From One Trainer to Another

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Q:  Here’s a personal question for you:

Why did you decided to get out of the commercial gym setting and focus more on athletes?  I assume you still train everyday folks at your place but do you still focus on the same kind of movements?

I ask this b/c I am currently at Golds and I to say I hate it would be an understatement.  People sign up for training and they want a quick fix and most of the time it’s people who have never lifted a weight in their life or have crappy body mechanics.

Now, I know I have a TON to learn but I like to think that I am (ummm…how do I put this without sounding like a pompass ass?) “more educated” than most of the other trainers at the gym…..just an observation.  Anyway, I’d like to hear your thoughts on your experience and how you arrived at the fact that you were tired of beating your head against the wall with corporate owned facilities?

A:  Why did I decide to get out of the commercial gym setting?  Easy – common sense.  HA!  Okay, in all seriousness, this one’s a doozy, and something I definitely can’t do justice in one simple blog post.  That being the case, I’m going to take more of a serious tone with this one – so for those looking for the usual LOLs, you’re going to be disappointed.

As well, I’m going to jump around a bit – so hopefully my message doesn’t get lost in translation.

With that out of the way:

Believe me, as someone who’s “been there, done that” with regards to working in a commercial gym setting, I can definitely commiserate.  I worked in various commercial gyms early in my career (some good, mostly bad), and to be quite frank, I wouldn’t take any of it back because I honestly feel that those experiences made me a better trainer – and coach – in the long run.

Thing is, though, there was a little bit of luck in my case.  Don’t get me wrong, I feel I’ve worked my butt off to get where I’m at now – and, despite the contrary (and my joking around about it) I’ll be the first to admit that I have a loooooooooong ways to go before I achieve ninja status in this industry.

Yeah, yeah, I write for various sites like and, have appeared in Men’s Health several times, have a fairly successive blog, and can stop bullets with my pecs, but at the same time, I recognize that I have a shit-ton (read: a lot) more to learn and know that I have plenty of room for improvement.   Anyone who states otherwise – and I’ve heard people say it – is an asshat.

I remember walking into a room a few years ago where Gray Cook, Mike Boyle, Alwyn Cosgrove, Lee Taft, Pat Rigsby, Papa Smurf (kidding), and Stuart McGill were all talking shop.  Talk about a surreal moment where I literally felt like the dumbest person on Earth!   That put things into perspective for me.

I’m VERY lucky in that I was able to surround myself with very smart people early on in my career.  Not coincidentally, I owe A LOT to Eric (Cressey), as he’s been a huge mentor for me throughout the years – and, it just so happens that he’s one of my best friends, too.

I’m sure I’ve told this story in the past, but it was back in the fall of 2005 when Eric contacted me asking me if I’d be interested in moving out to CT.  He had just finished his Masters at UCONN and had started working at a local gym in Ridgefield.  He mentioned to me in passing that they were looking for another trainer and suggested that I look into it.

Long story short, I went out, interviewed, badda-bing, badda-boom, I nailed it, got the job, and a few weeks later, I left central NY.

Now, having already worked in corporate fitness for three years, as well as a local gym in Syracuse (Bally Total Fitness), I had my fair share of commercial gym nightmares.

Ridgefield Fitness Club (where I worked in CT), however, was completely different.  There, the owners (a husband and wife) “got it” and never placed any undue pressure on us to meet quotas or to hit specific numbers as far as selling training was concerned.  Instead, they took it upon themselves to hire quality trainers, which in turn, got their members results, which then led to members buying more training.  Weird how that works!

Moreover, I grew a lot as a trainer there.  I was surrounded by like-minded people who were eager to learn, shot ideas off one another, pushed me to get better, and were just amazing people through and through.  Like I said, it was a completely different scenario for me, and it was refreshing to work in an environment where teaching someone how to squat properly was emphasized more than BOSU ball bootcamps.

Alas, after a year, both Eric and myself decided to head to Boston.   I ended up getting a job at a swanky, high-end commercial gym in the heart of the city, and it was back to douchyville.  Much like you mentioned above, I had to deal with many of the same things you’re dealing with now – trainers who were more concerned with checking their text messages or looking at themselves in the mirror than actually paying attention to their client.

Note:  as luck would have it, I came across the above picture on Facebook this morning!

Granted, I’m not saying that that was the case with all the trainers there, but it was certainly more common than not.

In not so many terms, I wanted nothing more than to throw my face into an ax, but I made the best of it.  No matter where you go or where you work, you’re going to deal with un-motivated clients who are going to bitch and whine and feel that so long as they show up (if they show up at all) for their two sessions per week, they’re going to look beach ready in no time.

