Pete McCall by Pete McCall

Congratulations! You studied hard and received your ACE Personal Trainer certification. You are now ready to embark on a new career in the fitness industry and guiding people toward healthier behaviors that can significantly improve their quality of life. If you’re like many new trainers, your biggest challenge is selecting the employment opportunity that makes it possible to earn a good income while helping others improve their lives.

Do you dream of being an entrepreneur and opening your own fitness studio or helping clients directly in their homes? While these are certainly viable career options, it can take considerable resources and time to develop an extensive list of clients who can provide you with a steady source of income. If you want to start your new fitness career with a successful foundation, you should seriously consider working in a health club.

A health club has a vested interest in seeing you succeed, because the more clients you train, the more lives you change and the more revenue you generate for the company (and the more money you receive in your paycheck—a nice win-win-win). Most large health-club companies have the resources for initial staff training and ongoing skill development, as well as the marketing and management support to help you establish a successful business. Even if your goal is to one day open your own facility, it’s a good idea to start out in a health club. Consider it on-the-job training for what you will need to know when you finally invest your hard-earned money to start a fitness studio.

In addition to important marketing and management skills, here are nine factors worth considering when weighing the options for starting your fitness career.

1. Working for a health club can provide a variety of opportunities for career growth, including promotions and the opportunity to work in club management.

Jason Stella, for example, started as a personal trainer for Lifetime Fitness and rose up through the ranks to become Area Director of Fitness, with the responsibility for supporting fitness operations at a number of clubs. Stella credits the opportunities for career growth he’s experienced as a major benefit of working for an established health-club company.

2. Many larger club companies provide free or reduced-priced continuing education workshops to help you improve your skill set while earning the continuing education credits (CECs) necessary to retain your certification.

Working for a club can also provide unique growth opportunities in the field of fitness education. Matt Berenc, for example, started as a personal trainer at Equinox and is now the director of the Equinox Fitness Training Institute, where he is responsible for managing the education programming for personal trainers at all of the company’s locations.

3. Health clubs provide a wide variety of equipment that you can use with your clients.

Many large health clubs have the budget to purchase new equipment on a regular basis, which provides you with more options when developing programs for your clients. In addition, when it comes to smaller equipment like medicine balls, stability balls, resistance bands and kettlebells, most health clubs have a monthly budget to purchase new equipment as existing pieces wear out.

4. Clubs offer the opportunity for you to teach group fitness classes.

Club members who participate in group fitness classes are some of the most consistent members and often visit the club several times a week. Teaching group fitness classes puts you in front of a number of fitness enthusiasts who could become potential clients. If members like your group workouts, they will probably love your one-on-one personal-training services. When starting my fitness career I never thought about teaching group classes. Once I started teaching formats like indoor cycling and group strength, however, I quickly found it to be an effective strategy for attracting new clients.

5. Group fitness instructors can be an excellent source of referrals.

You don’t need to teach classes yourself to leverage the power of group fitness. Members will often ask a favorite instructor if he or she is a personal trainer, too. If you have good relationships with the group fitness team at your facility, they can be a consistent source of new client referrals. Offering to help set up equipment for a class or lead a stretch session for participants after a class are just a couple of ways that you can quickly build relationships with instructors.

6. Membership sales people can also be a source of referrals.

Taking the time to get to know your membership team or answering questions for a prospective member when they are touring the club can lead to new training clients. In addition, some club companies allow membership sales people to also sell private training packages when a new member joins a club. This means that you have a full team supporting your efforts to build your business.

7. You can save part of your earnings, tax-free, in a retirement account.

Most health clubs have 401(k) retirement plans for their staff. Saving money in a retirement account allows you to start planning for your long-term future, while reducing the amount of taxes you pay on your income (you will, of course, have to pay taxes when you withdraw the money in retirement). This was one of my favorite benefits when working for a large health club—approximately 17% of every pre-tax dollar I earned was placed in my 401(k) plan, which enabled me to accumulate a substantial retirement savings in a relatively short period of time.

8. Working in a health club gives you the opportunity to focus on what you like to do most—help clients change their lives.

Most people become personal trainers because they want to help make a difference in other people lives. Until you get to a point where you can afford to hire an operations manager, the reality is that if you own your studio you will spend a good chunk of your time managing your business and not necessarily working with clients. If you decide to be an in-home trainer, you will spend a lot of time travelling from one client to the next. Working in a health club, however, allows you stay in one place and makes it possible to book three to four sessions in a row during busy periods.

9. Working in a health club could potentially lead to working with famous clients.

Here’s a little-known fact: Many “celebrity trainers” actually met their now-famous clients when they were working out at a health club in between auditions, acting classes and restaurant shifts. Working in a health club can put you in front of a variety of different people, some of whom may experience success in their career as an entertainer and you could be a part of their journey on the way up. Kira Stokes is a personal trainer in New York City who currently works with a number of A-list celebrities and is frequently featured as a fitness expert in national magazines and on numerous television talk shows. Stokes has been a personal trainer for almost two decades and spent the first part of her career working the floor and training clients for a large health club company, where she earned recognition as one of the top producers. She credits the time she spent in health clubs developing her exercise programming and client-retention skills for giving her the ability and confidence to work with a variety of clients.

Between 2014 and 2024, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects there will be a 10% growth in career opportunities for personal trainers and other fitness industry workers. According to the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook, “As businesses, government and insurance organizations continue to recognize the benefits of health and fitness programs for their employees, incentives to join gyms or other types of health clubs are expected to increase the need for fitness trainers and instructors.” In short, more health club members will create a demand for more health club-based personal trainers. Making the decision to work in a health club could be much more than just a short-term learning opportunity—it could become the foundation for establishing a financially lucrative and personally rewarding long-term career.

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