How to Prevent Burning Out as a Fitness Professional
I wanted to use a blog title that fit my personality more.
“Life as a Fitness Professional: See Brick Wall. Throw Face Into It. Repeat.”
But, you know, SEO and all.
Being a Personal Trainer/Coach Isn’t All Kitten Kisses and Rainbows
Forgive the nebulous tone out of the gate.
Let me be clear: I love what I do, and I wouldn’t have chosen to do it for the past 14 or so years if I didn’t gain some semblance of enjoyment from it.
[Although, truth be told, if Hollywood came knocking at my door tomorrow asking me to be the next Jason Bourne I’d peace out faster than you can say undulated periodization.]
I’ve been very fortunate and lucky (with equal parts hard work and insatiable consistency) building a career that not only provides an immense amount of pride and gratitude, but also satisfaction and sustenance.
Now, we could make the argument that being a fitness professional1 isn’t all that bad in the least. In fact, it’s pretty sweet.
I mean, you get paid to hang out in a gym all day and wear sweatpants. There’s also a low-barrier to entry, which can be good and bad.
Good in that it allows people to pursue their passion without dropping $40,000 per year on a degree. Bad in that, well, there’s a low-barrier to entry.
Additionally, I could go on forever listing all the other benefits to being a fitness professional:
- You help and inspire people on a daily basis.
- Free gym membership.
- You more or less set your own schedule.
- You can eat out of a Pyrex container and no one will judge you.
- Did I mention you get to wear sweatpants to work everyday?
- You get to wear sweatpants to work everyday.
There is a dark side, however.
While the numbers can vary, and it’s more or less an arbitrary, ball-park figure: many fitness professionals – personal trainers in particular – have a “life span” of 1-3 years.
Feeding that statistic, the average personal trainer makes roughly $32,000 per year, working a split-shift 60 hour per week schedule2 often with minimal (if any) benefits.
- Spotty health insurance
- No 401k plan. It can happen, but it’s rare.
- Limited (if any) paid vacation.
- But hey, you get to wear sweatpants.
While by no means a dirt poor scenario, there’s a reason a very finite number of fitness professionals ever hit the magical six-figure mark.
The ones that do often either work in a big city or in a very affluent area where people can afford high(er) price points. Running the math, a trainer could work a 20-hour week charging $100 per session and easily make six-figures in a year.
However, that’s not realistic for most.
Not many can charge $100 per hour ($40-$50 is more like it), and not many are taking 100% of the profit. I.e., for those working out of a commercial gym, it’s often standard they take 30-50% of the cut (depending on what kind of “tier system” implemented).3
Not only that, cost of living has to be taken into consideration. Sure, trainers living in a more urban area can charge more, but they’re also paying $2000 per month for a closet-sized apartment and $16 for a burger.
Another thing to consider is this:
This is NOT a “Demand” Career
Being a fitness professional means you’re in the service industry. How many people in the service industry do you know who are making bank?
Not only that…it’s not a “demand” career.
There’s always going to be a demand for funeral home directors and doctors.4 Personal trainers and strength coaches? Not so much.
When the economy is stagnant people have a tendency to chop off what’s expendable. If it’s a matter of putting food on the table or paying someone 2x per week to take them through a killer front squat Tabata circuit while balancing on two kettlebells, what do you think is going to win out?
So, what can be done to not burn out and set the odds in your favor?
First: read THIS. <—The holy grail isn’t necessarily owning your own gym.
1) Grind, Hustle, [Insert Motivational Word Here]
To be honest, I hate the connotation of “grinding” or “hustling.” Every time I see a Tweet or Facebook status of someone saying how they’re up early “grinding” or how much they’re” hustling,” I want to wash my face with broken glass.
I get it, though. You’re reading anything and everything Gary Vaynerchuk puts in print or paper and you’re listening to all of his podcasts.
I am too. He’s the man. And I’d be remiss not to point any entrepreneur-minded person in his direction.
I don’t want to be Gary Vee, and I don’t think Gary Vee wants you to be Gary Vee either. He works….all……the…….time.
Even he will admit he’s an outlier when it comes to work ethic and loving the grind.
There IS a degree of grinding and hustling that’s inherently conjoined to the fitness industry.
We work when others don’t.
Too, it’s a very, very, VERY saturated market….and you better bet your ass you need to do something to separate yourself from the masses (and by extension, begin to build a brand).
