5 Mistakes I Made as a Trainer and Coach That You Should Avoid

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Here’s a little TG trivia for all of you: it was never my intention to become a personal trainer or strength coach. That wasn’t my game plan at least.  Nope, my game plan, and what I went to school for, was to become a health teacher.

Bachelor’s degree in Health Education, thank you very much.

Well, actually, my real game plan all along was to become a professional baseball player, sign on with the Oakland Athletics, and become an honorary member of The Bash Brothers alongside Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco.

Growing up I had the exact same poster you see to the left hanging on my wall in my bedroom, and I can’t even begin to tell you how many hours I spent outside in my side yard hitting a baseball back and forth pretending to be a Major Leaguer hitting a 3-2 fastball to win game 7 of the World Series.

By my count I think I won roughly 5,974 Game 7s. Not too shabby!

Moreover there wasn’t any point throughout the year where I wasn’t playing a sport or game of some sort.  Wiffleball, basketball, kickball, football, tennis, swimming, cops and robbers, duck-duck-goose, you name it, I played it.

All of this to say I was a very active kid growing up.  “Fitness,” even though I didn’t know any better back then, was always a part of my life.

I got my first weight training set when I was 13 or 14 (Santa dropped it off one Christmas), and I remember setting up shop downstairs in my parent’s basement, slapping the poster on a wooden beam, and religiously following the diagrams with the muscly dude (who wore really short shorts) to a “T” every other day until I entered high school and had access to a real weight room.

All throughout my high school career, I’d stay after school to lift weights for 45-60 minutes and then take the “late” bus home which ended up being another 45-60 minute bus ride.  During that time I’d sit there, usually alone, and day dream about playing college baseball while jamming a softball between my fingers which I ascertained would make it easier to grip a baseball to throw a forkball (which, coincidentally enough, was the go to pitch of Oakland A’s ace, Dave Stewart).

I could easily sit here and go on and on about my high school (and college!) baseball playing days, but I’ll spare you all the details because I don’t want to bore you to tears

Although, there was this one time, at baseball camp……….


Long story short, I had a few professional tryouts but nothing panned out.  Apparently there wasn’t much of a demand for a 6-1 right-handed pitcher with a mid 80s fastball.  Go figure!

That’s me my senior year at Mercyhurst College (home team) pitching the first game of a double header. And let me just say I looked gooooooood in baseball pants…..;o)

With my playing days caput, I moved back to my homestate of New York and transferred to SUNY Cortland to pursue my degree in Health Education.

I figured that as much as health and fitness was a part of my life, I might as well make it a career.

I did all the course work, even did my student teaching in both a high school and middle school placement.  If you can believe it I actually had to teach Sex Education to a bunch of 7th graders.  I challenge anyone to say the word penis to a group of 13 year olds and not participate in all the giggling.

To this day I’m still amazed that I was able to make it through alive.

Ironically enough, academia wasn’t the road I ended up travelling down. As part of my concentration (Health and Wellness Promotion) I also had to complete an internship that following summer, and luckily for me I found one at a corporate gym just outside Syracuse, NY.

After three months, I had to make a decision:  I could either wear a suit and tie everyday…..or sweatpants.

It was a no-brainer.

That was a little over ten years ago.  Looking back I can tell you I made a crap ton of mistakes when I entered this field. While I thought I was the bees knees and that I knew everything there was to know, I can tell you from experience I was a walking ball of fail.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel I was better than the average trainer, but I’d ve lying if I said I was anything to brag about.  I had my fair share of ups and downs, and if I had to pick which were some of my major mistakes

1.  Trying to Prove to Everyone How Smart I Was

In an effort to showcase to every new (or prospective) client how smart I was, I used every opportunity I could to use big words and talk over them – as if that was going to be the “x-factor” in winning them over.

Reciprocal Inhibition

Synergistic Dominance

Active/Passive Restraints

Accomodating Resistance


Blah blah blah. While I thought I was wowing them with my knowledge base and extensive vocabulary, looking back, all that really happened, much of the time, was coming across douchier than a Jersey Shore reject.

Listen, if you’re working with someone who’s coming to you with chronic low back pain, they could care less about what Dr. McGill says about compressive loading, force vectors, and biomechanical breakdowns.  Well, some may care and actually be interested. And if so, I want to hang out with them.

But 95% of the time, they do not care in the least.  All they care about is whether or not you can help them get out of pain.  Or lose 15 lbs.  Or help them increase their bench press.  Whatever the case may be.

One piece of advice that I’ve always relayed to other trainers (and I only say this through experience) is that if you can’t explain something to a cocktail waitress on a napkin, you’re making it too complicated.

2.  Being Scared S***less to Ask for People’s Money

To be honest: this is still something I struggle with, but through the years I’ve gotten much better at it.

As a new trainer, and especially when I moved to Boston, this was something I really had to work to get better on.  It’s never easy to ask someone for their money, but when you consider that you’re offering a service, and you’re damn good at what you do, you need to recognize that you should be compensated accordingly for your time.