Of course, while some are quick to point the finger at you as to why they’re not getting results, you can point the finger at the other 166 hours during the week that they’re not under your supervision and crushing M & Ms at the office.  You’re not a babysitter – and so long as you can look yourself in the mirror and know you’ve done all you can to prepare said client for success than you’ve done your job.

If they’re not willing to listen, then that’s on them – not you.  You can’t beat yourself up about it.  On the flip side, though, if you can motivate the un-motivated, they’re like putty in your hands.

Thankfully, now, I don’t really have to worry about motivation most of the time.  Sure, I may have to kick some skulls in occasionally, but for the most part, people who walk through our doors at CP know what they’re getting themselves into – motivating people isn’t generally a problem.

Conversely, in many commercial settings (with few exceptions) you may have to take it upon yourself what type of clientele you “hire.”  When I was working as a personal trainer, I eventually got to a point where I basically interviewed any potential clients sent my way.

At first, I used to go out of my way to try to impress prospective clients with big words and glow sticks.  I’d bust out things like lower-cross syndrome, anterior pelvic tilt, reciprocal inhibition, glute medius this, quadratus lumborum that, crunches suck, yada yada yada, you know the drill.


At the end of the day, and this is something Mike Boyle has stressed repeatedly time and time again:

No one cares how much you know, until they know you care.

All I can say is that if you’re consistently getting your clients results, and you actually give a shit, they’ll reward you with their loyalty.  If not, fire them!

Granted, if you have bills to pay, and you need clients, that throws a monkey wrench into things.  But, once you’re at the point where you can fill your schedule with A and B clients (that is, those clients that show up religiously, do what you say, refer their friends, and are walking billboards for YOU); and you can dump your C and D clients (those that cancel all the time, always complain, never refer clients, and are otherwise walking balls of fail), your life will be infinitely more enjoyable.

It will take time, obviously.  But so long as you’re consistently trying to get better, networking, attending seminars, reading blogs, etc – it will happen.

Trying to wrap things up (this is longer than I expected), I’d highly suggest that you look into reading anything and everything by Thomas Plummer and Pat Rigsby.  Both do a fantastic job at discussing the business side of things, which sadly, is something I waited far too long to take advantage of.  Nonetheless, both are undoubtedly a wealth of knowledge in that regard.  Far more than myself to say the least!  I guess in the end, all I can say is that there is no definitive answer.   It takes time to establish and learn the ropes – but something tells me you’re far a head in the curve compared to most of your peers.

That said, I wouldn’t poo-poo on the fact that you train “regular folk” exclusively.  Trust me, athletes can be just as much of a pain in the ass as non-athletes – sometimes moreso when you consider the entitlement factor.

In the end, I don’t know if I even answered your question (I told you I as going to babble).  I knew I was going to get long-winded, but hopefully I was able to shed some light on the topic.  Heck, maybe I at least sparked some conversation amongst other fitness professionals that might chime in below in the comments section.  Anyone?



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Comments for This Entry

  • Chris Krattiger

    Just went through the exact same situation as the person who posed the question. Worked in a commercial gym for about 3 years. It wasn't too bad a first but as you start to learn more & form your own opinions on training, etc., you realize that most commercial gyms only care about one thing; money. Obviously we need a certain amount of income to stay in business, but priority #1 should be the client/athlete. To answer the question of how to get out of that environment, the easiest way is to just do it. See if you good clients that you have will move with you to a different facility, maybe a smaller one with less pressure on sales and one without members paying $5/month. Network with local sports teams, coaches, parents, athletes, other businesses, etc. as much as possible. If you really want to get out of that environment, you really just have to do it.

    May 6, 2011 at 8:46 am | Reply to this comment

  • Greg R

    Here is the hard love version: It's easy to criticize and complain. It's also completely unproductive. If "uneducated" trainers are enjoying the same job you have both from a financial and happiness standpoint then you have something to learn from them. When you do, and you couple it with the knowledge they don't have, you will be better than them. I commented about this to Tony a month or so ago: If you can get Mom's and Dad's to start deadlifting and squatting well you will have no problem getting athletes too. If you can motivate the unmotivated you will deliver unbelievable results to the committed. Along the way you will continue to add tools to the shed (*note not kids). A shed full of tools is ready for any job

    May 6, 2011 at 8:50 am | Reply to this comment

  • Cian

    Top class post its almost like you were speaking directly to me (and im sure alot of others will feel the same!) especially after i heard someone give out about not losing much weight since last week and ask could they do an ''easier session'' all in the one sentence!! can i borrow your face axe please!?? great post though, thanks!

