So You Wanna Be a Personal Trainer?

Let’s face it. Every gym rat has at one point looked sideways at a personal trainer and said, “I could do that.” On the outside, it appears to be a nice gig. You can come in, wear sweats to work, show the Nautilus machines to pretty girls and nice old ladies, collect a paycheck, and go home. How hard can it be? Well, in a moment of sheer arrogance, I decided to find out…

In my relatively short professional life, I’ve worked for three Fortune 500 Companies, taught in a high school, and tended a bar. Surely, there was little that any new job could offer me that I hadn’t already encountered in some form or another. Because personal training looked so inherently easy anyway, I was sure that it would be a snap.

So one day, fed up with my desk job, I surfed over to the NSCA’s website and ordered up their test preparation materials. I did so basically because my wife, who is many times smarter than I am, told me I should. Because I was confident that a personal training test would be little more than a multiple choice test on proper deadlifting, I didn’t think I’d find much use for preparation materials.

I was wrong. Dead wrong. The books arrived, and after briefly perusing them, I became acutely aware of just how much more work this was going to be than I had anticipated. Sure, there were definitely some parts about deadlifting and other exercises that I had done a million and one times in the past, but there were also many big words, words like sarcoplasm, arterioles, and haversian. My plan to study a couple of hours a night for two weeks before my test quickly morphed into a carefully constructed, multi-month plan that involved rising at 5:00 am daily and foregoing nights out with my friends. Needless to say, I was glad I’d bought the preparation books.

The test date rolled around, and I had stomach pangs that were eerily reminiscent of my high school bouts with the SAT. Mercifully, I passed. Now, you would think that my experience becoming a personal trainer would have given me a little bit more caution about what the job actually entailed. Sadly, it did not.

One thing that was relatively easy was the job search. Granted, I live in a big city, but I was still pleasantly surprised with just how many doors my shiny new NSCA card opened for me. I was eventually offered a position at a very nice gym in an upscale neighborhood a mere stone’s throw away from my apartment. The stars, it appeared, were lining up perfectly. That was, at least, until my first day on the job.

What no one seems to want to mention in any book about personal training is that this job is a sales job. If you’re not interested in sales and think you can hack it in the fitness industry, you really ought to reconsider your career path. This is hard for many trainers, especially new trainers, to comprehend. After all, our love of steel plates and power racks runs so deep that it’s hard for us to understand why anyone would have to be “sold” fitness. For us, it’s literally like selling “fun.” Who wouldn’t buy that? The answer? Lots of people.

This realization is one of the most important ones a new trainer can make. As hard as it may be to digest, not everyone enjoys working out as much as we do. Furthermore, in spite of the well-documented benefits of regular exercise, many people aren’t sold. Refer to our country’s growing obesity rate for further reading. As such, what I have most taken away from my early days in the industry is that we really are constantly selling. Even after our client has bought a session or two and even after our client has been our client for years, we are still selling. We sell not only hour long workout sessions but also the very notion of fitness as a priority in one’s life. We sell older clients on the benefits of resistance training and meathead bench press junkies on the rewards of cardio work. Such sales put money in our pockets but also add years to the lives of our clients and makes those lives more enjoyable and comfortable.

My own muddled reasons for getting into this business are as distant as they can be right now. This job is not what I expected. It’s not what I thought it would be. While it can be fun, it’s certainly not easy. Once before I said, like many others, “I can do that.” I still don’t know if I was right.

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