Let’s be honest – the fitness industry isn’t for the faint of heart.
As a trainer or strength coach, it’s not uncommon to work ungodly hours for what amounts to less than minimum wage.
On the other hand, I think some people assume that those who are “successful” (however you want to define that) have something inherently special about them.
Maybe they’re smarter, better looking, more well-connected, or they just flat-out got lucky.
Many of us enter the industry for one simple reason:
To change people’s lives via our passion for fitness.
And if you work/live in this industry, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Every single one of us has had one of those times where we feel a little beaten down and question why we do this for a living.
My goal with this post is to not only give you a little added motivation, but to show how hard work and dedication to your craft can ultimately pay off.
It’s not about being smarter, better looking, or getting lucky – it’s often about doing the things that others are unwilling or unable to do.
Now, let’s get into my story….
Coming out of undergrad, I took the grad school route for one simple reason:
I still had no clue where I was going in life.
I knew I loved my internship working in the strength and conditioning department at Ball State, but I wasn’t sure if I could parlay that into full-time work.
After all, I was totally new and no one was going to give me a job as a D-1 strength coach with 3 months experience, so grad school seemed like the safe option.
I netted a graduate assistantship with the Biomechanics Lab, while simultaneously keeping my full-time job working at Kinko’s.
Yes, that’s right – I worked at Kinko’s. Feel free to make fun, but it was a pretty fun job and I got to spend a lot of time with some of my best friends, who also worked there.
Plus, it’s always funny when people ask to have things “blown-up and plasticized!”
More importantly, it helped pay the bills. It’s not like I was some big baller who was living off a trust fund!
So that year was tough – starting a grad program, full-time graduate assistantship, and full-time work was no joke.
But here’s where things get interesting. At the end of my first year of grad school, I had to make a very difficult choice.
I knew I loved strength and conditioning. I knew that was my passion, and what I wanted to do the rest of my life. I figured that if I stuck around there long enough I’d get more responsibility and the chance to work with some of my own teams.
But then Kinko’s came to me with the opportunity to become their corporate account manager and make $40k per year. To make they offer even sweeter, they were willing to work around my school and GA schedule.
So here I could finish out my degree, and make $40k per year. No brainer right?
Unless you’re me!
I think you guys know the choice I took. I put in my two weeks notice at Kinko’s and jumped head first into strength and conditioning.
The second year of my grad program I took my classes, worked as a full-time GA, and also volunteered full-time with the strength and conditioning department as well.
Did I work my ass off? Absolutely.
But that one simple sacrifice made all the difference in the world.
Those little successes I had at Ball State gave me the confidence to go out and get a job in this industry, and ultimately, help people worldwide achieve their strength and performance related goals.
But my story is just one of many. Check out what these amazing strength coaches, trainers and physical therapists had to say when I asked them about their hard work, dedication and sacrifice over the years.
When I was in my final year of my undergrad degree, I decided to take a practicum working in the University of Alberta’s Behavioural Medicine Lab, which was heavily involved in exercise and cancer. The majority of research being done was on the effects of different exercise programs (aerobic and resistance) on various biomarkers, psychological scales, functional capacity, and a bunch of other cool things. I was directly working with people who had terminal cancer and were in palliative stages, people going through treatment for breast cancer and who expected to make full recoveries, and also general population members in prevention programs.
This wasn’t just physically draining, but also emotionally, knowing that half of the people I was working with would not make it to Christmas, but were still there trying their best. The big benefit this taught me is how resilient the human body really was, and how much progress could actually be made, regardless of what was standing in the persons’ way. It was humbling to think that I wanted to skip a workout when someone who could barely stand under their own control was being propped up on a bike and asked to pedal to try to help future generations whom they would never meet.
So after working with this group of individuals, I decided I wanted to dedicate my time to helping people who needed it the most but who didn’t “fit the mold” of what most trainers or strength coaches could offer. Part of this comes from the fact that I’ve lost some family members to cancer.