More or less I feel that if you’re a good person, demonstrate that you actually care and are invested in helping someone, and act professional (and don’t try every trick in the book to swindle them), people will more than likely commit.

It’s just the whole conversation of asking for money that I’ve always had a hard time with – especially when I first started out. I’d have 1-2 comped sessions with a new member, and then after their last session the crickets would start chirping, a few tumbleweeds would blow through, and I’d be like, “soooooo, uh, wanna train with me?”

Of course my delivery improved throughout the years as I gained confidence in my abilities, but time and time again, if there’s ONE trait that upcoming trainers say they need to work on, it’s learning to ask for money.

3.  Training People the Way I Wanted to Train Them (Emphasis On “I”)

There’s no secret that I have an affinity for lifting heavy stuff.  I think everyone should place an emphasis on strength and getting stronger, and good things will happen.

Thing is, as a trainer, sometimes, begrudgingly, you have to remember that not everyone’s goal is to deadlift a mack truck.

If someone is paying you good money as their trainer, you have to realize it’s a bit of give and take.  On one end you’re the trainer, the expert, the guy (or girl) who knows WTF they’re talking about.  It’s your job to dictate to your clients what they need to do, not necessarily what they want to do given their goals, health history, and ability level.

Powerlifters like to train people like powerlifters.  Bodybuilders like bodybuilders. Jedis like Jedis.  So on and so forth.  And that’s okay.  In my younger years I used to gravitate towards telling people that they have to get strong, they have to squat, and that they have to avoid body part splits at all costs.

While I still feel that’s the case much of the time, I also know that I turned off a lot of clients back in the day for being so pigheaded.

Just remember:  Yes, you’re the professional.  People are paying YOU for your expertise.  But it’s also important to understand that your goals aren’t necessarily their’s.

4.  Not Networking Sooner

Establishing a close-knitted network of other professionals that you can exchange ideas with, talk shop, and learn from is CRUCIAL.  This is something I completely ignored my first 1-2 years in the industry.

It wasn’t until I started reaching out to other people via email and asked for their advice I certain thing that I felt I was making strides in my career.

Many people don’t know this, but Eric Cressey and I met through the internet.

Now, it’s not like we met on BestFriendStrengthCoachFinder.com or anything, but we always seemed to cross paths on various fitness websites and what not. Before long we corresponded through email, met in person at a group gathering in NYC in 2004, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Going out of your way to reach out to other trainers or coaches or practitioners is a big deal. Asking a local coach if you can stop by to observe one day is pretty much standard practice nowadays.  Most are more than willing to help out, and chances are it’s going to lead to other potential networking opportunities down the road.

Hey, you never know what it could lead to!

5.  Continuing Education Is Kind of a Big Deal

This is something that took me a while to grab onto back in the day.  To me, because I wasn’t making much money out of the gate (and trust me, most trainers don’t), I felt everything was a cost.

Whether it was a book, a DVD, or heading to a seminar or conference, my immediate thought process was “how much is this going to set me back?”

And then I heard Mike Boyle speak on the topic, and he changed my mindset entirely. Instead of viewing things like books and seminars as a cost, you need to view them as an investment!

You’re investing in yourself – and more often than not, what you pick up or learn will end up paying for itself (and then some).  I remember going to see Dr. McGill speak once to the tune of a few hundred dollars, and upon heading back to work, easily picked up 2-3 clients because I was able to articulate some knowledge bombs I learned regarding managing lower back pain.

And since I’m on the topic of continuing education, as it happens, my good friends Jon Goodman, Dean Somerset, and John Romaniello released their killer Becoming the Expert DVD set today.

It stands to reason that a vast majority of people who read this site on a daily basis are trainers or coaches and are either trying to pick up more personal training clients (and struggling to do so) or trying to build their business or brand (and struggling to do so).

Becoming the expert today is more than just book smarts, training knowledge, and good looks (although, that doesn’t hurt….wink).

Having a repertoire of unique skill-sets like the ability to write, creating a reputation online, and finding a niche market are huge selling points and serve as fantastic ways to separate yourself from the masses.

Any edge you can gain is a good thing, and these guys went out of their way to divulge some of the things that helped them succeed in their respective careers.

Jonathan Goodman – Social Media Domination for Fitness Professionals (2hrs)

John Romaniello – Fuck Mediocrity: Kick-Ass, Take Names and Make Money Your Way to World Domination (3hrs)

Dean Somerset – Specialization and the Expert Experience (1hr)

What’s more, there are several 20-30 minute BONUS videos from the likes of Lou Schuler, Neghar Fonooni, and Mark Young, to name a few.

The whole set is on sale for $87 through this week, and that includes FREE SHIPPING anywhere throughout the world.  It doesn’t matter if you live in England or Botswana – there’s no additional cost with shipping.

But that only lasts for THIS WEEK only (ending 4/13).

