You young’uns out there may want to move on to the next article. I’m addressing those of you who have become, or are thinking about becoming, Personal Trainers “late in life.”
I just became certified as a Personal Trainer last summer, at 67 years-old. So why did I decide to become a trainer at this point?
- Through positive reinforcement (“Dude, you’re ripped! How old are you?” “I hope I look like you when I’m your age.”), I’ve decided I can be a positive role model for others of a certain age, although I don’t plan to limit my practice.
- I love working out. I’m intrinsically motivated.
- I’ve had (and continue to have, for now) a long, fulfilling, full-time career in hospital management. At some point I plan to retire and that no longer means rocking my life away on a porch somewhere. I plan to pursue Personal Training full time in retirement.
- Studying for personal training certifications, learning personal trainer marketing strategies, taking on clients and seeing them progress, has added a whole new dimension and meaning to my life.
- Most importantly, I’ve discovered I have a true passion for inspiring, motivating, and coaching clients to live a healthier life.
What Does This Mean To You?
So now let’s talk about you. Are you seeking an alternative career path, perhaps “in retirement”? Have you decided this is the career you want to pursue?
I say go for it!
Pick a course of study. There are several recognized certification agencies. This is not a commercial for one in particular, but I chose ACE, the American Council on Exercise. Others accredited by NCCA, the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, include ACSM, NASM, NCSF, and NESTA.
ThePTDC has done a full comparison here: what is the best personal trainer certification
I’m sure there are others. Areas of study include but are not limited to Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor and Health Coach. Specialty Certifications are plentiful, from weight management to Behavior Change to Mind/Body and of course Senior Fitness.
Case Study (Me)
I won’t pretend I’m wildly successful at this point, but perhaps charting my progress, trials, and tribulations will be helpful as you plot your journey.
It may be useful to understand my objective was to begin training on a part-time basis, so that I would be ahead of the curve when I moved into a full-time training role.
I took the plunge and ordered the Personal Trainer study course on line. In my case it consisted of hard copy study guides, instructional videos, practice exams, a help line staffed by experienced personnel, various other study aids like periodic Facebook chat sessions and helpful blogs, and an exam voucher. My exam consisted of 300 multiple-choice questions, taken on line, under supervision. Be prepared for diverse areas of study.
I’m guessing a young student with perhaps a non-demanding job could absorb the material in three or four months. I was, as I said, employed full time, traveling extensively, and it took me seven months before I felt comfortable enough to take the exam. In fact, I failed the first practice exam I took.
Take home point: Be realistic about the time commitment.
Once I became certified, I needed to determine my business model. At a minimum, I had to figure out when and how often I could train, and I needed to find a facility where I could train.
The literature will tell you there are numerous options, each with their respective pros and cons, but I was limited due to the small client base I could initially handle.
For example, a “big box” gym couldn’t employ me irrelevant of what personal trainer salary I was prepared to accept because I couldn’t put in the requisite hours. It wasn’t cost effective to have an agent relationship with a gym, where I paid a substantial monthly fee and retained my training fees, for the same reason.
I began researching smaller gyms and workout facilities, and reached out to them to see if there were alternative arrangements available.
It only took a few weeks to locate two small private gyms, one located near my office and one near my home, where the owners were willing to charge me a reasonable flat fee per hour of use. That avoided having to absorb a fixed cost regardless of the hours I actually trained.
Based on the owners’ schedules, I had the use of the facilities early mornings, most evenings, and weekends, which is when I was most likely to be training. As an added bonus, I could tell prospective clients there would be no gym membership fees to pay.
Also, sedentary clients who might be self-conscious would have privacy during their sessions. The one drawback is the inability to get the clients “socialized” with others going through the same process.
Take home point: With your specific situation in mind, be prepared to be creative and flexible in developing your arrangement.
You know the saying “If you build it, they will come”? Not so much. One of the other drawbacks of the arrangements I made was a lack of leads that might have come my way as an employee or agent of an established gym.
I had to find ways to identify and sell personal training potential clients. I had two ready-made sources – the company that employed me and the apartment complex where I lived.
First, the company: Senior Management had no problem with my pursuing this, but would not, for reasons of insurance risk, endorse me or support a general mailing to employees. So I had to pick them off one by one.
Three women who I’d say were in the early stages of training with another trainer expressed interest, but were turned off by the hourly rate I quoted them. I’ll revisit that topic next, but I’ll just say they were doing half-hour group exercises for a ridiculously low fee.
Next: The apartment complex. The problem here is it’s a fairly transient population, and with my travel schedule, I’m just not there often enough to socialize.
The First Client
My first client turned out to be the owner/manager of multiple corporate apartments within the complex. I thought he might begin sending clients my way but that hasn’t happened, despite the fact he’s fully engaged with our training program.
So to help things along, I developed an attractive marketing insert and got the management office to include it in their “Welcome, New Resident” packages.
Take home point: Be creative with your marketing, but be patient — it will take time to develop a client base, which then, if you’re good, will grow through word of mouth.
As a reasonably well-paid professional, my attitude was “I want to do this but I’m not going to work for peanuts.” Plus there’s the marketing theory that people identify higher prices with superior products and services. Bad idea, for me, anyway.
When I reduced my fee to the average, and offered multi-session discounts, I began to have success. I’m not suggesting you low-ball it, as you don’t want to be seen as the low cost provider, but be realistic.
1. Here’s a great article that lays out how much you should charge:
2. As you progress you can work on increasing your rates. Here’s another great article outlining the precise steps to figure out how much to raise your rates to and how to communicate it to you clients:
I’ve only been at this about six months, but if you’ve read between the lines, you may appreciate the sense of joy and accomplishment I feel. Feed on it, and move ahead on your own journey. Good luck!