Pete McCall by Pete McCall

Approving time cards, finding substitute instructors, maintaining a staffing schedule, holding regular meetings with staff and responding to member feedback. Let’s face it—when you were preparing to earn your American Council on Exercise Certification you probably weren’t thinking about tasks like these that, if you make the move into fitness club management, become part of your daily life. Most of us who work in the fitness industry do so because we are passionate about helping others be active so they can enjoy the benefits of living healthier lives, not because we enjoy the minutia of administrating staff policies or managing the growth of a business. At some point in almost every health and fitness professional’s career, however, there will be the consideration about whether or not to apply for a promotion to club management.

First, while every employer is different, it’s important to note that every health-club company is great at doing some things and could do better at others. Before even beginning to consider whether to move into a management role, your first step is to understand the organizational culture of your company and whether or not you’re a good fit for it. Moving into club management can be a great step for your career, but from relationships with co-workers to the total amount of hours worked, your job will change significantly after stepping into a managerial position. Here are some factors worth carefully considering if you are interested in testing yourself with the challenge of managing others.

  1. The absolute first step before applying for a promotion is to make sure that you are comfortable with both the environment and the people you are working with. When you move into management, you will be spending more time at work, so it’s important that it is a place where you feel comfortable spending your time. Make sure that you’re a good fit for your organization. For example, if you enjoy the sales process, the challenge of organizing a team and are driven by numbers and quantifiable metrics, you’re probably better off working in a larger commercial, for-profit club. However, if you prefer a lower-stress environment where the focus is on helping the customer instead of making a sale, you’re probably better off managing at a non-profit facility or in a corporate wellness environment.
  2. When you make the move into management, it's important to understand that your relationships with coworkers will change - they are now your staff and you will be responsible for managing and supervising their efforts in the workplace. You will no longer be able to complain about management with your co-workers—you are now management and are responsible for addressing the issues you used to complain about. “If you are on the staff and suddenly become a manager, you have to figure out how to earn respect from your peers. They need to now view you as a manager as opposed to a peer, and that can be a challenge. That respect has to be earned,” says Irene Lewis-McCormick, an ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor and the head and regional trainer for Orange Theory Fitness in Ames, Iowa.
  3. A career in fitness is a career in a service industry. Working as a personal trainer or group fitness instructor means your primary customers are the health club members, your clients and class attendees. As such, it’s important to keep them happy so they keep coming back and/or referring new clients or group fitness class participants. Moving into a management role increases the number and types of customers you must serve: the internal customers of your staff, fellow department heads and senior management, as well as the external customers of club members and guests. If you’re considering moving into a management position, it’s important to brush up on your customer service skills because you’ll be using them.
  4. There are a lot of benefits of working as a personal trainer, but the ability to count on a consistent source of income is not one of them. Every health and fitness professional will have weeks where a number of clients are traveling or a holiday interrupts the normal schedule, which results in a fluctuating income that can make long-term budgeting a challenge. Working as a manager allows an individual to earn a steady income for managing the business along with bonuses for meeting defined performance objectives. A consistent, reliable income as a manager is most often the driving force behind making the step into management. “I’d definitely consider making the move into a management position….I think it makes sense to jump into an administrative role that offers greater leadership opportunities and the ability to generate more consistent income,” says Justin Russ, the Conditioning Coach for Tennis at IMG Academy in Florida.
  5. If you’re like many health and fitness professionals, at some point you’ve dreamed of owning your own facility. Working in management is a great way to practice running a business without risking any of your own financial resources. From following the law during the hiring process to scheduling necessary repairs and maintenance, there are a lot of details and expenses that come with running any business. Working as a manager in a health club can give you valuable experience for handing these tasks, whether it’s managing a staffing schedule, planning and initiating a marketing campaign or supervising employees. Running someone else’s business can help you identify mistakes to avoid when your own money is on the line.
  6. If you’re skilled at helping individual clients reach their goals or leading a class through a challenging workout, moving into management can help you enhance your management and leadership skills. Managing a fitness department gives you valuable experience in leading a team of individuals with diverse personalities and talents. If you can develop the skills to manage a fitness department to achieve its monthly, quarterly and yearly production goals, you will have developed valuable management skills that can be translated into almost any business or industry.
  7. If management doesn’t work out, don’t worry. It is relatively easy to transition back to being an instructor or trainer if you find that working as a manager is not the best application of your professional skill set. While every company has different policies about how staff can transition between positions, most club companies would rather keep a good employee, especially a revenue-generating position like trainer, than risk losing him or her to a competitor. “After being the department manager for three years, I made the realization that my skills were better utilized and I get more enjoyment from my job when I focused solely on teaching and my work as a master trainer;” said Abbie Appel, a South Florida-based group fitness instructor.

There are a number of factors to consider when deciding whether or not to make the move into fitness club management—only you can decide whether or not it is the best move for your career path. The downside to a management role is that you are assuming the responsibility for running a business. The upside to a management role, however, is challenging yourself to grow both professionally and personally.

If you want to play an instrumental role in helping your company to be successful in changing the lives of it’s members, it may be worth taking the time to seriously consider stepping up to the challenges of management. “I took the position because I wanted to have a greater role in the decision-making process with regards to hiring instructors, class programming and to better understand the operations of a fitness club,” explains Appel. “I love working for Equinox and wanted to be a part of operations and management. The relationships I developed with the instructors and other employees provided a lot of enjoyment and really helped make the experience worthwhile.” 

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