An Open Letter to (New) Fitness Professionals

Share This:

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.

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

Share This Post:


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

Leave a Comment