Get ahead faster in your personal training career by learning lessons from those who have gone before you and succeeded. Every mistake ultimately leads to the next step in ones journey and it also paves the way for others to benefit. NFPT’s blog series What I Wish I Knew My 1st Year as a Personal Trainer is a collection of articles written by NFPT-certified personal trainers who share their most valuable lessons by storytelling.
Pricing for Personal Training Services
How much should a personal trainer charge per hour? How do you set your pricing structure?
How to Price – Factors to Consider
Location. Consider where you are located. Geography matters as the culture in different regions will often dictate what is deemed acceptable as an hourly rate. For example, in urban areas, the price per hour can be $100 or more whereas rural areas may see price points around $65.
Client Demographics. Who do you want to train? If you specialize in active adult fitness or cater to retired individuals on a fixed income, $100 per hour may be completely unreasonable. Make a reasonable effort to understand what your potential client pool will expect to pay – what is attainable for them?
Economic Climate. What does the current economy look like? Is it a recession or a boom? Economic downturns negatively impact price points as people will be less likely to pay high dollar for an hourly session four times a week. Pay close attention to the trends.
Costs to Train. What are your costs to train the client? Gas for traveling to their home? Gym fees? Equipment costs? Figure this into your pricing structure.
Action Steps – What Comes First
Research. By education and license, personal trainers are scientists, which means we should be familiar with the research process. These same principles apply to business research. First, find a salary survey or information from your certifying organization that discusses trends in personal trainer salaries. Second, utilize local resources such as the Small Business Administration to help you conduct market research to evaluate what the pricing trends are in your respective region for group fitness classes, membership fees, and personal training services – one on one and small group. The SBA offers services free of charge; the only thing you need to budget is time.
Take a Tour. Examine the popular gyms, clubs and recreation centers in your area. It’s worth it to pay the daily fee so that you can utilize the services and experience the environment and review pricing information. This can help you decide what niches are already satisfied and what holes the industry in your area may have. Touring other facilities also provides an opportunity to avoid duplicating efforts, but also learn from what other establishments are doing well. A mentor doesn’t always have to be a person; sometimes it’s a place.
Budget. Set a budget with your fixed costs (rent, utilities, insurance premiums, etc.) and determine what you need for “take home”. Don’t forget to budget for self-employment taxes if those apply to you. Let’s say you charge $70 per hour and you have 5 clients a week and each one has three 60-minute training sessions with you each week. This amounts to $1,050 each week (or $4,200/month – not bad!). BUT – that’s not what you get to take home. What you take home is the money you have left after fixed costs and expenses are paid. A budget will help you identify what you need to take home to live comfortably.
Use Creative Pricing Packages. Consider offering various pricing structures and packaging to appeal to many individuals. Use the knowledge you gained in the market research and facility tours to help you set weekly, bi-weekly, pay-in-full, and other pay schedules. You can offer holiday discounts, specialty pricing (mother-daughter, father-son, couples, etc.).
Reevaluate. As time moves forward, revisit your pricing structure to make sure you’re still competitive and not giving away services you should charge for. The economy changes and supply and demand will influence what people will pay for and how much they are willing to pay. Keep on top of these changes so you can modify your practices.
Most importantly, be confident. Your services are worth more than you think. It’s a challenge to find a balance between what you’re worth and a market price consumers are willing to pay. That said, you went through training, licensing, education and pursue continuing education efforts to become and remain a certified personal trainer. There’s value in your background and that should be reflected in your pricing structure and schedule.
Schedule Personal Training Sessions the Smart Way
Ever have one client at 6 am and one at 6 pm, three times per week? (with a lot of free time in between!?) This was my schedule when first starting out as a personal trainer. I took what I could get. I filled in any gap between those 12 hours with anyone. As my schedule filled up the large range between first and last appointment became problematic.
- The day became long and scattered when people were out of town or switched times.
- Sometimes my sessions were back to back for hours on end, with minimal breaks.
These two mistakes were hard to reverse once I had a flourishing business. I wanted to change my schedule, but how? And who to take off my schedule? If I could start over again here is what I would have considered.
Avoiding appointment alterations
Ideally, your clients stick with you long term. But, this can be a double-edged sword. Many clients get into a routine at the time and day(s) you initially start seeing them. Sometimes they’ll change and sometimes they won’t. They could stop coming to see you all together. Your preferences or schedule might change. You can’t predict change, but you can prepare for it.
