How to be a Successful Personal Trainer

Some personal trainers make good money. Others are broke and can’t keep clients. Here’s the one thing separating them.

Personality vs. Knowledge

For most trainers, personality is more important than knowledge… at least if you want to make a good living.

I made a 180-degree turn on this one. I used to be a coaching purist and believed all that mattered was knowledge and application. If you were good, clients would just fall into your lap. And that might be true if you’re a strength coach with a great reputation for getting athletes to perform like machines.

But it isn’t true when you work in a commercial gym with the average lifters. That’s one thing I realized years ago: The average person in a gym isn’t passionate about training. They don’t know who Charles Poliquin, Jim Wendler, John Meadows, and Christian Thibaudeau are.

They don’t know what “accentuating the eccentric” and “activating mTOR” means. They have no idea what a rest/pause, cluster, or wave are meant to do. And they don’t care! Many of them just want results, and most of them want to have a good time.

Trust and Motivation

I was once asked what the most important thing was for a trainer to help his clients get results. I gave a know-it-all answer about physiological responses and individual biomechanics, and I was laughed at. Turns out, the most important thing is getting your clients to trust you and be motivated by you.

The coach must have a personality to motivate a client that isn’t passionate about training (and often who doesn’t really want to do it in the first place) into loving training, looking forward to sessions, and giving a maximum effort.

And you know what? It’s not about competence, but rather about personality.

I’ve worked with and taught hundreds of trainers. And those who are the most successful – both financially and in getting their clients results – aren’t always the smartest. They’re the most fun to be with. They’re high energy, positive, and charismatic.

I’ve seen guys who were as knowledgeable as most “top trainers” barely make any money, and some with little more than basic training knowledge have a six figure income.

Think about it. If you want to make a good living as a trainer you must sell training sessions, not training programs. Let’s say that you charge $80 an hour for a training session and $200 for a program. If a client hires you for three weekly sessions at $80 you’ll need 5-6 regular clients per month to make around 75,000 per year. And when a client has a good relationship with you, you likely can keep him for at least three months, so you may only have to find 3-4 new clients per month.

If you want to make the same amount of money selling programs you’ll need to sell eight programs a week to get there. And since most clients in commercial gyms will keep the same program for six weeks or more, you’ll constantly need to sell, which is hard to do.

And if you work in a gym, you’ll likely have to give the gym a percentage of pay (or pay them “rent”) so you might need to double those numbers! Selling 28 programs per week is a ton!

Competency will sell programs. Personality will sell sessions.

Think about it. Would you pay $80-100 per hour three times a week to be with someone who’s boring and not motivational? Maybe, but the average Joe who isn’t amped up about training won’t.

When they first meet you, you’re selling yourself, not really your services. If they see that you’re fun, motivated, and passionate they’re much more likely to hire you for sessions.

Great Results, More Clients?

I know what you’re thinking: “Yeah, Thib, but I’m not money-driven. I’m about results. And if I get my clients results, more clients will come.”

That’s true to an extent. But let me ask you this: Will a client with little training experience (those who are the most likely to hire you) get better results from being on his own with your program for six weeks, or will he get better results if he has a qualified coach with him three times a week, one who’s there to motivate him, push him, adjust the program, etc.?

The answer is obvious. So if you want clients to get the best results possible, you’ll always do a better job if you sell them sessions, not programs. And remember the best way to do that is with personality.

I’m not saying competency doesn’t matter. It’s a trainer’s responsibility to keep furthering his knowledge by attending seminars, reading books/articles, experimenting, and exchanging info with other good trainers.

But what good is it to be the best-looking guy in the world if you never leave your parent’s basement? Likewise, you can have all the knowledge in the world, but if people don’t want to work with you and you can’t motivate them, you’ll never achieve much in the way of results or financial success.