While this directive of learning has never been the most popular or profitable, every now and then I get a client who has had major metastatic cancer, gone through multiple surgeries, rounds of chemo, and suffered massive emotional and physical trauma. At that point being able to simply say I understand, have seen and worked with people who have been in similar situations and still made tremendous physical improvements, and I could help them as well makes it worth the effort. At the end of the day, income only matters if it means I’ve been able to make a massively positive difference in the lives of my clients, and I try to do that with everyone, including those who need it the most.
- Dean Somerset, DeanSomerset.com.
The first thing I think of is the classic adage from Roman philosopher Seneca – “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
I can’t say it any better than that. The most successful people aren’t always the smartest, they are the most motivated and prepared.
I would absolutely put myself in that category. I know I am not one of the smartest people in our industry, but I pride myself in how much I pour into my profession.
Early on in my career I set a goal of what niche I wanted enter (sports and specifically baseball) and rather than hope it happened, I did everything I could to put myself in a position to succeed. I sought out who the best was in this niche, moved to Alabama from Boston (big culture shift!), learned from them, and eventually became one of them. My preparation met an opportunity and I got lucky. But I know that without my preparation, I wouldn’t of have this opportunity.
- Mike Reinold, MikeReinold.com
Attaining success in any profession is a grind! One must sacrifice a lot in order to gain a little.
Some of the biggest ways I have sacrificed over the past 11 years have been to spend a lot of time and money on education. This is not only in the form of all the books that I have collected and read during this time period but also in the form of traveling to attend conferences, driving out to meet other professionals to buy them a drink or buy them dinner so that we could “talk shop”, and flying all over the country to network.
In addition to that there are countless hours spent working with clients and long days (up at 5:30am and home at 9 or 10pm) just putting in time and grinding away. There are also hundreds of hours that have been spent volunteering and not getting paid in an effort to “learn something new” or “gain experience”.
I don’t know if people would call me “successful” and I guess some of that really depends on how you define success, but when I look at what I get to do everyday for “work,” I believe that I have reached a level of personal success.
Of course there were times were I looked back at it all and wondered, “Is this a good idea? Is this all worth it? Will all this hard work, effort, and time ever pay itself back to me?”.
I believe it has.
- Patrick Ward, OptimumSportsPerformance.com
I often say it’s not what you do, it’s what you don’t do, that makes you productive. That may seem counter intuitive at first, but it’s very true.
While I have gained success in this industry for what I have done, that success is due to what I don’t do. If you really want to be successful in this industry you have to make sacrifices.
Things like video games, time on a bar stool, time hanging out with friends, time with family, TV, and many other things fall to the wayside to achieve a successful career in our industry.
To really maximize your time you have to value it.
I’ve worked my butt off in order to gain a small amount of success in this industry, and the biggest sacrifice has been my time spent with friends and family in order to spend it on things like fitness education, business education, personal development,, client needs etc. I don’t know how many 15+ hour days’ I’ve worked at this point to get some success, but I do know that there will be many more.
Nothing good comes easy, but you can have fun working your butt off if you find something you love. They key is to find that perfect balance of work/personal life to be happy and successful. I’m so glad that I picked a profession that I love, which makes all of the hard work and sacrifices well worth it.
Best of all when you do what you love, and put in the work, you will always be well rewarded in the long run.
- Steve Long, SmartGroupTraining.com
I come from the world of dinosaurs, seriously, big hulking T-Rex’s and brontosauruses.
That is, I come from the world of throwing the hammer.
The problem is, I am no dinosaur myself- maybe 5’11” on a good day, and just cracking 200 pounds after a big weekend of cheating. I competed though, on the highest level of competition in the United States, at the NCAA championships, at 4 USA national championships, and at the Olympic trials (where I was outweighed by every competitor by at least 40 lbs).
I did this after having walked on to the track and field team at Indiana University and also after never throwing the hammer before my freshmen year of college.
From a walk-on, I earned a full ride scholarship, broke the school record and was named an All-American.
The only thing that separated me from any other competitors was my desire to be great. I was willing to spend 1000’s of hours just learning and perfecting the technique without ever measuring a throw, I was willing to drive 1000’s of miles to learn from 4x Olympians in my event. I was willing to scrap everything and start anew when I found out my approach was wrong. My coach thought I had gone hammer throw crazy - I thought I was just doing what it takes to be great.
