Everything Is the Same
Today’s post marks the return of Paul Levitin who some may recall wrote an excellent piece here a few weeks ago on self-sabotage.
Being a successful fitness professional, much like every profession, takes practice, patience, a bit of luck, and an unyielding desire to not be average. If you’re a new trainer I urge you to read Paul’s “lesson(s)” below. And even if you’re a veteran coach I think it’ll be useful to be reminded that you’re not that special and the basics still work.
Everything Is the Same
When I started my career as a personal trainer, it was at a “big box” chain gym. I was hired, even though I had never actually trained someone before. I just enjoyed working out, and passed a test that said I could now train other people. I was in way over my head.
My manager at the time was a guy named Chris. He walked me around the gym floor, started showing me where things go. I still remember the conversation from that day.
“So, when you’re here, your job is to talk to people. Help them with the weights, spot them, drum up conversation. Then, if they seem interested, offer them personal training. A lot won’t be interested, but some will. The more people you talk to, the better chances you have. It’s a numbers game.”
Just like John Cutter said, “always bet on black.”
We continued our walk.
“In the beginning, it’s going to be slow. It takes time to get going, because you don’t have any experience right now. Once you get a few clients under your belt, and get more comfortable, things will start to get rolling. It might take a few months, so you’ve got to hang tight in the beginning.”
I nodded. Not like I had anything else better to do.
“A lot of people look at training and think ‘oh, that’s a cool job! I like working out, so I can get paid to do that!’. But that isn’t really how it is. It’s a hard job, and you get out what you put in. It is time-consuming, and draining at times. It is not nearly as glamorous as you might think.”
Kind of weird to be telling me on my first day, but I just continued to listen.
“Any questions so far?”
So I meekly chimed in, “Yeah well, you know, I don’t really, like, know how to train people? What do I do if I actually get a client?”
“Ha. Don’t worry about that. I’ll tell you a little secret: no one knows when they first start. You learn by doing. Sure, you read the textbook, but the REAL education starts now. Don’t stress about it. It comes with time, and practice. I started just where you are, everyone does.”
That helped a bit, but I persisted.
“Yeah but, won’t people know I’m just faking it? Who is going to pay me to train them when I’ve never done it before?”
Chris looked me dead in the eyes:
“Listen, you might think you don’t know anything, but that simply isn’t true. We hired you right? You went through the interview, you were tested. You wouldn’t be here if you knew NOTHING. Is there room to grow? Sure. But you know far more than you give yourself credit for, and you DEFINITELY know more than anyone coming in here off the street looking for training. You just need to know enough to answer their questions, and enough to ask for help when you don’t have the answers.”
A week later, I had my first “orientation.” (my gym’s name for the free training session given to new members, with the real goal being a sales pitch for more expensive personal training at the end).
I got through the training session, I made the guy sweat. Burpees, planks, all the usual suspects (please, it was 2014, it was a different time). Then, I got to the sales portion, and I completely froze. I ended up bumbling my way through the pitch, and the guy gave me a weird look, said “no thanks,” and walked out.
Chris was there watching from afar, and he asked “So, how’d that go?”
“Not good,” I said “I sucked.”
“That’s ok. No one knocks it out of the park on their first swing. You can’t. It’s just like working out, you’ve gotta put in the reps. The more practice, the smoother it will become. You will work out the kinks, but it comes with time, patience, and persistence.”
That helped me feel less crappy, but I still wasn’t pleased.
“I don’t get it,” I bemoaned to Chris “I did everything right! I killed him. Burpies, battle ropes, he was panting by the 15 minute mark! I know his legs are going to be so sore tomorrow, he even said this was the best workout he’d ever done.”
“Here’s the thing,” Chris said to me, “First of all, what makes you think he wanted to be crushed? Did he tell you that, or did you assume it?”
“Well, I just thought…”
“That’s right. You assumed that because that’s how you want to work out, that that’s how he would want to work out. But he isn’t you. Next time, take the time to ask, rather than just jump right in with assumptions. you’ll see as you do this, that less is more. People are out of shape, overstressed, overtired, and overwhelmed. It doesn’t take a lot to push them over the edge. What they need from you, is help and guidance, not to be crushed by the world’s hardest workout. Any bozo can do that, it takes tact and skill to actually give people what they need, not simply what you, or they, think they want.”
I got that.
“And in general,” he continued, “It’s better to start slow and build. It’s easy for you to add more to their routine over time. However, you can only do that, if they stick around. If you overwhelm them so much that they don’t keep coming back, you end up helping them less, rather than more. Trying to do too much, too soon, ends up backfiring.”
This all made a lot of sense to me, and I continually worked to implement Chris’s advice and techniques.
Eventually, I found my groove.
I sold a few training packages, which gave me confidence to sell more. I started training clients, and learned that I could help people with the knowledge I had, which helped me feel less like a “fraud” (Imposter syndrome anyone?). I went on to become the top trainer (and salesperson) in my gym, and soon the entire company.
I remember those lessons from Chris in my early days, and think about them often. Not because I need help being a better personal trainer anymore, but because I am always trying to be better at something.
Somewhere in my life, I am always trying to improve, as I hope you are too (and I suspect that is the case, since you are reading this right now).
Which brings me to my main point: everything is the same.
There were many lessons that Chris taught me. Lessons that took me from newbie personal trainer, in over my head and feeling flustered and overwhelmed, to the top of my company. Eventually, I was promoted and given Chris’s job, and put in charge of training new personal trainers on how to have more confidence, train their clients, make more sales, and overall be successful.
Each of these lessons, although given to me in the frame of personal training, could have just as easily been about working for a Fortune 500 company, building a business from scratch as an entrepreneur, or a romantic relationship. In reality, all of this advice was really just about life.
Take out “personal trainer,” and replace it with “salesman,” “entrepreneur,” “athlete,” “dieter,” “spouse,” or other. It doesn’t matter.
These lessons are about life, they transcend career paths and specific goals.
What did my manager really teach me?
- It’s a numbers game. You get better with practice.
- Things aren’t always as glamorous as they seem from the outside. It takes hard work, and you get out what you put in.
- Give it time. It is hard in the beginning, but if you can stick with it, you’ll see success
- You have more to learn, but that shouldn’t stop you from taking action right now
- Ask for help when you need it, and don’t be ashamed if you don’t know an answer
- Don’t assume that everyone is like you. Humans are unique, and what works for one person, even you, doesn’t work for everyone
- It’s better to start slow and build up, than to try to do all-out right out of the gate
Name a place in life, a challenge you face, a goal you might want to work towards, where these are NOT true. Go ahead, try to find one, I’ll wait. This is advice I could give to anyone, about anything, and it would always hold up. Why?
Everything is the same.
What we need for success is not unique to one realm. Success is success. It is built from the same materials, no matter the location. If you can internalize these simple lessons, you will be able to build success wherever you choose.
About the Author
Paul Levitin spent a decade as a personal trainer & strength and conditioning coach, becoming the number one trainer in his entire company, while collecting over 30 certificates (CES, CSCS, PRI, PN1, FRC, & many more).
Wanting to better serve his training clients, he began to study behavior change, and eventually became a Board Licensed Health & Wellness Coach (NBHWC). This led him to create his education and mindset coaching company “The Healthy Happy Human Academy,” where he now helps clients deal with things like self-sabotage and perfectionism, to allow them to build a healthy, happy life.
He seeks to bridge the gap between the worlds of fitness and nutrition, and the frustrated, overwhelmed masses who just want to move more, feel better, and live a little longer.