Let's face it, if you're reading this you probably at least have heard the dirty rumor that I worked at (gasp) a commercial gym. Many out there will look at you like you just insulted their bench press technique with the mention of this fact. Sometimes this is rightly so because let's face it, it takes all of a weekend to get certified to be a personal trainer. Getting a job as one isn't overwhelmingly hard if you're a decent interviewer either. The good thing is, most of the time the ones that are clueless get found out fast enough, and the good ones will get noticed when they put in the work. Matter of fact there are many good coaches out there who I borrow material from that are primarily in a commercial gym setting, and making it happen on a regular basis.
Three and a half years doesn't sound like that long to be at a particular work place, maybe it does depending on who you are. It actually is in this case when you consider an average life span of a trainer at a particular gym is probably just over a year (this is based on the study of I said so). I can count on 1 hand the number of trainers/coaches that were at this particular place for a longer span than me so you can understand where I'm coming from here. I did learn a few things about way I would or would not do things if I were calling the shots.
Team First- I learned this lesson far before this, but it does apply here. You won't learn how to be a team player at all of the big box gyms, because let's face it some of the really big fancy ones (or not so much) are very cut throat. I was fortunate enough to work at a place where each trainer was comfortable was handing over their clients to others when the time came for a vacation or an emergency. There was no threat here of one stealing the others, we knew we were just holding the place of our compatriot while they handled their business. I also learned that if the front desk likes you and knows you're good at your craft, they will give people the gentle nudge towards your schedule. How do you get on their good side? Talk to them, a couple of our old customer service reps are some of my best friends now, because we talked, imagine that. It also helps to give them a hand and do them favors when they're nice enough to ask you, caffeine can be the key to their hearts sometimes. The point here as if everyone can try to pick up the slack when they're called upon, everyone is happier, everyone works better and more clients are keen to sign up for sessions with the gym (and if you're good, that'll be with you).
Business Speak- Those that know me know I hate the business, or what I call the "money" side of this industry. Like it or not though, unless you are working as a head strength coach of a major university, it needs to be addressed. While true there is always a business side to everything I learned that I can keep my values and still be sure the bottom line gets addressed. I am loyal, sometimes to a fault, but these days loyalty and good values can pay off. When people see that you mean well and have great intentions they'll appreciate that. Put those together along some skill in your craft and a little savvy, they'll believe in the product, bottom line addressed right there. Often times the product will sell itself, if you're good enough, but it will take only a bit of convincing now and again. You can do some research on your own in this situation by reading books of the successful people that did it, in my mind, the right way. People like Howard Schultz (though Starbucks isn't my thing), Richard Branson and Simon Sinek can provide you with at least some starting tools here.
Value Clients- Clients are the life blood of anyone, and any company, working in the private sector of this industry. I learned there is a line to dance between people taking advantage of you and people that appreciate you being an human. I had habitual late cancelers, they knew the deal with it too, and they didn't hate me for it. When there was something that was an emergency though, I gave them a break, because there's no need to pile on in those situations. Another thing that clients will really appreciate is when you put your time into them, both in their sessions and outside of them. This goes a bit back to being a coach and not just a trainer, but it's still relevant here. Learn get better, apply it when appropriate, and listen to your clients. Some of them will come in and want to absolutely just vent to you because they feel they have no one else. Take it in, listen, participate when necessary. They will walk away feeling better, trusting you and more comfortable with you for the long haul.
Yeah a commercial gym isn't ideal for many aspiring coaches, but it can still make for a great learning platform. It's a bit of a lottery because sometimes the good ones turn into bad ones over night, and the other way around. There's still nothing quite like cutting your teeth at a commercial gym, those of you that avoided it, you're in the minority so thank your luck or whatever you need to thank.
I think it's fairly simple in the end; be a team player, learn a bit of business savvy, and value you your clients. Those 3 things can go a long way to surviving and thriving in this setting. That's all I got today everyone, go out there and get after it!
The inspiration for this post goes to a great coach, that I heard speak not too long ago, Alex Viada and his post on Facebook the other day talking about learning on the job before you get into your own business.
Everyone these days seems to have the same thought 6 months to a year right out of college, own their own business. While it is has the ups of working for yourself and doing things your own way, folks tend to just simplify it way too much. I was one of them.
In 2012 I was working for a company that outsourced personal training to gyms all over. I won't name them here because this post is not about them, it's about the lessons taken from the likes of them. To no one's surprise it wasn't the best company to work for, I was unhappy and felt under appreciated as well. In what was almost a desperation move I thought about opening my own place to make myself happier. Luckily these thoughts never quite materialized, at least not until about 3 weeks ago (3+ years later). Of course my little know it all brain recently out of college didn't have that approach, but I found a way out that wasn't opening my own place and took it.
There were many obvious reasons I wanted to make this jump, I drove an hour each way (mostly my own doing), I banged my head against a wall trying to get better (so it seemed) and I felt undervalued. There were plenty of positives to take from this as well; I had some great coworkers including a fellow trainer I'm still friends with today, I had great clients also some of which I consider friends today and I was getting a metric shit ton of hands on experience.
Where I landed next was a bit of luck for me, both good and bad. I found a place to work where I wasn't the top of the food chain and had to fight to even try to climb that ladder. Luckily the trainers/coaches I worked with were really open to helping me get better, many people I now call friends were met at this little slice over those years. It was also a heck of a lot closer than the establishment previous to this distance wise, also a positive. The facility wasn't half bad in terms of equipment selection to top it off.
