Okay, I’ll admit it.
When I first became a personal trainer I expected my days would involve going to the gym at 12pm, admiring my biceps as I put clients through a workout, then strolling along the beach with a protein shake as supermodels hung on my every word.
Turns out that was f**king bulls**t.
I’m not saying I don’t love it, of course… I’m saying I was delusional.
And now that I’m approaching my 20th year as a personal trainer, I figured this is a good time to peel back the curtain and reveal what it’s really like to work in this industry, and maybe give you some advice that I wish I had at the beginning.
Because when I take a look around gyms nowadays, I still see a lot of young men and women with the silly mindset I once possessed.
Heck, marketing companies KNOW that most people who want to become a personal trainer have no clue about the hard work that’s involved in becoming established and successful, that’s why you see ads for courses like this:
So here’s something you should know…
Over 80% of personal trainers quit the business within ONE YEAR.
That’s an awful statistic, and I think one of the biggest causes for this is that the industry itself gives off a bulls**t expectation of what this job is really like.
That’s why I wrote this post; my magnus opus on what it’s REALLY like to be a personal trainer on the gym floor day in and day out. This took me f**king ages, please enjoy it.
Table of Contents
The Reality Of Being A Personal Trainer…
The Hours Are Non-Negotiable
It’s too easy to get sucked in by your own hype and believe you are primed for success as soon as you get your PT qualifications.
Trust me, you are not.
See those gym bros over there? They don’t care about you.
How about those so-called ‘normal people’ on the bikes? They don’t respect you either mate. In fact they respect the gym bros more than you (because those guys might be ‘roided outta their minds, but at least they look the part).
And that’s when you realize that what you’ve GOT is nothing more than a piece of paper and a dream.
Oh, man, I can still vividly remember this happening to me way back in 2004 and it makes me cringe deep down into my soul. I mean, I’d spent all this time in the classroom passing exams but I suddenly felt like a lost little bunny rabbit on the wide open gym floor, and I had no idea how to answer simple questions like “So why should I train with you instead of that guy?”
So heed my warning:
The hard work does not end with your qualifications. It begins with them.
What happens next (you putting in the hours) is what will ultimately determine your success or failure.
I firmly believe that if you’re going to make something of this new business of yours, it must be treated like a business. That means the first year is probably gonna suck pretty hard, and you’ll spend more time away from your family than you want to – even more than that job you hated – and you’ll need to power through a handful of situations where all you want to do is quit.
It is during this time (the first year) where the foundations for future success are laid. I encourage you to train as many people as you possibly can and rack up experience, for this is how you will master your craft.
I regularly pulled myself out of bed at 4am and arrived at the gym alongside the owner to open up, because I had one client who could only train first thing in the morning.
My friends who were still working at my old 9-5 thought I was crazy for switching to doing this (and sometimes I agreed, especially on those Winter days when the barbell was so cold your fingers got stuck to it), but I was living the f**king dream.
This time was so important in my development as a trainer.
It instilled discipline.
It’s A Financially Unstable Job (For Most)
Do you know the best part about having a regular job?
There’s something very nice about knowing exactly how much money you’re going to be paid at the end of the month (even though most of us take it for granted).
Being your own boss does not provide you with such a luxury, and this is something most courses do not prepare people for. It’s very common to see trainers walking around gyms with a worried look that says “I don’t know how I’m going to pay my bills this month”.
Alongside trying to bring in new customers, you’ll deal with annoying last-minute cancellations and people suddenly disappearing off the face of the planet when they are due to pay you. This combination of financial stress is the #1 reason why so many people quit in the early days.
Success is not guaranteed, my friend.
You’ll Need A Thick Skin
I consider myself to be a nice motherf**ker.
I like to see people succeed.
But one of the things I learned very early on in this journey is I’m in the minority.
You’ll meet lots of people who believe that the fastest way to make their candle shine brighter is to blow yours out. Remember the statistic from the top of this article – more than 80% of personal trainers are struggling. That means this can be a very b**chy industry, and shade will be aimed at whoever they perceive to be doing well.
(So I guess it’s a compliment?!)
My advice is: don’t take it personally.
I’ve known quite a few trainers get caught up in ridiculous social media d**k measuring contests with each other, and it makes them look unprofessional.
