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8 Challenges of Personal Training: A Micro-Guide

With the rise of “Fit Culture” on social media, becoming a certified Personal Trainer has never been so popular. Now, more then ever, social media influencers brandish #PersonalTrainer in their social bios as an accolade. #PersonalTrainer is now one of the most used fitness hashtags and houses more than 28 million posts. As a result, this has influenced the masses to go get their certification. But, most post people only see the “social influencer” side of the job. Many don’t see the Challenges of Personal Training. So, we have put together the top 8 challenges and solutions to those challenges.

1. Getting your Personal Training Business Started

Getting started as a fitness professional can be one of the most taxing parts about the career. The main reason is you are literally starting up your own business. Typically, this means new Personal Trainers will be going a couple weeks, if not a month with low pay. Here, are tips on how to make getting started a little easier on your self:

  • Make sure you save up some extra cash for when start your personal training business.
  • Keep your social media channels updated. Let your close friends and family know you’ve just started a position as a Personal Trainer as this might get you your first client!
  • Do as much learning as you can before you start. Specifically on topics, such as, sales for personal trainers, and business management for personal trainers.
  • Set realistic goals and expectations. Starting off, you aren’t going to be training immediately. You’ll likely be shadowing another trainer or going through training yourself.
  • Practice cold calling. This is something you might have to do as a new trainer.

2. Keeping Your Fitness Business Steady

One of the major challenges of personal training, especially after getting started, is keeping business steady. Particularly during the holiday season. But even during the regular season, it is a constant battle for personal trainers to keep business at a steady flow. Here’s a quick list to make sure you are prepared for when business is slower or how to prevent:

  • Save up some cushion for the holiday season. Christmas will be a slower time of the year for Personal Trainers. Not for every trainer but for most.
  • Run a special deal during the holidays! Whether it’s a promoting a special deal your gym is running or creating one of your own, this is a great way to get clients during the holidays.
  • Enhance your service. Every now and then reward your clients with a personal gift for their hard work. It doesn’t have to be much, a free protein shake or a small gift card will do. Don’t do it for everyone, but for those who come in with a chip on their shoulder. This creates incentive for your other clients to really put in effort and will more likely increase client referrals.

“What do you think someone is more likely to remember? A free session or a well thought out gift for all their hard work? Don’t break your bank but a $15 gift card will go a long ways.”

Chelsea Carter – @trainwithcece
  • Social media marketing. This can be huge if done right. As a personal trainer, it can be hard to create awareness of your services. Running social media ads gives you a targetted method of reaching extra people. Running a simple ad that gives a brief overview of your service and client testimonials is guaranteed to get you some extra attention.
  • Content marketing. Content marketing involves pushing out blogs and valuable, entertaining content to you followers to create awareness of your brand and services on social media channels. This is a great way to solve problems for people searching the internet for solutions. While at the same time creating awareness of you brand and the services you offer.
  • Ask clients for referrals and reward them for any referrals that turn into clients. This is another great way to enhance your service and increase awareness for the services you offer.

Leveraging these strategies can help ensure a steady flow of business and being better prepared for when business isn’t steady.

3. Avoiding Burnout

It’s not uncommon for a personal trainer to work from 5am-8pm on the weekday and training on the weekends. All while doing their programming on the fly. Combine this with the constant need to continue education and less and less personal time, it’s easy to feel the burnout come on.

This is why it’s important to arm yourself with the tools necessary for success so you don’t get burned out. Here are some good practices and tools personal trainers can use to get the most out of their time, grow their business, and make time some personal time:

  • FitSW – Fitness software for personal trainers you say? Huh. Never heard of it… but I heard it allows for you to get rid of Excel, Word, and even paper forms for completely digital workflows. Create entire fitness programs, nutrition programs, track client progress, and much more all in an app.
  • A social media scheduler tool. There are many social media schedulers that help you plan posts ahead of time. This is great because all you need to do sit down for an hour or two, schedule your social media posts out a week or two and forget about. There are many social media schedulers out there that have a free version you can use forever that will more then accommodate your needs.
  • Do things outside of the gym! Go for a hike, get some coffee, and just enjoy some time away from your place of work.

4. Keeping Clients Motivated

Keeping clients motivated is one of the most underrated challenges of personal training. You can have all sorts of knowledge about training, but if clients aren’t motivated, good luck getting those results to show for it. Here are a couple good practices you can use to keep those clients eager to hit the gym:

  • Make your workouts fun. This is why it’s so important to get to know your clients and ask for feedback after workouts. It’s also important here to create an atmosphere where your client feels comfortable enough to provide their opinion. Are they going to love every workout? No. But getting to know what they do enjoy will help you create workouts they will love.
  • Track their progress. Tracking their progress helps you create programs and lets you provide encouragement. Maybe they hit a PR and you get them their favorite protein shake. I want a free shake don’t you? It almost like keeping track of their birthday. But, different. You wouldn’t forget their birthday would you?
  • Brag about them on your social feed. Oh, yeah. This is a great one. It’s a double whammy. They get a warm feeling in their stomach when they see your post about all their progress AND people see how great of a trainer you are.
  • Show empathy. Okay, everyone knows that training really isn’t just training. You’re a business owner, a counselor, a friend, and a trainer. A lot of people open up to their trainers about their issues in life. It’s important here that you show empathy. This communicates to them that you understand them and helps make them feel less alone.