Being epically good at what you do is step #1.
This doesn’t require Twitter followers or a status update. It requires hard work, consistency, maintaining integrity, along with empathy and gratitude (<– the last two are #askGaryVee staples).
Building a “brand” isn’t a social media illusion. Things like integrity, empathy, & gratitude (along with being good at what you do) count.
— Tony Gentilcore (@tonygentilcore1) March 30, 2016
What many refer to as “grinding” is just, you know, going to work. Like everyone else.
However, there’s a difference between going to work and actually going to work and taking pride in it…and working towards something bigger and better.
Learn and respect that difference.
2) Start Creating Multiple Revenue Streams
It’s 2016, you better have a website.
And, yes, you better be using social networking to your benefit.
“But wait, Tony, didn’t you just say that social networks are a waste of time?”
Nope, that’s not at all what I said.
I said “do they work.”
Coach. Interact. Get people results. Get good at what you do.
Social media should serve as a complement to your brand. Pete Dupuis wrote an awesome article not too long ago on what Cressey Sports Performance did to build their brand.
“Believe it or not, we were open for business for 293 days before our Cressey Sports Performance website went live. In fact, we strung together more than 1,200 days of operation before realizing we needed to get CSP up on Twitter.”
Anecdotally, I’ll be the first to admit I lucked out in this regard.
I helped build CSP from scratch, and both Eric (Cressey) and Pete encouraged me to build my own brand within a brand. I served as an ambassador for the CSP name, but was also able to leverage that to help construct the brand of “Tony Gentilcore.”
Having Eric and Pete in my corner helped, a lot.
It also helped that I jumped on the website and social media bandwagon before it became a “thing.”
I wrote my first blog post in 2006. I just hit my 1700th+ blog post not too long ago. And this is not counting the hundreds of articles I’ve written on top of that.
It wasn’t until 2009-2010 that I invested in myself and hired someone to make a customized website for me.
Quick shoutout to Copter Labs on that front.
I started off using a FREE service (BlogSpot), and then trade-bartered with a friend of mine to construct a cheap website with limited bells and whistles.
It wasn’t until I felt the ROI would be worth it – 3-4 years AFTER the fact – that I’d drop major cashola to take things to the next level.
During that entire time, however, I was writing my ass off and building a reputation as a trusted fitness resource. I was then able to leverage that and build an affiliate marketing network. Too, I was using social media (Twitter and Facebook, before all the confusing algorithms) to “market” my website/blog posts.
Also, admittedly, much to Eric’s non-stop “I told you so’s,” I was late to the newsletter bandwagon.
Nevertheless, I finally got my act together, started a newsletter, and the “list” is growing (you should join HERE).
All of this to say: I now have other streams of revenue to help augment my coaching. I don’t have to be on the floor 30-40 hours per week (as it stands now, I coach 12-15 hours per week). It took me 10+ years to get to this point, and it’s a personal choice.
It’s been a slow, marinating, process….but I now make a fair sum off this website and social media (via online consulting & t-shirt sales, affiliate income, etc), get paid to write articles (my English teachers from high-school, Ms. Davie and Ms. Hurst, would shit a copy of Catcher in the Rye if they knew this was the case), on top of the huge honor of being asked to travel around the world for speaking engagements.
Coming Soon: an actual TG e-book!
I say none of this to brag or to toot my own horn.
Okay, maybe a teeny-tiny bit.
It’s just, you know, reality.
NONE of this happened over-night. And, if I were to be 100% transparent: it’s only now – year 14 into my career – where I feel like I’m starting to “get it.”
[Somewhat off-tangent: want to know what one of the keys is to generating a solid following on social media? Don’t make it about YOU all the time. For instance, I am always sharing other’s content on Twitter and Facebook. I like to think of myself as a conduit to other people’s brilliance. Make it a point to share at least ONE article or tidbit per day that’s not yours. It works, trust me.]
Not be a Debbie Downer and all, there’s A LOT of noise out there. More and more fitness pros are out there vying for people’s attention and a piece of the social media pie, and it’s becoming more saturated by the day.
It’s becoming harder and harder to make a name for yourself (if that’s what you choose to do).
However, it’s not an insurmountable feat to rise above the chaos. Look at a guy like Greg Nuckols. In a very short time, at a very young age, he’s been able to build something pretty spectacular.
The key, though: amazing, unparalleled content.5
And not being a douche. That helps too.