Ten thousand hours. According to Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers, that’s how much time industry leaders have committed to their chosen vocation. The most successful people in the world from a variety of industries, including technology, law, medicine, and marketing, were all analyzed. They all had periods in their lives when they dedicated well above the normal amount of experience within their industry. While natural talent and affinity toward a specific vocation were necessary to separate from the pack, it was found that most ultra elite performers in any field had at least 10,000 hours of practice in that field.

When considering this phenomenon, I see an interesting parallel in the world of personal training and athletic performance coaching. Nearly every coach I interact with on a daily basis has a desire to be great. If they don’t, I generally don’t interact with them much unless you count pulling the bar off their chest on their “chest and tri’s” day.

How do we define greatness in our profession? While this can mean different things to different people, I view greatness in this field as “positively influencing many lives while attaining the respect of your colleagues through a well-informed, passionate practice of health, wellness, and human performance.” While we all attempt to do this, why have some trainers and coaches emerged from the pack and become leaders in the field? What we find is that these individuals’ commitment to greatness in the field is well above average. They have dedicated tens of thousands of hours over the years to knowledge, experience, and leadership.

If you want to be an industry leader and separate yourself from the pack, there are four aspects that will set you apart. Your amount of practice and experience with each of these aspects will ultimately separate you from your peers. Let’s say you have a question about something in the field. Who are you going to ask? The person you think of probably has logged about 10,000 hours in each of the following categories.

·          personal fitness and performance

·          ongoing education

·          coaching and training others

·          educating others

Personal fitness and performance

Don’t trust a skinny chef, and don’t trust an out-of-shape trainer. If you want to be a great coach and trainer, you have to train. If you don’t embody what you’re evangelizing, you’re a hypocrite and your clients know it. As a coach and trainer, your personal fitness experience establishes your confidence, proficiency, and subsequent success with clients. Can you get results for yourself? If not, how can you expect your clients to get results? Have you as a trainer gained muscle weight? Have you lost weight? Have you gotten objectively stronger? Have you gotten objectively faster? Have you experienced your programs before your clients have?

Let’s say you train an hour a day, six days a week. That takes about 32 years to get to 10,000 hours of training! Many of us have played high school and college sports. Let’s just say that we can average our training time to two hours per day from freshman year in high school through senior year in college—eight years. That’s about 5800 hours or training by the time we’re 21 or 22. The people who continue a commitment to their personal performance will reach those 10,000 hours, separating themselves from the pack. If you have a weight training question, who are you going to ask—a 25-year-old kid or Louie Simmons? Why? Because you know that Louie has been under a bar thousands more times than the 25-year-old kid.

Ongoing education

Your knowledge of the field can be a limiting factor in your growth. Getting a degree in the field can give you a head start on getting your 10,000 hours. Doing the math once again, let’s say you’re in college for four years. Two of those years are concentrated in the field. Let’s say you have 12 hours of class each week for those two years. We’ll also assume you averaged two hours of studying each day. Subtracting 12 weeks for vacation, that gives you about 2300 hours of education in the field by the time you graduate.

To emerge from the pack, you need at least another 7700 hours of reading, observing, attending lectures, and watching DVDs. It’s also important to spend time reassessing and updating your approach to coaching and training. At one hour per day of education, you’re looking at 21 years to accrue an elite level of knowledge. Those who commit more significantly to their ongoing education will emerge.

Coaching and training others

If you want to get better at coaching and training, you have to coach and train! You can read all you want, but at some point, you have to work with living, breathing, complaining, uncoordinated, unmotivated, distracted, needy, human beings! Even at the elite levels, you have to know how to accommodate different personalities, motivations, and proficiencies. The more you design and adapt your programs to create results with varying populations, the more confident and successful you will be.

Doing the math, if you start training after college and maintain 30 clients per week, you’re looking at about 1500 hours of training per year. In about seven years, you’ll have 10,000 hours of training. This experience will give you the confidence and adaptability to work with varying populations and abilities.

Educating others

If you want to be a leader in the industry and have the respect of your peers, you need to write, present, and provide resources for others. I know many great, experienced trainers who are frustrated with their progress in the field. Educating others is one of the most powerful catalysts for growth in this industry. By educating others through a variety of mediums such as writing, creating DVDs, or presenting, you’re establishing yourself as a leader. Educating others provides clarity as to your own understanding and application of training and coaching.

Think about who you consider to be an industry leader. Why do you feel that way about them? Probably because you have read their articles or books, watched their DVDs, and seen them present. Leaders are relentless in their pursuit to educate others. Because of this, the entire industry benefits from their experience with education, coaching, educating, and their own personal fitness. When you calculate how much time these individuals have put into writing, presenting, and creating other educational materials, you will see they clearly breach the 10,000-hour mark. If you want to be great, start educating others now. You can create educational articles or presentations for your clients, employees, and others. This is an easy way to begin accruing the experience and abilities necessary to emerge in the field.

As you can see, the 10,000-hour rule is beyond an average commitment to the field. It provides an indicator of your passion and commitment to the pursuit of greatness. Like Martin Rooney says, “If you want more, be more!” Above average commitment leads to above average results. Not everyone can be everything. Decide how you want to emerge in the field and commit.

Industry leaders aren’t cutting out early to go home and play video games. They’re not working four-day weeks. They’re not doing a “job.” Their work and play is a continuum of constant growth and inspiration. They embody what they evangelize. Pursue greatness. Commit. Ten thousand hours.