    May 6, 2011 at 8:58 am | Reply to this comment

  • Greg R

    I'll add this, it applies to a lot: "hard start, easy finish. Easy start, hard finish"

    May 6, 2011 at 9:18 am | Reply to this comment

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ Greg: sound advice my man. Sometimes, whenever I look to see what others wrote in the comment section, I think to myself "Damn, I wish I thought of that!" Either way, thanks for chiming in!

    May 6, 2011 at 9:36 am | Reply to this comment

  • Jonathan Pope

    I went through the same experience as Tony. The turning point for me was deciding to change my attitude. Instead of wasting time and energy being annoyed by unmotivated clients I sought out and surrounded myself by motivated people and got them great results. I started out training motivated clients for discount or free; doing whatever it took. The point is, if you create a great, results driven environment, you will attract the clients that you want.

    May 6, 2011 at 10:26 am | Reply to this comment

  • Emily

    As always, great post. Love the pic of the trainer and his phone. He is really giving his client A+ service. Another note, persistence + patience = progress. A very hard concept for some trainees, even some trainers. It is all about keeping it consistent. Thanks again!

    May 6, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Reply to this comment

  • JB

    Heard this from the Cosgroves a couple of weeks ago "At Results fitness our motto is 'We are the best part of our client's day, every day.'" Clients come to us for grown up playtime.. they come for results too, but it's gotta be a good time (possibly in a holy sh*tsnacks I can't believe I lived through that kind of way.. but still a good time) Anyone who thinks otherwise hasn't worked with many people. Yes, there are dipsticks, but if you come in with a bad attitude every client is going to be a dipstick. Want to train athletes? turn your soccer-moms into athletes.

    May 6, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Jose C Silva

    Not that you're hard up for blog ideas, but how about [ a post | a few posts | a continuing series of posts ] with some of those commercial gym stories, Mr. T?

    May 6, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Joaquin G

    I've turned down jobs at globo gyms when on day one I was told I had to sell "x" amount of supplements a day. I'm lucky that I've found a gig I can dig. Granted i'm not training high level collegiate athletes anymore I'm training/teaching grade school kids and people fresh off physical therapy. Granted it's completely different groups I actually have the most fun training anyone wanting to work hard. What truly matters is YOUR attitude and how you bring it to work. I've now built an awesome group of clients of just everyday people and i'm loving it and making alright money. So back to the main part, if you have the mindset for it clients will find you through word of mouth or etc. Your situation might suck but make the most of it or look elsewhere.

    May 6, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Donovan

    I too have gone through this. Recently, a client of mine decided to up and leave a session after getting frustrated from an overall bad day and after one year of working with them has decided to part ways. I hate to say it, but they were quite possibly the worst client I've ever had: terrible attitude, doesn't talk, doesn't listen, does what they want, and has no regard for the program I built for her based upon her wants and needs. Needless to say, it was a horrible last 6 months. She now works with a buddy of mine and is much better off and I'm happy for her. Such is life. It was the worse thing I've ever experienced in my 4 years of training, but I remembered a blog post by Jason Ferruggia that also had this experience which gave me comfort. As awesome as he is, even he had to fire one of his (past)clients for the simple fact that it wasn't working out. Personally, I don't believe in creating motivation for the client. Motivation comes from within. As a trainer I can't tell my clients they want to lose 30 lbs or bench 225, they have to want it. Those who do, will see results and feel great. So don't feel bad for firing that one client, you will have improved many more driven and worthy individuals along the way. For me, they're the real reason why I love my job.

    May 7, 2011 at 7:47 am | Reply to this comment

  • Gwen

    I don't think I have much else to add to all of this. Everyone has their personal preferences on what kind of clientele they enjoy training. Training everyday folks can be FANTASTIC or they can suck the life right out of's a give and take. I prefer to stay away from the energy suckers but I like your idea of "screening" your potential clients. I guess, at the end of the day, if you know that you've helped at least ONE person then you've succeeded. Great insight everyone!

    May 7, 2011 at 8:27 am | Reply to this comment

  • JMJ

    I workout at a commercial gym, I've seen the "uninterested trainer on the celly" while training clients all the time. Pretty much daily. Or it's the trainer with arms crossed just counting reps, sad

