Weight and Resistance Training - Becoming a Personal Trainer

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07-13-2005, 06:48 PM
Hi LWL - I know this came up on the weekly thread before, and I wasn't the only one interested, so I thought perhaps a separate topic would be nice. I've read about the different certification options, etc. but I guess I'm wondering about more basic questions - for those of you who do this, how do you like it? What are the upsides and downsides? What kind of clients do you tend to have? What kind of person do you think makes the best PT? What do you wish you had known when you got started? Do you make a decent living (or work part-time, or....)? :s:

Thanks for any replies!

07-14-2005, 05:31 PM
Hi Laura! Being a personal trainer seems to mean being insanely busy so if you can give me until the weekend, I'll be happy to answer your questions (which all are GREAT questions, BTW!) I had eight appointments yesterday and six today and am home hurling groceries in general direction of the frig before I race back for the night shift. I guess I didn't know how darn BUSY I'd be before I started!!!

Back later. ;)

07-14-2005, 05:58 PM
Great questions, Laura. I'm looking forward to the answers, too

07-14-2005, 07:33 PM
Actually I am too, since there is a real scarcity of, um, more life-seasoned trainers in my area. :lol: Actually, our gym has only one "real" trainer, a 30ish guy, who's very nice, but I've watched him train women and he's totally not my style. The only others we have are just employees who go around and show you how to work the machines, and hand out standard work-out sheets. Those of us who are more mature, heavier, and female, are kind of out of luck. So I guess I'm more interested in learning for myself and not with the immediate thought of becoming a trainer.

07-14-2005, 09:14 PM
... I don't know, Pat, sounds like you have a client base ready for you ... my goal is to work with women over 40 who are obese or morbidy obese and give them their quality of life back. Want the Northern Lights branch?? :lol:

07-14-2005, 09:57 PM
I'm feeling pretty negative about what I do right now, so maybe this isn't the best time to answer...but as Meg said, I don't have much time.

I'm very busy, but never in a block of time when I want to be busy. I could easily book clients from 5am until 9am, then 4pm to 8pm every day and all Saturday morning. I have a family and don't want to work those hours. My compromise is that I work 2-3 evenings a week, my earliest client is 7:30am and I only take 2 clients on Saturday mornings.

Do I like it? Well enough that I just recertified so that I can work at this for another two years :dizzy: , but to be honest I'd have to say it really depends on the client. I have a few clients that I dread: I care about their fitness far more than they do, they are consistently late or don't show up at all (most of the time they get charged, but it still annoys me), they whine, complain and act like I'm forcing them to do something they don't want to do. Luckily, that's a very small minority!

The upside is the great clients- the ones who really want to be there, who look forward to their session, who want to achieve their goals. Even if those goals are as seemingly mundane as staying sane and staying in good enough shape to play with her kids and carry the dog food, as one of my favorite clients phrases it. I really look forward to working with the clients who I can help because they want to be helped, who are interesting people in general, or who I "click" with. It's also nice to have a free gym membership, access to all the toys and some say in equipment purchases, general training modalities and gym policy. Keep in mind that I work for a very small, non-chain gym.

The pay stinks. The gym gets slightly more than 50% of what my clients are charged. At this point, I could probably make it as a "home trainer" on my own, but I like the gym environment. I spend a lot more time at the gym than I get paid for. I couldn't support myself this way. Very few gyms offer benefits.

I train a range of client types, but the majority of my regulars are middle aged and older women. I do a lot of the rehab work, because the other trainers are afraid of it. I also get ALL of the overweight, menoupausal women, and most of the older men. I have one young female figure competitor who I train, and one young male wheelchair competitor. He is very hard to train, and it's a full body workout for me.

The biggest surprise for me was how much "mental health" therapy I would be providing. You need to be a good listener without taking too much home with you, because sooner or later almost every one of my clients has been in my office in tears (male and female) telling me about marriage problems, addicted children, spousal abuse, health problems, and other serious tales of woe. I really didn't expect this because when I trained with a trainer (my boss), I WORKED and we didn't get very personal in our between-set chit chat. Maybe it's just me? I dunno.

