Being a personal trainer or fitness instructor can be a fantastic career, but it’s far from perfect.
In this article, I will be explaining the main disadvantages of being a personal trainer I personally discovered during my career spanning over ten years.
This list is in no way meant to put your off a career in fitness (because it’s usually awesome), but it’s important that you know what you are going into and how to manage the issues either before or after they crop up.
That’s why after each of the disadvantages I list, I will be explaining how to either prevent them happening to you or how to fix them if they already have.
The main disadvantages of being a personal trainer or fitness instructor
- Unreliable income
- Long hours
- Lack of holiday/vacation time
- Becoming an agony aunt
- High competition
- Clients blaming you for their lack of progress
Whether you are working as a self-employed or employed personal trainer or fitness instructor, your income will never be guaranteed.
When you work for a gym as an employed trainer, you are paid by the number of sessions you deliver each month. If you don’t deliver enough sessions to take keep you in the right pay bracket, you will be dropped down to a lower tier and receive less pay per session you delivered.
This makes a huge difference to your pay at the end of the month!
The same problem exists if you are self-employed, as you will be paying rent at the end of each month. You will have clients canceling sessions or deciding they no longer want to train with you, it’s just part of the business.
However, when you are counting on the money coming in from each session you have booked in to actually happen, people suddenly telling you they can’t attend a session or no longer want to train can dramatically lower your expected income for that month.
How to fix it
The worst thing you can do in terms of your sessions as a trainer is to assume that every single one of them will happen.
You should check that every single session you have booked in will take place by confirming with your client at the end of their last session that they are still ok for the next one, and confirm and confirm again with gym members that you have booked in for consultation sessions that they are still attending.
No matter how much confirmation you get from your clients, there will always be last-minute cancellations, this is part of the job and there is very little you can do about it.
If at the start of the month you are counting up your predicted sessions, take these cancellations into consideration by making the assumption that 10-15% of your sessions will be canceled at the last minute.
This way, you will have a much more accurate number to work with, so you won’t find yourself disappointed with fewer sessions than you had expected.
Don’t sell blocks of sessions
Selling blocks of 10 or 20 sessions at a time is a staple of personal trainers. It’s pretty much how every trainer sells, but this doesn’t mean it’s the best (or even a good) way to sell sessions.
Instead, have your clients sign up to direct debit payments with you. This way you will know whether the clients attend all their sessions or not, you will have that money in your bank.
Trust me, this is the most comfortable way to sell your sessions and stops you from having to sell your services again to your client at the end of each block of sessions.
To understand more about how personal trainers get paid for their sessions and the pros and cons of each, check out the article below.
If you’re thinking of getting into personal training or fitness instruction because you have heard that you can “choose your own hours”, I can tell you now, it is simply not the case, certainly not in the beginning anyway.
When you are in the first year of working in the industry, you can expect days of 10 to sometimes 14 hours!
Building up your client base takes time, and you can’t do this by only being in the gym for a few hours a day. You will need to be there in all the busy times of the day, which are from 6 am until 9 am, 11 am till 2 pm, and 6 pm until 8 pm.
Once you have your client base built up, you have a chance to start organizing your time a little better so you don’t have to work such long hours, but in the beginning, this will almost certainly be the case.
Whilst your friends are all working standard nine to five jobs and at home and relaxing by 6 pm, you will just be starting your evening sessions.
How to fix it
Decide before you start filling your diary what hours you want to work.
I know you are probably thinking that I am contradicting what I previously stated, however, before you start filling your diary up, don’t get too excited and book in sessions at 6 am and then 8 pm on the same day.
Try your best to book your sessions as close as you can by being in the gym at the times you want to train people.
For example, the mornings are always busy in gyms, so this would be a great time to be in the gym scouting for clients. Aim to fill your diary up as much as possible each morning of the week, then do the same with mid-mornings and lunchtime sessions.
It shouldn’t take you long to build up an established client base with at least 20 sessions per week. That’s only 4 sessions each day, 6 am till 8 am and 11 am till 1 pm. From there you can add additional sessions wherever there are gaps in your diary to increase your salary.
By working like this, you will be able to dictate what times you work and what time you get to leave the gym each evening.
