So You Want to Become a Personal Trainer?

My clients and colleagues are often surprised to learn that I regularly take on mentees. Yes, I'm SUPER busy, but I enjoy working 1-on-1 with new trainers who need guidance, seasoned trainers who want to increase their businesses and fitness enthusiasts considering a career change into the training industry. Usually I get the question “Why would you help your competition succeed?” I don’t look at it that way. When we put community above competition we all win. So if you’re considering a career in personal training, are interested in exploring what it might be like to work as a top Equinox personal trainer or are a veteran trainer who needs a boost with better business-building or programming skills, feel free to contact me. But check out the 10 FAQs and answers below first. 

What does mentorship look like?

We all walk in the footprints of those who came before us. When I was stuck in a desk job that was slowly killing me, it was a personal trainer who helped me realize my potential and make the best career decision of my life. And when I walked into Equinox on my first day, petrified and unsure of myself, it was the countless mentors who took me under their wings who helped me become a top-producing trainer with clients who gratify me and work that inspires me. They taught me how to think, how to handle confusing situations and how to give back.

I work with aspiring and established trainers in a variety of ways. Like training clients, there is no “one size fits all” program. In some cases it’s simply a conversation explaining what it’s like on a day-to-day basis being a trainer and my experience making the switch. Sometimes it’s connecting candidates with my club’s recruiting and management team and helping prepare them to apply and interview. And sometimes it’s more formal and involved where I meet with mentees in person or over the phone weekly and we discuss business-building strategies, programming and client challenges. It all depends. It all starts with someone asking for help and we go from there. If you need help or have a question, feel free to contact me.

Note, I don't recommend or work with mentees who want to "dabble" in training (i.e. work part-time). Training isn't a hobby, it's a career. However I do work with students who are finishing their degrees while training so long as they plan to become full time trainers once they graduate. 

How do my past and present mentees feel about mentorship?

Being honest, I owe a great deal of my success to JJ. His wisdom, experience and guidance have given me the tools I needed to become the trainer that I am today. - Michael Bonella

Having a mentor is probably one of the most important assets that anyone, including myself, can have when looking to grow personally and professionally. As a brand new trainer at Equinox, I was overwhelmed with information and overcome with anxiety about how to grow my business and become an effective trainer. Having a trainer, who had successfully built a business at Equinox, take the time to coach me through the steps to be successful was critical. Let's just say that I lucked out in the Mentor department and was able to pay it forward, because my second year at Equinox I was awarded Mentor of the Year! - Allison Tibbs

The mentor program at Equinox was essential in my success when I was first hired and throughout my career. Senior trainers shared their personal experiences and gave valuable advice about personal training, but also tips on building business, professionalism and club culture, which I found to be equally as important. My mentors, JJ, Allison and Jason (thank you!) were so helpful in many unique ways. Their individual styles helped me develop in all aspects of the role which I can safely say shaped who I am as a trainer today. Since then I've been promoted and seen personal success and I'm lucky to be able to give back through the mentorship program and help others grow within the company the same way my mentors did for me! - Kylie Fan

JJ is literally the definition of a people person. Choosing him to be one of my mentors has been a huge asset to me building my business. As a new trainer, I feel like I have so much to learn and thankfully JJ has invested time into me. He's helped me grow into the trainer/person that I am and I hope to be a fraction of the trainer he is one day. - Ashley Rutherford

The thing I appreciated most about JJ's approach was that it was about me. That simple, direct and encouraging "me" centered approach made me super willing and interested in finding out more. JJ invited me to visit the club, gave me a personalized tour, and shared his experiences with me. He was candid about the challenges AND the benefits of leaving a professional office career for a career in personal training. What I appreciated the most was JJ's honesty and willingness to share a complete picture of the opportunity. And, his passion for the fitness industry is contagious. - John Rowe

10 Most Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

I've worked with dozens of aspiring and established trainers over the past four years. Below are questions and answers to some of the most common questions they ask. My answers are most relevant for trainers wishing to work at a top gym like Equinox where I have proudly worked for several years. While many trainers earn a great living working independently, I enjoy and thrive professionally and financially working at the most innovative gym brand in the world. #EquinoxMadeMeDoIt  #CommitToSomeThing

What certification should I get?

The training industry is strange. Currently it’s not required by law that personal trainers have a nationally recognized certification. Come again? That’s right. Technically anyone off the street can call themselves a personal trainer. Scary. I think that will change in the years ahead. But for now, c’est la vie. If you want to work at any reputable gym, they will require a certification. I would recommend the NASM CPT as the strongest foundation. It has some clout within the training community and will tell your potential employer that you take your education seriously. There are other easier ones to get and those are “fine” too. But I’d still recommend NASM. ACE is also reputable. Here’s a secret, your clients won’t care what cert you have. Only your employer. For more on this topic, check out The PTDC.