At the end of the day, your clients shouldn’t be showing up simply because they have to. Although, that is a part of it, they should be showing up excited to hit it with their favorite trainer everyday.

5. Overcoming Stereotypes

Let’s face it, there are a lot of people that don’t know the first thing about fitness but pretend they do. As a result, loads of misinformation is spread about fitness due to people pretending to know things that they don’t.

Along similar lines, most people who are not personal trainers themselves, don’t know the first thing about personal trainers either, but, nonetheless pretend they do.

And poof, that’s how stereotypes of personal trainers are born. A couple misguided people and maybe even some trainers that cheated their way through their certification and now perpetuate those stereotypes. Sigh, this is why we can’t have nice things.

Bet you coulda guessed what was coming next? Here are some common stereotypes of personal trainers and how to avoid or get past them:

“All Personal Trainers Should be Fit”

This one is probably the most common. It comes from people having these misconceptions in their head about what fit people look like or should look like. Let me just say this; physical appearance doesn’t equate knowledge or fitness level.

This one is hard to avoid all together as there will always be those people spouting this type of stuff. But it’s important to either ignore them or be as professional as possible in correcting them. If you react negatively it gives them the chance to say more negative stuff.

Honestly, if you catch someone perpetuating this stereotype, tell them to go check out the highlights from the fight where Andy Ruiz Jr. put a beat down on Anthony Joshua. If you’re not familiar, here’s the jist. Anthony Joshua was the raining champ. He looks like he came down from Mt. Olympus.

Anthony was only knocked down once in his career and that knock down came from Wladimir Klitschko, who is a force of nature in the boxing world. Despite the knock down, Anthony Joshua emerged victorious.

When news broke of a hungry Andy Ruiz wanting to fight Anthony Joshua, people scoffed at Andy. Largely because he looked out of shape. But, boy, did they have it comin for ’em. In short, Andy put a beat down on Anthony. In fact, his performance told a very different story. Overall, he had more gas in the tank and outlasted Anthony Joshua until he was able to knock him down the final time.

“Anyone can be a Personal Trainer”

This one is easy. Just tell them 90% of first year trainers quit in their first/second year and switch careers. The main reason? Most of them couldn’t figure out how to build their business. They underestimated the amount of work and knowledge required to get a personal training business off the ground and profitable.

Sure you can go to the gym and get strong or really fit. But there is a massive difference in running a personal training business and working out. One is a hobby and the other is a full time job and then some.

“All Trainers Should be Young”

Some of the most inspirational fitness trainers of all time are over the age of 50. In fact, statistically speaking, the longer you are in the industry as a personal trainer, the more knowledgeable you become.

The National Federation of Personal Trainers reports 40% of their certified trainers are between 40 and 62 years old. Now there’s no doubt, especially with modern trends in youth, that the average trainer is becoming younger. However, that doesn’t discredit older generations from not only becoming a trainer but becoming a leader.

You ever heard of Chet Yorton? How about Robbie Robinson? Please, feast your eyes.

6. Difficult Clients

You will always have clients that complain. Whether it’s they are new to the gym or just not about the workout you’ve given them, you are bound to hear some interesting excuses from clients.

However, there are methods you can use to keep the complaining at a minimum or to address complaining on the spot as it’s happening. Here are a couple of our favorites:

  1. Set clear expectations with the clients. Sometimes complaining can be a result of not having expectations set. Before you dive into training them make sure they know what to expect and that they know your expectations of them. If they are new to fitness, you can even outright say some workouts are gonna hurt more then others and during those times, you aren’t setting out to hurt them. You are setting out to show them where they can push themselves. You wouldn’t give them a difficult workout if you didn’t believe in them.
  2. Use positive re-reinforcement. If you have already set expectation and you have a client that seems to complain more them others, try to really provide positive support. Sometimes all they need are some kind words.
  3. Make sure they aren’t actually hurt. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. But when someone complains of an ache or pain, make sure you help them recover from it.
  4. Tough love. Some people complain just for the sake of complaining. If you’ve identified a serial-complainer, sometimes it helps to tell them to suck it up or even to ignore it all together.
  5. Learn how to say “No”. Sometimes, certain personality types just don’t mesh. In this case it’s important to know the difference between actually figuring out how to make something work and forcing it. If you’ve tried everything to improve things and they just. aren’t. improving. Then it’s time to recommend that client elsewhere. It has nothing to do with your training and everything to do with the complexities of human nature.

