Being self-employed as a fitness entrepreneur provides plenty of freedom to shape your career however you’d like. But that freedom comes at a cost, which might be best described as the “hustle.” Hustle for fitness entrepreneurs means generating and maintaining a career from scratch—it’s a job or entity that didn’t exist before you created it, so you have to work hard at making it successful and relevant. There’s a constant need or desire to hustle for new opportunities, sales, clients and/or connections. For many entrepreneurs, this is a welcome and exhilarating challenge!

However, most ambitious and entrepreneurial health and exercise professionals will also admit that the hustle must be harnessed at times to avoid burnout. That’s because there’s always something else you could be doing—from creating new products/programs to garnering more customers to marketing your business to managing others, and much more. This article lays out smart entrepreneurial strategies and professional self-care considerations to help fitness entrepreneurs escape the trap of trying to do it all at once. 

Boundaries on Time and Workload

No one wants to work all the time or face a mile-long to-do list every day. Understanding your business purpose helps establish clear boundaries around a workload you deem acceptable. And, of course, boundaries shift over time, depending on where you are in terms of your business goals and progress.  

“What I have learned about setting professional boundaries on time and workload is that you must be mindful about what stage of business you are in,” says Mary Ann Masesar Blair, RN, co-founder of Higher Level Fitness in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a holistic lifestyle and fitness company that promotes self-care. “There is the start-up phase, the growth phase and the established phase,” she says. 

Each phase ultimately requires a different level of workload and time commitment. For example, you might find yourself pushing boundaries and working long hours during a start-up phase, perhaps while completing a book, opening a fitness studio or launching a program. Think of it as implementing work “sprints” throughout the year, says Detric Smith, owner of Results Performance Training in Williamsburg, Va. “You go all-out for a few weeks, maybe on a product launch or location upgrade, and then take a well-deserved break.” 

As you go all-out, your workload might be excessive, but there’s a reason for it and a logical endpoint—for example, the book gets published, the studio opens or the program is launched. “Work/life balance is especially challenging in this phase,” says Blair. “That is just the reality of the hustle.” 

Success is more likely when you know the right moment to shift gears; otherwise, you risk getting stuck with a sprint-style workload most of the time. Blair points out that once you hit the growth phase of your business, all the work you were doing in the start-up phase is no longer ideal or sustainable. At this point, it’s helpful to strategize systems and seek help: delegate, hire staff, outsource admin tasks, etc.  

Moving into the established phase, fitness entrepreneurs generally have more flexibility about how they manage workload and time. It’s about working on the business, not just in the business. However, elevating business strategies and executing new projects can quickly send any creative and motivated fitness entrepreneur right back to the start-up or “sprint” phase, where he or she will once again face a heavier workload. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it does require you to use your time and energy wisely. 

“Distractions are so high in the business of fitness,” says Blair. “We can fall prey to new trends, shiny objects and exciting ideas.”  

“The brain of an entrepreneur can get overwhelmed and fatigued,” explains Chuck Gonzales, founder and owner of Hillsboro Fitness in Oregon. “I have to rely on my team when it comes to setting boundaries on the amount of work on my shoulders. They are really the key that keeps me from taking on too much and drowning in the deep end of the entrepreneurial pool.”  

Implement Your Best Ideas Without Burning Out 

Productive entrepreneurs tend to generate plenty of good (and a few not-so-good) ideas. How do you stop yourself from going after every new concept that comes your way? 

“Being an entrepreneur, and even a fitness professional, is a blessing and a curse,” says Ivan Barrera, a speaker, business coach and owner of Faster Fitness, a boutique studio in Orange County, Calif. “There are many avenues you can take because of what you see online or read in books. People tend to forget it took hours of blood, sweat and tears to get their first idea on paper, and eventually into a reality.” Burnout becomes more likely when fitness entrepreneurs juggle multiple new projects while still figuring out how to run their original businesses. 

For this reason, quality control is a strong incentive to back away from too many tangents. “It’s impossible to do everything well, all the time,” says Smith. “Attacking every aspect of your business all at once will make you worse at the things that matter.” 

“When I try to do it all, it is a sign of my own inability to make strategic business decisions,” says Lyn Lindbergh, a personal trainer and fitness instructor in Bainbridge Island, Wash., and author of COUCH to ACTIVE: The Missing Link that Takes You from Sedentary to Active. To keep herself on track, Lindbergh started using note cards to record ideas, quelling any tendency to act on everything immediately. “Every time I have another amazing idea, I write it on a note card,” she explains. “Before I take action, I sort through my notecards and get strategic. It’s good to know that none of my ideas are lost, and I’m not letting my passion of the day derail my business strategy.” 