Contemplate what you want your schedule to be like from the start. You don’t need to be available every hour of the day. Set general boundaries. If you’re desperate for money and need to take people whenever, try to fit them within your ideal schedule first. Don’t let them choose whatever time they want. In other words, tell them what you have available and go from there.
Then try this…
Setting boundaries beforehand
If a new client doesn’t fit into your ideal schedule, but you want to work with them then tell them that you don’t usually work that time/day. Offer a 6-8 week plan to be re-evaluated. Some people like this because it takes the long-term pressure off. They don’t feel like they have to commit to training with you forever. Maybe they’ll land up being a great client and it’ll be worth it to you. If they’re not then the expectations were laid out from the start and it’ll be easier to pass them along.
At one point in my career I stopped seeing evening clients. Several months into enjoying my free nights, I got referred a client who wanted to train three times a week in the evening. I told her “I don’t usually see clients in the evening but we could give it a try for a few weeks to see how it works out for each of us”. She was a triathlete and excited about my suggestion to exercise outdoors near my house at a park. This made it so I didn’t have to drive back to the gym for just one session. She landed up being one of my favorite clients of all time and I enjoyed working outside since I lived in California at the time.
Knowing your preferences and being honest is key. Communicate and set expectations from the start. Sometimes this works in your favor. People can smell desperation and they can sense healthy boundaries. The later is more attractive.
Leaving space in your schedule
I wish I would have left 10-15 minutes in between each session. My efficiency-driven mind found it ideal to get the day done with and to schedule people on the hour. I believe I would have benefited from “interval training” instead of running a marathon every day. See what I’m saying?
Not having more than a few minutes if any at all between clients became exhausting and wore me out. I wasn’t putting my best foot forward. I think 45-50 minute sessions that started on the hour could have worked well for me. You could schedule hour-long workouts at 9am, 10:15am, 11:30am, etc. Or schedule a half-hour break after every two sessions. There are many ways to do it!
You’ve gotta make time for yourself, no one else will. Leaving 10-15 minutes between most sessions might have added an hour or two to my day, but it would have helped me stay refreshed, provide a better service and ultimately attract more business.
It’s time to schedule yourself!
Get out a piece of paper and start crafting your ideal schedule now, it’s never too late. You may not be able to get exactly what you write down immediately, but you can work towards it. Think about your career longevity when scheduling.
Do You Improvise or Plan Your Personal Training Sessions?
When I was a new personal trainer my sessions were planned weeks in advance, test runs ensued and timing was calculated over and over. The aim for perfection was of high priority. But something that I discovered is that hitches in precisely laid plans will occur. And they will occur often. Let me tell you what I wished I knew about flexibility and improvising my first year as a trainer.
To Plan or Not To Plan
Planning is important. I believe in planning a training session before going into it. It is good to know what you are wanting to do with your client. When your client sees that you have a well-organized plan, it shows them that they are a priority and that their money is being well spent. Also, a plan will help give you a sense of ease and confidence during the session. Being a new trainer, this is a very welcome feeling.
However, this “plan” that you have created is not the only path that can be taken during a training session.
When the Plan Just isn’t Enough….
When I first began my journey as a trainer, I started as a weightlifting instructor for a women’s class at my local college. I was nervous, unsure, and clinging to my class plan like a life raft. The first 15 minutes went smoothly until I realized that we had already gone through everything I had planned. They finished their last exercise, looked to me to see what was next, and I looked to my plan—which had nothing new to tell me, and there was still 40 minutes left in class.
I was mortified, and had the impractical urge to run out of there. This was not an option considering I was the instructor. So I had them run through the same fifteen minutes of exercises they had already done two more times, and then did a comically long cool down. I even dismissed the class early because I didn’t know what else to do considering I had already exhausted the plan!
I remember feeling silly afterwards, wondering why I didn’t have them do something else other than the pre-ordained exercises? I had just graduated a 2-year Exercise Science Program and acquired my Personal Training Certification. I had an arsenal of exercises and workouts in my brain, and yet because they were not in the plan I froze. I second-guessed myself and doubted my ability to improvise and be flexible within my class design.
My first year as a fitness professional went much like this first class; I rigidly followed the plans I created for classes and sessions.
I wish I had had the ability to see when something wasn’t working, and change it right then and there. I wish I had known how to recognize that my timing wasn’t quite right, or that my client was not enthused by the workout I had designed for them, and then been able to reconcile these issues during the session, allowing the client to leavefeeling satisfied and excited to return.
