An Open Letter to (New) Fitness Professionals

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I know for some this may come across as nothing more than me playing the role of some ornery old man yelling at you to get off his damn lawn.

And it some ways, you’re correct.

I like to think, though, that after 12 years of doing what I do, logging thousands of coaching hours, writing for various fitness publications, speaking all over North America (but going global later this year!), and helping to run a thriving training facility, that I may know a thing or two about what it takes to become “successful” in this industry.

I’ve noticed a trend of other people tossing up their two-cents up on the interwebz lately, giving their sage advice to upcoming trainers and coaches, and I figured I’d take the opportunity to toss my hat into the circle too.

– Try to get eight to nine hours of sleep every night (good luck doing this if you’re an entrepreneur).

– Don’t be an asshole.

And there you go. Follow those two rules and you’re golden.  You’re welcome.

Okay, I’m kidding…..but in some ways I’m not.  Consistent, quality sleep is HUGE. And I try my best not to be an asshole in everyday life – I don’t flip out and get all “road ragey” if someone doesn’t move their car within 1/100th of second of a light turning green, I pay my taxes, I hold the door open for people, and I always make sure to put the toilet seat down.

It seems to be working well.

In all seriousness, what follows (in no particular order) are a few off-the-cuff remarks and insights that, in my experience, many upcoming personal trainers and strength coaches should follow or adopt.

Lets just address the “well, duh!”one’s first:  be punctual and show up on time, dress like a professional (trust me:  no one is impressed by your tribal tattoo on your upper arm. Stop wearing cut-off shirts to train clients), smile, wear deodorant (smelly), don’t be a Creepy McCreepypants and be all “touchy feely” with your female clients only to ignore your male clients, write PROGRAMS not workouts, be attentive, shakes are one thing, but don’t eat a meal while training a client, and would it kill you to call you mom every now and again?

1.  Understand That You’re Going to Suck At First.  Like, A lot

When I graduated college and started my internship (and subsequent first job), I thought I knew everything there was to know about training people.

I read all the books I was told to read, wrote all the papers I was told to write, took all the tests I was told to take, and graduated Magna Cum Laude, thank you very much.

Besides I had been lifting weights since I was 13, played four years of college baseball, and had a six pack.  Come on…..I got this!

I was one cool cat.

That is until I had a real, live person plopped down in front of me and was told to take her through an assessment and write a program.

[Cue crickets chirping]

I panicked.  I fumbled over my words.  I had sweaty palms.  I was a mess.

Thankfully I got through the session in one piece and didn’t set the clients hair on fire or anything.  It was then, at the tail end of that first session, when I knew I didn’t know jack shit.

In some ways, twelve years later, I feel I still don’t.

I am grateful for my undergraduate experience, as I’m sure many of you are. That said: no book or paper or lecture or test prepares you for what happens in REAL life.

I embraced my suckage and took it upon myself to grow each day, week, month, and year.

Experience and DOING IT is the best way to learn and get better.  And that comes with time.

Likewise, speaking for myself: I made a concerted effort to read everything (ie” not textbooks) I could get my hands on (articles, websites, blogs), attended seminars, and started to develop my own network of other fitness professionals.

I didn’t do it alone.  I sought out help!

You’re going to suck at first.  How and how fast you improve is up to you.

2.  Placing Too Much Precedence on Letters Over Experience

We’ve all seen it before: Someone hands you their card and they have the entire alphabet following their name.

Joe Schmo, MS, CPT, CSCS, USAW, AT, CrossFit – Level II, World of WarCraft (Honorable Kills: 47+)

In addition, these are also the same people who hand you their resume and list every seminar they’ve attended since 2006.

I’m not knocking this, especially considering what I mentioned above.

But it’s a dangerous precedent when someone becomes more infatuated with adding letters next to their name than they are in actually coaching people.

In the grand scheme of things, letters don’t really mean anything.

Collect those letters, if that’s important to you……..but don’t downplay the important of experience.