To get a full insight into the day of a life of a busy personal trainer, click the link below.
Having to stump up the cash each month to pay your gym rent or any other expenses is one of the main stress factors that gives personal training its rather unpleasant 80% turnover rate each year.
What with clients failing to turn up to sessions, leaving you at the last minute, and long working days, stress is somewhat of an inevitability.
The majority of the time, these “stress factors” can be overcome or prevented entirely with simple organization, planning, and forward-thinking.
How to fix it
Expect the best, but prepare for the worst!
By understanding that clients will cancel, you have rent to pay and members will always want to use the same piece of equipment as you when you’re training your client, you can stop yourself from becoming overly stressed.
By expecting these things to happen and preparing for them, you can heavily reduce the stress that these events could cause you.
For example, you have rent to pay, so take count of all your sessions and work out how much you should be bringing in that month. Deduct the 10-15% we discussed earlier for cancellations and if you are coming up short, go out and find more clients to take up the slack.
Clients will cancel, so make use of emails or phone calls to confirm sessions so you have fewer last-minute cancellations to deal with.
And if you are planning on taking a client that needs to train at 1 pm each day, plan their session programs to make use of equipment that you know you will have more chance of using at busier times.
The point I’m trying to make here is that the vast majority of problems you will encounter whilst working as a trainer are easily prevented if you take the time to sit down and decide how you can prevent them.
It’s very rare that there is a situation that cannot be prevented with some forward planning.
I wrote a full article on the stress associated with a career in personal training and fitness instruction.
Check out the article by clicking the link below.
Lack of holidays/vacation time
If you are in the camp of trainers that believe that working 14 hour days and never having a break to the point that you are making yourself ill is some kind of badge of honor, you may struggle with this next point.
In a standard 9-5 job, you are entitled to holidays (as I’m sure you are aware). When you are a self-employed trainer you have no such luxury.
Sometimes a gym will give you two weeks of no rent to allow yourself to have a break, but not all gyms do this.
It’s more common than you would get holiday entitlement if you are employed by a gym, but the pay you receive will be based on how many sessions you complete each month on average, so you’d better make sure your averages are pretty damn good.
You might find that with all the stress of having rent to pay and concerns over client retention, you will not want to take a break in case you lose clients whilst you are away, or because you are worried about other trainers poaching your clients in your absence.
How to fix it
You should have a break at least a few times in the year whilst working as a personal trainer or fitness instructor.
It’s an incredibly demanding job, so you can only work at your best if you take a week or two here and there to recharge and relax a little.
One way that I found I could allow myself a short break and not worry about losing my clients would be to find yourself a trainer in the gym that you trust, and that really is the keyword here, you must trust them a great deal.
Find a trainer you trust and ask them to train your client whilst you are away so they can carry on with their training without losing the progress they’ve made with you.
You can offer to pay the trainer to take the session for you, and you can obviously offer to return the favor whenever they go away.
You need to trust the trainer to avoid any concern over them trying to take your client from you, which unfortunately does happen sometimes.
Another option (if you don’t trust your fellow trainers), is to simply write up exercise programs that your clients can use for the duration of your holiday.
People generally understand that you will need a break, and so telling your clients that you will be away for a week, but that you have written up and sent a program for them to complete should be fine for most clients.
As long as you aren’t planning on leaving for several months at a time, most clients will have no issue with you leaving for a week, or maybe even two as long as you have put the effort in to give them something to do when you can’t be with them.
I had several holidays whilst maintaining a busy diary, and it was very rare that I had any clients leave me as a result. It may have happened once or twice, but over ten years, it’s not too bad.
Becoming an agony aunt
You undoubtedly knew that by becoming a personal trainer or fitness instructor you would need to be talking to people a lot.
The vast majority of the time, this is actually a perk of the job (it was for me anyway). I loved hearing about what all my clients were getting up to in their lives and what their interests and hobbies were.
It’s a great thing to have a client that you can talk to as if they were one of your friends you’ve known for years. It can completely make your day to know that you have that one particular session where you will get to have a great chat and a laugh.
The less positive side is becoming an agony aunt for your clients.