As new professionals, we can only learn these skills through (occasionally humiliating) trial and error. This is all part of the process of becoming an experienced and seasoned trainer.
I can happily say that I now have a much better grasp of improvising and flexibility within my sessions. I have learned when to trust the plan and when to toss it out completely. What I have learned to be most helpful is an outline. A more general idea of what I want the session to look like, and some key exercises or muscle groups I plan to target. I have found that a precisely laid plan can be restricting, and actually inhibit my ability to give my client the best training possible. Give yourself some wiggle room within your planning, I promise it will allow for inspiration and insight to visit you.
Leverage Your Time for More Income and More Freedom
by Mike Kneuer
It’s tough to have career longevity by personal training clients anytime, anywhere without additional streams of income. You run out of either money, energy, or both. Don’t let this profession that you’re so passionate about end before it gets a chance to really begin.
It took me a few years to learn the strategies I’m going to share with you that have made my career and, more importantly, my life more fulfilling. There are a few main concerns that I had when I first started out and they were:
- How can I increase my per-hour rate?
- How can I fill my mid-day with clients so I don’t need to work split shifts all the time?
- How can I leverage my expertise to earn income on top of my per session rates?
I figured that if I could answer all three of these questions that I would be able to create a more efficient schedule, enjoy a fulfilling career, and increase my income. And boy was I right! There are many ways to be more productive and generate additional revenue. Below are the strategies that have worked for me.
Two ways to increase your hourly rate
As trainers, we basically trade our expertise and our time for a dollar amount. We have two main options to increase our earnings. One option is to specialize in certain areas, for example, sports performance or sports injury. People expect to pay more for a specialty; compare the income of a general physician vs. a neurosurgeon, neurosurgeons are paid much based on their expertise. The same goes for the fitness industry. If you’re the go-to trainer for shoulder injuries, then a client with a shoulder injury will seek you out and will expect to pay more for your time.
The other option is training multiple clients at the same time. If your one-on-one rate is $100/hr. you’re able to earn more per hour and save your clients money by doing partner training, at $75/hr. per person, earning $150/hr. You can also do small groups, training 3-6 people at $50/hr. per person, earning $150-$300 per hour. Sounds a lot better than $100/hr. for one-on-one, right?
Two ways to escape the split shift schedule
Split shifts are tough. Working early mornings and late nights leaves very little time for a social life. When I first started, I was working split shifts for months and I was feeling burned-out. There are a few ways to change up your schedule to avoid the dreaded split shifts.
Another alternative, and this way is more beneficial to your bottom line, is to develop a clientele that can train during the hours you want to work. I’ve found that focusing on retired individuals is an easy way to fill up the mid-day hours and prevent a lull in your schedule. I prefer to alternate working early morning and in the afternoon on certain days and afternoons and evenings on others, this way I can schedule all my clients regardless of their preferred training times.
Earn income in addition to personal training
If you have a certification that allows you to recommend nutritional supplements and sell them then you can increase your income by developing a relationship with a reputable supplement company. Some personal trainers earn commission by recommending their products to your clients. Most people who work out buy protein powder, multivitamins, fish oil, and other health supplements. If they aren’t buying them from you, you’re losing out on an opportunity to make additional income and to make sure your clients are purchasing quality products.
You could also affiliate with fitness equipment and clothing companies. Some of them provide monetary bonuses when people purchase products with your affiliate link. Amazon has a program like this that covers a wide range of products and equipment.
Finally, you can earn extra income is by creating an info product, such as an e-book.
I hope you find these suggestions helpful. I’ve seen too many great trainers get burned-out by their inability to schedule their time wisely and by not taking advantage of alternate ways of earning income. You can earn a good living and have a career that you love if you manage your time and are smart about how you approach your business.
How to Know When to Leave Your Personal Training Job
by Mike Kneuer
Is it time to leave your personal training “job” and go out on your own or find a new fitness home that suits you and your clients better? This question, inevitably, only comes up when a trainer is not satisfied with their situation. There are a myriad of reasons for moving on and if you’re thinking about making a change, one or more of the reasons below will most likely resonate with you.
Limited Opportunity to Increase Your Client Base
Your gym may not actively promote the personal training opportunities available to their members or they may limit your ability to solicit new clients. Management may unfairly recommend some trainers over others.
You Do Not See Eye-to-Eye With Management
You may feel that your training philosophy differs from that of the management, this happened to me while I was working at a corporate big box gym. I had developed a very busy schedule of clients who enjoyed the type of training I was providing to them with resistance bands as their primary exercises. One day the training manager pulled me into his office mid-session and told me I wasn’t allowed to use the bands per gym policy.
