SO YOU WANT TO BE A PT ?

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Happy new year, dear reader, and I hope that 2017 holds fabulous things for you! Around this time of year, people think about making changes, both small and large. One of the most frequent emails to hit the FitnessOnToast inbox is from curious subscribers asking about working as a personal trainer; very often, the sender is thinking about changing their career, considering qualifying as a PT (Personal Trainer) or has been working in the job for a while and is looking for advice about shifting direction. REALITY CHECK! Whether you just want to know what your PT goes through, or if the romantic lure of the PT-life is tempting you, read on, as it’s seriously tough! I’ve been a PT for over a decade and whilst my career has taken unexpected turns, I have often tried to share my advice, for what it’s worth. I think that for many people considering this shift, it’s a case of ‘the grass is always greener…’ This post will talk about some of my experience-based perceptions about the career of a Personal Trainer, warts and all!

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WHY IS THERE SO MUCH INTEREST IN THE PROFESSION NOW?

SOCIAL MEDIA…
has unquestionably helped to glamorize the gym environment. From stunning supermodels who look a million dollars when punching focus pads, to cool athletic guys wearing Yeezys and drinking vegan blends. I’ve fallen for it too, but when I started out 10 years ago, this concept of aspirational, ‘haute fitness’ was only just beginning, with small boutique gyms beginning to open up – and it was all offline, mostly word of mouth. Now, we can all live and breathe it daily, via whichever social feed, and many people feel such motivated passion that they (understandably) want to be involved in it as their main line of work. Training to become an accredited personal trainer is one of the most traveled paths towards this.

Social media is a great way to promote your work and establish yourself, but I cannot stress enough the crucial importance of experience. Achieving a six pack through your own training is very different to training other people; that’s one of the biggest mistakes I see from newer trainers – training clients the way they’d train themselves. It’s not a one-size-fits-all industry, but should be something much more indepth and bespoke!

A QUICK BUCK ?
The Easy Formula’, as I like to call it, is the big misunderstanding. People think that life as a PT is chilled; something along the lines of “Yeh I’ll qualify, charge £100 a session, work with 6 clients a day  for just 6 hours, then focus on my own training – so 6 hours x £100 x 7 days in the week x 52 weeks in the year is almost £220k. Sweet. Minted.” Firstly why would anyone pay you £100 an hour when you have no experience and have literally just qualified, but secondly, it’s hard graft, tough to establish regular repeat business, and since you’re on your feet all day long, it’s physically draining too. Not to mention cabin fever at the gym, as no matter how big and diverse your gym is, at the end of a 5-hour back to back grafting session, it’s the last place you’ll want to be!

MY VIEW?
At the risk of sounding as though I hate it, I should point out that I actually love it, I’ve learned so much from it, met so many fabulous people in the process, and wouldn’t change anything if I had my time again! I do however want to point out that it’s not for everyone, it’s not all glossy and polished, and it’s a challenge that some people may regret taking on, and they should be aware of that in advance! Here are some specific observations…

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1) WHAT IT’S LIKE WORKING AT COMMERCIAL GYMS:

I started out working in a large commercial gym (Esporta) after qualifying. First up, I have enormous respect for people who work in commercial gyms as it’s seriously hard work, and not particularly well remunerated. I remember getting up at 4 in the morning to get to the gym for 05:30, so that I could open it for the 6am early-birds. Then I’d train clients between the hours of 06:00 – 22:00. It’s a role in which you work long, irregular hours often for little money. In between you’re cleaning equipment, which includes going on your hands and knees and scrubbing the sweat-spattered treadmills. A humble experience, and far from the glamorous ideal you might have in mind when setting out on the PT journey.

When you start working in such an environment, you aren’t picky and you very much take the clients you can get. This means clients who want to train at 06:00, and those who want to train at 22:00. Peak hours are mornings and evenings (before and after work), which cripples your freedom to enjoy an on-demand social life. Also, that can often mean barren spells in between, which interrupts your ability to strike up a rhythm and press on. Financially, when you work for a commercial gym the client might be willing to pay, for example, £70 an hour. However, after the gym’s commission and overhead charges, you may end up with £15 in your pocket – which is then taxed, and doesn’t go far in London! So now not only are you busting your ass off trying to establish a regular rota of clients, and working crazy exhausting hours you’re also making very little money.

2) SO WHY TO DO IT?

When I started working, my team had two physiotherapists on board, one back specialist, one body builder, and a serious marathon runner. This meant I had an incredible team around me from whom I could learn, plundering their niches and expertise, picking their respective brains. I remember many times having a client wanting to train with me, but I felt I wasn’t right for his or her specific requirements, so I would send them on to one of my colleagues, and in return he/she would teach me about their back problems, and run me through their programs.

You end up training so many different people in commercial gyms that you gain tremendous breadth and experience. There is no substitute for that, and it helps develop a really strong foundation for the years ahead.

3) ITS A PROPER PEOPLE JOB

Whilst you can have the best knowledge in the world, being a PT means working in the service industry, where the customer is king. It is a classic ‘people job‘ meaning you have to be able to connect with many  different personality types, from one hour to the next. Working in a commercial gym trust me you quickly become a chameleon, as your livelihood depends on that ability to strike up a rapport, and influence your clients’ life.

On the flip side, you also have to BE a professional; you’re not befriending them, it’s not a 1-hour catch up with a mate, but someone is paying you a premium price, and they expect a professionally-delivered product. It takes a certain skill to tread the balance between ‘familiar’ and ‘professional’.

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4) A BIG HOLIDAY ???