Some people are shy and won’t say much, but people that are more extroverted will see you as completely impartial and unbiased, and seeing as you will usually have no connection to their colleagues or family, you are a great place (as far as they are concerned) to offload all their problems.
Now, when you have known a client for a long time and they come to you with a personal problem that they want to discuss in-between sets, it is usually fine to help them out with this every once in a while.
The problem comes from clients that have decided that they are going to fully offload all their problems and worries on you each and every session.
After a very short time this becomes a real downer, and having to learn to deal with your own personal issues as well as hearing negativity from some of your clients can be tough on you mentally.
How to fix it
Fixing this issue is a little easier said than done, but it’s important that you make the effort to try to distance yourself from the negativity you will certainly hear.
The negativity is not limited to the gym members or your clients, you will also see a great deal of it coming from other trainers in the gym, and this is probably more important to distance yourself from than that of your client’s issues.
When you join a new gym, I guarantee you that you will hear plenty of the trainers there telling how difficult it is to pick up clients and how terribly unfair everything is.
Do not be put off by these people, chances are they have little to no business plan or have terrible sales techniques. As long as there are members coming into the gym, you have an opportunity to thrive. If you start listening to these people, your positivity about your role and the possibilities of creating a fantastic business will be severely hampered.
Know in yourself that you can build a strong, reliant, and busy client base in any gym that you work in.
Going back to your clients, if you hear them being negative about their personal lives, make sure you listen to what they say and show that you understand the issues they are facing.
Most of the time, people don’t want advice from you, they just want to vent their frustrations, and whilst they are exercising could actually be a good time for them to get out their frustrations.
Do not be suckered into trying to give them advice, as you are not qualified and you could get far too involved with something that is really not your business. Just be an ear to listen to them and show that you understand, that’s all they are usually looking for.
High competition from other trainers
You will not be the only personal trainer in a gym!
Chances are, there will be up to 25 other trainers in a city-based gym all looking for the same clients like you, and sometimes things can get a little difficult.
All the trainers will have rent to pay, and when people start getting desperate to get enough cash coming in to pay their rent, some backstabbing can occur.
I’m fortunate that this has only occurred in one gym that I’ve worked in, all the others were great, but I can tell you from experience that when it does happen, it’s very unpleasant.
You may find that when you are away on holiday or just not in the gym, some trainers will try to persuade your clients to train with them by promising better training or a cheaper session price.
This is something that you don’t need to worry about too much as long as you are giving great sessions and have established enough rapport, as people generally get quite attached to the trainer they have chosen to work with and will look down on people trying to convince them to switch sides.
How to fix it
Do not let the competitive nature of personal training in a gym intimidate you.
Yes, there will be lots of other trainers working there, but, each and every person has a different personality and people only buy sessions from trainers they like.
If a member has chosen you as their trainer, they have chosen you for your personality and training style, this is something that no other trainer can match as everyone is unique.
The easiest way to avoid any concern over competition from other trainers is to be a fantastic trainer yourself.
If you have set your prices fairly so that they are competitive and acceptable to most people, and you give an excellent quality of training whilst establishing a great rapport with them, your client is very unlikely to leave you for someone else.
The client/trainer relationship can become quite a bond between two people, and the longer it exists, the stronger it becomes.
As everyone has different personalities and training styles, you do not need to concern yourself with the number of trainers in a gym that you are competing against.
There are plenty of people in that gym that would love to train with you, but would not even consider training with some of the other trainers in that gym for various reasons.
You need to have enough confidence in your training, and your personality to not have any concern over other trainers being “better” than you, as this is entirely subjective to each individual and not something you have any control over.
Long story short, don’t worry about it!
Clients blaming you for their lack of progress
Now, the positive side of you probably doesn’t want to think this happens, but it does.
Most people are pretty reasonable, so it doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it can be a little disheartening if not downright hurtful.
Very rarely, people will think that in order to achieve the body of their dreams, all they need to do is pay for someone so they can say they have a personal trainer.
They seem to think that just by having a personal trainer and working out once or twice a week they will quickly achieve their desired results in a matter of weeks, no matter what they do outside of their sessions with you.