Lastly, you have to be able to sell yourself and your services without either being obnoxious or too shy. At most gyms, you only get paid if you are with a client, so if you can't sell your services you won't last very long. I've also found that to do that, I need to be in far better physical condition than just being in good shape for my age....think four to six weeks out from show ready. You also have to be able to do anything that you are going to ask a client to do. If I want a client to do a one legged squat or a one arm pushup on a stability ball, I have to be able to demo how to do it. That doesn't mean that you have to be able to do 50 chin ups- but I think you have to be able to do two and look like you could do quite a few more :lol: No matter how much a trainer knows, from what I've seen clients won't buy from someone who doesn't look like they walk the walk.

The age factor is a big question mark in my mind. I have several clients who say they never would have stuck with it if they'd initially met with a young "never been there" trainer. On the other hand, I interviewed for a job which I'm sure I didn't get because of my age.


07-14-2005, 10:04 PM
Wow, Mel, that was a very interesting point of vue, I can't wait for Meg to get some time, I want to hear her view too... I have a feeling that they won't be too much different. You just gotta love what you do ...

07-15-2005, 01:36 AM
Mel, thanks for the great post, very informative. I appreciate any input from anyone whenever they get around to it! :)

07-15-2005, 02:36 AM
Yes that was informative. I have been toying with the idea of becoming a PT myself. I sitll have a ways to go in my own journey but I'm starting to look into the material to help me pass the certification. After reading your post Mel I'm not sure that I would make a good trainer as I do have limits with a bad back. I will just have to play it by ear and see how I progress with my own training. Thanks for your time.

07-15-2005, 03:16 AM
I like this thread too. As some of you know, I have been thinking about becoming a PT for some time now too, or working with obese people as a dietician. I haven't decided yet, because here in France the idea of hiring a PT hasn't caught on yet so I would probably starve...


07-15-2005, 04:26 PM
Sure Ellen - like the Northern Lights analogy too. Sounds like Mel's gym is very busy overall. None of the ones I've been to here are that busy - or maybe it's just the time of day I'm there. In Anchorage I did have to sign up for :tread: and such, and some of the classes got pretty full, but I've never seen many trainers with clients, even at the bigger ones. Anchorage does have a couple of Gold's which I've never been in, and maybe they're different.

07-15-2005, 06:08 PM
My gym is actually very small compared to Gold's or Balley's where Meg works. The classes are never full, except for the evening spinning classes, and I've never seen all the cardio equipment in use at the same time, ever. We get a different population flow throughout the day, as do most gyms. 5-8am are the gung-ho, before work crowd. Some lifters, lots of cardio folks. Two trainers book solid during those hours. From 8 until 3ish we get the stay at home moms, lots of retired people, and the self-employeed. There is a huge, wealthy over-55 community near here and they tend to use the gym from about 9-1. 3pm is "testosterone time" :lol: Our head trainer and his buddies workout from 3-4, along with the unemployeed highschool and college athletes who are home for the summer. I usually start my afternoon sessions at 3, or train with the big guys :dizzy: At 4, the afterwork crowd arrives, and it's truly a mixed bag: from teenagers doing 5 minutes on the elliptical, 1 set of curls and a hundred crunches, to overly juiced bodybuilders. And everyone in between! All sizes, conditions, outfits, genders (we aren't sure about a few :lol: ) and smells :p
I have no idea who is there from 8pm to 11 because I'm NOT!

There are times during the day when there may only be two or three people there and two of them are trainers. That's usually when I'm doing my workout and frantically looking for someone to spot me on a bench press.


07-15-2005, 06:51 PM
Ah, maybe I should check out the gym during work hours sometime. I'm usually there after work, 5 ish. Occasionally early mornings, 6 ish, and sometimes Saturdays at all times. They're closed on Sunday, holidays and school snow days :eek: It's a family run business and to give them credit, they are way better than the last people who owned it as to cleanliness and upkeep of the machines. But, when I ask about trainers, I only get referred to the guy, Brian, or one of young gals saying "what do you need, I can show you how to use the whatever." I'm thinking that the next time I get to the states, I'll try to fit in a session or two (depending what I have for time) with a trainer. I was feeling a lot of gym envy until I was at my BIL's in central Maine and went to theirs. OMG - holes in the carpet, cheap and worn out equipment, and scary locker rooms.

