For one reason or another, you feel like the time has come to move on from your current gym. But with that feeling comes unease, fear even, as well as feelings of cautious excitement for what may lie beyond your current gym walls. This is normal. Everyone goes through this, but the comfort of knowing you're not alone doesn't make leaving your gym any easier.

Depending on how long you've been with your gym, it feels more like a break-up than anything else. You may have grown very close to those clients who have been with you for years, shared their personal lives with you, and maybe even shed a few tears on your shoulder. But no matter how many "Hey, I really enjoyed that workout today" or "Hey, I finally wore that dress I have been waiting to wear." texts you get from your favorite clients, that feeling of being gnawed at from the insides just doesn't go away: Somehow in your heart's heart, you know you want to leave your gym, but should you?

How to Know It's Time

Truth be told, there is no perfect time, or some grand sign that will make you realize it is time to quit.

Sure, you may encounter some more obvious situations (e.g. physical risk of harm, sexual harassment, unethical behavior) that'll pave a clearer path for you to the exit, but outside of those instances, you can reflect on whether one or more of the following is true:

    • You have no room for advancement. Some trainers are content making X amount of dollars, or going through the same motions day in and out. That's fine, but maybe that's not you. Maybe you want to grow, to reach more people, to be an influencer. You either can't, or management doesn't support that type of stuff. In other words, management is holding you back.
    • You are constantly distracted by issues aside from training. These may be issues with other workers, management, the business model, etc. Maybe you feel like you are being pressured to train/instruct a certain way that doesn't agree with your own training philosophy. You need to be focused on your clients, results, and rapport, so if something is drawing your attention away, it's time to go.
    • You are not happy with a combination of income, coworkers/clients, or owners/management. These are all pretty important to anyone in a working environment. Take a brutally honest look at them. If you aren't pleased with two out of the three, then you may want to leave. (What's the point in staying?)

But wait a minute, this is assuming you have done all that you could to alleviate the problem. If, for example, you've had issues with how much you're making at your gym, you've already talked to your boss about a raise or opportunities to be considered for one.

When you've really exhausted all of your options for improvements, then that seals the deal: you need to start looking elsewhere.

Making the Commitment to Leave

This is where it gets tricky. For most, it's a matter of throwing themselves into the unknown and of failing. To combat this, you need to have a plan for what to do next before you leave because sometimes there's really no turning back. If you're already at wit's end with your employer, it's easy to have a bad day, flip the bird, and storm off. It'll feel good for about half a day, and then you're going to be in panic mode for the next steps.

Have a plan for three months, six months, and a year down the road. It's not going to be air-tight, but having some idea of what to do in your head will help you temper your fears, but also give you greater focus on how to execute on your goals.

One huge wrench that can be thrown your way is if you signed some sort of non-compete form. If you can't remember, double-check. Go over all the details, know what you signed, and learn about what you can and cannot do.

Additionally, look around for other facilities in the area that may be hiring.  Make sure it's not just a version 2.0 of your current gym. In other words, make sure you won't run into the same problems--you're not able to grow, you're not making enough money, you're not getting along with management, and so on. One way to find out is to reach out to some of the current trainers at the new facility (but ask that they keep the conversation confidential first!) and ask them these questions:

  • Is there room for growth? Are the current trainers there encouraged to grow and develop?
  • Are there good continuing education opportunities there? Does the facility have the equipment you need?
  • Does it have the space you need?
  • Does is have the amenities your clients want?
  • Will your clients have to pay more money, lose money from the old gym, etc.?

You need to take all of these items into consideration before starting the next step.

Plan to Take Your Clients With You

As you go about researching new facilities to bring your gung-ho spirit, start to think about your clients. Can you bring them along with you? More importantly, will they even follow you there? Most clients will stick with a personal trainer they like because remember:

People buy trainers, not training.

Your clients' needs and convenience come first. After all, they are why you are in this field, why you get paid, and should be your biggest fans. Next, if you have a few clients who you are close to, look up to as mentors, or maybe have even been encouraging you to leave, ask if you can meet with them outside of your current facility. You need to keep work at work, and nothing else.

Talk with them openly and honestly, and tell them what you have been looking into and your plans. Get their input. These are your "influencers", your clients that you value most, and people whom you feel comfortable seeking out professional advice from.

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It's Time to Have the "It's Not Me, It's You..." Conversation

We all dread the inevitable talk to tell your boss that you're leaving, but remember: this is about furthering yourself, not shielding your boss from hurt feelings. No matter what your personal feelings towards your boss or coworkers may be, keep them out of the conversation. You want to remain as professional as possible.

Always give two weeks notice. This is a given and one of the best ways to ensure you maintain a good relationship with your boss. (Note: The exception is if you feel threatened, your life is in danger, or something equally as pressing.)

While meeting with your boss, ask how he wants you to proceed with informing your clients or coworkers. He may want to handle it himself, or ask you to keep it quiet until your last few days. Whatever it is, you need to respect this decision.

Even if you have a civil conversation and give two week's notice, there's a chance your boss may ask you to leave that day. Don't take this as a personal affront. You have to remember the business side of things, and if you leave with your clients, you are taking business away from your employer.

Tying Up Loose Ends

If you are given permission, let the rest of your clients know as soon as you can, especially if your clients want to remain at the gym. Help facilitate the transition to a new trainer that you know will be a good fit. Showing your support for a new trainer will be immediately helpful for that trainer and will help your client feel more at ease as well.

Be sure to keep your client notification professional, personable and meaningful. That means not simply sending out a mass email or text. That's really impersonal. A sincere, well-meaning message goes a long way--who knows, the client may look you up later after you've left. Try writing your clients a handwritten thank you note, meeting them for coffee, or at least chatting with them face-to-face. How you handle this farewell can go a long way and will only reflect very well on who you are as a person (and as a business).

Making sure your clients are taken cared of is crucial, but don't forget your coworkers. After all, that's what this job is all about: interacting with people and helping them improve their lives. It's worth taking the time to let everyone know that you appreciate them and that they will be missed. In the same vein, it doesn't hurt to go out to a "last lunch" with your coworkers and have a good chat. You never know when or if you'll run into them somewhere down the road.

In the end, you need to do what is best for you, but never forget the people you meet along the way.