This is a guest post by Justin Grinnell, Creator of Grinnell Training Systems and the Owner of State of Fitness in East Lansing, Michigan. After seeing the way NOT to run an internship program, Justin created his own when he opened his facility. Here, he leaves us with five tips for choosing the right fitness internship.
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Finding a personal training internship isn’t too hard.
Finding a quality personal training internship that can lead to more opportunities in the fitness industry is another story.
There are thousands of different training facilities out there to choose from such as health clubs, private training facilities, and 24-hour gyms, to name a few.
Dean wrote a great article on Where to Work as a Personal Trainer. He highlighted some great pros and cons when looking for the right personal training job. My opinion is that if you are a good enough personal trainer, you can be successful at any facility – pending you put in the hard work. As for an internship, you need to look at the facility a little differently.
I have worked at private training studios, collegiate strength and conditioning programs, corporate wellness centers, large health clubs, and am now the proud owner of an 11,000 square foot training facility. I can tell you that no matter where you work at, the internship programs are not all created equal.
A great trainer can succeed in any environment. If you are new to the personal training game, you also need a coach before you can start training people for money. Sure, having a Kinesiology degree and a well-respected certification is something all program directors will look at when you apply for a job, but your “in the trenches” experiences can make or break you.
For the past 11 years, I have had over 150 interns work with me or for me. I can tell you that before I owned my own training facility, I would cringe at how my directors would handle the interns. I would end up taking time out of my own day to help teach, coach and mentor them. I was happy to do this, since I sincerely wanted to see them get a great experience, but there was only so much I could help with.
As soon as I started my own facility, I knew that I wanted to create the best possible internship program that I could. I work directly with the Michigan State University Kinesiology program and have developed the State of Fitness “School of Personal Training”. I take on 10-15 interns each semester and teach them not only sets and reps, but also the business side, personal skills, marketing, continuing education and more. In addition, I encourage them to look at other personal training programs to continue their education. In 16-weeks, I can only teach them so much.
When mentoring these young, aspiring personal trainers, I have narrowed it down to 5 key areas that personal trainers need to look for, when trying to find a quality personal training internship.
1. What is the Reputation of the Program?
Not everyone will be able to get an internship with the “all-star” facilities, such as Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning, Cressey Performance, Results Fitness or Peak Performance. Their reputation speaks for itself.
You will most likely need to dig a little deeper to discover the reputation of the program.
Find out if they are affiliated with any universities or colleges. If a school is willing to put their stamp of approval on letting their students intern with the program, that is a great start. That being said, ask them if they take interns that are not currently enrolled in school. I have taken on many interns that have already graduated and even people who were looking to change careers. These interns have turned out to be some of my best.
Try and talk to some of the programs past interns. Ask them about their experience and if it helped them become more prepared for a career in personal training.
Ask the program director how they help their former interns find a job. If the program is not helping their former interns after they are done, then walk the other way. For many weeks you gave them hours of free labor. You are not a grunt worker. They should value your help and return the favor.
Finally, ask them about the volume of training that they do. If the club does not have a very busy personal training program, you will most likely be cleaning a lot and sitting at a desk catching up on homework or your Facebook feed.
2. Does The Program Have a Guide or Syllabus?
Nothing irritated me more then when I was at various clubs that did not have a guide or syllabus for the new interns. Sometimes the director would just introduce them to all of us trainers and then send them on their own. They had no guidance and vision of what was to come. It was all done “on the fly” until I would step in and help.
Look for programs that have scheduled weekly meetings. For each meeting there should be a focus topic to look forward to. This will help answer a lot of questions and will get you pumped up to learn about the future topics that you will cover.
Look for book, video, and article assignments that will need to be completed during the internship. You can only learn so much of the training philosophy on the floor. Sometimes you need to just dive into some good content, digest and absorb it, ask questions, and then implement what you have learned.
3. Do You Just Stand There or Coach?
You can acquire some great knowledge and experience from simply shadowing a trainer. You will pick up on exercise techniques, coaching cues and personal communication skills that the trainers will use with their clients. After a while, that gets a little boring.