07-15-2005, 10:18 PM
I've always enjoyed the gym I go to but I'm starting to think that I am really lucky. It is female only and has certified trainers who are employees of the gym and available at no charge the members. I change my program every 4-6 weeks and always have about a 20 minutes session explaining my goals, time restraints, etc. and then they create a routine specfically for me. They stay with you the entire first workout, and are available as needed for all subsequent workouts. There are a couple who have been hired as personal trainers by a few of the members but I haven't had an instance yet when I needed that kind of attention.

Best of all, the facilities are well kept, we have plenty of equipment that is specifically sized for women, a great variety of classes, free childcare, etc. Plus, they've just broken ground on their newest location which is supposed to be the largest women's only gym in the country (of course, I don't know that there are a lot of women's only gyms to begin with but it looked good on flyer!).

Not that any of this has anything at all to do with becoming a persnal trainer. LOL

07-16-2005, 04:22 PM
Iím finally able to sit down and give your questions the attention they deserve, Laura. :) Theyíre all insightful questions and I give you a lot of credit for wanting to take a realistic look at the job instead of being dazzled by the Ďglamourí of being a personal trainer. Sadly, we have a steady stream of trainers who last about three weeks due to unrealistic job expectations.

OK, Iíve worked for a Ballys for about six months now, so my gym is very different from Melís Ė- big corporation, huge membership, multiple layers of management -- but our experiences are remarkably alike, so perhaps itís like this throughout the personal training industry?

First of all, despite any comments that I may make in this post, I love my job and probably would do it for free (but donít tell my boss :lol: ). So I donít have any regrets about becoming a PT and plan on doing it for a long time. But the realities of personal training are very different than what I imagined, even though I had worked with a PT for a year, am friends with a bunch, spend lots of time around them before I got certified, and thought I knew what I was getting into. Iím going to highlight several areas of Ďthings I wish I have realizedí Ö

Selling Ė Personal training is a business. The bottom line is selling your services and making money for your employer. My gym doesnít care whoís the best trainer Ė what they care about is who sells the most training each month. My boss has a white board on the wall in his office with all our names listed and monthly quotas of units and dollars for each of us and a running total of how much weíve sold that month. The pressure to sell and generate income is omnipresent and stressful.

We arenít handed clients Ė we have to go out and find our own or else weíre very quickly out of a job. Consequently, you have to be a salesman for yourself, which was very difficult at first for me. I thought being a PT would be all about training, but to a large extent itís all about selling. I donít have any prior experience with sales and felt really weird at first but am becoming more confident now that I feel that I can truly offer value for my services. But it took me a good two months to even begin to develop a technique and generate sales. Iím still extremely low key compared to some of the guys but itís working for me now. So be prepared to be a salesman.

Pay Ė as Mel says, it stinks. More than half of what we charge a client goes to Ballys. The corporation gets its money up front but we trainers are only paid per session redeemed. So if someone cancels at the last minute, youíre not paid. Youíre also not paid for all the gaps in your schedule or the work you need to do outside of the gym to prepare. Itís disheartening when I get my paycheck and I realize how hard Iíve worked for so little money. Honestly, Iím not in it for the money, so Iíll continue but you definitely couldnít support a family as a PT, at least in my gym.

Erratic Scheduling Ė People want to work out when theyíre not working, so the prime times for training are the early morning shift and after work that Mel was talking about. As a result, when youíre a PT, youíll be working when everyone else isnít because itís awfully hard to find those lovely middle of the day clients we all dream of. My schedule is pretty much bits and pieces throughout the day Ė hereís a typical day from this past week: appointments at 7:30 am, 9:00 am, 1 pm, 2 pm, 4:00 pm, 5:00 pm, 6:30 pm, and 7:30 pm. Keep in mind that Iím only paid for sessions, so the hour and half hour gaps are unpaid but thereís not enough time to go home.

But thatís not a bad day Ė a bad day is four hours of appointments in a row with no breaks. I can do three hours without a rest, but four is really pushing it. A client gets an hour session, so thereís barely time to run to the bathroom between clients, let alone eat or sit down. Itís tough to do that for more than three hours at a time.