    May 8, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Domenic

    While not working at a globo-gym, I'm in a bad situation myself. I'll go through the list. Sessions cost an average of 60 dollars per. Trainers get $20 per session. However, we are encouraged to "double up" our clients. When we "double up" or train two, three or even four clients at the same time, we then get 13 dollars for each additional client after the first. However, each client is STILL paying the full $60. The only way you can get $20 per client is to do 40 doubles in a pay period which is two weeks. I've not once got this double booked "bonus". Because I actually care about the clients I pair up. So this means if I train two clients in an hour, the gym takes in $120, and I get $33 of that. On top of that, the gym takes forever to fix things and I have even had to start buying kettlebells, bands and most recently, a new dip belt just so i can train my clients properly. I started implementing exercises from Show and Go recently and now the rest of the gym is doing them, despite the fact that none of the other trainers do any continuing education or research. I understand what Greg R said above, and that type of thing is very tough to hear, even though it is true. Personal training is one of the only industries that the client themselves cannot be a good judge of whether they are getting what they are paying for or not, thus personal trainers abuse their clients. Of course you'll know it when you do have a great trainer like Tony, but will you know when you have a bad one? I've tried to buck this system, not being able to control my temper, telling my boss and the owner of the gym that there were specifically two of the other trainers that were terrible and that these two make about double what I make and are still doing "hungarian squats". He actually agreed with me saying that I did deserve to be paid more than them, but there was nothing he could do. Its a mixture of stupidity and necessity that got me in this predicament, but I've made the best of it learning and becoming a much better trainer, sure I haven't reaped the financial rewards of that yet, but I will. My advice is to stay the course and realize that someone else somewhere has it much worse than you, which goes for myself as well. Learn all you can, build your business and take it from there. One thing training in a commercial gym will teach you is that with that many terrible trainers out there, good trainers who are interested in what they do will always have the opportunity, at some point to make a good and enjoyable living.

    May 9, 2011 at 5:42 am | Reply to this comment

  • Greg R

    Domenic, You need to communicate your value. You can't (at the immediate moment) change what your cut is. However, you stated yourself "Personal training is one of the only industries that the client themselves cannot be a good judge of whether they are getting what they are paying for or not, thus personal trainers abuse their clients. Of course you'll know it when you do have a great trainer like Tony, but will you know when you have a bad one?" Tony is a great trainer, but he isn't exactly a household name. Either is Mike Boyle, Eric Cressey, Alwyn Cosgrove or any other name that makes someone like you or I stand at attention. That being said he communicates his value pretty damn well. Here we are on his blog. Go check out the testimonial section. Then peruse the articles, and for a quick fix look to your right and check the icons of publications he is featured in. I'm sold. Telling your manager two other trainers are terrible is unprofessional. You lost your temper, ok...I've been there. I have criticized as well. I learned the hard way that a) I have no right criticizing anyone. b) As I stated, that gets me nowhere. Furthermore, making enemies in your workplace is not productive at all. At the moment more than half the trainers I work with have paid me for advice. When they use "your" exercises offer a quick tip on correcting their poor implementation, explain the benefit of a wall ankle mob. As you do, you continually express your value. You're always being watched as Tony has mentioned before. When you're leading a demo to three other trainer on correcting squat form and members see adds value. Other ideas: Websites, newsletters, workshops, free class, blog, articles, TESTIMONIALS. People buy things from people they like. Communicate your value, be yourself, and remember that ultimately they are buying sessions from YOU. They need to know you care.

    May 9, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Domenic

    Greg, I know where your coming from and like I said earlier, your right. Its a tough pill to swallow in my current situation but I know I will look back on it and wish I had done things differently with respect to bad mouthing other trainers. Its tough when they are making twice what you make and spending no time, effort or money on improving themselves or the workplace like I am, its not about it being my exercise just the inequity in knowledge, and I value knowledge a great deal. Anyhow I get it. Your right about expressing the value as well I have no problem getting clients in fact I have been turning them away because I've hit the threshold where getting $20 a session is only worth it up to a point, after that its a waste of time. I'm moving myself soon I just cant keep my mouth shut thats my issue which I need to fix. Thanks for the advice your correct man. I'm a stubborn bastard.

    May 9, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ Domenic and Greg: GREAT discussion fellas, really! Greg's like some personal training advice Gandalf or something.

    May 10, 2011 at 4:39 am | Reply to this comment

  • nat

    a) I saw Greg doing bicep curls. b) as a VERY stereotypical sucker-treadmill gym-go-er converted, I can say that I have SUCH AMAZING respect for those trainers that are able to motivate the unmotivated - and, as I like to consider myself, the "directionally challenged". I am always SO beyond happy to see trainers who are doing legit sessions at commercial gyms. We real people need some good guidance too! And, to be honest, learning the ropes with lifting changed my life - I never in a million years would have been motivated to get into this without some serious (read: A LOT OF SERIOUS) guidance :). c) Hi Tony! i miss you! 4) why do I have to keep telling you what colors things are????

    May 10, 2011 at 7:45 am | Reply to this comment

  • Greg R

    I have way bigger biceps than Gandalf, please.

    May 10, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Alex Scott

    Great post Tony! Addressed a lot of issues/feelings I've been having starting out in commercial gym settings. Excellent discussion below as well. Keep up the good work fellas

    May 11, 2011 at 4:28 am | Reply to this comment

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