The beginnings of a personal training career are great. The chirpy days blur into months, and soon, years. But all of the crazy hours on your feet, the constant grind to improve your game, and the accumulating stress of dealing with clients’ emotional baggage all take a toll. Eventually, every little thing pushes you closer and closer to crashing and burning.
Does this sound familiar?
The honeymoon period is always wonderful, but many personal trainers have left the industry prematurely due to coaching burnout. When you devote so many of your hours to others, it’s so easy to lose sight of the most important person: you.
You tell your clients, This isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. You, too, need to heed this advice for your career and have the mental strength to go the long haul. These are the tips that I’ve learned from nearly burning myself out and now implement to make sure I stay on top of my game.
1. It doesn’t make you a bad trainer if you tell someone “No, I can’t train you.”
As they say,
“You can’t take care of others if you can’t take care of yourself first.”
You must set hard limits on your availability in order to have enough time to take care of yourself. Rising early and staying late are a heroic work ethic that you can brag about to new trainers, but it does zilch for your personal health and wellness.
The corollary of being too busy is, the quality of your sessions suffers. As the day wears on, each successive session drags more and more. If you find yourself unable to focus or deliver a premier service, it may be a sign that you need to slow down, or at the very least, take a short break.
There will be many moments when people think you’re available to train them and that that is what you are paid to do. In a commercial setting, it’s not uncommon to be approached by members of your gym, membership advisors, and manager about taking on a client during your “downtime.” Maybe it’s a time when you normally train yourself or the hour during which you answer emails and operate your business. Regardless of the when and why, it can be incredibly hard to say no to someone’s face.
However, that time is sacred to you; you must keep it, whether it’s an hour or a “quick 10 minutes.” It doesn’t make you a bad trainer to want some time to yourself, especially if you are using that time to develop your craft, take care of your own body, or simply unwind so that you can be better for your clients.
Take an objective look at your schedule and build in blocks of time that you are unavailable to train. A simple app like Google Calendar or your own phone’s calendar can work wonders for organizing a chaotic schedule. Schedule your workouts, your doctor’s appointments, and even your sleep; and let your career fill in the rest.
2. The industry isn’t full of assholes like many would have you believe.
Fitness can be an incredibly lonely place if you simply live in a world that consists of only you and your clients. Even if you train with other professionals at a commercial gym, it’s incredibly tough to stay motivated. That’s because too much repetition can be exhausting.
Luckily, the industry is loaded with interesting people to keep you motivated and passionate, or be sounding boards who also understand your journey. Social media, conferences, and mentor groups make all of this more possible. Even this site, The PTDC, has a community of its own–one meant for trainers who want to grow together.
Reach out to other trainers and build friendships based around sharing knowledge and jokes that are only funny amongst you, and people who genuinely care about your success as much as they care about their own. The industry, as a whole, is not as full of assholes as some might have you believe. In fact, most coaches are guys or gals that want to help people, make money while doing it, and have fun along the way.
Sign up for the next conference you can attend. The financial commitment is always worth it. Go with the intent to learn from the experts, sure, but go also with the intent of shaking hands and becoming friends with other attendees. You never know what you’ll learn from a peer. Moreover, you never know when that person can be there for you, or you for them.
Besides who doesn’t like having lifting buddies scattered across the globe?
3. Do things other than lifting and being in a gym.
Most trainers get into fitness because it is a passionate hobby that they’ve decided to pursue as a career. They enjoy training their own bodies, get a rush from helping others, and can’t stop feeding their curious mind with information when they get the chance.
That’s how it should be.
The danger is, once your hobby becomes your career, the initial luster begins to dull. When you spend all of your time working directly with clients, programming for clients, managing your business, and learning more about working with clients, it could get overwhelming.
To avoid career burnout, the most productive personal trainers find ways to engage in activities that aren’t related to their craft. These things might even sometimes seem like “a waste of time,” but activities like playing music, reading novels, or working on crafts can really be physically, emotionally, and psychologically refreshing.
Allow yourself the time to step out of the fitness world and you might just find yourself more eager to step back in.
4. Schedule time with non-fitness friends.
It’s absolutely possible for you to have a deep network of people in the fitness industry and outside of it. After all, there are many parallels between fitness business and other fields.
On one hand, your fitness friends keep you excited and engaged with your profession and the industry around it as a whole. It provides a chance to not go at it alone. On the other, your non-fitness friends open your world view to other opportunities and wisdom, and are critical to your sanity.
If you spend all day, everyday around trainers, clients, and fit-minded individuals, all this talk about glute activation, heart variability, and the best set and rep scheme to build perfect biceps might make you want to slap someone. Eventually. At the same time, don’t be that trainer who tries to suffocate all of his non-fitness friends with fitness jargon. It’s a quick way to push people away.
Just as a mechanic doesn’t want to work on all of his friend’s cars when he gets home from the shop, or a doctor doesn’t want to do a prostate exam during the fantasy football draft, a trainer shouldn’t have to talk fitness all the time. They want to talk sports, sex, popular culture, why the sky is blue…and maybe even do these things over drinks!
Having friends who aren’t interested in you as a personal trainer goes a long way in helping to avoid career burnout. Rather, they simply enjoy your friendship and the memories they form in your company. Honestly, these people are beyond refreshing after a few years in the industry because they appreciate you as a person and not just what you can do for them.
5. Keep your most important goals alive by writing them down and revisiting them often.
Where does a path to nowhere lead?
This is a metaphor for your goals. The journey toward whatever success looks like for you can be a winding and confusing path. You must set your goals and continually check yourself against them to stay on it. It’s just like when you tell your client to make goals that are realistic, attainable, and trackable.
Burnout typically comes from overworking toward an endpoint with no clear and measurable progress. It becomes demotivating after a while to keep pushing toward a goal, without understanding what that goal even is.
Ask yourself, what would you like to get done this week? Some people work better with short-term goals within reach. In that case, set weekly goals to keep yourself focused. Then reverse-engineer and translate these weekly goals into daily goals. Specifically, turn these into tasks that you can accomplish on a daily planner which eventually add up to your weekly goals.
Think of your own goal like you would an exercise program: It consists of smaller mesocycles within a greater macrocycle. A macrocycle could be six months, one year, or longer. Every macrocycle is then broken into these mesocycles and even smaller microcycles that are focused and specific, but all gradually work toward your ultimate goal. In order to make them more concrete, you need to identify people who need to be involved, if any, and impose deadlines on yourself for each goal within the microcycle or mesocycle.
So when planning your goals, work backward from something you want to accomplish and focus on processes and each action that lead to your outcome. An example overall goal might be to increase customer retention by 20% by November 20XX. Your action plan might break down like the following:
* Ask for customer feedback: What are you doing right? Where could you be better? – To be completed by January 20XX
* Find out 2-3 client pain points. – To be completed by February 20XX
* Identify habits and systems to help implement new retention plan. – To be completed by April 20XX
* Conduct new client satisfaction surveys – To be completed by July 20XX
* Assess new client feedback.
Goal-setting is a common practice in the field of personal training and coaching of any sort for the matter. Yet many miss the mark by only focusing on the outcome at the end of the time. Where are your feet going to land as you walk towards the end of that tunnel?
All good things have a dark side and all dark sides have a doorway. Avoid that doorway by taking caring your needs, scheduling your private time, and staying engaged with others as you pursue your dreams!