More than 80% of new personal trainers quit in the first year. Read up so you don’t.

The Reality Of Being A Personal Trainer…

Written by Russ Howe PTI, and most recently updated 1 day ago.

11 min read

Okay, I’ll admit it.

When I first became a personal trainer I expected my days would involve strolling to the gym at 12pm, admiring my biceps in the mirror as I put some supermodels through a workout, and then sitting on the beach with a protein shake feeling cool as fuck.

Yep, it turns out that was fucking bullshit.

I’ve now been a personal trainer for 22 years, and I figure now is a good time to peel back the curtain and show you what it’s really like to work within the fitness industry, and maybe give some advice which I wish someone had given me at the beginning.

Table of Contents
the reality of being a personal trainer

You see this advert?

This is how personal trainer courses are marketed to people, by bullshit suits who just want your money and couldn’t give two fucks if you make a successful career out of it or not.

The things they write will appeal to absolutely everyone, do doubt about it, and I believe that those false promises of an easy lifestyle are a big reason why over 80% of new personal trainers quit their business in less than one year.

Fuck that.


the reality of being a personal trainer

The only way to become a successful PT is to put in the hours.

Sure, it’s very easy to get sucked in by your own hype and believe that you are primed for success immediately after achieving your personal trainer qualifications, but trust me, you are not.

Allow me to put things into perspective for you.

You see those gym bros over there?

They don’t care about you.

Oh, and what about those other people in the cardio area?

They don’t care about you either. In fact they respect the gym bros more than they respect you, because they might be roided outta their minds, but at least they look the fucking part.

Oh man, I can still vividly remember my first day on the gym floor back in 2002, and it makes me cringe just thinking about it. I had spent lots of time in the classroom learning about fitness, nutrition, and supplementation, but I was completely unprepared for feeling like a lost little bunny rabbit among the general public, and I had no idea how to respond to simple questions like:

Fucking horrendous.

So heed my warning, folks; the hard work does not end with you achieving your PT qualifications, it begins there.

You being out there on the gym floor and training people until the cows come home, really putting in the hours, is what will ultimately make you a successful personal trainer.

Fuck this “strolling to the gym at 12pm” malarkey.

I took whatever clients I could get in the early days (some I even trained for free), and it just so happened that most of them could only train in the evenings after their job, and one could only train at 6am before their job, so my day regularly consisted of waking up at 4am and heading to the gym to open up the facility with the owner, then training my early client, then heading to a part-time job during the day because I had no other work, then going back to the gym in the evening to train all the others, and finally arriving home at 11pm and repeating the process from 4am the next day.

It definitely wasn’t a glamourous experience!

Some of my friends who worked traditional 9-5 jobs told me that I was absolutely nuts for switching to this career, and sometimes I agreed (especially on those cold winter mornings where the barbells were so cold your fingers would get stuck to them!), but honestly I was living the fucking dream.

You see, I absolutely loved it!

And when I look back now, I consider those early days to be probably the most important of my entire career, because they wiped out all of the false promises I had been given of an easy job, and instilled a sense of discipline which helped me to out-work everybody around me.

Be ready for it.


personal_trainer

What’s the best thing about having a traditional job?

It’s financial security.

Oh man, there’s something very nice about knowing exactly how much money you’re going to be paid at the end of the month, that’s for sure.

Being your own boss does not provide you with this luxury. When I walk into any gym I can easily spot the PTs who are completely unprepared for this aspect of the job. They’re always running massive group discounts, looking tired, and have a worried look in their eyes that says:

Sometimes it’s not even that you can’t find any customers, but rather than the customers you already have are not so nice. They’ll cancel sessions at the last minute, and/or disappear off the face of the Earth when their monthly payment is due, and it’s quite hard to spot these customers in the early days because most PTs do not have the rules in place that they need in order to protect themselves (e.g. getting your customers to sign an agreement which says if they cancel a session with under 24-hours notice, they still pay for the session).

Anyway, if you go into personal training expecting to strike it rich you’ll most likely be disappointed. Like all small business owners, you are entering a fiercely competitive market and it takes time to become established.


the reality of being a personal trainer russ howe pti

I consider myself a nice person.

I like to see people succeed in life.

I mean, heck, here I am writing a post sharing my experience hoping that in some way I can help you succeed, and I don’t even know you.

But I’m also an absolute bastard when I need to be.

I do not take any shit, and I’m very strong-minded. I believe the ability to flip between the two (e.g. to be nice to people, but to not let people walk all over you) is hugely important to success.

You see, another thing which they don’t mention in PT courses is just how fucking bitchy the fitness industry can be.

Make no mistake, you will meet people who believe that the fastest way to make their candle shine brighter is to blow yours out. People who would think nothing of standing on your head just to push themselves further up the ladder.

Fuck those motherfuckers.