Appearance Ė I wish it werenít this way, but being a PT means being judged on how you look. I was surprised to discover that clients donít care much about your credentials, brains, or experience Ė they evaluate you based on your appearance. They want to look like you and will tell you that. So you are a walking billboard for your services and, as Mel says, youíre expected to personally walk the walk.

In my gym, all the PTs are in fantastic shape Ė many are bodybuilding or figure competitors. None are even remotely overweight. Iím 5í4Ē, around 140 pounds, in the teens in BF% and wear size 4 and am still the chunkiest female trainer by far. I probably get away with it only because Iím 50. :p Our uniform shirts are skimpy little red T shirts that wouldnít work for someone who was even a little chubby. Being extremely fit is a prerequisite for the job, at least in my gym, and an overweight or out of shape trainer would never be hired. Iím not defending it, but thatís the reality, at least where I work.

Odds and Ends Ė this is getting long, so just me just add a few more things that I was surprised at Ė

* I spend a lot of time outside the gym prepping for workouts. I do them all in advance on my computer and spend most of Sunday getting ready for the week.

* Itís an exhausting and physical job. Think about all the exercise demoís and changing weights and being on your feet for hours, plus I do abs and some shoulders along with my clients (hey, itís a sneaky way to get my abs done and they like it!)

* Ditto on the counselor function. Many of my clients are quite emotionally needy and that can really suck the energy out of you.

* The job is draining. It takes a lot of energy to completely focus on someone for an hour, then bam! here comes the next appointment and itís time to regroup and totally focus on someone else. Remember, there arenít breaks between clients.

* In my gym, being a PT is like running your own business. My boss doesnít care what I do so long as Iím generating $$$. I make my own schedule and can do things my way, which I really like. So I can do things like my own weight loss journal and handouts for clients. I like the independence but it could be hard for someone looking for a little more direction or guidance about what to do. Itís very much sink or swim where I work - many are hired but few survive.

Whew Ė sorry this turned out to be so long! I could go on and on but will stop but please feel free to ask questions if any of this wasnít clear.

07-16-2005, 05:43 PM
Came up with a few more thoughts while I was doing dishes, if you can stand any more Ö

Even if you want to work with a certain age or weight group, on a practical level you have to be prepared to work with just about anyone to make a go of training. Not many of us are in a position to turn away business while weĎre waiting for our target audience to come along. I was surprised by this since I thought that my services would be in demand primarily from older women who wanted to lose weight. Kinda makes sense, right? Well, I do have some clients like that but most of them arenít Ė instead I have a teenage competitive ballroom dancer, several Ďskinny fat' college girls looking to drop BF and add muscle, a guy in his 30s looking to bulk up (love training him since I can work him out the way that I do personally :D ), a 300# construction worker looking to lose weight Ö come to think of it, most of my clients are in their 20s and 30s. It just all depends of who comes along and who wants to buy from you Ö I really am surprised that I - at age 50 - have so many younger clients but maybe they respond to the mom in me?? :lol:

Which leads to point two, which is that every client and every workout is different. I guess I never gave it a lot of thought before I started working since so many trainers seem to just Ďwing ití Ė walk out on the floor and see what equipment is available and just go from there. I canít work that way so I started doing workouts in advance on my computer for MY benefit and now many of my clients ask for a copy of the workout to take with them for future reference. But it takes (unpaid) TIME outside of the gym to put together a unique workout for each client based on his/her needs and abilities.

Also, you have to know - and be able to demo, like Mel said - hundreds of exercises. I didn't learn them in my PT certification course - instead I learned them from hours of working out with different (male) partners in the gym. Ask yourself if you can name 50 leg exercises and explain what muscles they target - 20 chest exercises - the elements of an effective shoulder workout etc. Can you deadlift, squat, bench press, and clean and press? Do pushups and pullups? You really need to know and be able to perform the fundamentals of weightlifting inside and out because the PT course I took barely touched on them ... yet that's your basic 'vocabulary' as trainer.

