A friend of mine recently posted an article to Facebook titled “The Uncertainty of An Exercise Science Degree”. My degree is in Kinesiology (the “pinky out” way of saying Exercise Science), so I immediately clicked on the link to see what the author had to say.
The gist of the article is summed up by this paragraph:
“…Strength and conditioning jobs are a revolving door and oversaturated with young professionals trying to break in. Personal training jobs tend to be part-time and with lousy pay while companies use your revenue to pay the bills. People are just flat out lazy and don’t want to exercise or already think they know everything about training [my emphasis]. Personal training only requires a simple certification and $500 (making you fairly replaceable). If you get lucky, you might find a private facility and become an independent contractor, but this is hard and usually requires knowing people. You’re also left to bring in clients.”
I agree 100%. Finding a job, let alone a decent paying job, in the health and fitness field is incredibly difficult. Unless your goal is to get your Masters in Exercise Science or go to Physical Therapy School, a degree in Exercise Science is akin to a degree in English [and I can easily argue that an English degree is more useful].
The fact is, the barrier of entry into the fitness profession is so low, the majority of people decide to get into it because they think, “I like working out, I’m pretty fit, and I’ll just tell people to do what I do”. However, these same people are the ones who can’t teach a squat, don’t know the difference between internal and external rotation, and overcompensate for their lack of knowledge by yelling at (“motivating”) people until they are blue in the face.
The point of this post, however, is not to rant about the difficulties of working in the fitness profession. The point of this post is to show how one can surmount the obstacles and stand out in this over-saturated, super competitive field.
How to de-commoditize the fitness professional.
The friend who posted the article on Facebook also posted his small commentary (or “rant”, in his words) with the article:
“Commercial gyms are crap to work for. Contracting out you get raped when it comes down to the actual money you get paid. It’s near impossible to start your own successful gym unless you have some kind of huge following….or if you’re an affiliate/franchise you usually end up getting raped for having a name to attract attention. Working for a team is unstable because you’re just an expendable coach. At the end of the day the pay sucks…or it’s inconsistent.
The bolded emphasis is mine. Those two statements say a lot in terms of overcoming the obstacles faced by people in the fitness profession.
[Side note: In reality, you are a commodity in any entry level position in any profession. That is, until you are not. That’s why people decide to do things like go back to school.]
My friend already identified what makes an individual successful in the fitness and healthy industry: a huge following and/or being indispensable.
So at that point, it’s pretty simple right? Do that! Make yourself indispensable and start attracting a huge following. Well, it’s not necessarily that easy. It takes time, it takes effort, it takes educating yourself (especially in things non-fitness related like marketing, accounting, finance, and behavioral psychology). But it does give the aspiring fitness professional a blueprint for success AND, since the majority of people aren’t doing those things, it makes it easier for you to stand out.
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” -Mark Twain
So, how does a fitness professional de-commoditize himself/herself?
- Start a blog. And write about something interesting and something others want to read about. Unless you are an elite athlete, no one gives a fuck about your workouts logs. The easiest way to do this is to check out what other top fitness blogs are writing about and put your spin on it.
- Learn about behavioral psychology. Why do people workout? Why do people quit working out? How can you create successful habits in people? These are all questions you need to know the answers to as it will help you obtain/retain clients.
- Create an identity. What do you stand for? What’s your fitness niche? You can’t please everybody. Do you specialize working with an older population? Are you the movement conscious guy or gal? Do you want to work with athletes (realize, also, this is a very competitive sphere in itself, so in this case you’ll need to niche down even more. For example, you specialize in working with tennis players).
- Learn how to market. This is huge. If you know how to get the word out and promote yourself, this goes a long way. You can be the best [insert title here] but if no one knows about you, it doesn’t matter. On the flip side though, you need to provide an awesome service because your biggest asset will be word-of-mouth marketing.
The above should get the fitness professional started on the journey to becoming indispensable. Realize, that once you are indispensable, you have options. If you have a loyal following of 20+ personal training clients, you can leverage that into a higher percentage cut of revenue. If you grow an online presence you can sell information products. Once you’ve established your identity, you can seek out individuals in your niche and hold seminars for them.
You’ll have to be willing to put the effort in. You’ll have to be willing to look at yourself as an entrepreneur. But the opportunities are only limited by your imagination.
Final note, I hate the descriptions “fitness instructor” and “personal trainer” because it lumps me in with all these meathead dummies who just tell their clients to perform “3 sets of 12-15 reps” of a bunch of different exercises and go fetch their weights for them. I call these types of fitness professionals “weight caddies”. If this is you, no wonder you are easily replaceable.