How the gym environment is killing our new Personal Trainers
The last seminar I went to stated that the average career length of a new Personal Trainer at the moment is 6 months. 6 Months!! Other reports at the same time stated that our National obesity rate is growing faster than all other countries in the world, with Australians regularly battling with USA, England and NZ for the top spot on the fattest country list. This tells me that the turnover rate is not caused by a lack of demand for services.
In 2012, around 10000 people studied PT, with a high % of these graduates actually entering the workforce with the figure in the vicinity of 8100. Most of these people don’t last their first year.
What is causing this rapid turnover of once excited new graduates of the Personal Training courses??
In my opinion, the current PT business structure in commercial gyms is largely responsible, and I will explain why.
Gyms have found an excellent way to make consistent income out of Personal Training, without actually being in the personal training business. To me that is an incredibly savvy business strategy. It is also responsible for creating exceedingly toxic and unsupportive environments for new trainers to learn their craft while trying to establish themselves in the industry.
- Gyms aren’t in the PT business. They are in the gym business. Most gyms rely on selling large numbers of memberships, to people who either don’t use the facility after their first few weeks, or use it once or twice per week. Many successful commercial gyms have membership bases of 2000+ people. Can you imagine how overcrowded it would be if everyone used the facility 4-5 times a week as recommended? Gyms target signing bulk members on low monthly rates, which makes the crossover to the PT market minimal. Gyms identified this, and have ceased employing Personal Trainers, and have outsourced their PT requirements to “contractors”, who now work out of their gyms and pay for the pleasure.
- Gyms aren’t set up for PT – lots of members, battling for equipment, trainers forced to make up sessions on the spot and an emphasis on pin loaded machines. It is almost impossible to pre-plan a client’s training session if they train during peak gym times. Gyms maximize their floor space with as many machines as they can, to appeal to inexperienced trainers who relate a good gym with one that has lots of equipment. A good PT only studio will set up with as much floor space as possible, to allow for greater variety in training. I say to our PT’s all the time that you can do 1 exercise on a machine, whereas you can do unlimited exercises on an open piece of floor.
- PT Rent system – This refers to the trainers being hired as contractors instead of the previously used employee model. Most of the big gym chains now promote a “run your own business” format, where trainers pay for the privilege of using the facility and having access to the membership base to gain clientele. In the hiring process they promise ongoing support, referrals from membership consultants and the trainer is generally required to provide a certain number of hours of programming to new members, where they then aim to sell their 1:1 services. Mostly, the gyms allow a 6-8 week reduced rent or rent free period for a new trainer, where the aim is to build their client base. The figures vary from gym to gym, but many of the big chains work around $200-$250 per week. This rent is due, regardless of whether the trainer has attained enough clientele to cover this amount, disregarding their own basic living expenses. I know firsthand how this creates a lot of stress for new to the industry trainers, who are not well enough equipped from their course to succeed in this environment.
The gym I worked at in Central London had 16 trainers, working in a small facility and I was due for 1300 pound per month whether I had sessions or not. I received exactly 0 client referrals from the gym staff. I started in a group of 3 trainers which took the total to 16, and before I had even finished my 4th week there was 3 additional PT’s added. Not exactly the type of help that is promised in the interviewing process.
As an experienced trainer, this environment would not seem as daunting, but for fresh graduates of the courses, it is throwing them in the deep end without ever teaching them to swim. Some may prove they can stay afloat, but most will sink.
- Trainers come out of their course with no PT experience or business acumen for the industry. A small section of some of the more reputable Personal Training courses go over “sales”, in which the instructor makes getting clients sound as easy as walking up to a member who is training independently and saying “Hey I’m Drew, how’s your training going? What are your goals at the moment? Ah that’s awesome, well done……Id really love to offer you a free consultation to see if I can help you with achieving these goals?” Ipso Facto, Clients for days!!