Finally, Iím certain that one of the most important qualities for a PT to have is the ability to read minds. :D You have to know which clients you can push and how hard and when to back off Ė itís so different for each one. Some you can progress quickly but some are still primarily on machines months after they start (I have to admit that Iím so prejudiced toward free weights that I really try to move all my clients over to them ASAP but some just arenít ready). It's very much a people business and the cornerstone is the rapport that you have with your clients. To be a good PT, you really need to be a 'people person' and be able to get along with just about anyone (including the inevitable butthead clients).

I'll shut up now and go finish the dishes. :lol:

07-16-2005, 09:33 PM
Wowza. Such great information; thank you Meg!

A (perhaps odd) question about the selling aspect - when y'all are talking about having to drum up your own clients, how and where do you do that? Do you go out in the gym and just go talk to people who are working out, or try to find them outside the gym and get them to sign up, or what?

I've never gone to a big chain gym or anywhere that the people who work there have to wear uniforms, so I'm completely out of the loop, I think :lol:

07-16-2005, 09:56 PM
Our 'uniform' is black gym pants (no stripes), gym shoes, guys wear red polo shirts with the Ballys name embroidered on the chest, women have the aforementioned skimpy red T-shirts (thank heavens it covers my belly button!!) with 'Ballys Personal Trainer' embroidered in black script in the center above the chest. Also our geeky name tags are required at all times. There's all sorts of rules about makeup, hair color, tattoos, jewelry etc. I'm sure all the rules and regs are due to working for a huge corporation, though I've been in smaller gyms where the trainers all wear the same shirts with name tags and logos and so on.

As for finding clients, the prime way to sign new clients is through the new member fitness assessments. When someone joins the gym, they get a free hour with a trainer for a fitness assessment (weight, BF, little cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness and flexibility tests) and orientation on a basic circuit of machines. This is the trainer's chance to sell him/herself and training. I have a good rapport with the sales staff and they often recommend me to new members and lay the groundwork before I even meet with someone, which is extremely valuable. I've also gotten clients from word-of-mouth among members, running errands in my Ballys trainers shirt :lol: , other trainer's clients asking to train with me (very touchy but allowed), and from existing members observing me on the floor with clients. Right now I have too many clients and had to tell my boss and the sales staff not to schedule me for any more orientations until I get out from under my client load. It's wonderful being too successful and I'm not complaining but the problem with selling a lot of training is that you then have to DO a lot of training! :D

But in answer to your question, I don't think that trying to approach members on the floor would be very successful. I quickly learned that 1. 80% of people in the gym are doing exercises incorrectly, sometimes dangerously so, and 2. they don't care and don't want help. :dizzy:

Selling is the part of the job that all trainers hate the most. Unfortunately, it's probably what your employer values most. A trainer's dream job would be one where someone else finds clients for you and all you have to do is train them, but I don't think such a job exists. If you ever hear of one, please let me know!

07-16-2005, 10:30 PM
Ok, good - I thought 'stalking' people while working out would be odd, but I wasn't sure if I was just being anti-social. :lol:

07-17-2005, 02:33 AM
Boy thanks for all the great information. After reading this I don't think it's what I am looking for. Glad I got such a good insight into it before I went into my own little dream world. I think I may still go thourgh the material for the learning but that's about as far as I would go.

07-17-2005, 08:15 AM
Meg and Mel - thank you both so much for your thoughtful and heartfelt answers. This has given me much to contemplate. I am going for coffee next week with another personal trainer (not at my gym) to ask her similar questions. I am still excited about this and looking at all my options. Of course, I still need to get through the NASM pre-course, hopefully finish Chapters 1 and 2 this week :dizzy:

07-17-2005, 12:29 PM
Meg -- Your posts may have been longish but I read it like a good book. Thank you for taking the time out of your obviously very busy schedule to write all that. Gosh :chin: but you must be a speed typist too !!

I kind of had a bit of an idea of the reality of the PT, I'm not sure why, maybe from observing at the gym and seeing the PTs there at all hours of the day :faint: sounded my warning bells off, so I knew that it would not be for me. ALSO that the two gyms in this town are both owned and operated by TWO :doh:s they are such losers :rolleyes:, that I would never EVER want to work for either of them.....