Like all places there were some bad things as well, and for awhile I was able to get past them because of the coworkers and colleagues I had. Eventually the writing on the wall became clearer and clearer, it was time for me to form my exit strategy, and I did. The job had become a bit stale and as will happen you get staff turn over and it was no longer the family I had grown with (note: staff turnover in commercial gyms is a far above average occurrence compared to other work places).
Other than the 2 gyms I worked at, I had 3 internships that I went through at some great places. Those types of experiences will humble you and kick you down a few pegs. At the same time though they provide a great platform for learning. Each one had it's own way of teaching me in both things I should know in the exercise sense, but also things I should know as one human being working with another.
In closing here's the things to remember:
1. You WILL have some jobs you don't like, coaching and non-coaching alike. Learn the things here that you DON'T want to do.
2. If you have a desire to own your own business, be patient with that idea of yours. Get some experience elsewhere for at least a few years, if not more, then pull the trigger.
3. When you finally reach that point to where you are actually ready to take that plunge, do it! Do it with all your heart and apply EVERYTHING you've learned over the years to the best of your ability.
4. Don't just listen to me, I've only been at this for a little under a month, find someone else that has 10 times the experience I have and learn from them too.
That's all I got today folks, have a good day, go out there and get after it!
Here we are, new site, new gig and our first post for First XV. Let's get at the real root of what sets apart a good professional from say the likes of Tony Gentilcore or Mike Robertson, and your average Joe Biceppeckhead. By no means am I raining on personal trainers at commercial gyms, for god's sake I was one for a long time. I did my damnedest to make sure I wasn't the average. The good "trainers" get a terrible rep because of the stereo types that exist out there. There are some that fit them too, but the ones that take pride in their job, get better every day, learn from the right people and actually CARE about their clients are the ones that need to be celebrated.
Despite being a big box trainer an easy way to make sure you are set apart from the average is to be a Coach. How this is different is you don't just stand there, count reps, pick their nose, look at their cell phone and check themselves out while looking in the mirror (although let's face it, there's days you just feel way too bad ass not to). Trainers just throw together a workout of exercises they saw 5 minutes ago on some dreaded site like beach body, some weight loss show they watched the night before, or a crossfit WOD they read on the internet from Antartica.
A coach, whether they're title at their place of business is coach, trainer, fitness counselor or whatever fuddy-duddy name a place comes up with, does better than that. First off a coach is going to at least do some sort of assessment including; healthy history and some sort of questionnaire, a movement screen, and then get some baseline of what exercises you can and can't handle. I think that should be bare minimum for first encounter with a health fitness professional. Key word in that is PROFESSIONAL.
The movement screen doesn't have to be this amazing breakthrough system you've come up with. Let's face it the good coaches know the right stuff to steal from others and use for their clientele. I'm not saying commit copyright infringement, I'm saying take a something like a FMS (Functional Movement Screen) from Gray Cook and company, and apply it to your own system. Candidly I do not use the FMS myself, but there are many elements of it I borrow because that's one reason people put stuff like that out there and I find it useful.
Next thing a good pro should be doing is making sure they are always learning. Ask someone you admire for some resource recommendations, see if you can borrow them/get them on the cheap and dive in. There's so many things out there to read, you basically have to try to not learn something every week or every day. Go to workshops and seminars, a great place to start is Perform Better's annual summits they do in the summer. They might be a pain for you to get to but they will be worth it! Seriously though just start digging for stuff, you will stumble upon something within hours if not minutes.
I do want to stifle the expectations of those that think book knowledge and watching video demonstrations (regardless of how good and accurate it is) is all you need. There will never be anything quite like real world, hands on experience. This where things like internships come through in a huge way! Yeah you're bottom of the totem pole for a bit, but assuming it's a quality place to learn, be it a school or private facility, it will pay dividends big time!
A person is paying you for your expertise, be an expert, or as close to one as you can be. They're also paying for you to be prepared with a program, NOT just a workout. Pretty much anyone can throw down a workout that get's you sweaty, which is all the untrained and average folks think a sessions should encompass. A program should be well thought out, at least somewhat for all sakes, and have some important elements incorporated that address goals and needs of the client. I always try to follow Dan John's rule of have the 5 basic human movements; push and pull for the upper body, hinge and squat for the lower body and carries (most neglected movement of the 5 probably). After that I incorporate some sort of activation, mobility, core and single leg work. Likely there is also some sort of "finisher" or conditioning to
Finally probably the most important thing a good coach and pro should do can be summed up in one word, CARE! Not just about the clients goals also and getting to know them, very important, also about their safety during the session. Technique should be very high on the priority list in a session, if it looks wrong, it probably is. Make the right corrections and adjustments in a session (this is where all that learning will come in handy). Is your client having a hard time getting into the right position for the exercise? Demonstrate it yourself and go through your cues as you do it. That doesn't get them there? Next step is to get hands on, keep the creep factor down please, but you should get comfortable manually helping them get it right. You can do it by physically moving them into the right position (without load) or a little tap on the muscle that you're trying to get them to engage.
OK I'm off the soap box now, but I only have written about these things today because guess what? I was there too, I probably did all of these things at some point in my evolution into the coach I am today. From college right up to the minute I write this. Mistakes happen, believe me, but learn from them and get better every day.
To review, coach and care in your sessions, don't just count reps. Have a plan set for your session and how to help your client continuously, don't just throw something together haphazard. Finally, you NEVER know enough, keep learning and evolving.
Hopefully this first post wasn't too much of a soap box session, rant or whatever term you wish to put to it. That's all for today guys, go out there and get after it!
Jarrod Dyke, CSCS