Here’s a funny story for you:
About 2 years ago a guy started talking s**t about me at my gym. He was saying that I had no qualifications, while attempting to poach clients. I had no idea why he did it, and I just brushed it off and carried on doing my own thing. The following day, the gym owner and a handful of gym members rang me to vent their rage at the things which had been said, and reminded me that the individual in question had recently been in trouble for… you guessed it… trying to do PT sessions and write diet plans without having any qualifications!
Turns out he was just projecting his own issues, and even though I never reacted, in behaving like a nuclear bellend he got himself banned from the gym.
There’s a moral to be learned in that story.
You’ll Spend More Time Learning New Business Skills Than Learning New Training Methods
Hey, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with expanding your horizons as a coach and picking up new qualifications.
I’m all for continued education.
But if I made a list of the most valuable pieces of advice which helped me to grow my business over the years, I can safely say that NONE came from a fitness course.
Instead, they came from business courses.
Do you think I had any idea how to build a fully-functioning membership website?
Or how to market it?
… Of course not!
Or how to build an e-mail list to over 100,000 members?
… Not at all!
Yet here we are.
This stuff has all been learned along the way, because I took on courses which had NOTHING to do fitness and EVERYTHING to do with growing my business.
For instance, the most recent one taught me how to write more effective sales pages.
That’s got absolutely zip to do with the gym, but you can probably see how it’s helping my website.
I went down this route because I noticed that the most successful trainers at my old gym were not just decent at training people, they were decent at running a business. A lot of times it was a husband and wife combo, with one handling the training and the other taking care of things behind the scenes. The net result is that they knew how to market themselves more effectively and how to structure their packages more proessionally.
Quite frankly, it looked awesome.
Now I had nobody to help me, but that didn’t mean it was impossible, so I went full nerd and began learning as much as I could.
You Probably Won’t Enjoy Training As Much As You Used To
A few years ago, one of my oldest friends landed her dream job at Pizza Hut.
She’s a total pizza addict, so making it every night (and taking the leftovers home!) seemed like a match made in heaven.
Three months later, she f**king hated pizza.
It was crazy because she’s been obsessed with it since I knew her, but honestly, now she looked at it with the same level of contempt you’d show a waiter if they presented you with a chunk of lightly warmed dog dump on a plate.
A couple of years prior, another buddy of mine got into a serious relationship with a self-confessed nymphomaniac. You know where I’m going with this.
The fact is when #PizzaTime and #SexyTime became #AllTheTime, the fun began to disappear – and the same thing might happen if the gym becomes your “job”.
A lot of your energy will go into motivating others (oftentimes folks who do not share your enthusiasm for training), and by the time you get to your own workout you might just want to escape the gym for a while.
So be prepared; you’ll have moments when you do not want to even look at another dumbbell.. and times when you’re sick of talking about training methods… and days when you’d like to deliver a super-plex from the top rope to the next f**knuckle who chews your ear off for 30 minutes saying they need weight loss advice and then doesn’t follow ANY OF IT.
If You’re Still Here, Then I Believe You’ve Got This
Yes, this industry attracts a lot of people that don’t succeed.
That’s one of the reasons why it’s worth $5 billion.
But if you’re still reading this, then think it’s a sign that you’ve probably got what it takes to give this a real good go.
I mean, I’ve told you stuff on this page that you won’t learn on any bulls**t course, and you haven’t ran away. That’s gotta be a good thing!
In which case, the next step for you is to jump in and achieve your personal trainer qualifications (seriously, don’t just add “fit” to your Insta handle like one of those dumb motherf**kers on social media) then start building your new business.
YOU CAN DO IT!
Remember; you’ve got the potential to have a positive impact on every single client you work with. That’s very powerful, and this truly is a great industry to be a part of.
Even though there were hard times along the way, I’m eternally grateful to have spent 20 years of my life working as a personal trainer.
If you’ve enjoyed my article on what it’s REALLY like to be a personal trainer, share it on social. I appreciate it. Thanks for reading.
Who Is Russ Howe PTI?
Russ has been a personal trainer in the UK since 2002, and provided both training advice and full programs on this website since 2011.
His work has been featured in Men’s Fitness magazine, and the content on this website led to him being voted one of the world’s top 50 fat loss coaches by HuffPost.
Russ spends his time coaching men and women inside the legendary Powerhouse Gym, South Shields, and writing training tips for the 114,301 members of his popular free training e-mail (join it below).