How much money can I make?

This is a tricky question and depends largely on where you live/work. Assuming you live in an urban city (Bay Area, NY, Chicago, LA, etc) and commit to making training your full time passion, good trainers who work hard (5 days/week, 6-8 sessions/day) can expect a low six figure income in their second full year. I know trainers who prefer to work a little less and earn in the $80k/year range and are very happy. And the top performers in my network of friends who work a lot (i.e. 6-7 days/week, 8+ sessions/day) are closer to $180k+/year. It depends on the lifestyle you want for yourself.

How long will it take me to build my business so I can make a living?

“Ramping up” is different for everyone. Sometimes it happens quickly, sometimes slowly. It took me two months. But I was HUNGRY and had help. Solid trainers can build their business in as little as three months and sometimes can take up to six months. To be safe, I encourage those considering a career change to have between 3-6 months of financial security in the bank. It’s stressful, no doubt. Adding fear of paying rent and feeding yourself can lead to burnout and anxiety.  

What will the hours look like?

Long. Be ready. New trainers have to work hellish hours. When I started I worked six days/week as early as 5am and as late as 9pm. Now, there were big breaks in between where I got to workout, take naps, read, meal prep, study, work with mentors, etc. And now I only work Monday-Friday from 630a-430p with a break in between to workout and eat. But that took time. Be ready for some tough, fluctuating hours at first, but with the right approach and mentor you can confidently expect to shift to a more balanced and ideal schedule after your first 6 months or so.

What will my days look like?

It depends on where you work. At Equinox, we are lucky. The management doesn’t just throw you on the floor and say “good luck”! New trainers there can expect on a daily basis to have some mix of paid education/training (yes, they actually pay you to go through a curriculum that teaches you how to be an awesome trainer - see below), team workshops, mentorship hours, floor shifts, new members assessments, member outreach, special events and of course training sessions.

What training will I be given?

If you are hired at Equinox you will go through Equinox’s Fitness Training Institute curriculum (and will be paid to do so). It’s a fantastic program for both new trainers and veteran trainers. You will also be assigned a mentor (maybe me!) and will have access to regular continuing education workshops and 1-on-1 coaching to help you. 

How do I get clients?

Truth? If you expect to be handed clients because you aren’t comfortable reaching out to potential clients, approaching members and demonstrating your value, this likely isn’t the career for you. Sad but true, you might be THE BEST trainer in the world. But if you expect clients to be filtered to you or flock to you by shear attraction to your awesomeness, it ain’t going to happen. You will need to hone your networking skills, be an excellent communicator/project manager and become comfortable demonstrating your value. Attitude in this arena is directly related to the success you can expect. If you want to work with professional clientele (lawyers, doctors, tech folks, etc) you will need to present yourself professionally (learn to write an email, how to respond promptly and how to communicate maturely).  

What about my own workouts and fitness goals?

Expect to be busy during the peak workout hours (early morning, lunchtime and evening). But welcome to the wonderful life of being a fitness pro. Most of us get the pleasure of working out between 9a-11a or 2p-4p when everyone else is stuck at their desks. It’s important even as a hungry new trainer to carve out time and hold it sacred for your own workouts and recovery. It will make you a better trainer and a happier, balanced person. Trainers who over fill their schedules become unhealthy, resentful and burnout.

How can I learn everything, right now?!

WHOA! Slow down. All roads lead to Rome. We’ve been studying the human body, movement, nutrition and regeneration for THOUSANDS of years and we’ve only scratched the surface. While many of the best trainers are hungry to learn everything, right now, it simply doesn’t work that way and it’s not necessary. Learning is a lifelong process. So focus on learning a little each day versus drinking from the firehose or you’ll drive yourself (and your clients, mentors and managers) crazy.

What about building my own website, blog and social media following?

These are extremely important things to think about and plan for. But before worrying about your platform, consider your intent. If you want these things because you want clients and clout consider shifting your thinking. These are tools for sharing what you know and using that knowledge to help others, for building a following and of course to gain new clients. But focus first on becoming the BEST TRAINER you can. What does that mean? Work with as many people as possible (clients, colleagues and mentors). You can’t become an Internet celebrity or industry luminary before actually doing the work. Don’t add to the noise by trying to be another “me too” Instagram model or pusher of dubious supplements and crash diet schemes. Showcase your clients' successes more than your own. Publish value versus shameless self promotion. This takes time and strategy but it’s worth it in the end.

Questions or comments?

Feel free to contact me. I’ll do my best to help.