Now this situation works great if you happen to be a trainer who starts with a commercial gym from their opening day and few of the members have been approached by a trainer before. It’s probably the first time they’ve been offered a free consultation, and I guarantee if I was in that situation I could have a full client base within a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, the reality is if you are joining an established gym, you are probably replacing a previous trainer who couldn’t cut it, or adding to a list of trainers who are already struggling to get enough sessions to cover their rent and basic living expenses. This means that the members of the gym may well have been approached by 3-4 other pro-active trainers and what you are offering is nothing new. And this applies to the trainers who deserve credit for having the guts to even approach random members, as I know there are many who fear the rejection and never put themselves out there.
- No ongoing mentorship or support – qualifications help you land a new position, but they rarely have a direct correlation with being good at your job. I learnt more in the first week of my first exercise physiology job than I did in my entire degree. It is the on-the job learning that teaches you the nuances of your trade and sets you up for success. You learn from your more experienced peers, and from your bosses/mentors. The way commercial gyms are set up now there is no mentorship as the trainers are “running their own business”. Without a single days experience in the industry, you are your own boss. It is the equivalent of a tradesperson doing the theory component of their apprenticeship at TAFE, being qualified and forced to start their own building company. The new trainers we hire undergo a very sharp learning curve, and quickly realise that their course content doesn’t always apply to real world training and forging connections with people. I have always learnt more from the quality people I worked for and with, than I did from any textbook.
- Adversarial, dog eat dog environment – The over hiring of trainers creates a zero sum environment for the trainers. The thought process is, “If you get that client, I don’t” and this lends itself to a lack of comradery and knowledge sharing between trainers. Many struggling trainers will begin to resent other trainers who are doing better than them, especially if they believe they are a more knowledgeable and skilled trainer. What I have learned from my time in the gym environment is that
- The trainers with the most clients are not the best trainers, they are the best salespeople
- The trainers with the most clients are the ones who buddy up to the gym sales staff
- The trainers with the most clients are always the most outgoing
- The struggling PT’s are the ones with the most free time between sessions, so they hang around each other and vent about their struggles, which in turn breeds negativity and further resentment towards the gym and the more successful trainers.
- Frequently the most technically knowledgeable trainers are the ones who fall into this category as they often lack the required sales skills, and sadly are often the ones lost to the industry.
- No accountability for training quality – Under the contractor model the gym is only concerned about its monthly rent from its “team” of trainers. There is no one keeping trainers accountable for their session quality, structure and most importantly safety. I have seen trainers in this environment stand by while gym members perform cringe worthy, injury inducing movements without the trainer stepping in because it is not their client. Even worse is when you see these same cringe worthy movements being performed during a paid PT session. Without a more experienced trainer, owner or employer to step in and offer corrections and accountability to the trainer for their session quality, lazy and inefficient training habituates. This is allowed to continue as most inexperienced clients cannot tell the difference between a good trainer and a bad one, until they one day have a good one to compare all the previous ones. They place trust in the fact that person handling their health and fitness, is doing so in the safest and most effective method. Without someone to ensure this is the case, there are no guarantees.
So do the gyms actually care?
From my experience, no.
Gyms have outsourced their PT responsibility by having contractors run their own businesses out of their facility. Personal training in commercial gyms has become a way for the gyms to maintain an additional, constant revenue stream without actually having to do anything. The PT’s are responsible for attaining their own clients, offering their services for free, and are paying relatively large sums of money every month to have access to the equipment and members.
There is a conveyor belt of new trainers coming off the line every month, all seeking to make their start in the industry, all unsure about signing the contracts with the gyms, but all left with very little other option than to follow this path.
Our studios are set up under an employment model, which allows our trainers to grow and be supported in an environment where their peers openly share information. Their sessions are not micromanaged but they are accountable for every exercise they prescribe. Instead of charging our PT’s rent, we pay them during their build up phase to shadow and learn from our top trainers. For these reasons and many more, our turnover rate is as close to zero as a business in our industry can attain. Personally, I’m very proud of this fact!
I’d love to see more facilities go back to hiring new graduates of PT courses under an employment model, nurturing them through the initial 6-12 months of inexperience and assisting them in become elite Personal Trainers. However, while there remains the constant feed of new trainers every month, and the new trainers have few other viable entry points to the industry, I feel the turnover rate will remain at that ridiculous 6 month figure.