This pattern and desire has been what has guided my career in fitness and coaching, from the first day I opened my gym. I was willing to learn from the best minds in training and business no matter how much I had to drive of fly to learn.
I was willing to work 16-18 hours a day for years, without ever starting a blog and telling the world how great my training methods are.
Be willing to do what others deem to be “too much” or “obsessive.” Do it right now and BE GREAT.
You can be your best today, but be even better tomorrow.
- Wil Fleming, WilFleming.com
One of my biggest faults is that it’s hard for me to leave my “comfort zone.”
I think most people can relate to that in some way, whether it’s going to the same restaurant every week, watching the same television shows, or even following the same exercise routine…….we like what we like and we tend to gravitate towards what’s “comfortable.”
Looking back at my career I can tell you that one of the best decisions I ever made was to pack my bags and head to New England.
Backtrack to 2005: I was working in corporate fitness (as well as some commercial gyms) and was, for all intents and purposes, happy. I also had more hair, but that’s beside the point.
I was living the dream getting paid to hang out in gyms and make people more badass.
I was comfortable.
But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel there was something missing. After working in the same place for three years, I was starting to wonder “is this it?” Too, I was yearning to actually learn and be around like minded individuals. Being from central Middleofnowhere, NY (just south of Syracuse), I didn’t really have access to “stuff,” or the resources I felt would help me become a better coach.
Anyways, to make a long story short, it was then that my good friend, Eric Cressey, suggested I get the hell out of dodge and move to Connecticut. He had just landed a sweet gig at a gym out there and mentioned to me that they were looking for another trainer.
A few weeks later, I packed my Hyundai and I was moving to New England – holy shit! This coming from someone who, as a kid growing up, would destroy the back of his pants at the thought of saying hi to a girl.
It was a MASSIVE step for me.
I was taking a risk, but I knew deep down that it’s what I needed to do in order to become a better coach, and person for that matter. I needed to “spread my wings” so-to-speak.
Six years later, I’m now the co-owner of Cressey Peformance, and am regularly featured in places like T-Nation, Livestrong, Men’s Health, etc.
It’s surreal to think of it, really.
The moral of the story: You need to get out of your comfort zone. If you truly want to get better, you owe it to yourself to seek out people and places that will MAKE you better. No one does it alone.
I’m not saying that one has to pack up all their things on a whim and leave whatever state they currently reside in (although that’s pretty baller).
But what I am saying is that one of the best things you can do is to surround yourself with like-minded people who will challenge you, engage you, and help you become the best coach (and person) you can be.
Shoot, I’ve been in this industry for a full decade now, and I’m just now coming to realize that I’m hitting my stride. I have sooo much more to learn, and I’m constantly fighting back the “I am a complete idiot” vibe.
But I can honestly say that growing a sack and leaving New York was one of the best things I ever did for my career.
- Tony Gentilcore, TonyGentilcore.com
As we started our businesses, Pat and I adapted our strategies pretty frequently to ‘make ends meet’.We had to stay in the cheapest hotels on trips, one of us slept on a couch for a year commuting between two towns we had stores in, another lived in a basement.
We lived 5 deep in a 3 bedroom house, made 16+ hour drives in vans with our staff, sold one of our vehicles and shared another, skipped a honeymoon so we could get our gym painted in time to open, and yes, the list could go on.
There were actually two parts of that strategy that made it effective.
One was that our commitment to making necessary sacrifices never decreased. We were all in. A lot of people are willing to make a sacrifice, or do something extra, if they believe that it will ultimately yield the reward they are pursuing, that’s not really what I would consider the key for us.
What set us apart in that regard was that we never let the feeling of ‘we’re due’ creep in.
A large portion of those who are willing to make sacrifices begin to think that making the sacrifice itself is what makes you successful. For us though, it was being willing and able to remain focused on the game-plan while making those sacrifices that was key.
Pat and I didn’t create our business due to our willingness to make long drives in vans packed with our team; we created our business because we were willing to do that and not let it interfere with the game-plan we had designed.
Business isn’t a movie, there’s not always a guaranteed reward for making the sacrifice or doing the right thing. Those are things that you have to do in addition to having a well designed strategy, and being willing to execute it without them becoming a distraction.