I sure would like the knowledge of a PT though, this is why I spend so much time with my nose in books, magasines, on the internet sucking up the information. I never feel qualified to answer questions about fitness and exercise though because I don't have those ''papers'' so I feel insecure (and with reason, I think) about giving information, there is so much misinformation on the internet about fitness.... Can you just order the books and look and learn them at your leasure?

07-17-2005, 12:54 PM
Ellen - I'm really interested in how your friend's experiences stack up with Mel's and mine, so please come back and share. My gym experiences are pretty limited and I'm curious how Ballys compares to the rest of the world. :)

Ilene, I think the PT courses are worthwhile just for the knowledge, even if you don't intend to take the exam or be a PT. I was thrilled to finally find out some answers to the gym myths and urban legends out there, like is there a fat burning zone and should you eat within an hour of working out? (no and yes) I'd be happy to loan you my textbook and workbook if you'd like to try them out. :)

07-17-2005, 01:10 PM
;) I'd be happy to loan you my textbook and workbook if you'd like to try them out. :):love: :yes::yes::yes:

07-19-2005, 01:01 AM

I am soon to be a personal trainer in So. Calif. I am currently working for an independent gym, (one in all). I am working the front desk. At this gym, all the trainers are independent contractors. They charge their clients from $65 to $100 an hour. Out of the 15 trainers here, all but 2 do this full time and live off their PT incomes. In order for them to train here, their clients have to be members of the gym, and the trainers pay "rent" to train there. They pay (I know because I collect it from them) $50 per client per month, with a maximum of $400 per month. All but 2 of the trainers pay the $400.00 per month. The owner does not care how much they work, it is up to them. This gym also gives new members evaluations when they join, the owner passes them out pretty evenly, unless they ask for someone specific, this is their chance to sell themselves.

Most of the trainers I have spoken to have worked for "large" gyms, but gave it up for the exact reasons you had in your posts. They didn't like the sales pressures, and the pay. I also know a trainer from my bowling league that worked for 24 fitness, he ended up getting a 2nd on his home and made a home gym where he now runs his training business. Most of the trainers at the gym where I work are in their late 30's and 40's. The younger trainers just don't seem to last, people want someone who they feel they can trust, someone their own age. (This is what the clients have told me at the front desk)

I already have 2 clients lined up once I am certified..they watched me at the gym go from over 300 pounds 56% body fat, to 150 pounds 21% body fat in 1 1/2 years. I am as fit as any trainer at the gym, and I do believe that these people are waiting for me because they know I have walked the walk.

It is long hard work, you are on your feet all day, you work when others are not and I have to find my own clients. But I have commited myself to keep this weight off (150+ pounds), and if training others will help me keep on track, than I am willing to give it a try. I am 46 years old, yes, I can do push ups(do at least 25 at each training sessions), and just last week I did two pull ups for the first time ever in my life! In May I was in a century bike race, did it in 6 hours (average speed of 17 miles per hour). I feel so lucky to be so healthy....

Wish me luck on my certification.


07-19-2005, 01:59 AM
Jackal - thanks for your intriguing post. I think the gym I go to has a similar contracting arrangement with the personal trainers who work there. There's actually an all-personal-training gym in my area; if I wasn't such a diehard diy-er, it might appeal a lot, and I know others really like it.

And congrats on your great weight loss and fitness accomplishments! I'm sure you'll be a great (and inspiring!) trainer. Where are you getting your certification?

07-19-2005, 11:25 AM

I am getting my certification at NASM, it's headquarters(in Calabasas CA) is right across the street from my gym, making it so easy. Any time I have a question I just pop over there. They have such a nice gym, they always have all kinds of athletes there, really keeps me motivated. A few of the trainers at NASM (and elsewhere) have questioned me what motivated me to lose all my weight, I am still working on that answer, it's like I got bit by a bug or something..if we knew the answer to that one we all would be rich. I am lucky, I don't have to go out and earn money right away, I have the time to build clientele, so I can start training at a small gym, and pick and choose..not all of us have that option. By the way I do have to wear a uniform at work (I work the front counter) it's a very tight t-shirt with the gyms name on it, but the trainers get to wear what they want.

Even if you decided not to go into training yourself, taking this course has taught me so much. You look like you are on your way to goal. Keep at it, proper diet and exercise works!