10 Important Lessons I have learned from Twenty Years in the Fitness Industry


This summer marked a personal milestone as I reached my 20th year of being a Personal Trainer and Educator. Wide eyed and bushy tailed, ACE certificate in hand, I entered my first PT job in a gym in Scottsdale, Arizona. At that age you don’t know what you don’t know. Now I realize, I’ve forgotten more than many trainers have ever known. I’m an avid reader and learned student in my field. I’m constantly challenging my frame of reference and perspective on training and have experienced my share of ups and downs over the years. As I reflect on my years in the industry, I dedicate this blog post to everyone who is pursuing their craft, refining their skills and embracing the journey.

1) Potholes are a part of every successful road trip. 

It would be remiss of me to pretend that the journey of being a PT and business owner was all plain sailing. With all the certifications in hand, no amount of education can prepare you for the challenges life and the industry will send your way. After a year of working as a personal trainer in Arizona, I moved to San Diego. It took me two years to develop a clientele, having to moonlight as a valet to make ends meet. And by “had to moonlight”, I mean, I got to put several finely tuned sports cars through a different kind of “workout” while refining my zest for what really drove me…the pursuit of being the best PT I could be. Committed to providing my clients with the best I could give, my clientele grew through word of mouth and to this day, many of my original clients are still training with me or at very least have become my extended family.
 I’m proud to say 20 years later, while I can still appreciate the exhilaration felt from behind the wheel of a fancy car, my professional drive is more fierce than ever. While I’d prefer to take a road trip on a smoothly tarred road,  life continues to teach me how to  navigate with respect over the potholes of life. Potholes are a part of every successful road trip… Embrace the struggle.

2) Chase Passion, not Money

As a studio owner I can tell you that money is important. You have a moral obligation to take care of your family and be successful. However, chasing money for the sake of chasing money is a trap. Making more money without a genuine passion for your craft is empty. You will not be a more joyful and energized person if you hate your craft or do it just for the money. I believe you can be passionate about your craft and make money but the passion comes first. I often tell people that I would train people for free if I could afford to (and many times in my career I have).
I believe that if you love your craft and are passionate about learning, growing and evolving, you will figure out how to make money.  If you are just getting into training because you see people as dollar signs, do us all a big favor and go find something else to do.

3) Put in your Time

You will not be an instant success over night. In the beginning years of any field you will need to work long hours and potentially take less pay than you want or need. I get annoyed when a newly minted trainer doesn’t understand why he or she is not getting paid tons of cash and why the clients aren’t lining up at the door to train with them. What they fail to understand is that you cannot buy experience.  Most savvy clients are not looking to invest their hard earned money into a trainer with little experience.
Do not be discouraged by these words. There will be clients that will hire you and pay you. Just realize that you can cannot cheat the universe by trying to pretend you are something else. The LAW OF PROCESS basically states you will have to evolve and grow in your craft and over time you will attract the right clients and bigger and better opportunities. Hang in there. Study, grow and learn. You will be rewarded in direct proportion to how much you can help people and add value to their lives.

4) It’s all about People

The best advice I could give you regarding business is to treat people how you would want to be treated. Successful people ultimately know that making people feel special, welcomed and part of the tribe is what will keep them coming back year after year.  Noting has helped my business more than being kind and genuinely interested in the lives of my clients and their well being.
It has been said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. This is true. Never underestimate the power of always saying hello and greeting your client with positivity and joy.  Your attitude towards others will make the biggest impact on your business. Clients want to be in a positive happy environment. Make them feel at home and that you genuinely care about them you will never have a client retention issue.

5) Find your Niche and Know your Ethos

It is essential to be knowledgeable in  anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, mobility, breathing, basic neurology, assessment and programming. As a coach it’s important to refresh your knowledge in these areas. Ultimately you will need to narrow your focus. You cannot be an expert in every area. I encourage you to find a niche. For me it was working primarily on Strength Work followed by mobility and power work. I have spent 20 years developing a comprehensive system that is simple at its core but able to help almost any person get stronger, faster and move better.
I educate clients on the significance of training multiple motor qualities at the same time. This is what drives me: making people more athletic as they age. I encourage you to discover your ethos and your niche. It is a life time goal that will change over time as you continue to learn and refine your message and focus. Be patient with this.

