10 Things I’ve Learned From 10 Years In The Fitness Industry

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This month marks one decade for me in the fitness industry! Since 2005 I’ve worn many hats as a fitness pro: I’ve been a Group Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer, Fitness Manager, Bootcamp Owner, Master Instructor, fitness Blogger, and conference Presenter. I’m fully aware that I still have a long way to go, but over the past 10 years I’ve learned a lot. Here are the lessons that stick out the most: 

{1} If you want to be respected, you have to have the knowledge to back it up.}

Get certified. Then keep learning. This is non-negotiable. If you want people to take you seriously, you’ve got to show that you’re serious about what you do. In the beginning, it’s tough to find work because every employer wants to hire somebody with experience. If you don’t have the experience, you should at least have the education for credibility. Having a degree in Exercise Science and both Personal Training and Group Fitness certifications helped open doors for me in my first year out of college.

{2} There are ways to get educated when you’re broke!

I understand that it’s hard to get started in this industry with no money. You have to pay for certs, insurance, equipment, etc. One of the greatest things about being broke was that I qualified for state and federal grants for college. Once I graduated, the first several years in my career were spent volunteering to work at IDEA conferences so that I could attend for free. After that, free online webinars and podcasts became big and I was able to gobble up information that way. They also have these things called libraries… ; )

Bottom line: There are multiple ways to get educated inexpensively. I studied as much as I could for free and then paid for my certifications with a 1 year, 0% interest credit card so that I could qualify to apply for work. Once I was hired, I was able to pay them off before accruing any interest. Don’t let your finances be a barrier!

{3} It’s ok to be a beginner, but don’t keep apologizing for it.

If you’ve ever been to a restaurant where your server tells you it’s their first night and then proceeds to apologize for every little thing that happens, you know it ends up drawing more attention to their shortcomings than if they never mentioned it in the first place. Nothing screams “insecurity” more than apologizing profusely. Don’t tell people you’re not great. Have a plan, practice it, then do your thing. Hold your head high and act like you’re supposed to be there. You can ask for constructive feedback afterwards. You will always be learning. Whether you’re teaching your first class, training your first client, or presenting at your first conference, you were hired for a reason. Act like it.

If you want help with this, here’s a fantastic TED Talk for you.

{4} Do your thing. YOUR thing.

It’s great to get inspired by successful leaders in the industry, but if you try to copy their schtick, it’ll be apparent. Todd Durkin can rile up a group like no other, but when other trainers try to copy his famous bootcamp cadence, it comes off as awkward rather than inspiring.  That’s his thing. Find what makes you unique and then do that. Being authentic is one of your biggest assets so don’t shy away from what makes you awesome.

{5} Go all in.

Trying to merge into the fitness industry while continuing to work in another field is something people do all the time. If your focus is split by two industries it’ll be extremely difficult to see success in either. If you want to make a living in the fitness industry (or any new field, for that matter), you’ve got to go all in. Get your certs, find a job, then quit your other one so you can focus on building your brand and your business.

I was frustrated in my first year out of school when I could only land a couple of classes or clients, but I was wasting time doing side work – nannying, personal assistant, etc – when I could have been focused on building my own business. Once I decided to quit my non-fitness jobs, I had no other choice but to hustle. If I didn’t put myself out there, I wasn’t going to make rent. It was the best thing I ever did; a few months later I had a full schedule and felt comfortable calling myself a fitness professional.

{6a} Invest your continuing education money wisely.

You have to be certified, but you don’t have to have every certification that exists. Ask yourself if the money you’re spending will be a good investment. Are you going to make your money back? And then some? Going to a major fitness conference is a great way to get your CECs, learn new science, and network with other pros, but you don’t have to go to 5 of them every year. Sometimes you break even, sometimes you profit. Breaking even is ok if it was worth it to grow your business. Invest your money but don’t waste it!

One year I spent about $750 taking workshops to teach a certain kind of fitness class. That equipment all but disappeared two years later and I haven’t taught it since. I profited from it, so it was worth it. I am, however, really glad I didn’t spend the $10k on another certification I was looking at back then. I became uninterested in that format about a year later.

{6b} Find your niche.

Becoming a jack-of-all-trades but master-at-none will only get you so far in this field. You need to narrow down what you’re interested in and then zone in on a target market. I can name the top Pre/Post-Natal pros. I can also give you the Pilates and Yoga gurus. You want spine experts? I got ’em. You want top Endurance or Strength and Conditioning coaches? I can direct you. We know them because we’ve heard them dive deep into their subject matter, because they know it inside and out.

In the beginning you may need to try different areas to find your niche, but once you know what you’re interested in, dive deep!

{7} You should learn as much about business as you would about fitness.

It doesn’t matter how much you know about exercise physiology, if you can’t keep your business out of the red, you’re not going to influence many people… or pay your bills. A basic business or economics course can work wonders.There are a million books on the subject, The E-Myth being a huge help for me. There’s also no shortage of fitness business programs and mentorships out there. You’ve got to work as much ON your business as IN it to remain successful.

My advice? Don’t open a gym or studio if you don’t have a real business plan. I’ve seen way too many gyms and studios go under in the first two years of operation because the owners spent $100k on a build-out and top-of-the-line equipment and then didn’t have enough members to stay afloat. Do your homework before launching into a huge business endeavor!

{8} If you want to be a master trainer for any company, you gotta get involved.

When companies are searching for master trainers they usually invite professionals who know their sh** and are heavily involved. Educate yourself and also get out there and network. Show up to conferences! Take the company’s workshops and education courses. Get familiar with their product and mission statement. You have to make an effort to put yourself on their radar. Introduce yourself and start a conversation about how to get involved. Opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor, so you better get out there…

Keep in mind that established companies most likely already have their team in place so checking out newer companies may be beneficial!

{9} Hang out with people that are smarter than you.

Don’t stalk anybody, but being in the presence of people that are way ahead of you in experience and knowledge is a great way to grow. Attend your colleagues’ presentations, train with them, take notes.

Speaking in front of or teaching my peers is both nerve-wracking and embarrassing (when you f*** up), but it’s the best way to force yourself to get better at what you do.

{10} Connect, don’t compete.

Some of my biggest successes have come from connecting and collaborating with others in my industry. Even though you may want to go head to head with someone in the same market, if you get uber competitive (bad-mouthing other pros/companies, touting your own superiority, or just plain ignoring colleagues) your reputation could suffer. There’s plenty of business to go around. Collaborating with other pros in your area is great for the community, great for your rep, and can actually help expand your reach.

My good friends, Chris and Kara Mohr, were once technically “competition.” They ran a very successful bootcamp about 5 minutes away from mine in Louisville, KY. We could have easily seen each other as the enemy, but when it came down to it, we knew our businesses appealed to slightly different demographics. We joined forces for a charity event and occasionally referred our clients to the other camp during our off weeks.


So if you’re just starting in this industry, I hope this helps.

And for all of my colleagues that are years beyond me, thanks for all the help and inspiration!

I still feel like a newb, but I feel like my first decade went pretty well. Looking forward to the next!

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