Nothing can beat hands-on learning. I still remember my first day as an intern for the Strength & Conditioning Department at Michigan State University. I got a tour of the facility, listened to the GA go over a few rules, was then taken through the hardest workout of my life, and 30 minutes later they had me coaching the varsity crew team. I know they didn’t expect me to be an awesome coach, but they did expect me to man-up and see what I was made of. It took me out of my comfort zone, but pushed me to pay attention and learn fast.
At my facility, we have a large volume of training going on. We need our interns help to give our clients the high quality service. I cautiously throw my interns right into the mix from the get-go. It is amazing to see how fast they will respond. They know right away that I will demand focus and attention on our members. It forces them to want to learn fast and take the internship seriously.
By the end of the internship, I want my interns to be able coach and teach on their own. That way when they apply for a personal training job, they have the confidence that they can become a great trainer. You should demand the same from your internship.
4. Is The Facility, “Training Centric”?
There has been a large increase in “training centric” facilities over the past few years and I only see it growing larger. Group personal training is becoming more popular than ever and with that comes more opportunity for personal trainers.
There is still a great need for private personal training. A large portion of our training is still done in the private setting. But if the club you are at only has private training and does not have semi-private or group personal training at some level, you will limit your capabilities of learning how to train in multiple settings.
For one, if the facility only focuses on private training, they may not have the volume for you to learn from. That being said, if you are at a, “training centric” facility that primarily focus on private training, you could be OK. I know a few facilities that are very successful that primarily do private training, but those are hard to find.
Instead, I encourage you to look for a facility that includes a variety of training. That way, you feel better prepared when applying for a personal training job. If you have experience in training small groups, large groups, and sports teams, you open up more doors and create opportunities to get a job.
5. Is The Personal Training Director Actively Involved
I have seen many facility advisors that just dump the interns onto the other trainers’ laps, in hopes that they will pick up the slack and do their job for them. These directors are either not interested in helping aspiring trainers succeed, or they just don’t make the time to do so. If the director is not actively involved, look for one of the trainers to have the title of “Internship Coordinator”. This will at least give you a key person that you can check-in with and learn from. I voluntarily did this at other facilities and it worked out pretty well for what I had time for.
Now, I am not only a facility owner, but I also am the head trainer, program designer, train 35-45 hours a week, and yes, the internship coordinator. It doesn’t matter how busy I am. I take great pride in mentoring and helping personal training interns get the most out of their experience with us at State of Fitness.
I was once a new trainer that had no guidance. I know how that felt. Though learning the hard way can be a valuable lesson, I would rather help young trainers start their career off on the right foot. I want the personal training industry to have a reputation that we are highly educated individuals that provide a valuable service that can help millions of people become more healthy and fit. It is the veteran trainer’s responsibility to mentor young trainers and help them build a solid resume.
If the program does not have a key person to learn from and look up to, find another internship.
Not all personal training internships are created equal. You must do your homework when looking for one. You can have all the degrees and certifications in the world, but if you don’t have the experiences to back them up, they could end up being just a pretty piece of paper. Learn from the best and never stop learning.
About The Author
Justin Grinnell is the Creator of Grinnell Training Systems and the Owner of State of Fitness in East Lansing, Michigan. Justin has gained over 25,000 hours of training and coaching experience over the last 11 years. He works with everyone of all walks of life, helping clients and athletes achieve their health and sports performance goals. For more info, visit his blog or website, become his friend on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter.
Photo credit: The Weston Gazette (featured), RobertsonTrainingSystems.com (Top), DiakadiBody.com (Middle), GettingFit.com (Bottom)
Related Articles Mentioned:
Where to Work as a Personal Trainer – Dean Somerset
5 Keys to Becoming a Personal Training Authority – Mike Robertson
5 Surprising Costs for Building a Gym – Taylor Simon
The Art of Cueing (Not the Science) – Jon Goodman
Upgrade Your Group Training Program – Chris Kelly