 

3.  You’re Not Going to Train Professional Athletes on Day One

I can’t tell you how many guys and girls enter the industry under the impression they’ll be training professional athletes on their first day, as if some head strength coach is going to casually hand over a million dollar arm to a newbie with no experience and who got a C- in Exercise Physiology.

Um, no.  It’s not gonna happen. You’re more likely to look out your window right now and see a Centaur fighting a T-Rex.

I don’t know why this is the case, but many incoming trainers and coaches throw their noses in the air at the thought of training “regular” people. As if it’s beneath them.

Let me tell you a cold, hard, FACT:  those “regular” people help pay the bills.  And, as Pete Dupuis, fellow Co-Founder and Business Manager of Cressey Performance wrote in THIS excellent post, they’re often the most rewarding people to train.

Besides, there aren’t many people who “make it” training professional athletes alone.

4. Not Having a Website

It’s today’s digital age, you’d be crazy not to have a website or “home-base” to direct people to who want to seek out your services.

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy – especially in the beginning – but it should have a Bio, Services Offered, Testimonials, and if you have it, a Media Page highlighting any local or national exposure you’ve received (articles written or appeared in, Podcasts, etc).

You can easily set one up for FREE.  I’d suggest going through WordPress.

As an aside, a website could also serve as another source of revenue stream.  Listen, no one enters a “service industry” and expects to be making a six-figure salary. It rarely happens.

That said, running a popular and successful website can morph into a decent passive revenue stream if done correctly. It often takes YEARS to happen, but things like affiliate sales, distance coaching services, as well as writing and speaking opportunities can manifest over time.

We’re getting a little a head of ourselves, though. The objective of a website is to pimp and to give people easy access to YOU and what you’re all about.

5.  Stop Making Things So Damn Complicated

During my commercial gym training years I used to chuckle at some of things I’d see. Watching some of the other trainers train their clients would oftentimes be more entertaining than going to a matinee at the local theater.

I’d see 45 year old women jumping back and forth on BOSU balls, guys bench pressing with chains (with ONLY chains), and many, many, MANY other comical things under the supervision of a trainer.

I don’t fault some trainers for doing this.  When you’re part of an establishment with 70 other trainers, anything you can do to garner attention and separate yourself from the masses is going to enter the equation.

I’d argue, though, that the BEST thing to develop more leads and to gain more business is to get people RESULTS!

Even back in the day, my mantra was to get my clients really, really good at squatting, deadlifting, push-ups, rows, chin-ups, single leg work, and carries.

Of course, much of this assumes you know how to COACH these things well, which is an entire different discussion altogether.

Even so, stop making things so complicated! Focus on the basics, get your clients really good at doing the basics, and I PROMISE you’ll have all the business you’d ever want.

6. Not Walking the Walk

One of my biggest pet peeves when I worked in the commercial gym setting was listening to some (key word: some) brag about how hammered they got the night prior.  Mind you, these conversations were going on right before meeting up with clients.  Worse, they’d be conversations WITH clients.

I never quite understood this.

What kind of message does this send to the client?

“I know you’re paying me upwards of $70, $80, $100+ per session to help get you healthier, but before we do that let me tell you all about how I couldn’t walk up the stairs to my apartment last night!”

Similarly, on several occasions I’ve heard stories of how some trainers and coaches don’t even train themselves!

This is absurd.

Would you hire a lawyer who didn’t pass the Bar Exam?  Would you take advice from a financial planner who declared bankruptcy?

I know this will come across as harsh, but if you’re a trainer or coach……fucking lift some weights!!!

I’m not one of those people who feels one has to LOOK the part (although, it definitely helps), as there are a plethora of guys and girls out there with impressive physiques who are about as intelligent as a ham sandwich.  At the very least you should be practicing what you preach.

You should be exercising – especially if you’re paid to show other people how to do it.

  • http://www.KarenGoeller.com/ Karen Goeller

    Well written… I hope many new trainers read this!!! I’ve been training people since BEFORE there were fitness certifications… LOL

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks Karen.

