Whether you are a newly certified personal trainer or a seasoned professional, it’s important to evaluate what you want out of your career. You have a passion for exercise and want to help others lead a healthy life, but how does that translate into building a career?

Following an unprecedented year, I’ve been reflecting on conversations I’ve had with colleagues in the industry. In this blog, I share their insights and experiences with continuing to build a career in fitness, even when their gyms and studios have closed. The fitness industry is always changing and, as we saw in 2020, the ability to adapt and reinvent yourself and your business has never been more important. Consider how the changes detailed below can help grow your business in 2021.

Offer Customizable Training Packages

You might be accustomed to offering a particular training format (e.g., one-on-one in-person training) simply because that’s the way your employer runs their business or how you operate your own business. However, if you provide clients with a variety of training options, they can choose what is best for them.

George-Anthony Dulal-Whiteway, founder and owner of Brainstorm Fitness in San Diego, Calif., never thought he would offer in-home training. Four years ago, he designed a state-of-the-art brick-and-mortar studio with some of the most unique equipment on the market. But this year, his clients started to ask if he would come to their houses and train in their backyards. Trying to retain his clients, Dulal-Whiteway decided to give it a shot. “Last year, if someone had asked me to come to their house, I would have said no way, but now, I’m realizing that in order for me to show my appreciation for them, I should meet them where they feel most comfortable.”

Customizing packages for each client might be new to you and might take more time, but you will be able to reach and retain more clients. What might these packages look like? For clients who may feel uncomfortable training in-person, offer virtual sessions or a hybrid of both. This can be done for one-on-one clients or small-group training. Consider various price points and session lengths for all formats. Avoid digital burnout by keeping virtual classes shorter. For example, you might offer one 60-minute in-person session per week and two virtual 30-minute sessions per week.

Use the Coach Approach

Utilizing health-coaching skills such as motivational interviewing is key to building rapport with your clients. Once you have rapport, you can openly discuss health behaviors and goals.

Personal trainers often think that because a client is paying for their service, they should tell them exactly what they need to do to reach their goals. In reality, your clients are the experts on themselves, and they should be active participants in the goal-setting process. Dialogue with them and help them come to their own conclusions on how to best facilitate change.

COVID-19 has made the need for personal connection even greater, and you have a unique opportunity to be that connection for your clients. Developing your social and communication skills can prove to be more valuable than the actual workouts you design.

Be inquisitive, take a genuine interest in your clients’ lives, and recognize that your training sessions might impact their mental and emotional health more than their physical health.

Expand Your Wheelhouse

Program design is often a strength for personal trainers. However, as you think about expanding your career, consider all of your skills and how they can support you and your clients. Bobby Runyan, an ACE Certified Professional based in Bloomington, Ill., pivoted his career from tennis pro and personal trainer to equipment manufacturer. While he doesn’t have a degree in design, he saw a need for functional equipment and decided to create the PT Wall and Bench. With the uptick in people building home gyms, the equipment side of his business is now his primary focus.

Take some time to consider how you can impact the industry in different ways. It doesn’t have to be equipment; perhaps you want to develop continuing education courses or pursue management. Putting yourself out there and taking a risk on something that is outside your comfort zone will put you one step ahead of the competition.

Change Your Target Market

Who is your target market? Having a business and marketing plan that addresses the needs of the consumers you want to help is key to developing your brand. However, it’s important to consider that many consumers have lost access to their “normal” fitness routines. Community programs have been scaled back and youth sports programs have limited team practices, which is contributing to a more sedentary society. There is a greater need for people to get back to basics as well as an increased desire by many to start a fitness routine.

It’s also worth noting that losing weight and gaining muscle might not be your clients’ biggest concerns right now. Many people have become more sedentary at work and are spending more hours on the computer. Acute tightness and/or pain has now extended into chronic issues. Addressing these faulty patterns may now be the most important component of your clients’ programs.

Collaborate With Other Professionals

There is a lot of overlap between fitness and wellness, but be aware of areas that might not be in your scope of practice as an ACE Certified Personal Trainer. Cultivating a network of health and fitness professionals and allied health professionals to refer clients to shows that you care deeply about all areas of your clients’ health. In fact, it can build your clients’ trust and confidence in you and may even lead to more clients.

In addition to having a referral network, consider collaborating with group fitness instructors to provide alternative classes on non-training days. After 15 years spent specializing in isometrics and muscle activation technique (MAT), Nicholas Linn of Neuromuscular Fitness Training in San Diego expanded his network. While developing his online brand, he recognized that his clients needed more than what he offered, so he collaborated with a yoga instructor in Kentucky who created an on-demand exercise database. “I saw a need for more affordable training options for my clients. Budgets have tightened and clients that once trained with me three times a week were only able to do one time a week.” By providing them with additional content and services, Linn’s clients continued to improve their self-efficacy and adherence. This new collaboration also allowed him to recognize that this approach to training was more scalable and, over time, would save him time.

The new year brings new opportunities for change and growth. Take the time to review these opportunities and incorporate them into your work with clients. This knowledge, along with your ability to adapt and pursue new opportunities, are likely to have a significant impact on your success in 2021.

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