Go to college. Get an exercise science/ kinesiology degree. Go to grad school. Get an internship. Suck at your trade for a while, then slowly get better. Make mistakes and learn from them.
If someone asked me to summarize the path to becoming great in the fitness industry, that would be my initial suggestion. As we close out 2016, I have had some time to reflect on the past 12 years of my life in this field. Certainly, all of the aforementioned played a huge part of the technical aspects of my career. However, there were some MASSIVE curve balls that no one had warned me about when I got into it. Perhaps because the industry is so quickly evolving and changing, its hard to figure out the peripheral aspects until the solutions are obsolete. Maybe its because when I was just dipping my feet in, my primary responsibilities were to make sure the gym floors were clean and their was toilet paper in the bathrooms. Not a ton of industry hacks needed there. Regardless, the problems I have ran into are far from unique. Each week, I feel like I am connected with a professional that runs into a major roadblock and is suddenly faced with the requirement to adapt or leave the industry entirely. Below are some skills that I no longer consider optional or bonus skills, but rather are important development points for those thinking about a life in the fitness industry.
Business Acumen: Are you aware of current trends in the fitness industry? Do you know how to handle negative interactions with potential business leads? What are you doing to supplement the training gap that we are currently in right now? Are you even aware when the business “droughts and floods” are? Being able to read your industry and make decisions that further your business is a skill that so few people possess. Often, we allow our own ego to prevent us from adequately handing uncomfortable situations. Have you ever flown off the handle on the internet in response to a person who has never yielded you income? Do you drag messy personal matters into the public eye? Do you refuse to handle “annoying” business situations in an appropriate manner? How do you field complaints? Do you network with other professionals in a positive light? How do you address failing industry relationships? Do you know how to peacefully change a career situation? If any of those questions bring to mind an instance of poor behavior on your own behalf, you are in plenty of company. Hell, I am in your company, as I have absolutely handled a lot of situations wrong. We are always evolving, and my suggestion is to make sure your interactions are focused on positive outcomes. Further, I recommend getting sound console here. I have four people that I regularly reach out to when I am truly stumped on a situation that needs addressed. Three of those people are other gym managers / owners/ trainers that have likely been exactly where I am or can at least help me think a bit more clearly. The final mentor I have actually has no foot in the fitness industry. In fact, I believe the extent of his gym knowledge starts and ends with the treadmill he has in his basement. I go to the final mentor when I need to disconnect from the anomalies that exist in the fitness industry and get a purely business perspective.
Sales Skills: You can be the best technician in the world, but you fail to close a sale, you are just another broke loser. On the flip side of that, we all know that you can be an absolutely terrible technician with amazing sales skills and you will make money. Unless your dive into the fitness industry is purely altruistic, it behooves you to take sales very seriously. For me, this isnt hard: I’m not selling a lemon-mobile that is going to breakdown. I am not selling body wraps that I know are GARBAGE and have no real long term effect. I sell a higher quality of life through fitness. We are all in a position to “sell” one of the most alluring, sought after “products” in the world and still I see people not delivering their skills with the respect it deserves. Sales requires 1.) knowing your product inside and out 2.) hearing your potential clients needs 3.) deciding if you have what they are looking for. If you determine that you CAN lead them down the path of success, the challenge is confidently explaining your value. Up front will be the most difficult, as so far your potential clients have to take your word for it. This is where testimonials are handy, but not necessary. One you acquire a client, you *MUST* demonstrate your value. This is our industry specific “customer service.” There are a number of sales strategies which I will not get into. The important take away here is that you have one and are confident in executing this.
Legal Awareness: This is one of the most underrated parts of probably any industry, but ESPECIALLY the fitness industry. Perhaps its the laid back nature of fitness culture, the growing online presence, or the zero-barrier entry to the field, but the fitness industry is littered with potential legal nightmares. On one end, we have the more obvious legal blah blah blah: membership contracts/rules/regulations/non-compete contracts/exclusivity contracts. All of those are fairly straight forward and understandable. However, there is an entire secondary set of legal awareness that applies to your actions. For example, if you worked for a professional or collegiate sports team and then branched off on your own to train, its likely that you are not allowed to leverage your high-level coaching experience as a marketing tactic. A more common legal liability lies with everyday shit talk. While it seems like publicly dogging your competition may get you ahead, it can actually lead you to serious legal consequence. Before penning your own line of “YOUR TRAINER/GYM/COACH SUCKS, WE ARE BETTER” articles, consider speaking with a legal adviser about the risk of libel/slander/harrassment within your content. Better yet, make your marketing/educational material focus a bit more on the positives of your product as opposed to forcing a comparison of other products. IF you feel that a direct-call out is absolutely necessary, first take a draft of your idea to a legal professional. Before I leave this subject, one thing I cannot stress enough: if you do not have a trusted legal adviser, get one.
Financial Management: There are very few “salary based” training positions, and frankly I cannot imagine why someone would stunt their own earning potential with such an arrangement. While there are many different angles to attack that statement from, let me offer you a snap shot of what your training career likely will resemble: you make a decent to great hourly, have a flexible schedule, and are able to increase or decrease your work hours as you please. This sort of freedom comes at the price of requiring budgeting skills, as a commission based paycheck can vary from season to season. My first bit of advice would be to create a business plan each year that should allow for sustainable income generation. This requires looking at historical trends in training revenue and supplementing the low times with a secondary offering. That supplemental can really vary: maybe you offer a camp, a clinic, or spend the time continuing your education or preparing for future business decisions. Once you have an income that you can live on, I suggest hiring a financial adviser of sorts to help you plan for the future of not only your career, but your families well being. I will be the first to admit, this is something I struggled with for years. Only with the help of those smarter than me did I manage to make a great life our of my good living.
Now, of course there are aspects to a career in training that involve having a clue of what you are doing. I am in NO WAY suggesting that the technical side of this industry doesn’t deserve attention. It absolutely does. However, the need to do so is such a point of discussion that we tend to forget to polish the skill sets that keep up afloat.