Wednesday, August 5, 2009

So You Want To Be A Personal Trainer?

Awesome! (Yes, Mike, I'm talking to you :))

It's a noble calling, or it can be. We live in a society that's affluent in so many ways, yet impoverished in others. Because of labor-saving technology we move less than any previous generation, yet we consume more empty calories because of modern farming practices and food production methods that have stripped our food supply of much of its nutritional value. Because of our unhealthy lifestyle rates of obesity are skyrocketing across all age groups, but especially in the young. Obesity-related illnesses such as Type II diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease are reaching epidemic proportions, wiping out savings and ruining lives ... or ending them prematurely. The only solution is to get people moving again and eating better, and that's exactly what we trainers do. Let me tell you: it feels great to be part of the solution and not part of the problem!

But before you quit your day job, Mike (or anyone else who is considering a career change), there are some things you should consider. First, the money sucks. There's definitely money to be made in the fitness industry, but not by working as a trainer. You need to have your own business, with trainers working for you. That can happen, but first you need to get experience and a reputation for excellence, and the best way to do that is either by working for someone else (who will keep most of what you make in exchange for client referrals and/or the use of his or her facility) or by training people basically for free. Working with people one on one is definitely a losing proposition from a monetary standpoint simply because there are a limited number of hours in the day, so give some thought to how you can make group personal training work. Or consider whether you'd be willing to offer classes. Bootcamps are popular because they tend not to require a lot of equipment, so they're low overhead. If you live in an area where it's possible to exercise outdoors year round you might not even need studio space to run a bootcamp business. Anyway, definitely think in terms of multiple revenue streams to augment your income from personal training.

(I freely admit I don't think about this stuff much because it makes my head hurt, but if I had children who were human as opposed to feline I certainly would.)

And speaking of children ... it can be hard to have a normal family life if you work as a trainer because your busy times tend to be the crack of dawn, the late afternoon and evening, and the weekends. If you work for a facility that offers daycare, or if you train people in their homes, you can fill up some of the daytime hours with SAHM clients, and then of course there are retirees, restaurant industry workers, and strippers who will prefer to train during the day. But if you're serious about making money as a trainer you need to resign yourself to working odd hours and not getting to spend as much time with your family as you might like, at least until your business is established. Of course that's true of most jobs: the early years are the hardest.

Also, are you a patient person? If so, good, because your clients will drive you insane at times. They will have unrealistic expectations. They will have preconceptions they won't want to give up. They will be all for training with you until you quote them your rate, and then their interest will evaporate like the morning dew. If you work for a gym they will try to talk you into training them under the table so they don't have to pay as much. They will offer you services instead of payment. This can work out okay if you're in business for yourself and it's an equal trade, but often it's not. They may be disrespectful in a variety of ways. (Hint: wear your wedding band at all times. If you don't wear a band, get one.)

Basically, people are weird about their bodies, and as a trainer you are going to have to deal with the ramifications of that weirdness. Often they've got all kinds of shame and guilt keeping them from making rational decisions about self-care. If you can help just a few of them get rid of that burden of shame, it's a beautiful beautiful thing and makes it all 200% worthwhile. But there inevitably are going to be people you can't reach, and when that happens it can be depressing.

If you do decide to proceed, be aware that neither ACE nor NASM requires a college degree. In fact, I think the only certification that does require a degree is ACSM. ACSM is probably the most prestigious certification and it's the one I would have gone for except that my degree is in history, not exercise science or a related field. NASM is probably "best of the rest." ACE will give you a thorough grounding in anatomy and physiology but isn't so helpful when it comes to program design. Where NASM really shines is in teaching trainers to spot and correct dysfunctional movement patterns so clients can exercise and perform activities of daily living with less likelihood of injury. The whole area of corrective exercise and "prehabilitation" is huge, what with so many people leading sedentary lifestyles. Basically they need to be gotten in shape to exercise!

I could go on and on (big surprise there, huh?) but I've probably given you enough food for thought for now. I'm hoping some of my other trainer friends (you know who you are!) chime in with their perspective on personal training as a career.