Also, you might like to consider that you’re there for the client; if you need to go abroad, or make a spontaneous trip, you’ll be letting down all of your clients for their regular spot. That’s a huge inconvenience to them, and there are plenty more PTs waiting to take on the business. In other words, you have to sacrifice your flexibility and end up booking time off based on your clients schedules (school holidays, christmas etc – i.e. the expensive times!).

5) EVENTUALLY, IN TIME…

If you stick with it eventually you can and will pick who you want to train. You’ll build up a client base and you can work regular hours (9-5). I remember when I started, I felt as though there were so many trainers around, and there are even more now thanks to an explosion in the popularity of the role.
Statistically around 30-35% of those who make the switch and retrain are still doing it in a years time. Perseverance and hard work is the key.

6) THE AMAZING PART!

It’s a hugely rewarding job when you’re able to truly help someone else, whether that’s weight loss or gain, getting stronger, conquering some unknown fear, their posture, energy levels, or how they feel about themselves.

This is by no means a post to deter people from going for it, but rather is a realistic review of what the work entails, aside from six packs and pretty Instagram pictures of squats.

FINAL PIECE OF ADVICE:

You never stop learning!
My other piece of advice for what it’s worth is never stop learning. There are so many different approaches, all with validity. There’s so much to take from such a diverse set of approaches. I take courses and read research constantly, all with the aim of delivering a more professional, well informed, and result-oriented service to clients. In an increasingly competitive market its a great idea to specialize whether that’s pre/post-natal, sports massage, yoga etc. Do as many courses as possible as it will help to set you apart from someone else.

I hope this frank assessment of the good and bad has helped, and good luck if you’re considering making the jump to the wonderful world of fitness in 2017!

Faya x

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28 Responses to “SO YOU WANT TO BE A PT ?”

  1. Great Piece!

    At last some down to earth advice for those thinking of entering the profession. I see too many young people struggling to survive in gyms on what works out being less than the minimum wage. However if you’re passionate and have the humility to constantly strive to improve yourself and your knowledge… You’ll succeed!

    Keep up the great work and Happy New Year!

  2. John Rahim

    Great intelligent post. I have worked with many PT’s over the years in both private and commercial gyms. Life as a PT is a seriously hard slog. If you are lucky enough to build a brand like Faya you probably will be ok however these are in the SERIOUS minority. As a user of PT’s my suggestion to any budding PT would be to specialize, retain your passion and remember that you need your own points of differentiation.

    Good luck and Happy New Year!

  3. Hi Faya
    This is a great article on the less glamorous side of being a PT.

    I went independent and burned both ends of the candle, just like you did. After a while I realised I was just burning myself out by accepting everything – so I cut out the late evenings and don’t work weekends.

    It took time and reputation to fill the middle of the day with clients…so for anyone trying to do it, just hang in there!
    George

  4. Interesting post Faya. I’ve booked a diploma in fitness instructing and personal training which starts next week. I’ve left a 7 year career in behaviour change PR to do so and genuinely couldn’t be more excited as this is something I’ve wanted to do for a really long time and it’s a real passion of mine to help others. I have no intention to be in the 65%-70% who don’t succeed after a year. Thanks for sharing your experience, definitely worth other people considering the career reading it as if it puts them off then perhaps it’s not right for them.

    Emma x

    • Awesome Emma! I love that you’ve obviously thought long and hard about this change and are totally fired up for it. That counts for so much! I hope you love your diploma, and I wish you all the very best with it! x

    • Hi Isabel
      I’m a Personal Trainer and have taken a number of courses, with many different providers. What I’d recommend you do is go onto the REPs website and search for courses, so that you can make sure the course you’re thinking about would be recognised by REPs (assuming you wish to become a member). That gives you some reassurance.

      At the end of the day, if a course by one provider qualifies you to teach say kettlebells, then whichever provider you chose, you will be qualified to teach kettlebells afterwards. Sometimes the number of REPs points are higher with one provider, versus another, which usually indicates a slightly longer and more in-depth course.

      The choices I’ve made for courses in the past have usually come down to a variety of factors, such as timing (if I could only attend a certain date), location (preferably close to my home…although I did travel 2 hours for one of my courses), price, and what I read about the way they delivered the course on the suppliers website. Some do everything online, others have training in-person.
      Hope that helps.
      George

  5. Really helpful and informative post, thanks Faya. I have just started on my PT diploma having fallen head over heels in love with fitness. It’s refreshing to read an article that actually points out that it is hard work – I already knew it was going to be as I took a long, long time weighing up the decision to re-qualify. In fact your post has reconfirmed it is totally the right decision for me as I went through ticking off your points going “yep, I had thought about that. Yep I am prepared to do that to get where I want to be”. Very motivating. Thank you!

  6. Hi!
    Thanks for this article. I’m currently in the process of achieving my PT cert and it’s nice to hear about the realities of training others. So true that what works for me may not work for them. I also loved how you suggested to diversify my specialty, as that would add value for the client. Great wise words.
    Thanks!
    Bri
    BuildingBri.com

  7. Hi,
    I’m new to your blog. This is a good read! I am 28 and just started training as a PT. My current job is as a translator, which involves sitting at a computer all day, and I am really sick of the sedentary lifestyle. I am partway through my Level 2 course and hope to complete Level 3 by the end of the year (studying part-time). I don’t know where this journey will take me – whether I will be able to make a fitness career for myself or not – but I’m excited about it and enjoying the new challenge; it has given me renewed enthusiasm for my own training too. I figured that, even if it doesn’t lead to a new career, at least I will have learnt something!

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