  • Mike Anderson

    “bar exam”. i see what you did there.

    • TonyGentilcore

      I heart you….;o)

  • Brandon S.

    Very well written, Tony! This all couldn’t be more true. I’m still trying to work my way up, and all these things you’ve listed have helped see me good returns thus far. I just need to continue to build on it OVER TIME, like you mentioned. Thank you for the good read.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Glad it resonated with you Brandon.

  • Shelley Cook

    Great post :) I always enjoy reading your stuff. Really looking forward to your presentation in Kansas City next weekend, oh, and thanks for being a “good guy”.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Well, I try….;o) And see you next weekend. I’m excited for the Fitness Summit!

  • George Kalantzis

    Well said sir! Well said! Always count on these motivational posts to get me through the long days.

    • TonyGentilcore

      You, sir, are the man. You’re going to be just fine.

  • Dean Montague

    A great article and it is good to hear tips from trainers you highly respect. Reading stuff from you and others at CP has made me a better coach than I ever imagined (and I still have a long way to go!)

    I would say to anyone that is trying to alter their mindset and change their old habits in the industry (like me) to not let your lack of knowledge or experience stop you and keep an open mind. It takes time to get good but it’s rewarding to see yourself improve!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks for the kind words Dean. I really appreciate it.

  • http://tomnikkola.com/ Tom Nikkola

    Well said Tony. I’d have to say #6 is good for new and old fitness professionals alike. So often, they let their client schedule overrun their personal workout time and resort to a “fit it in when I can” mentality that they’d never accept for their clients.

    • TonyGentilcore

      I understand that we’re all busy, but when a trainer says he or she never has time to train I want to call BS.

      You WORK in a gym. What excuse could you possibly have????

      • http://tomnikkola.com/ Tom Nikkola

        Amen

  • http://thenaterogersblueprint.co.uk Nathan Clay Rogers

    Awesome article with some great advice and yes I really did suck at first. I cringe when I look back at my first ever coaching session.

    • TonyGentilcore

      I do too Nathan! I think we’ve all been there. Glad you enjoyed the article, and thanks for the kind words.

  • http://thefitink.com/ Roland Denzel

    Sometimes I feel like I’m being punked when I watch the trainers at my local 24Hour.

    • TonyGentilcore

      You and me both Roland. Every time I travel and end up working out at a local commercial gym I can’t help but observe the trainers. It’s abysmal the stuff I tend to see happening.

  • Mike Campbell

    Great stuff as always Tony. Simplicity and practicing what you preach, two massive ones in my eyes

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks Mike – really appreciate the kind words. Especially coming from a Best Selling author…..;o)

      Congrats!

      • Mike Campbell

        Ain’t no thing, err’bodies doin it

  • Jon_PTDC

    I heard that there’s a website for trainers to get better too. Not sure where I heard it from.

    Oh, I also heard that it’s awesome.

    • Shane Mclean

      Doesn’t all trainers know about you by now Jon :)?

    • TonyGentilcore

      Shit. I know Jon. Once I posted it up on my site I slapped myself in the forehead and realized I could have sent it your way.

      Well, I saw that you included it on your Best Reads of the Week List, so thanks for that.

  • Matthew Woodard

    Haha. I read “..sleep…don’t be an asshole (my fav saying at work).., put the toilet seat down..” And had to double check that I wasn’t writing. I work at a commercial gym, so I’m particularly fond of 2, 5, and getting hammered stories. I would’ve added 7. If you’re clients aren’t getting results, it’s always the trainers fault. So quit complaint about how worthless they are and fucking change something. Great post!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Oh, snap!! Love that last point you made. So true!

  • Shane Mclean

    Great observations. I remember number 1. I did suck at first .2 I do need a website. 3. Being a good coach and having real world experience beats letters everytime.
    By the way love the Middle pic with Brick.

  • Mike Barbot

    Excellent post. I can appreciate honest tips on training. To be at least a good trainer we need to practice what we preach and many out there do not.

