Hierarchy of Fitness Industry Success

Share This:

There’s a lack of resources out there informing new(ish) fitness pros what it takes to be successful in this industry. I thought I’d take some time to offer my two cents.

I’m not even going to swear, that’s how professional I want this post to be.


I’d be remiss not to give credit to Alwyn Cosgrove who wrote one of the best fucking1 fat-loss articles I’ve ever read way back in 2007: The Hierarchy of Fat Loss. It’s an article I still refer to to this day and obviously served as inspiration for this one.

As with fat loss, when it comes to not sucking in this industry and being successful (whatever that may mean to you2), there’s a hierarchy of things that should be met and/or prioritized.

Just to be clear, having the cutest cat in existence isn’t one of them.

Every morning I sit on the living room floor to eat my eggs, watch the local news, and catch up on emails. And every morning Dagny keeps me company. #crazycatgentleman

A photo posted by Tony Gentilcore (@tonygentilcore) on

But it doesn’t hurt either.

Based on current trends you’d think all you need to become successful in the fitness industry is a YouTube channel, an endless collage of Yoga pants, or some kind of witty self-promotional title like, I don’t know, “Paleo Pirate” or “Han Swolo.”

[Not sure if those are already taken, but if not, you’re welcome]

I understand it’s popular and altogether easy to rag on “fitness celebrities.” I do it too and it’s often warranted. By the way, THIS article is one of the better ones in recent memory.


  • I don’t have a million followers. You don’t have a million followers. Let be real: We both want a million followers. They must be doing something right.
  • Writing a snarky Facebook status or Tweet isn’t going to help anyone or solve the divide, so I decided to do something productive about it.

Hierarchy of Skillz

The roots of this post can go back several years, when we started our intern program at Cressey Sports Performance. Almost inevitably, when asked what they wanted us to cover, every new intern class wanted to go over more nuanced topics right away like assessment, PRI, or why my music playlist was way better than Eric’s

Yet, many couldn’t tell what muscles upwardly rotate the scapulae or coach a proper squat if their life depended on it. Or, on occasion, some weren’t socially comfortable enough to take the reigns on coaching someone in the first place: whether it was breaking down someone’s squat or demonstrating a proper deadbug.

It flies in the face of what many young coaches today are programmed to think, but, no, Instagramming your deadlift won’t get you into Men’s Health.

You’re going to have to build some career capital and experience the old fashioned way.

I’ll break down my hierarchy in more detail in a minute. Before that, however, I want to have a real, un-censored conversation. Here’s the umbrella theme I want you to consider the rest of the way:

I give you PJ Striet ladies and gentlemen:

Work ethic. Cliched but true. Not many are willing to get out of bed at 4:30, get home at 8, and turn around and do it again and again, for YEARS. You work when other people don’t-early mornings, late nights, holidays.

And you have to combine that with the wherewithal to over deliver, all the time. I used to show interns a picture of a BMW or Mercedes and tell them “This is what your future clients could choose to spend their money on each month for what they will pay you. You better bring it, because this car is a helluva lot more attractive than doing lunges and rows.” This is where the people skills come in.

I’m not going to millennial bash, but most young trainers just ask me how to get in magazines, get book deals, etc. The thought of spending 17 years, much of which was spent doing one-on-one training over 14 hours a day, isn’t really appealing. God I sound like my late father.”

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.
  1. Ah well, so much for that. It’s like a tick.

  2. Making six figures? Having a full client roster? Working with professional athletes or actors? Having a certain # of followers on Instagram? Being able to deadlift a bulldozer? I don’t know, you tell me.

  3. At home, not the coffee shop.

  4. Although, admittedly, it’s kinda douchy you list every certification you’ve completed since 2007 on your email signature. No one cares. Really, no one.

Comments for This Entry

  • Shannon Austin

    This a must-read for new trainers, thank you for writing it. I would also add that working your way through the hierarchy and emerging as a confident, competent, and reputable fitness professional should be your top priority as a new trainer. It takes a long time and some serious grit to succeed in the fitness industry, and there are no short cuts. Do the work/"pay your dues", check your ego at the door, surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, and never stop learning! Aspiring to one day own your own studio or gym is an admirable goal, but it should come long after everything else in this article.

    January 19, 2017 at 6:02 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Michael Thompson

    Tony I totally agree man. I started personal training clients November 2000 at the age of 17... As a coach I'm embarrassed to admit what I did with my clients back then. But it's a process and I had over 16 years of growth. One thing that I would like to say to upcoming coaches try to develop your training/coaching system early. Meaning take what you are seeing and learning from your clients and let it form your programming. This by far while help you more than blindly following periodization models from a text book. The information is there just push your ego aside and watch/listen to your clients. Also please know that at first you won't notice as many details as a more experienced coach does. And you might say to yourself, "what the fuck is he/she looking at?" I did so myself and we can safely assume other coaches did as well when they started out. Finally sales - don't be afraid, don't be ackward, find something in common early in the conversation, state the facts and show them how to solve it. Remember their name, story and build a relationship. Once you have experience and a system the content will produce itself. But that takes time and there is only one way to get it...

    January 20, 2017 at 9:07 am | Reply to this comment

  • Trish

    Bookmarking this one. Also, Han Swolo had me LOL'ing into my latte this morning! Bravo.

    January 20, 2017 at 2:49 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Chris Baiata

    For someone up and coming in the industry this was a fantastic read and very helpful. Many of us get caught up in the paralysis by analysis of all the information in the industry that is available. The best thing to do is to get out there and take action and put your time in as im trying to do.

    February 5, 2017 at 7:59 am | Reply to this comment

Leave a Comment