Breaking Into The Industry

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Hi, my name is Mike, and I’m an addict.

I’m absolutely addicted to learning more about the human body and helping people achieve their goals. If I wasn’t, why would I spend 13 or 14 hours on any given day training people?

So you think you want to get into the fitness industry, eh? You think you’ve got what it takes?

We’ll find out — because trust me, if you’re looking to hang and bang in the gym all day or make cash hand over fist, you’re probably barking up the wrong tree.

I’m going to warn you right now: I’m writing this article with a chip on my shoulder. You see, I’ve seen more than my fair share of trainers who do more harm than good to their trainees. They get them injured, they don’t help them achieve their goals, and what’s worse — they might as well be stealing their money!

If you want an article that sugar coats the truth and passes out ribbons for mediocrity, this ain’t it. My goal here is to give you a real-world idea of what it’s like to be a trainer. If you want to learn about how to really make a difference in people’s lives, then this is the article for you!

fitness trainer

The Prerequisites

Just like you need to take certain classes to get into your major in college, there are certain prerequisites that will make you successful in the training industry. Here are just a few of them.

The Desire to Help People

While all of the following are important character traits to possess, this may be one of the most important. If you think you’re going to waltz into this industry and make big-time cash, you’re sorely mistaken. Like most things in life, if your primary goal is to be really good at what you do, and to put the well-being of others in front of your own, the money will follow.

A Hard Work Ethic

This is not an easy industry to succeed in. I graduated from college with my Masters degree almost six years ago, and it’s been eight years since I finished my Bachelors. I can’t tell you how many of my peers, who got into strength coaching or personal training, have already moved on to other fields.

The hours can be grueling, the wear on your body and mind immense, and if you aren’t really dedicated to your clientele and your craft, you simply won’t make it in this industry!

Lack of Other Commitments

I say this in all seriousness — it really helps if you don’t have a ton of other commitments going in. As stated above, the hours can be grueling; and that’s just the work/school side of things! If you want to be really good, you have to go above and beyond the minimum requirements.

I’ve heard stories about Michael Boyle sleeping in his office, Eric Cressey working 16-hour days at his gym, and Bill Hartman routinely gets up at 4 am to get his workout in before he puts in a 12-hour day. There’s a reason these guys are at the top of their game.

While others can get by on bankers hours from 9-5, you’ll be hard pressed to find an 8 hour day in the training world. And even if you do, it may be 6 am — 2 pm or 2 pm — 10 pm. Needless to say, our hours aren’t built around what’s convenient for us!

The ability to BS and communicate

In this field, introverts need not apply. You absolutely have to enjoy talking to people — even if you don’t, you’d better be able to act like you enjoy it! Alwyn Cosgrove has often told me he would rather hire someone with the right personality than the right skill set.

Quite simply, someone who can talk and communicate with others can go a lot further than someone with an education and zero communication skills. You can teach someone the skills, but you can’t teach them to have a personality!

I don’t say any of this to scare you off or to make you think you can’t do the job. Rather, I want to give you a realistic perspective of what it takes to really be successful in the field.

So with all that being said, let’s look at the steps every trainer should take to be Grade A!

fitness trainer

Getting Educated — The Foundation

Getting a solid education is the foundation. This’ll give you the basic science needed to understand the inner-workings of the human body. However, it’s also really important to determine your long-term path.

If you want to work at a commercial gym for someone else, a basic Bachelors degree may be all you need.

If you’d like to train people and eventually own your own business, you’ll probably want at least a Bachelors degree (possibly a Masters), and you may want to get a minor in business to help you out as well.

I’m not asking you to plan out your entire life, but at the very least, think about things in advance to give yourself some perspective moving forward.

The first step in becoming a great trainer or strength coach is to get a college education within the field. Quite often, people will focus on exercise physiology, exercise science, or a similar undergraduate degree.

While I know (and have worked with) great trainers who never had a college education, they were the exception rather than the rule. If this is the case for you, you’ll simply have to be that much more dedicated to the continuing education process, which I’ll discuss later.

A question I get all the time is, “Should I get a Masters Degree?” My answer to that is, if you really want to take your understanding of the human body to the next level, then yes!

Now, some people don’t have the time and/or inclination to do this. If your goal is to be a personal trainer rather than a strength coach, then the lack of a Masters degree definitely shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.

But there’s a lot more to education than what you learn in a book or classroom; in contrast, what you learn in the gym training yourself and others is probably more important in the long-run! I would suggest that if you’re doing the college thing, do your best to get hands-on whenever possible.

Volunteer for experiments in the performance lab. Work in the university weight room. Volunteer as a strength and conditioning coach. Basically, do whatever you can to work with as many people as possible.


The final piece of the education puzzle is continuing education. When I came out of college, I sat down and ranked myself on various skill sets on a scale of 1-10. While I don’t remember my exact scores, they may have looked something like this:

As you can see, I felt I was pretty good at teaching exercises, understanding flexibility, etc. However, I sucked at rehab! This was the starting point of my continuing education; your starting point should be within your weakest area.

I tell people to this very day that I learned a ton while I was in school. The scary thing was, I learned as much in the six months after I got out of school as the six years I was in it!

How can that be? Quite simply, I knew exactly what my strong and weak points were, and I worked my ass off to make my weak points stronger!