Once our primary business started to generate decent money, rather than change our strategy, we stuck to the game-plan. We knew we wanted to build an organization with multiple brands, and we’d need money to do that.
Rather than line our pockets or start to overspend in areas that wouldn’t push us toward that goal, we chose to keep doing what we had been doing and pour the money into expanding our business.
There are a lot of key points to being successful. I will say that there’s nothing that we could’ve done to have gotten our businesses to where they are at without the strategy of making sacrifices and remaining focused.
Making a sacrifice does not ensure success.
You have to be being willing to consistently make the sacrifices, and not let those sacrifices distract you from what still has to be done each day.
If you do that, you will drastically increase the likelihood of your success.
- Nick Berry, FitnessBusinessInsider.com
As I look back now I realize how I sacrificed by not being the husband and parent I wanted to be. But because of such a desire to achieve a high standard of performance as a coach I was truly going through life with blinders on.
Over the course of nearly 25 years I had gone in and out of teaching on two different occasions. Although I love to teach the public school system and its neglect on seeing the big picture drove my full attention to my strength and conditioning business. But teaching was safe, allowed my family to have full health benefits, and a steady income.
I want to be very clear; even though I was not thrilled about being in the public school systems I gave my students 100% effort all the time. I loved them and made sure they got my best performance as their teacher every day.
The following story is about how I sacrificed terribly to make my dream become a reality. I wanted to open a new training facility. This would be my second attempt at it.
Back in 1994 my wife and I opened our first facility but due to lack of funds we were forced to close the doors. The smartest thing I ever did was to never allow the training business to stop even when I didn’t have a facility. I would train at parks, fields, driveways, and basements.
I did what ever I had to to ensure my business never stopped.
Back in 2001 – 2002, I ran my training business out of my home training facility. I was currently working with about 30 athletes. But I was also a full time teacher, the schools strength coach, and head football coach at a local high school.
My desire to grow my business was obviously hampered by my full time teaching and coaching job – yet my income was primarily driven through teaching.
As I look back now I can remember working 7 days a week and from 5am to 10pm during the weekdays. My day consisted of getting to school at 5am so I could do strength and conditioning with my football players and random athletes from other sports.
After school I spent another 45 minutes in the weight room training athletes from all the other sports. At this point I went on to coach football from 4pm to 6:15pm each night. I hustled home to be ready to train my athletes from 7pm to 9 or 10pm. This schedule was 5 days a week (of course on Friday night game days I didn’t train).
My Saturday consisted of a light practice (video and recovery) and scouting a future opponent and then home and back to train for 3 to 4 more hours. Sunday, after church, I trained an additional 2 to 3 hours.
Believe it or not this schedule would go on for 2-3 months at a time with no days off. There were always athletes wanting to train and I was more than happy to fit them in the schedule.
What I didn’t mention is that I had two young daughters (Jae-5 years old, and Bailee- 3 years old). I would see them for about 20 minutes when I got home from football practice and before I started training my athletes.
I would see them for a few hours on Saturday and a few more hours on Sunday.
It breaks my heart as I write this to think my girls were in the same home as me and I hardly saw them.
With about 2 months to go in the school year I was starting to feel the drain of wearing so many hats and never seeing my family. I woke up one day and simply jumped into the biggest decision of my life. This decision was about as risky as could be but I didn’t care at that point. I had emotionally and physically beaten myself up and wanted my family back.
I told my wife that morning I was going to resign from teaching.
After she picked up her jaw I explained to her that I can make this work. Without marketing, having a training facility, or training at peak hours I have consistently 30-35 athletes training with me, and have been for over 2 years straight.
The risk was we were going to not have health insurance or a steady income – but I was determined to make it work.
That morning, when I went to school I told my principal and superintendent I was going to resign at the end of the year.
I never looked back.
By the start of fall I had opened a 900sq foot facility and within a years time had over 150 consistent athletes. I was rocking it. I was the only game in town.
My training methods were so different and new that people were driving from an hour away to train 2-3 times per week.
Within the next year I opened up a new facility that was 3300 sq feet. All the hard work had paid off and I was living the dream of owning a training facility.
Although I still worked 12-13 hours a day, I owned my day. I could see my kids when I wanted. I was able to take time off and spend time with them.