    • danielzavalafitness.tumblr.com

      I think it comes down to setting the right example for our clients. And i think its important to try anything new on myself, so i know where it hurts so good, before i have anyone else perform the exercise.

  • Donovan Gary Alan

    Yes.

  • Jess Mather

    YES, yes and YES! The same goes for the profession of physical therapy, which I’m working a lot more in these days. Know the basics (anatomy, anatomy, anatomy, even if it means dreaming about the damn stuff,) be able to teach or instruct well to your patient/client (patience, professionalism, and small progressive steps at a time,) and never stop learning and growing. My boss is ridiculously smart and will randomly ask me things at work like, “Jess, explain to me how a muscle contracts on a physiological level,” or the tricky question of, “what are the lats role in relation to the lumbar spine?” He’s tough on me, but gives me that extra push to continually improve myself as a healthcare (AND fitness) professional. So important and invaluable! Great blog post!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks Jess, and couldn’t agree with more all on aspects!

  • kqriley

    Great piece! I felt like a total knucklehead with my first client, but somehow I kept her and have trained her through two pregnancies and one postpartum recovery (second pregnancy-twins! is due in 2 weeks) Luckily, I had a great mentor and stuck to basics. The only thing I would add to what you have written is to keep learning. Mandatory continuing education is the minimum. Read everything! Go to as many GOOD fitness conferences as you can!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Right on! I always stress continuing ed, and I’m pissed off that I didn’t say anything in the post. I guess I take it for granted and just assume that everyone feels it’s an obvious component………when, clearly, it’s not. Oops.

    • danielzavalafitness.tumblr.com

      So true: you can never stop learning. Thats one thing that I love about training is that I’m always learning something new. I feel like as a personal trainer, i get paid to do the research for my clients who may not have the time to do ten selves, then educate them so that they can make the right decisions for their goals.

  • Lee Boyce

    YES.

  • Vanessa

    Such good info. I’m not a personal trainer yet, but I’m absorbing as much info as I can, and trying out fitness internships to gain some experience. Bookmarking this page for future reference. Thanks! :)

    • danielzavalafitness.tumblr.com

      Keep learning and stay current with exercise science, actively listen to what clients goals are and remember to be empathetic to there limitations.

  • danielzavalafitness.tumblr.com

    NIce work, love the pics to add humor to your post. Everything you said about being professional and having a passion for what you do is so true; its mind boggling that people will pay an absurd amount of money for a trainer that doesn’t set the right, health lifestyle, examples. Its so important to keep things relevant and current and to help your clients get the best results possible. Results = success! for both parties. look forward to reading more and truing more

    • danielzavalafitness.tumblr.com

      training more*

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks for the kind words.

  • Amy Melissa

    I love this. Thank you.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks – glad you liked it!

  • Sandra Hey

    Well written and some sage advice! Thanks! Only one comment, and it is more a personal observation than a criticism. With regards your last point. I agree with you, however I had only been training clients for a couple of years when I got a whiplash injury that severely impacted my flexibility and ability to adopt a neutral spine position among many others. Not being keen to load myself up in that state my training suffered and returning to your last point, I completely lost my confidence in my ability to train others when I felt I couldn’t even train myself. It has set my business back hard and I am only just getting my confidence back now. I don’t think I know any less than I did before about training others (although it is still early days for me so yes, I still suck!) but I guess that whole train yourself as well if you train others just hit a nerve for me a bit, as I took it to heart as a trainer and have paid for it.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Well, Sandra, that’s an extenuating circumstance I believe. I sorry that you had the accident, and I hope you’re well on your way to a full recovery! Keep doing what you’re doing, as I have no doubts you’re helping a lot of people get better.

      • Sandra Hey

        Thanks! It is finally improving. And a definite up side is that I think it has made me a better trainer as I am a lot more conscious of both my own and my client’s alignment and that sometimes, no matter how much they may want to, a particular movement may just be beyond them, so find something that isn’t and do that instead!

  • Hannah Tooley

    Awesome :) Great article!