The following is a guest post by Mike Robertson

One question I get from interns and seminar attendees is, "How do I get to the next level?" It's interesting, because I see both sides of the coin.  I see young trainers helping people, improving their craft, and doing their best to take the industry to the next level. I also see that 1% that hates everyone and everything, and can't figure out why more people don't listen to them. This article is simple: here's my advice on getting the edge on the competition, and becoming an authority in our field. There are no magic bullets here.  This stuff takes time, which is fine by me.  If you're not willing to work your arse off, I don't want you in my field anyway!

1 - Get under the bar: Take care of your appearance.

A little vain, don't you think? If you're a personal trainer, you owe it to yourself AND your clients to some sort of physical standard. If you're overweight, out of shape, or can't demonstrate exercises, how can you expect your clients to respect you? If the only thing you've lifted in the past two years was chicken parm sandwiches, do you really expect your clients to listen to what you have to say? This doesn't mean you need to be world-class.  There's no need to be a 1000-pound squatter, or constantly be under 10% body fat.  Ideally, your physique should be on par with what your clients desire. In other words, if you are working with fat loss clients, its helps to be relatively lean. Likewise, if you work with powerlifters or Olympic lifters, it helps to have spent some serious time under the bar. Where people get into trouble is when they're a 300-pound powerlifter trying to train fat loss clients.  Even if you know exactly what to do to get results, it's confusing from a client's perspective. It may sound vain, but your appearance is the first thing your clients notice about you - so don't blow it!

2 - Own or work in a top-notch facility.

Why do people make fun of big box gyms?  'Cause they mostly suck. You could be the greatest trainer on earth, but people will immediately have a natural stigma about you because of where you work. On the other hand, simply working at a first-class facility such as Cressey Performance, Results Fitness or Peak Performance is going to give you an immediate level of street cred. It's not fair, but it's true. If you want to become an authority figure, either: 1. Own and operate your own facility, or 2. Work in a great facility. Sure, you can make it by doing things your own way, but this is the surest way to not only get a certain level of credibility, but really take your knowledge-base to the next level as well.

3 - Never stop learning!

This comes up all the time. Too often people assume, "I've been in this field X years, I know more than that guy!" They wear the X on their body like a badge of honor, assuming that just because they've been around for X years, they automatically know what they're doing. It's not to say that experience isn't important. But here's a quote from Bob Alejo that I want to share with you: "Experience is different than expertise. In other words, it's not just hanging on for years on end, it's actually being good at what you do that's important!" Trainers could be training for 40 years, but if they haven't taken the time to further their education and improve, it just means they've been able to survive and hang-around.

Here's a couple ways to fast track knowledge:

Get around great people.

    Spending 20 years in a horrible facility will not make you any better. Find a great facility with great trainers, and you'll be amazed at how much better you can become.

Find great people to work with.

    Energy vampires with no desire to succeed will rob your time, energy and passion.  Fire these people and don't look back.

Learn from the best.

    If I want to learn about something, learn from the best.  When it comes to low backs, I'm going to learn from Stuart McGill.  When I want to learn about shoulders, it's Kevin Wilk or Mike Reinold.  If it's knees, Dr. Shelbourne is the man. Seek out and learn from the best.  If they're getting results with real client, I want to learn from them. And not some clown spewing hate from behind a keyboard.

Continuing Education is critical.

    We have access to so much information now it's ridiculous.  Go to seminars, download webinars, review DVD's, and read books and journals.  It doesn't matter where you live; you have access to more information than any time before.  Don't let that opportunity pass you by.

4 - Become solutions-based vs. problems-based

One of the key themes I find in successful people is that they are solutions-based versus problems-based. People who are problems-based are not only the annoying Negative Nancy, but they never offer anything of value in return.  They can't tell you what solutions they have, because they aren't really training people or getting results! All they do is criticize, often without even knowing the whole story. On the other hand, solutions-based trainers are willing to make educated guesses to improve results.  Does it work 100% of the time?  Probably not. They're willing to take chances and make minor errors, knowing that over time they're going to continue refining their philosophy to get better results. Who do you want to hang out with - the guy who's in the trenches, working hard, and getting results or the guy who has nothing better to do than philosophize and pontificate?

5 - Improve your communication skills

So much of what we do is about educating our clients and our peers.  If our communication skills are poor, we're really going to struggle to get our point across. Writing is a great starting point.  You can start a blog from the safety of your own home, and no one has to see it!  This will help you start to organize your thoughts, develop your philosophy, and hone in your focus as to how you do things. Speaking is the next step, and it's absolutely crucial when you're coaching and training. You must be able to articulate your thoughts, your philosophies, and your coaching cues in a way that your clients understand. It's not showing how much you know, it's teaching them what they need to know. If you're serious about becoming a major player, it may pay dividends to take a public speaking course.  It'll give you an idea of how to layout speeches and presentations for maximum effect. Finally, non-verbal/visual communication is important.  Obviously people pick up on body language, but let's take it a step further - if we're going to coach our clients, it often helps them to see how to perform an exercise first. We should be able to demonstrate the exercises we're coaching with proficiency.

You may not be a 800-pound bench presser but it definitely helps to have a certain degree of proficiency if that's the client-base you're working with. Have a degree of athleticism and understanding of how to perform an exercise before programming it for a client.

Here's the bottom line:

To become an authority in this field, it's going to take a lifetime.  At my own 14-year mark, I'd like to think I know a thing or two.  Yet I know that I still have a long way to go, and a whole heck of a lot to learn. If you aren't spending a ton of time coaching clients, working with a ton of people, gaining experience and GETTING RESULTS, it doesn't matter. It's time to step your game up and take it to the next level.