How to Start a Gym from Scratch

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Starting a business from the ground up can be scary and overwhelming. With high energy, a clear vision, and a solid work commitment it’s doable.
Here are 5 indispensable steps for starting a gym from scratch and realizing your unique vision.

Taking Basic Steps

Step 1: The Business Plan

The notion of a business plan is about as intimidating as the idea of writing a thesis or dissertation. But, nonetheless, it’s the same process – one step at a time. The great thing about a business plan is it helps to clarify the vision, identify potential areas of struggle, need/competition, and how you plan to market your business.

A business plan isn’t foolproof because like any plan or intention, things can change. It’s impossible to predict or plan for every challenge or eventuality, but using the business plan as the scaffolding for your business is the right first step. A word of caution – be open to change as you move through this process.

Step 2: Research & Needs Assessment

Part of the business plan includes a natural research component, but never stop researching and planning. You have to know your niche, your audience, and who your competitors are. You also need to have an understanding of the trends the field is facing and think about how your business might capitalize on a growing or expected trend. Having a unique vision as well as the desire to fill a certain need will help you secure more funding opportunities and start-up business grants.

Some aspects to examine include existing facilities, available classes, services, and amenities of those facilities, personnel bragging rights (what certifications or educational background do the personnel in existing facilities possess, etc.), location, environment, size, available equipment, etc. Take copious notes and highlight what you like and what you feel you can do better as a business owner.

Step 3: Budget

Many see the word “budget” and think “restriction”. Shift your mindsight to think “foundation”. What foundation do you have to invest currently? What will you need? This part of the process will probably take the most effort because money, as they say, doesn’t grow on trees.

Here, you also have to evaluate risk to reward. Can you begin to offer a service and afford to lose it if it doesn’t go well? Most new businesses do not operate in the “black” for the first few years, so don’t lose heart. BUT do establish a relationship with an accountant that can help you navigate the tax side and a financial advisor who can help identify money sources and revenue possibilities.

Step 4: Haves

If former CEO Steve Jobs started Apple in a garage, you can start a fitness business. Take a look at the inventory you already have. This includes your knowledge, current certifications and education, and equipment. If you have to start small, do it. Start training clients in their homes or at your home (check insurance requirements) with what you have and build a base. Set aside a chunk of your earnings earmarked for the bigger goal.

Step 5: Have Nots, but Need

Here’s where you need to dream. Think about this in three dimensions:

1.     Bare-Bones (Good)

2.     Would be Nice (Better)

3.     Sky’s the Limit (Best)

The bare-bones vision can likely be accomplished in step four. What assets and resources do you currently possess (or can purchase with minimal cost) to offer quality fitness services to your intended audience?

The would be nice dimension is all about what you would like to make your services better, but that isn’t immediately necessary. In other words, your services will still be quality without these additional tools, but you will work toward establishing them.

The third dimension, the sky’s the limit, is your best service imaginable. If you had all the money you needed, what would that look like and how would that shape your vision? This is your opportunity to research additional future funding that might require a year or two of a baseline operational budget, liabilities, and assets.

This step may also include additional training or advanced certifications you hope to obtain. Consciously review the resources your community already has and what you might be able to identify as the “missing link” or a needed service. Do you have the experience and expertise to fill that need? If not, what training would help you develop that ability?

Starting any business is always a risk, but an exciting one! Start with the basics – a solid foundation – and build upwards. Aside from taking conscious and active steps in the right direction, have the courage to dream and invest the time and energy into bringing that vision into a clear and precise focus.

Here’s a story about an NFPT Certified Trainer – Ian Nimblett, who started a successful business.


Dr. Erin Nitschke, NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Health Coach, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Therapeutic Exercise Specialist, and Pn1 is a health and human performance college professor, fitness blogger, mother, and passionate fitness professional. She has over 15 years of experience in the fitness industry and college instruction. Erin believes in the power of a holistic approach to healthy living. She loves encouraging her clients and students to develop body harmony by teaching focused skill development and lifestyle balance. Erin is also the Director of Educational Partnerships & Programs for the NFPT. Erin is an editorial author for ACE, IDEA, The Sheridan Press, and the Casper Star Tribune. Visit her personal blog at