What I Learned from 15,000 Training Sessions in a Commercial Gym

Working in a health club is often regarded as a dead end for ambitious trainers. But in the right circumstances, you can build a multifaceted career and develop an international following while working for someone else.It’s viewed as an entry-level, low-paying, micromanaged position. It’s looked down upon by trainers who work independently or at private studios. Many trainers would rather give up their entire protein supply than work in one.None of those things are true in my experience.I worked in a commercial facility in Edmonton, Alberta, for close to 14 years, and only recently left for reasons I’ll explain in a moment. During those 14 years, I built a pretty solid career and list of accomplishments. At the same time, I helped my fellow trainers earn more and learn more, while also—and this point is important—helping the bottom line of the company we all worked forHere’s some of the stuff I did: Brought in close to $2 million in personal-training revenue. That put me in the top five in company sales for 11 years.

Trained over 15,000 sessions with clients. Appeared in dozens of print and online publications, taught workshops around the world, and had speaking opportunities with some of the best-known organizations in fitness, all with the blessings of the company. Developed and expanded the company’s continuing-education program for its trainers.* Developed a medical advisory board for allied health professionals, which served two important goals: They helped educate our trainers, and also referred their patients to us for exercise programs.* Certified close to 300 trainers, some of whom worked alongside me at the club.

Some of the things I did were specific to my situation, and may not be possible for you. Different gyms have different rules. My goal is to show you some of the opportunities I found that you may not have considered, opportunities to increase your own income while also making your employers happy. Happy employers are more likely to give you the fitness career freedom you need to build your business and expand your personal brande.I know this seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how often trainers fail to connect the dots.Consider the employer’s view:When a gym hires a trainer with little to no experience, all the risk is on the employer. The trainer doesn’t have to worry about overhead expenses, like the cost of putting a roof over your head, filling a room with commercial-grade equipment, and keeping the lights on and water running.

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The employer takes care of insurance, payroll, and whatever it costs to get people in the door for you to train. If the trainer does something stupid, it’s the company that gets sued.That’s why they take such a large cut of every session your clients pay for. You earn a higher percentage of those fees when your clients get good results and you get more clients. It’s like any other field. You start at the bottom and earn more when you produce more.While that’s a good arrangement for new trainers, more experienced fitness pros may need more room for professional and personal growth. I know I did. That’s why I came up with so many ways to expand my role at the gym. Some worked, some didn’t.I’ll spare you examples of the latter, except to say that when a proposal was rejected, it failed to satisfy these three criteria:What’s in it for the company? Does it help the owners make money while making a difference in the lives of their members and clients? Does it fit their core values?
What will it cost? And whom will it affect? Does it require administration from managers who may already be overworked? Will it need buyin from multiple departments, each of which has its own (limited) budget and priorities?What does it do for the members? Does it improve the user experience in a measurable way, help the company get more members, or at least give the existing members a reason to stay?Now let’s look at some of the ways I was able to make more money both inside and outside the club, all without ticking off management.

I started training before Facebook and YouTube existed. If I wanted clients to do exercises on their own, I would make picture cards for visual reference.If your artistic skills transcend stick figures and smiley faces, go nuts. If not, do the modern equivalent by making videos and writing blog posts. It’s incredibly easy, and your clients can’t lose them on you.With drawings or videos, the goal is the same: to give my clients stuff to work on between workouts, or when I couldn’t train them in person.When you do this while representing your company, it can have far-reaching benefits.The biggest benefit goes to you: Your videos, blog posts, and Facebook chats work as a feeder system into in-person and online training, consultations, and writing and speaking opportunities. All of those things increased my income significantly, to the point where today in-person training is roughly 30 percent of my professional income.They also gave me a library of stuff I could refer to without having to reshoot it. Back in the analog days I could share the same picture cards with 50 clients. Today I can share YouTube videos with everyone—clients, gym members, other trainers, and even the media. (Editors love having videos of the exercises you contribute to their articles. It makes their jobs a lot easier, and reduces the number of words they have to write to explain the movements.)When your company shares your content—with your permission—you not only become more valuable to them by providing a benefit to their members, you also get new business from clients who wouldn’t have thought to train with you.