My advice is to never take it personally. Remember over 80% of personal trainers quit the business within a year, so the vast majority of assholes are simply being assholes because they are struggling to make money, it’s not personal.

I’ve known quite a few trainers get caught up in these ridiculous social media dick measuring contests, and it just looks unprofessional to me.

So grow a thick skin and don’t let the bastards drag you down with them.


how to become a personal trainer

I’m all for continued education and growing your ability as a coach, but if I’d known this at the beginning I could’ve saved so much fucking time.

You see, if you’re struggling to make ends meet as a PT then adding a CrossFit qualification, or a bootcamp qualification, or a kettlebell qualification (or anything else) to your repertoire isn’t where you need to be.

You need to be in a sales course.

Honestly, by the time you’ve earned your fitness qualifications and gained a bit of experience training clients on the gym floor, you’re probably already a good enough coach to make a living doing this job.

Where most people fall down is that they have zero sales skills. This means they do not have the ability to sell their skills to their potential customers, or to properly explain why they should be hired, so they never have full books of clients!

The best pieces of advice I ever got in my business did not arrive on fitness courses, but on sales courses.

  • Do you think I already knew how to build a membership website?

Fuck no!

  • Or how to market that website to people who would want to buy my workout programs?

Hell no!

  • Or how to get over 100,000 people reading my free e-mails (see bottom of the page)?

Jesus no!

Yet here we are. I learnt all of this stuff along the way. For example, in 2016 I completed a course on how to write good sales pages. You couldn’t get further from the gym, right? But you can probably see how it’s helped my business.

Remember, if you want your business to be successful then you must treat it like a business, not like a hobby, and that means getting out of your comfort zone and learning how to optimize sales.

You’re going to spend an awful lot of time doing things which you never thought you’d need to do, which might involve sitting behind a desk learning about how to build online products, or learning how to write code, or going to networking events with people who have never stepped foot in a gym in their life but are wizzes on social media.

These extra-curricular activities must be done outside of your job as a PT, but it’ll be worth it.


the reality of being a personal trainer

Back in 2014 one of my pals landed a job at Pizza Hut.

She is absolutely crazy about pizza, so the prospect of making it every day and taking the leftovers home seemed like she had just found her dream job.

Fast-forward three months and she fucking hated pizza.

She couldn’t even be around it. I remember we were at a restaurant and the couple opposite us ordered a pepperoni ‘za, and she looked at it with a level of contempt you’d display if the waiter presented you with a chunk of lightly warmed dog dump.

(I was looking for examples to use here, and I almost told the story of one of my clients who got into a relationship with a self-confessed nymphomaniac. You know where I’m going with that.)

When you are a personal trainer you’ll spend most of your day in the gym, and much of your energy will be put into motivating other people (who don’t really share your love of working out) and it can sometimes be a brain-suck. By the time your own workout has arrived you might just want to escape the place for a while.

So be prepared:

You’ll have weeks throughout the year where you don’t enjoy training as much, and days where you don’t even wanna look at another protein shake, and moments where the next atomic fucknuckle who interrupts your workout to chew your ear off for 30-minutes about weight loss advice even though you know they’re not going to do anything you say almost gets a superplex from the top goddamn rope.

There’s nothing wrong with you if this happens, it’s part of the job.


what is it really like to be a personal trainer

Yes, this industry attracts a lot of people that don’t succeed.

But it’s also worth $5 billion.

And if you’re still reading this, despite all of the hardships I’ve spoken about and all of the reality checks I’ve given you, then I think it’s a sign that you’ve probably got what it takes to give this a real good go.

Heck, I’ve told you a lot of things here which you’ll never hear on any course, or in any sales pitch to join a gym, and you haven’t ran away.

That counts for something in my eyes.

So the next step for you is to go get your personal trainer qualifications (seriously, get the qualifications, don’t jus add ‘fit’ to your social media handle and lie like those plastic-looking dumb fuckers on Instagram) and then start building your new business.

Remember; one of the best things about being a personal trainer is that is that you have the ability to have a positive impact on your clients’ lives. That’s a very powerful thing, and I’m sure you will handle the responsibility well.

I may have had a laugh and a joke throughout this article, but honestly, this is a fantastic career and I’m massively grateful for having spent 20+ years working as a PT.

If you’ve enjoyed my article on what it’s REALLY like to be a personal trainer, please give it a share on social. I appreciate it. Thanks for reading, and I wish you the very best of luck on your journey.

YOU CAN DO IT!

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Get More From Russ!

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I’m Russ. I’ve been a personal trainer since 2002, and I own russhowepti.com.

My job is to simplify fitness for my readers.

I send out free fitness tips to over 100,000 men and women every week, all in the same no-nonsense style as the article you’ve just read, so if you enjoyed reading it be sure to jump on my email list below.

One response to “The Reality Of Being A Personal Trainer…”

  1. Jordan Fuller avatar
    Jordan Fuller

    This is one of the best articles I’ve ever read.

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