My main responsibility and obligation are to my clients and their results, which for my particular clientele at the time was going to be achieved with resistance bands. I explained to the manager that my client was getting great results and was enjoying her workouts. If you want to go over and explain why I can’t train her the most effective way possible then be my guest, but I’ll be over there doing my job.” Although many of these reasons led up to me quitting my first big box gym this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
No One Plans to Fail but Many Fail to Plan
Your exit strategy is the key to your success. There isn’t a fire, so no need to run out of the building without a firm plan in place. First, know if you signed a non-compete. If you did, make sure you understand what restrictions there are; this will determine when and where you can work without violating the terms.
When exploring new gyms, if possible, speak with (in confidence) their trainers about their likes/dislikes– ending up in a similar situation doesn’t make sense. Make a checklist of things that are important to you and make sure the places you are considering meet your needs and the needs of your clients.
While you are researching new opportunities, keep your clients in mind. You’ve spent time building relationships with them and are committed to them. Most likely, they will follow you if they can, cost and location are two factors to consider. As much as your clients are devoted to you, they may not be able to afford to pay extra or have the time to travel further.
Making the Break
This conversation is usually not easy. But remember, this is about you and your success going forward, Giving two weeks notice is pretty standard and will be appreciated and will help in maintaining a good relationship with your boss (you never know when your paths may cross). You may be asked to leave immediately, don’t take it personally; your manager probably doesn’t want to give you time to talk to your clients about following you.
During your last two weeks when you meet with your clients let them know you are leaving, if they are remaining at the gym, introduce them to a co-worker that you think will be a good fit. If asked why you are leaving avoid giving too much information (especially if you have negative things to say about your manager) simply say that you are looking to grow professionally.
Don’t forget about saying good-bye to your co-workers, keeping relationships in the fitness industry is important. You’ll likely meet at events and perhaps work together in the future.
Continuing Education for Personal Trainers
by Erin Nitsche
What happens after the crisp and shiny “Certified Personal Trainer” certificate you’ve been waiting for arrives? You get down to business. Until it’s time to renew your certification. Then, you’re back to making choices and decisions again and often spending money, too.
Making a Plan for Continuing Education and Costs
Take it slow. The first step is to avoid overloading yourself with multiple memberships and/or certifications. When you first begin your career, it will take time to build a solid clientele and turn a profit in order to pay for higher priced continuing education events like conferences and workshops.
Know the numbers. Each certifying agency has a different education cycle and is usually related to your date of certification. Additionally, each organization will have a different number of “units” or “credits” required to maintain the license. Examine your organization’s continuing education policies and cycles and identify the number of units you will need by the end of that cycle.
Keeping CPR current is priority. Some organizations require a current CPR license to recertify while others will count a recertification of CPR as part of education units if it is completed during the cycle. Make sure CPR is current and you know how to recertify before it expires.
Set a budget. If you know you want to attend a workshop, you will need the funds (conference fees, travel costs, and room and board, etc.) to get you there. If you aren’t able to swing these lavish costs early on in your career, do not let that stop you from keeping that as part of your plan.
Set a budget for the certification cycle. Start by reviewing what your certifying agency offers for continuing education and examine the overall cost of what it would be to complete all required units “in-house” – this gives you a benchmark. From there, you can look at other NCCA agencies to see what their options are and compare the cost.
NOTE: Make absolutely certain that your certifying agency will accept credits from other sources. Most of them do; however, if it is not specified in the description of a course, webinar, quiz, etc. inquire with your organization first before paying for it.
Save for your future. Just as you would set aside a portion of income to pay for taxes, do the same with continuing education.
Establish a calendar. Schedule time for yourself to complete continuing education. For example, if you know you have a 2-year cycle to complete 2 units, break those units up over the course of that two years and set short-term goals for each month. Use this to help you stay on track.
Negotiate for funding. Sometimes it’s possible to have your employer pay for a portion or all of continuing education units – especially if it is a benefit to your employer and/or is required for you to perform your contracted duties (in the case of a personal trainer, it absolutely would be).
Petitions are possible. Ask your organization what its petition policy is. If you come across an event that you feel would be a quality continuing education opportunity (teaching a class, hosting a workshop, authoring articles, etc.), approach the education department and ask to petition for credit. For example, a course about business or marketing might count even if it wasn’t pre-approved by your organization.