This to some people might not seem like much of a sacrifice, but for me and my family I sacrificed on so many levels.
You know what, even though it was difficult not seeing my family very much, I learned so many lessons through that experience and am able to lean on that experience today.
Fight for your dreams every day!
- Lee Taft, SportsSpeedEtc.com
My journey hasn’t been an easy one. I transferred schools my senior year of college to pursue an Exercise Science degree. At the end of my schoolwork, I took on an internship across the country with no promise of anything other than working 50+ hours a week for free and a roof over my head. I worked hard during those three months to show that I wanted to move forward in this field. While the internship did open up an opportunity for me at a Division I University, I had to move again, this time to the other side of the country with no friends and no family. It was great on so many levels, but tough on others. I applied several times to be promoted to a Director position but was passed by for reasons that didn’t sit well with me. I continued to do what I did best – train my athletes and produce results.
But eventually, it was time to move on. I dragged my husband and two kids 500 miles back to the midwest. I took a job with not only a pay cut, but commission pay at that. The thought of instability in my income was frightening. Not to mention that I went from training collegiate athletes to elementary, middle and high school aged kids. I even had to move my family in to my parents house for 9 months so we could sell our house and find a new one. But I did it for more opportunities to expand my knowledge, my network and my horizons.
When you stop searching for ways to get better, you cease to rise above difficult moments – which means becoming a better coach is virtually impossible.
- Julia Ladewski, JuliaLadewski.com
My story of becoming the best coach and trainer possible starts way back to when I was 17 years old. By the age of 17, I had been in the weightlifting scene for nearly a year. I began training when I was 16 for multiple reasons. I found weight training to be a good outlet for my stress as a high school athlete, and it also gave me an edge on the soccer field. So, needless to say, I really got into it.
By my senior year of high school, I was powerlifting, managing a local supplement store, and completely surrounding myself with training and nutrition. By age 17-18, I knew what I wanted to do with my life; I made the decision to become a coach, and hopefully one day, a gym owner.
I’m going to leave out my college days to help stay focused. To make a long story short, I had a good time in college. However, I never lost the determination to become the best coach around. Even with all the good times I had at college, my focus and drive allowed me to graduate with honors in the field of Exercise Science. This was just the beginning of my journey. So far, things had been easy. All I had to do was study, learn, and begin to apply some of the knowledge in my own training.
After graduating, I thought becoming a successful trainer would just happen overnight. Not so much. I was fresh out of college, earned a job immediately after graduating, but knew nothing about what it took to actually train a client or market myself as a trainer.
After training my first few clients, I realized I SUCKED!
I hate not being good at something, and being a good coach was a passion I had since I was 17. This was unacceptable in my books. It was time for me to refocus. I needed to get better.
For me to get better, I knew I needed to find a good mentor to gain some experience. I ended up taking an unpaid internship. Remember, I didn’t need an internship to graduate; this was done purely by my desire to succeed. I drove an hour each way, without pay, for nearly 5 months, to learn what it took to be a great coach. There was nothing glamorous about that.
I was working for free and broke as a joke, but nothing was going to stop me. I was waiting tables at the local Applebee’s to make some money, slowly but surely picking up clients of my own at the gym, and continuing to work for free at Velocity. Those were some tough times, but well worth it.
It doesn’t get any easier from there either. I continued to work and grow my clientele. Finally, I was doing well enough to quit my job waiting tables and focus on nothing but training. I continued to read, research, and try to learn from the best.
I went to my first Perform Better Functional Training Summit, and once again, my life was changed. I realized I still sucked. I love that feeling. It only makes you want to get better and better. That’s when I became an education junkie.
I spent every dollar I had to continue learning. Along the way, I ended up meeting a good friend of mine, Steve Long. We both had the same passion and addiction to succeed. This friendship has pushed me to new levels. We were both broke, but neither of us cared. We were getting better day by day.
Our passion led us to attend approximately 15 seminars a year together. We stayed in the cheapest hotels, split fuel costs, and went on no sleep to save a little money. We let nothing get in our way. We didn’t think about what it was going to cost us to go. We don’t think that way. What’s it going to cost us NOT to go? That’s what separates the truly successful from the imitators. Passion!