In short, complaining can sometimes mean that you don’t have a sufficient line of communication set up with the client. Making sure your client is comfortable with communicating with you can also mean they trust you. Naturally, people don’t open up to things they don’t trust.

7. Legal Protection

One of the challenges of personal training that also often goes unsaid is protecting yourself legally. This really applies to the independent trainer that isn’t operating under the wing of a gym. Most gyms have insurance for accidents and liability waivers that help protect trainers from “general negligence”.

However, as an independent trainer, it might be a good idea to consider the following:

  1. Professional Liability Insurance. This typically protects you from “professional negligence”. This includes injuries sustained during exercise you assigned or an illness from a meal plan you prescribed.
  2. General Liability Insurance. If you train clients in your own personal studio or in an atmosphere you have personal control over, then it’d be a good idea to get General Liability Insurance. This type of insurance protects you from injuries or illness sustained from the condition of the premises, i.e. slipping on a wet floor, a machine malfunction, or any other situation similar to these.
  3. Liability Waivers. This form basically states that the client understands the risks of training and if signed, the client waves any liability from you for injuries sustained during the process of training. There are exceptions, such as, cases of extreme negligence and lack of consideration for the well being of another human.
  4. Document everything. Documentation complete with dates, times, and client progress. Aside from helping you more accurately create programs for clients, this also helps establish your professional demeanor. In the case anything was ever called into question, you’d have consistent documentation to back up anything you say.

8. Behavioral Change

Behavioral change is one of the more complex challenges of personal training. The reasoning is because it is a dynamic effort on the side of the trainer. A lot of your clients might have hard habits to break that are overall, negative. These habits often span a variety of areas such as psychology, diet, fitness, and many others.

Frequently, many of the challenges of personal training extend to the client as well. It’s two sided. However, most of the pressure lies on the shoulders of the trainer to communicate. Trainers are often facilitators of change. Just with an emphasis in fitness.

Here are some tips on establishing a good base for sustainable behavioral change:

Acknowledge Relapses

Whether it be smoking cigarettes, eating poorly, or relapsing into a negative mindset, relapses are going to happen.

As a trainer, you can help your clients avoid these things through:

  • Helping them find where their triggers are that lead to a relapse.
  • Developing a coping strategy.
  • Helping them find their way back on track when they stray off course.

Through this process, it’s imperative you acknowledge relapses and hold them accountable, but also, use positive language. Whether it be words of support or relating to them in some way that helps them feel a sense of belonging. Sometimes even a calendar app can help.

Use the Stages of Change Model

This model employs the idea that using a gradual approach to a larger goal is more effective then setting one massive goal without a plan to get there.

Stage 1: Precontemplation

In this stage, people don’t have an active intention of taking action driven towards change. They might not even know their actions aren’t sustainable. Most frequently, people in this stage don’t understand two things: the benefits of change and the consequence of not changing.

Stage 2: Contemplation

Here people will recognize their actions aren’t sustainable. They might even start to develop intention to change, but at this point no actual action has taken place. They will have more likely weighted the positives and negatives, but are still hesitant to actually take action.

Stage 3: Preparation

In this stage, they have bought into change and are actively looking at how they can change. They will more likely take a solid action towards making the necessary changes in the next 30 days.

Stage 4: Action

An individual in the stage has taken action to change their unhealthy behavior. They also intend to push forward with the change they have made.

Stage 5: Maintenance

In this stage, people have sustained the change they have made for a good bit of time (defined as 6 months or more). People in this stage make a proactive effort to prevent relapses and recognize a relapse in its early stages.

Stage 6: Termination

This stage is rare. People in this stage have completely eliminated their unhealthy habits and have no plans of going back. Since this stage it rare, most people will reach the maintenance stage and relapse into an unhealthy habit temporarily.

Having a good understanding of how to use the stages of change can help you identify where your client is at in their progression towards a healthier life. Subsequently, you can make adjustments to your training program and communication to the client.

Use Smart Goals

Smart goals are defined as:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Every goal set by you or your client should meet the definition of a SMART goal. As clients progress and get more advanced, then you can start setting more ambitious goals to reach for.

Summing up the Challenges of Personal Training

This article outlines several challenges of personal training, but that doesn’t discount others that might go unspoken. When assessing the various challenges of personal training there’s one thing that becomes clear. That’s that personal trainers are just simply “gym coaches”. Personal trainers often times occupy many many roles in the day to day lives of their clients.

Understanding the challenges of personal training helps you understand the multi-faceted nature of the occupation and that mastery of personal training comes in the form of mastering many different fields of knowledge. The most successful trainers will take a dynamic, agile approach to each client as each client will be vastly different case by case.

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