Obviously, this is unrealistic, and there is very little that you can do outside of your sessions to ensure your clients get the results they are looking for, as you cannot be by their side 24 hours a day.
The main reasons I think people blame their trainer for a lack of progress are pride and money.
People are embarrassed when they have spent hundreds or even thousands of pounds hiring a trainer, only to find they have made little to no progress. Are they going to blame themselves for overeating, not making any of the lifestyle changes you suggested, or not coming within fifteen feet of a gym other than for the one hour a week they train with you?
No, they will blame you, because you are an easy target.
How to fix it
Educate, educate and educate some more just to be safe.
When your client first signs up for sessions with you, clearly explain what is required from them to achieve their desired goals.
Some people will genuinely believe that they will be able to lose significant amounts of weight by changing nothing in their lives other than doing a one-hour workout each week with you.
You need to make it very clear from the start that they will need to make considerable changes to their diet and exercise routines in order to achieve their goals and coach them through this.
If you are qualified to do so, you can give dietary advice and you can give them exercise programs to complete when they are not in a session with you.
If they have all the information they need from the start, they will have no reason to consider a lack of progress as anything other than their own doing.
This is not at all about playing the blame game, of course, it is simply a matter of making sure they understand that they are accountable for their progress as much as you are, and it is a team effort between trainer and client to achieve goals.
What are the risks of being a personal trainer?
So, above we have the disadvantages of being a personal trainer, but what about actual risks? What about the things that could damage your health, reputation, or finance as a result of being a professional fitness coach?
The main risks to you as a trainer are the following:
Being sued – There are a lot of opportunities for mistakes to be made whilst training people. You could give poor dietary advice, they could be injured and blame you, they may blame you for worsening existing injuries, and the list goes on.
The thing is, people are generally pretty good and aren’t always on the lookout for an opportunity to sue everyone, but there are some people out there that see it as a get-rich-quick scheme. If you are insured, some of these examples could be covered, but it’s a very real concern for trainers.
Getting injured – Being around heavy weights day in day out makes it likely that at some point in your career you could get injured. Most of the time these will be knocks and grazes that you can brush off, but it’s not unheard of for trainers to develop back issues due to lifting heavy weights for large portions of the day.
Of course, it’s just as likely that a client could accidentally drop a barbell on your foot whilst they are training and break your foot, in gyms, injuries happen, so it’s something to always be careful of.
Burnout – Man, I’m totally familiar with burnout and it’s very common among newer trainers. The appeal of training as many people as possible to make the big bucks is one culprit, but needing to train people at all times of the day so you can afford to cover your rent each month is an even more common reason for trainer burnout.
There is only so long your body can put up with working sixteen-hour days whilst you run on six hours sleep and ten cups of coffee a day. Eventually, you are going to feel pretty terrible, and it can take months for you to fully recover.
Losing your money – Hopefully, this will never happen to you, but I know of a few trainers that it has, so It should make this list as it’s a very real risk for some people.
Personal training is a tough career, and gyms charge a crazy amount of money each month to let you train their members and use their equipment. In the first few months you might not have built up a full client base and you might not be covering your gym rent.
This can be a scary time, needing to suddenly find several hundred pounds to pay the rent isn’t easy, so for some trainers, dipping into their savings is the easiest way of getting out of debt.
Doing this for anything more than the first one or two months can start to drain your account seriously quickly. I know of at least two trainers that have poured their entire life savings into their training businesses, only to have them completely fail.
Hopefully, this is something that will never happen to you, and if you follow the information on this site then it shouldn’t be an issue, but always be careful with using your savings to pay gym rent.
There are difficult situations to working as a personal trainer or fitness instructor, just as there are in any other career.
Hopefully, this article has shown you that some of the most common downsides of being a personal trainer are fairly easily overcome or prevented entirely.
By making use of the tips that you have read today, you will be starting several steps ahead of most trainers, who will need to discover how to solve these problems themselves. This can take several years worth of industry experience.
Learn from my mistakes so that you don’t have to make them yourself.
Now you’re ready to handle any situation.
Go get ’em!
If you enjoyed this article and feel it might help others, please feel free to share it or link back to it.