Finally, my career has started to blossom. There was nothing luxurious about what it took to get to my level. All it takes is a relentless passion to succeed and good ole’ fashioned hard work. We’re not special. We’re not doing anything miraculous here. We just work hard and don’t let any roadblocks or setbacks stand in our way.
Always striving to get better… day by day.
- Jared Woolever, SmartGroupTraining.com
In the summer of 2008, I had a second surgery on my right knee. The first surgery did not help alleviate any of the pain I was having so the doctor suggested we try a second operation that would be more invasive but should do the job.
Unfortunately, the second surgery was unsuccessful, and I was having pain doing many of the things I most enjoyed – snowboarding, tennis, running (I know, I was weird then). Basically, it was hard to be active. The doctor told me that it would be best if I just stayed away from any ballistic movements, which meant no running or tennis.
I had played tennis my first two years of college before my first knee surgery so I was very passionate about the sport. Therefore, this news was very hard for me to hear. I decided that I was not going to give up. I began digging into as many resources as I could find on the knee to improve my pain and function.
I had my second knee surgery in the summer of 2008 and entered my first year of a Masters Degree Program in Economics that fall. This made it difficult to read and learn a lot about the knee with the work involved in the program. However, I continued on and came to love learning not only about the knee but also the body in general.
I came to learn that my knee problems were most likely not due to my knee, which is why the surgery did very little. It made complete sense! If your knee hurts that does not necessarily mean it is the knee’s fault. There is most likely some other dysfunction in the chain that caused it to become painful. With knee pain, it is typically the ankles and/or the hips.
The most beneficial resource for me learning about the knee was Bulletproof Knees by Mike Robertson. I began integrating some of the exercises in the manual and noticed improvements. I soon realized that Mike owned a gym in Indianapolis (IFAST) where I lived and was attending graduate school! I decided to make a trip to IFAST and quickly became a member at the gym.
As a client at IFAST, my knee pain improved dramatically. I was doing exercises and activities I had been told to stay away from! This greatly peaked my interest in learning more about exercise and the body. I questioned Mike and Bill Hartman, the other owner, on resources to learn more. They were always very generous in offering suggestions, and I would pick up and read as many of them as possible.
I decided toward the end of my first year of grad school that I was more passionate about physiology, anatomy, and biomechanics than I was about economics. However, I decided that I needed to finish my Economics degree and maybe a great opportunity would come up in the field or that my passion for those other fields would die off.
I was wrong.
During the last semester of grad school, I decided to apply for an internship at IFAST. It was a very scary move because I was about to graduate with a Master’s Degree in Economics and knew that I could find a financially rewarding and secure job or possibly enter a PhD program (which I was very close to doing). On the other hand, the IFAST internship was unpaid, I would be working close to 60 hours a week, and there were no great job prospects once I was done.
I talked it over with my girlfriend and family and they encouraged me to pursue the internship. They knew how passionate I was, and I am so thankful for their support throughout.
I was very lucky once I completed the internship because IFAST offered me a job as a full-time coach. I remember driving home to my girlfriend, so excited, the day Mike told me he would hire me.
It was pretty emotional because we had no idea where we were going to end up. A month prior I was having Mike look over my resume and discussing with him possible jobs around the country. Emme (my girlfriend) and I both wanted to stay in Indianapolis because most of our family is close by, but we were willing to leave if it meant I could work at a gym doing something I love.
Luckily, I got the job, and we bought a house in Indianapolis within the next couple of months.
I am so happy I sacrificed the security of a job in Economics for an unknown career in fitness. It was scary, and I questioned my decision more than once during the internship, but I am extremely happy now working for an awesome gym and doing what I am most passionate about!
- Zach Moore, ZMoore.com
The moral of the story here is simple:
If you want to be successful, you absolutely can be.
Lay out a game plan, make some sacrifices, and do what it takes to get better.
It’s not the sexiest answer you’re going to get, but I can guarantee you that it works.
All the best
P.S. – Today is the last day to pick up your copy of the Bulletproof Body. Unless you want to wait until 2013 for the final version to come out, make sure to pick up a copy today!