6) Public Speaking

When I was in high school I used to get panic attacks every time I had to speak in front of the class. I would fake a bloody nose and run to the bathroom to get out of speaking. As I fed my fear of speaking it only got worse. In my early 20’s I started to doing small lectures on fitness and quickly my fear was replaced by confidence and joy as I began to love public speaking. Not I only did I feel more alive but the feedback I received was positive on how optimistic,  fun and enthusiastic my teaching style was.
Now at 42 years old I have traveled all over the world teaching Sprinting and Kettlebell Courses. Teaching is my passion. Why? Because I can impact more people as I speak and teach to larger groups. It is extremely  fulfilling to be able to get up in front of instructors and intelligently communicate your message with passion and precision.  Speaking to groups will make you grow as a person and help you become a better communicator which is so important.

7) Commit to Personal Development

The most important client you will ever have is yourself. If you wouldn’t hire you, why should other people hire you? Do you walk the walk? Do you have a consistent training practice yourself? Do you have a personal development plan?
The first and most important place to start is with yourself.  As a coach you need your own training practice which means you prioritize your training, nutrition, recovery, sleep and health. You will learn much more about training from your process, your failures and your victories than anything else. Commit to training yourself and developing the habits that lead to success.
Study every day. Commit time to daily reading and do it. Over time you will learn so much that you will literally be an encyclopedia of knowledge. I read for about one hour every morning before I even leave bed. This early morning habit is so important for my mindset and for helping me learn and grow and expand my way of thinking.  Apart from reading I also encourage you to take a minimum of two courses or certifications each year. Nothing beats hands on learning experiences.

8) Embrace Minimalism and Major in the Majors

Most people major in the minors. They often engage in activities and behaviors that lead them away, not towards their goals.  Ask yourself these questions?
What do you really need in your life to make you happy and fulfilled? Is it more material possessions? Family experiences? Positive social interactions?
For me I realize that spending time with my family and creating memorable experiences is something I cherish. Having more “stuff” becomes less appealing every year. I have committed to getting rid of “clutter” in all areas of my life. It is an on-going process but one that I recommend you embrace as well.
The same mindset applies to your training.  I would rather you be in expert in using Kettlebells and barbells than be mediocre at using 75 new shiny pieces of equipment.  Find the tools that resonate with you and that you can teach well. Trim the fat by starting to eliminate nonessential exercises and tools. Focus on doing less by doing movements that actually push the needle and create long term results.  Major in the majors and always ask yourself if what you are doing is creating a high return of investment.

9) You need more MARGIN in your life

Margin means having more time for yourself. It is having time to focus on taking care of you or as the late Stephen Covey used to say, you must “Sharpen the Saw.”  Margin is improving yourself and having the time to focus on family, regeneration, relaxation, recreation and play. If you push yourself to total exhaustion year after year your health will suffer both mentally and physically. I am speaking from personal experience because for 17 years of my career I trained clients six days a week and I suffered because of it. My health degraded and I was not as sharp nor as focused as I could have been. Cutting back to 5 days a week of work and only working half day on Fridays has given me 2.5 days to recover, plan, organize and focus on family.
As much as I love my craft, running myself into the ground will only lead to negative consequences.  Find ways to consolidate your schedule and to work smarter, not harder. Schedule your week so you work efficiently and be ultra productive when you do work. Guard your down time and learn to say no.  Do not say yes to everything that comes your way. Never give up your free time and instead focus on cultivating your family life and other hobbies and activities. There is much more to life than working and a neurotic obsession with getting more done. When you work, go ahead and work. But when you play, really PLAY.

10)  Expand your Life Outside of Fitness

I love to travel and look forward to every trip. Traveling gives you greater perspective in so many area of your life. It allows you to see how other people and cultures live. You learn about other traditions and cultures and you get to eat delicious new food.  It gets you out of your normal routine.  You learn about yourself when you travel and I find I always comeback with more appreciation for my work, my family and my home. I appreciate the gift of travel because it makes me grateful for the people in my life. Travel helps expand my life outside of fitness. It will do the same for you.
Read and study material outside of fitness. I used to think that all my down time had to be spent studying anatomy and fitness related books. Staying within your field has its problems. When you only learn from Fitness experts you cut yourself off to others brilliant minds from other fields. Principles and methods learned from physics, medicine, engineering, math, and finance can be adopted and modified to fit our fitness and health needs. Some of the best ideas and methods I have learned come from these other fields and not from the fitness industry.
I hope these 10 lessons got you thinking in a constructive way about your career journey and many of the lessons you have learned as well.
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  • Suzie Gullett

    this is great. I too have been in the industry a long time. and still screw stuff up. I forget things I thought I learned and still fall . But I love what I do. I love connecting with people who really are just afraid of “doing it wrong” or hurting themselves. I love sharing the fun of fitness and the connection to the body. Thank you for staying in the industry long enough to get to meet you. And being the example for those who are new and to those who are, well old.