This is one of those oh-so-simple things that you can do to really take your skills to the next level. Be honest with yourself, determine your strengths and weaknesses, and make it a priority to bring your weaknesses up to a reasonable level.

One last point about continuing education: This is an ongoing and life-long process! I kid you not when I say that I’ve met trainers who have done the exact same things since they’ve left school and started training people.

I can tell you with no exaggeration that the way I do things changes on a monthly, if not weekly or daily, basis. There are so many great coaches and authorities out there; you absolutely must work hard to keep up! If not for yourself, then at the very least for the clients and athletes you work with.

Work: Where the Rubber Meets the Road

So you’ve gotten your learn on, and now you’re ready to start making cash hand-over-fist like Donald Trump, right?

Not so fast.

Whether you’re a strength coach or a personal trainer, you need some credentials to help get you hired. Sure, you could do the weekend certification that everyone makes fun of, or you could take the high road and get a certification that you can be proud of and others respect.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) is currently the gold-standard, with the International Sports Sciences Assocation (ISSA) running a close second. Both offer certifications geared towards the strength coach (NSCA CSCS and ISSA PES), and the personal trainer (NSCA CPT and ISSA CFT).

If you’re going to come this far, the least you can do is get a high-quality certification to compliment your degree.

NCSA logo

Please understand that just because I recommend you get a certification, doesn’t mean I agree with everything that goes on in the learning and assessment of said certifications. Remember what I said before about in-the-trenches experience? Unfortunately, sometimes the people that write these tests don’t have as much of that as they should.

I don’t say that to downgrade either certifying body or its members; rather, I say that to make you aware of the shortcomings of the certification process. They are only there to make sure you possess a minimum-level of competency. No more, no less.

At this point you’ve got your degree, a certification, and a take-no-prisoners mentality. The only thing left to do is get a job! While this may sound silly, I’m going to give you some quick tips on putting your best foot forward, both in the hiring process and once you’ve landed the big gig.

The Hiring Process

Just because you’re jacked, doesn’t mean you need to act like a meathead. Pull together a nice resume and cover letter. Have someone spell and grammar-check both to make sure you haven’t missed anything.

During the interview process, show up on time and prepared. Taking it a step further, show up in professional looking gear! A cut-off t-shirt (for guys) or boy shorts (for girls) won’t get it done. I don’t care how cute they make your butt look; do your best to look like someone your employer would want to hire — not sleep with!

Follow up your interview by writing a hand-written note thanking the interviewer for their time. Mail it ASAP. Do your best to write legibly.

It may take two or three interviews, but if you’re professional, courteous and skilled, any employer would kill to have you. However, don’t be that guy or girl who coasts just because they got the job! Here are a few final tips to really standing out in the industry.

Always! In my world as a gym owner, on-time is a minimum of fifteen minutes before your first appointment, preferably more like thirty. This gives you time to get prepared, refresh yourself, and get you’re A-game on for your first client.

Again, looking professional is key. You won’t be wearing a skirt or suit to work, but little things like shaving, tucking your shirt in, and brushing your teeth and hair go a long way to improving your credibility. If you have visible tattoos, cover them up. A professional image is something this industry sorely lacks.

Finally (and this is very important), always keep yourself in reasonable shape. I’m the first to admit that I’m not 8% body fat or strong as an ox year round (although I could say that, because this is the internet).

But I always keep myself in decent shape, and you definitely won’t confuse me with someone who doesn’t work out. In fact, it never hurts to have your clients or staff actually see you work out. At the very least, they’ll know that you train yourself and that you’re working to achieve goals just like they are.

sexy woman in gym

And that, ladies, is it! Everything you need to know to break into and be successful in the training industry. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably an ideal candidate to make a difference.

I can tell you in all honesty that even though I work some crazy hours, I wouldn’t trade my job for anything else in the world. Each and every day I step into the gym, I have the opportunity to help someone improve themselves; to increase their confidence and feel better about who they are.

And, at least to me, that’s pretty damn special.


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  1. My only beef with this is “introverts need not apply.” I understand that for an introvert, this field would be energy-draining, as you are around people all day or at least during the hours you set. However, being an introvert does not mean you lack communication skills and have a mousy personality. It means that you recharge your energy from alone time as opposed to being social around people. I think if you strategically schedule in some of that throughout the day, you could be just as successful as the next guy.

    Also, as an introvert, I almost would prefer an introverted trainer. Give me solid information and demonstrative examples, yes. Talk to me just to make conversation and exhibit demonstrative excitement, no. There are plenty of introverts out there who get turned off to a personal trainer because they came on too strong and made them uncomfortable. That includes me.

    Right now I’m an engineer, but I find that one of my favorite and most empowering parts of the day is when I am teaching something I am confident in to a coworker. Does that sound introverted to you?

    • Amy –

      Please don’t take this personally – I’m an introvert myself, so I don’t 🙂

      It’s not that introverts need not apply – but they can’t be an introvert and keep to themselves while working the floor. I’m sorry, but I’ve seen these types in the gym; they can and will struggle if they can’t get break free of that at least to some degree. You have to be confident and comfortable working with a broad spectrum of clients.

      How you act on your own or at home isn’t so much the issue. The underlying issue is, can you turn it on when you need to?

      If the answer is yes, then you don’t need me to tell you that you can be successful!


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