard?

If you're a trainer, most will assume you're little more than a rep counter. So you'll need to prove your worth to some very skeptical clients when you start out. Over-delivering is the best strategy a trainer has in this situation.

2 Results matter... a ton.

If you're a trainer and want to charge top dollar, you must deliver results! If you're good at what you do and consistently deliver results, then your clients will sing your praises. And chances are, their social circle will be full of people like them – people who are likely to want to improve how they look and feel, and are in a position to pay your rates.

By delivering results, you'll have a constant stream of new clients on tap. So focus on becoming the best trainer you can be. Deliver an extraordinary level of service to existing clients with the knowledge it's an investment in your future business. When you aren't working with clients or writing their programs, read and research everything you can, which applies to your clientele. The more you learn, the more you can earn!

3 Trainers don't always do what they advise clients to do.

At times in the career of a personal trainer you'll recommend things to clients knowing full well that you don't do them yourself. The importance of sleep and getting enough of it is probably the primary one.

When you start out, you'll most likely work a split shift. Early mornings and evenings full of clients with nothing in-between. As a novice personal trainer, you need clients. You can't be fussy about who, or when you train them. You've got bills to pay, so if you want to survive you'll need to work around the schedule of those wiling to pay you.

Most people that want a personal trainer have busy lives and will either have to train first thing in the morning or after work. These unsociable hours are standard practice for an up and coming trainer. It's a necessary evil if you want to establish yourself in the industry.

When I started out personal training I had to schedule it around my university studies. Combine that with the schedules of my clients and I was waking up at 4:45 AM to go and train my first client. Then I'd see another after that and head to classes for the day.

Most evenings I was back to the gym for a few more clients. I vividly remember waiting on the platform for my train home one evening at 9:45 thinking to myself, "I'll be getting off a train and coming back into work on the opposite platform in under 8 hours." So much for getting the 8-plus hours of sleep I told all my clients they needed!

4 Most personal trainers are insecure, self-centered, and lacking in self-esteem.

This might surprise you given the uber-confident way many of them swagger around the gym, but it's true.

Sure, some trainers were always athletically gifted and naturally gravitated towards a career in fitness, but many others have a more complex back story of low self-confidence or even self-loathing. These stories can be their best sales pitch.

Often a trainer who has struggled with body image or confidence compensates by creating an alter-ego. This usually manifests as an arrogant or egotistical persona. But you know what? People don't like arrogance. They certainly won't pay to spend an hour, three times a week, in the presence of an arrogant person. Even if this arrogance is just a facade to protect the trainer from appearing vulnerable or weak.

If you're an aspiring coach or trainer, recognize that you might've gotten into the industry because of your own personal hang-ups. If you have the self-awareness to acknowledge this fact, then you can turn it to your advantage.

Most prospective clients are nervous or anxious about going to the gym. Gymtimidation is a real thing for many people. They'll be terrified you're going to mock or judge them. Nip that in the bud immediately.

Show them that you've struggled too. Illustrate that you understand what they're going through. If you do that and then highlight how training helped transform your body and mind, they'll be more likely to buy into this belief by hiring you. Tom MacCormick

Back Squat

The best trainers aren't always the best paid.

Sadly, that reward often goes to the savviest of marketers. Why? Because if you're like most trainers or strength coaches, you didn't join the industry because you were interested in making a ton of cash. You were interested in making an impact. Fitness had a profound impact on your life, and you wanted to share that same gift with as many people as you could.

Here's the problem: Since you understand how valuable fitness is, you expect others to as well. You believe you shouldn't need to market your services because "health is the first wealth" and everyone wants more of it, right?

So you avoid learning anything about marketing or sales because in your mind, that's for people peddling MLM detox teas, filming parody videos, or posting an endless supply of #datass selfies on Instagram to pay their bills. I get it. It's gross. But you've got to stop thinking of marketing as a tool for sell-outs. It doesn't have to be, and you need it.

You must have a basic understanding of marketing to further your business. You don't have to get another degree, but you do need a rudimentary skill-set. If helping more people is your goal, then you need to get your message out, and marketing will help you do that. By doing so, you'll attract genuinely committed clients and followers.

Sure, the idea of anything related to marketing or sales might give you the chills, but it's an essential skill-set that'll ultimately help you do what you aim to do: make a difference. Eric Bach

There are three things trainers need to develop in order to gain and keep clients.

Success for trainers means that the BULK of the efforts in maintaining a steady stream of income are going to be recruitment and retention. There are three things that work to keep people interested and coming back:

  1. Community
  2. Mastery
  3. Progress

Most people who go to a gym will get one of these if they're lucky. Some may get two. But if you're a trainer who can put together all three, you'll never have to worry about gaining new clients or their success.

If you're a trainer, your best ad is the success story of those who hired you. When they brag at parties about what YOU do for them, they become a sales force, which works far better than a boosted post on Facegram or Instabutts. And when your clients are so competent that they lend a hand to new people, both the vet and the rookie will remain.

This barely scratches the surface of what people don't know about the industry, but it's the answer to a problem many trainers face. Dan John

I see three main misconceptions from new and prospective trainers:

1 Being a trainer means you get to work out a lot.

If you're getting into training because you believe this: STOP. Once you become a trainer, the majority of your time is spent standing, watching, correcting, and talking to your clients. You often have to struggle to fit your workouts in at 5AM before your morning crowd, or at 8PM after your last client leaves. Want to just work out a lot? Do that. Don't become a trainer.

2 Being a trainer automatically means big money.

False. Sure, you can charge a decent hourly wage, but money can be inconsistent. (Warning: Study up on taxes before you get into this profession.)

The most important thing you can learn as a trainer is to be a good sales person. Personal trainers are a plenty. You most likely won't have clients naturally flowing to you and begging to pay you $60 per hour consistently. Learn to market yourself, learn to stay organized, learn how to follow up with clients, and learn how to ask for money. Teaching movement happens after all that is established.

3 Being strong/fast/fit means that you'll be a good trainer.

This is important: The best athletes often make the worst trainers. Being inherently good at something, or "naturally" gifted athletically, often means that you're absolutely terrible at breaking down the movement to the raw basics for the less-than-gifted crowd.

Tip: Before you try to become a trainer, try to teach your grandma to overhead squat with a PVC pipe. If you find yourself getting frustrated and feeling helpless after 20 minutes of failed attempts, you should probably reconsider your methods or your choice in profession. - Mariah Heller