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Success and Failure in Personal Training

What's the difference between new PT’s that succeed and those that fail? Gerome from PT Direct sheds some light on this long standing question by sharing the insights of club owners and PT managers from across Australia and New Zealand.

What is the difference between new PT’s that succeed and those that fail?

This question that sounds a bit like the start of a silly joke has been the starting point of a huge number of long conversations during my time in the Fitness industry!

Now I am a pretty lucky guy.  I get to spend a heap of time chatting to a large number of very senior club owners, managers and PT managers at clubs across New Zealand and Australia.  I get to regularly work with the Big Box guys, 24 hour chains, high quality independent clubs, and even a few successful mobile trainers and studio owners.  This is a huge issue in our industry right now, how do we get new trainers who have just qualified and see them through to becoming experienced independent successful Personal Trainers?


The Numbers

Right now in Australia and New Zealand (which I suspect mirror the UK and US) the numbers are pretty frightening for new PT’s starting out.  Estimates vary but is seems the average life span of a new trainer is less than 12 months from day one on the gym floor, to giving up and flipping burgers or pumping gas!

In spite of these scary numbers some new personal trainers not only survive this start-up period but prosper and go on to incredibly successful and rewarding careers.

So what is different about those that succeed?

Over the course of about 20 meetings with a range of top fitness operators in Sydney late last year I managed to pull together a list of the 4 common traits of successful trainers:

Ok let’s look at these in a bit more detail…


Have a Plan

I am sure everyone has heard the old catch cry “if you fail to plan you are planning to fail”.  And you know what?  It is absolutely correct!

Having a plan is not just about doing a business plan template you got from the bank to try to get some operating capital (yes all new businesses require operating capital to get started).  It is about understanding all aspects of your intended business and having absolute clarity about what you need to do every hour of every day to achieve your goal.

All of the successful new trainers that stick in the minds of the club owners I spoke to have these common characteristics:

  • They have a clear and specific target market (they target one or 2 very specific groups rather than “specialising” in 15 different things).
  • They have a clear strategy to engage with people in their target market
  • They have a sound business plan and understand the important numbers in their business (Number of sessions per week, average frequency of visit, and average yield per session)
  • They understand that attendance does not equal productivity.  When they are at work they are only doing things that contribute to their business, i.e. prospecting for new clients, training clients, or building referral networks.

If you are unsure about any of this stuff then download and work through our free PT Business Planning Template (it still works great even if you have been a PT for a number of years!)


Personal First – Training Second

The trainers that tend to build successful PT businesses quickly all seem to share one common trait.  They are genuinely nice people that you would enjoy sitting down to have a coffee with.  It seems simple and common sense but the reality is that not many new trainers show this side of themselves to their potential customers.  It seems that most new trainers are more focused on writing detailed and complex exercise programmes than taking the time to build a relationship and understand their potential clients wants, needs, preferences, barriers etc.  Successful personal trainers seem to intuitively understand that 'Personal' comes before 'Training'.


Be Great at the Basics

During my time chatting to the old hands in the Fitness Industry this has been the single biggest thread that comes across every time.  Be great at the basics.

If you don’t already know your way around the fundamental strength training lifts (Presses, Squats, and Deadlifts) then get on a course now.  (We really like the stuff from FMA Strength Training if you are looking for a place to start)  Understanding how to perform and instruct these lifts is the foundation of virtually all great training programmes.  Forget YouTube, suspension training, ViPR, etc. until you have mastered the basics.  Learn to walk before you run.

Don’t fall for that old trick of trying to impress your clients with complex “cutting edge” training techniques unless you are working with highly advanced clients with very specific goals.  Your average mum and dad client will not love you for making a fool of them in the middle of the gym trying to perform a single arm overhead kettle bell clean whilst standing on a pair of uneven BOSU balls!

And last but certainly not least…


Be 100% Committed to the Task in Hand!

Without exception, the first sign of new trainer who is about to fail is when they start looking for a “part time job”.  Every gym manager, owner, and PT manager will tell you the same.  As soon as a new trainer starts looking for part time work to make ends meet they are on the way out.

If you have a plan, understand that 'Personal' comes before 'Training' and are great at the basics all you need to do is commit.  Make sure every hour you spend at the club is engaged in productive activity.  Some great examples of productive activity are:

  • Making personal approaches to gym members.  Introduce yourself, ask them about their training and goals, and make a genuine no strings attached offer to help them out.
  • Building your referral networks.  If you work in a gym, get to know the sales team and reception team really well.  Offer to train them for free for a few sessions to show them how good you are at what you do.
  • Training lots of people.  Train friends, family, other staff at the club and people you meet on the gym floor.  Most people will feel more confident training with a PT that they see training lots of people rather than the PT that is hardly ever at the club and never seems to have anyone to train.

The great thing about all of these traits is that even if you do not naturally demonstrate them they are really easy to adopt and make part of your skill set.


Simple Stuff

Remember these are traits that have been observed by dozens of highly experienced fitness club operators in hundreds of clubs over many years.  They are not new and they are not cutting edge!  They are simple basic things.

The simple truth is that regardless of the occupation, task or activity the top performers in any field always start by getting the basics right.

So whether you are a brand new trainer just getting ready to build your business or a seasoned trainer looking to take your established business to the next level, give yourself a quick check against these key indicators of success, practice them consistently and reap the rewards.

As always we would love to get your feedback so feel free to comment below.  I'm sure there’s a bunch of seasoned old pro’s out there who'll have some great insights to share on this stuff.

glen says:
Apr 16, 2013 08:49 PM

I like your article on PT. I have been done well as a PT and managed fitness services at a group of gyms. The most successful PTs are those with people skills - not training skills. Unfortunately (or fortunately) the client doesn't know the difference between a good (achieve goals) program and bad program, they just know what makes them feel good (aka someone socialble and sensitive to the person). I'd also add that the most successful personal trainers make the sessions INTERACTIVE - exercises that require a partner (such as negatives or medincine ball training or something that requires physical participation of the PT - not just telling them what to do)

Paul Jones
Paul Jones says:
Apr 16, 2013 09:21 PM

A great article as usual. All the stuff you produce is invaluable to new PT's like myself. Keep up the great work guy's!!

Vaughan says:
Jul 29, 2013 04:25 PM

Hey There. I have just started training as a PT and I can say without a doubt that all the info that you have given, The articles and the downloadable files along with the videos to watch are amazing. They have really helped me out. So thanks for everything, I heard that most PT's are mostly for themselves so by you doing all this shows me you care about the industry and others seeking help. The is one favor I would like to ask. I would like to ask if you could post more pdf and video file so we can gain more experience and knowledge on how, what, when and where to go from the beginning to the end of a client's goal. Thanks again for all your hard work and effort.

William McIlhatton
William McIlhatton says:
Jul 31, 2013 08:25 AM

its good to get a bit off knowledge from people who have been there and done it, I have my first client tomorrow really nervures, even know I have been training myself for 33 years thank you for your article.

beto says:
Jan 24, 2014 04:24 AM

Absolutely amazing, thank you for helping us out, now lets get out there and gain some experience !

Abby says:
May 03, 2014 09:29 AM

Thank you so much for writing this! It's short, simple, and to the point, which is so helpful. I'm currently looking into going into personal training, and it's helpful to know exactly what to expect.