Quality Continuing Education Options
Believe it or not, there are countless educational opportunities for the field of fitness and not all of them require travel or time off work. It’s possible to find these affordable gems of knowledge if you invest the time to mine them.
Home study courses. These generally count for a significant portion of required credits (depending on the organization you belong to). For example, Human Kinetics offers top-quality at-home study and online learning options for a variety of topics. Search for a few classes that seem interesting to you and budget them.
Money-saving tip: some courses don’t require that you purchase the text – check out the cost of the same text using the ISBN of the book and see if you can acquire it cheaper from Amazon or another reputable seller. Can’t find it? Opt for the eBook version. Other quality sources for home study include Health and Fitness Continuing Education and Exercise ETC.
Webinars. Webinars are a great way to knock out a couple of units of education in as many hours. Some organizations offer free webinars (make sure it notes the number of units you earn – if it doesn’t, it might not have any attached). Other webinars can come with a cost, but it’s usually nominal.
Look for value bundles. Organizations sometimes package continuing education units for a lower cost than purchasing credits individually.
Get credit for your skills. Host a workshop, a webinar, or class. If you craft a quality opportunity, your organization may be willing to award you credit – even if it’s a small amount. Although organizations list approved providers and courses, it doesn’t mean those lists include every possible scenario or opportunity that is developed almost daily by thousands of quality agencies.
In other words, in never hurts to ask to have other options considered. Before approaching your organization, research what the criteria are for education units. Understanding these guidelines will help you ensure your proposal or petition meets each one.
Continuing education is part of the job of a personal trainer. It is essential you stay current in your knowledge, abreast of new developments, sophisticated in your skills, and committed to your passion and purpose. You cannot accomplish any of that without cultivating a belief in lifelong learning.
Look Back to Move Forward and Succeed as a Personal Trainer
I wanted to go from crawling to walking overnight during my first year as a personal trainer. What I mean by this is that I felt I needed to know everything pertaining to personal training that there was to know. I felt that I had to know every working muscle in the body and all the correct foods to eat and their nutritional properties. These are just some of the struggles and worries placed on myself during my first year as a certified trainer.
These burdens I placed on myself created a great deal of doubt on my worthiness as a personal trainer. I wanted to know the course laid out before me there really was one to travel. Are you ever so focused on the future that you can’t appreciate the present or even acknowledge the past?
All of this pressure came to a screeching halt when I could no longer handle the anxieties placed on myself. Luckily, as the weeks and months went on I tested the waters as a new personal trainer by acquiring clients, taking measurements, setting weight loss goals and things miraculously flowed.
After interactions with several clients I had an epiphany: I was already equipped to be a great trainer. I realized that I was not on this journey alone as I previously forced myself to believe.
I kept reminding myself that I had a personal training certification from one of the most reputable training companies on the market. To boot, this was coupled with over fifteen years of experience as an athlete so I understood the demands, trials, and rigors that accompanied any fitness program. This epiphany gave me a much-needed boost in confidence and esteem as a personal trainer and quickly erased any doubts I had about my abilities. There was no need for me to know everything all at once. With time and experience this knowledge and growth would be acquired with due diligence.
Don’t forget where you came from
I believe that this phrase can really help you keep things in perspective during your first-year personal training. It gives you a frame of reference as to the experience and credibility you already have under your belt. My personal experience from being a track athlete and workout enthusiast helped tame the fears the my first year as a trainer. I had hands-on experience putting in hours in the gym and on the track to produce the best possible results. Doing so helped me compete at the highest level. Hence, the athletic spirit and mentality became embedded in me. This same competitive frame of mind carried over into other areas of my life leading to a great interest in my field of health and wellness.
This reminder that I had this experience and knowledge during my first year as a personal trainer become a tool which I used to propel me forward. Whether you were an athlete in school for a few years or took a few courses in exercise nutrition, every bit of experience counts.
Keep learning to build confidence
In addition to this, during my first year as a trainer I took full advantage of the online content set in place by NFPT. The online content allowed me access to workout tutorials and various articles on exercise and nutrition. The reassurance from this was vital for me. Though I was new to the field I was confident in the experience and knowledge I did have and excited for the opportunity to expand on these.
Here I am today. I have accomplished a great deal in the field of personal training. Though years ago I was in a place of great worry and fear. The learning aspect of personal training, or any field for that matter, is never-ending and ever-changing. I have accepted that I will never know everything there is to know and I will always be a student of the expansive field of personal training.