I don’t think I need to tell you that the information provided is solid, and I really feel this is something that will help a lot of upcoming (and veteran) trainers out there take their business to the next level.

===> Becoming the Expert <=== (Click Me)

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.

Comments for This Entry

  • Darren J Moroney

    Hi Tony Long time reader, very infrequent poster. I can relate to point number 1 and 3 directly. I got caught up in the trap of "paralysis by analysis". When a client said to me: I didn't pay you to fix my squat I came to you to train me" it was a light bulb moment. They couldn't care one little bit about the details they just wanted to do something and get a good workout. Thanks for the ego check.

    April 9, 2013 at 7:21 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Well, you can still "fix" their squat without going into a dissertation on it, right? Sometimes we have to play ninja and "trick" them into stuff. Someone may "hate" squatting because they suck at it, it hurts, and it just looks god awful. You can trick them into doing something like Goblet squats, which is pretty much idiot proof, grooves a solid pattern, and it's not as "hard" as regular squats. You tricked them into squatting - and you know it's good for them. And, they're also going to get an awesome training effect. Before long, they want more of a challenge and you can progress from there. Part of our job as coaches is basically tricking people.....;o)

      April 10, 2013 at 8:47 am | Reply to this comment

  • Tim Henriques

    Very nice article Tony, shared on my school's website, thanks for putting your thoughts to paper

    April 9, 2013 at 8:52 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Shama

    Hi coach, you are an amazing story teller (its really really really a compliment). I agree on all the points except the 4th one since every time i tried to extend a hand in friendship, i been turned down & looked up on like i was up to something. i know many trainers are shit scared to articulate their ideas, stand on a platform to to even explain why they do what they do with out the fear of being ridiculed etc. overall, that is one area i been burnt pretty badly & i hope this scene changes soon here. PS: investing on continuing education is also another point i gently want bring up. come on, you guys from there are churning out products like there is no tomorrow. its really tough to keep investing & decide on which one to go with at the same time!

    April 9, 2013 at 10:03 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Shama - Thanks for the kind words - really appreciate it. I think it's unfortunate that you've had so many bad experiences reaching out to others. I've honestly never had that happen. As far as churning out content - that's a good thing, right? No one is saying you HAVE to buy everything. All I was insinuating was that those trainers which read ONE book and think they know it all, are doing themselves (and the industry) a disservice.

      April 10, 2013 at 8:51 am | Reply to this comment

  • Brent Holm

    Damnit, your blog has the uncanny ability to resonate with me quite frequently. So I got my masters in education 1 yr ago, finished student teaching 1.5 yrs ago, student taught in both HS and middle school and just fell in love with training...that, and I'm not exactly the most politically correct human out there, so my classroom stint had failure written all over it. But I still tell people I'm a teacher...I teach people to lift things goodly! Your points are spot on. Last week I caught myself telling a client we are mobilizing our thoracic spine. WTF! I should of fired myself after doing round back deadlifts to failure. she really could care less by the look on her face. And the whole networking thing is huge! I've managed to surround myself with apathy, so I really got to find me new friends. Does bestfriendstrengthcoach finder do free trials? (I was in mid chew reading that and almost choked). And in regards to continuing ed. I'm trying to get off work this weekend to go to a PB seminar with uber smart people like Alwyn Cosgrove. Not sure why I ramble on in regards to your blog and give you my life story, but I'm just in an internet blog stalking mode as of late as I try to survive Globo Gym. It actually keeps me sane. Don't let up!

    April 9, 2013 at 10:17 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Brent - I was sorta in the same boat as you back in the day. I enjoyed teaching, but figured me trapped in a classroom for days, months, and years on end would eventually wear on on me. And YES - you're absolutely right. Even though I spend my days on the gym floor, I'm still teaching. Solid point. In any case, I'm humbled that my blog has been such an inspiration for you and has helped you seek our the career path you've always wanted. Thank YOU for the continued support.

      April 10, 2013 at 8:54 am | Reply to this comment

  • Jake Johnson

    Excellent stuff as usual. #1 kind of goes back to the Theodore Roosevelt quote that Mike Boyle likes to implement: "Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care." It shows the importance of building quality relationships with clients before dropping the knowledge bombs :). Jake

    April 10, 2013 at 12:00 am | Reply to this comment

  • Kellie Hart Davis

    Ha! I never intended to be a trainer, nor a teacher. Somehow I did both. Depending on which year you asked, I wanted to be many things in life. I think my 5 year old self had less of a grip on reality. Her dream was the be a waitress at a local diner. Yeah, small town girl with big dream. Oh, did I mention that I've been a waitress, too? The good thing is that you DID in fact become a coach and our lives are all so much better because of it. Thanks for your continued quest to share with us your experience, life lessons, and knowledge of the industry.

    April 10, 2013 at 10:07 am | Reply to this comment

  • Nate Palmer

    Tony, you're like a 6'1" training yoda with tiny ears.Thanks for the perpetualy great content.

    April 10, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Reply to this comment

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