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Stand Out as a Personal Trainer in a Big Box Gym

by Dean Somerset | Follow on Twitter

Working as a big box gym trainer can be intimidating for new trainers Dean Somerset tells us 6 tips on how he was able to stand out in a small pond of the big box gym.

When I tell people I work as a big box gym trainer, the thing everyone asks is “So when are you going to open your own place?” In all honesty, it’s a pretty good gig, so I have no reason as of now to open my own place.

Working there, I’ve created a career path for trainers looking to work with post-rehab clients, developed an assessment process for new members, became a coordinator with medical professionals for referrals for our clubs, and was the driving force behind having more than one lonely foam roller in each location (I’m proud to say my own location has over 15, and they’re used all day long, sometimes having people waiting for them).

I’ve taught over 100 continuing education courses for trainers, lead over 30 certification courses, and mentored a handful of trainers.

I’m going to share with you the meat and potatoes methods I’ve used to carve out a success within my club, company, and even with writing for sites like T-Nation and the PTDC. I’ll show how you can do the same.

#1: Do one thing extremely well, and be great at everything else too

My interest is post-rehabilitation of musculoskeletal injuries, with specialization in back issues. This has led me to having referral networks with physios, chiros and docs to send me their patients for follow-up treatment.  Of course, I still work with weight loss clients, muscle gain clients, and runners.

You should be no different. Whatever drives you should be your main clientele, whether that’s weight loss, fire fighter training etc. Spend the majority of your time researching ways to get your clients better results, and become your area’s “go-to” guy.

Want to learn more about post-rehab? Check out my video series, Post Rehabilitation Essentials.

#2: Get good at sales

A gym is a business, like any other. Success is judged on your ability to bring in clients, and retain them. So sales become a necessity.

Sales aren’t a bad thing, or the sole determinant of success, but good trainers are ones with clients who continue to train with them longer than others, and can get new people training with them sooner. With consistently high sales, higher-ups will notice and let you to have some say.

Learn Coach Jon’s 5 Step Selling System here

#3: Create Change

If you want to see something added to your facility which might require funding, you’ll need to come up with a plan to show the lead decision-maker.

Let’s say your teenage son asks you to buy him a car so he can go driving with his buddies. It’s probably not going to fly very well with you, especially if the little ball of Satan darling barely passed his test and has no job to pay for anything.

But it’s a lot more considerable if he comes to you with a layed out plan for what it will all cost, completed job applications, how he’ll be able to get to school sooner, and have a repayment schedule with potential interest after 9 months of the initial purchase.

That’s how I managed to pull in an 18 year old 1981 Ford Escort that was barely running as my first car. I drove it for three years and then sold it for more than I paid. BALLIN!!!

By coming to management with a plan of action and a level of accountability, you’ll have a greater chance of convincing them you know what you’re doing, and understand the potential outcomes. Check out Seth Godin’s Linchpin. It’s the best read on the importance and methods of setting yourself apart.

#4: Network like a mad person

Become well known in your community. My main referrers are chiropractors and physiotherapists whom my wife and I go to for treatments, who train with me, and who are some of my best friends.

Networking can be as simple talking about what you do and what they do. I prefer forming personal relationships to collecting business cards, as the old tenet of “you work best with your friends” always holds true.

Remember to check inside your club too. Club members can provide the best networking opportunities, even if it doesn’t mean new clients right away. My realtor and I would talk about basketball and how LeBron would never be as good as Jordan. He got me some sweet properties to view, and we bought our house below list price, with no commission. His mom and sister start training with me too.

You become an irreplaceable part of your club’s culture. You embody what that club is about, and become a fixture for the members, who will value you above the membership cost or training sessions they’re paying for. Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone is a must-read on the subject of networking.

#5: Fake Enthusiasm

Take a seminar with Todd Durkin, and you know what true energy looks like. The guy would put a cheer leader on crack to shame.

Energy doesn’t just happen, it has to be created. By being the one who creates it, you can infuse clients, get them better results, and make others around you work harder, making them want to work with you.

If it feels phony, good. Push harder, get louder, and make more noise than anyone should. Definitely make it known when you’re training a session.

I’ve been known to sing opera about abs, whoop, holler, and throw around more high fives and knuckle bumps than pancakes at a Denny’s.

This again creates a community and culture effect within your club, which makes you invaluable since no one else is trying to create that.

#6: Differentiate your services

By teaching continuing education classes and certification courses, which cost nothing for the company and bring in new employees and helps trainers do a better job, you become an integral part of the company’s success.

Mentor other trainers, teach courses or workshops, hold in-services, give seminars to members, and teach group fitness classes. Look at becoming a provider of a major certification. It should cost nothing, but provide priceless value.

Final words

Most of my career has been in a commercial facility. I’ve put up with beaurocratic issues that made me lose a chunk of my hair, tolerate rules that seemed unrealistic (Really? We can’t change the music to something released in the past 10 years? I love Dolly Parton and all, but come on…), and had to work with individuals who, for a lack of better term, didn’t share my work ethic or professionalism.

There have been parts I didn’t like about working in a big box gym, but I found a way to create change. As a result, I’ve been fortunate to build a reputation within the company. Call it being a big fish in a small pond.

photo credits: Maximus_W, (resized)

About the Author
Dean Somerset

Dean's specialty is injury and medical dysfunction management through optimally designed exercise programs. Dean is a leading authority on strength training and injuries in Post-Rehabilitation. His expertise makes him a highly valued and much respected trainer. In addition to personal training, Dean also acts as the Medical and Rehabilitation Coordinator for World Heath Clubs. Dean also publishes an awesome blog at