Blair takes a similar approach by “parking” ideas into various calendar quarters depending on her business focus for that time period. “If the idea fits the current quarterly focus, I add it to a ‘parking lot’ of things to investigate further,” she says. “If the idea does not fit, I put it into next quarter’s parking lot. When ideas pop up, the challenge is to constantly say to yourself, ‘Not right now. Put it in the parking lot.’ This frees up so much brain energy and minimizes decision fatigue.” 

Harnessing the Hustle

Starting and running a business can become overwhelming, even for self-employed fitness entrepreneurs who thrive on busy-ness and action-taking. While it’s expected that building a prosperous business (or businesses) will take hard work, there’s usually a tipping point associated with unharnessed hustling. 

“Mindset is everything,” adds Lindbergh. “The word hustle is wrought with anxiety and exhaustion. I prefer to swap it for the words focused and strategic. Yes, I hustle but only because I have a strategy I’m focused on. This helps me feel like I’m on a mission rather than chasing squirrels.”

“Hustling becomes more enjoyable when you know it’s worth it,” says Smith. However, busy fitness entrepreneurs might inadvertently overlook noteworthy goals or milestones. “Don’t forget to celebrate your wins,” advises Smith. “It’s easy for ambitious people to constantly search for improvement. Simple acknowledgement of how far you’ve come eases discouraging thoughts.” 

“I’ve come to learn that I will always have to hustle,” says Gonzales, who opened his studio 11 years ago. “Personally, I’m driven to hustle, which is why I knew I would succeed as a business owner.” Of course, the entrepreneurial hustle is bound to change over time: it might mature and morph along with your business and priorities. 

“When I first started my fitness business, I did anything and everything to make new connections, get more clients, increase my revenue and ultimately have a high income−generating business,” explains Barrera. “I would put all this focus and stress on myself to build the business. I found myself always in a frustrated or even a depressive state because I was never satisfied with my results. I always felt like there was more to accomplish and like I was leaving something on the table. I had to do some soul searching on the things that really made me happy. Seven years into business, I can say that my ‘hustle’ has definitely changed. I wouldn’t say that I’m not the same go-getter because I definitely still am that person. But what I’ve come to figure out is my happiness and mental health are more important than the hustle.” 

Professional Self-care

Most fitness entrepreneurs start a business hoping it will be profitable and beneficial to others. They know it will take effort. But fewer self-employed health and exercise professionals acknowledge how professional self-care plays a role. “To me,” says Barrera, “professional self-care means being in an environment that helps you—and others in it—thrive.” It’s essential for a healthy business—and a healthy business owner.

“I used to not take any time off, and it hurt my business,” says Smith. “Especially in this industry, make sure you have time to work out, sleep and eat well. Unfortunately, so many health and exercise professionals forget to practice what they preach during the hustle and grind of entrepreneurship. Automate your business enough so you can step away for a day or two without everything falling to pieces.” 

Lindbergh shares that her previous lack of professional self-care eventually caught up with her. “I spent my 20s and 30s being a super high performer. I defined myself as a rock star who could push through and get anything done despite the stress or pressure. In my 40s, my body decided it had enough and I developed fibromyalgia. I lost my ability to go strong, nonstop. I lost physical strength, and I gained weight. This loss in vitality has forced me to practice self-care in a way that I never would have otherwise.”

While professional self-care means different things to different people, the promise of an occasional afternoon off or annual vacation probably isn’t enough to mitigate higher-than-average workloads and stress. With that in mind, be sure to incorporate professional self-care into your daily routine. For example, waking up early to get right to work requires a good night’s sleep, so plan your bedtime accordingly. “Create routines that support your best days,” urges Blair.  

Entrepreneurial Freedom 

“In the beginning, you might be the only one running the business,” says Gonzales. “It’s an unavoidable, uphill battle, and sometimes it seems there will be no end in sight.” Eventually though, you’ll be in a position to enlist others who can help carry the load. “That’s a great feeling,” says Gonzales. With the right combination of support, hustle and professional self-care, fitness entrepreneurs can enjoy all the freedoms and benefits that come with owning a business in an industry full of fruitful career possibilities.