For personal trainers, stress can be a very real issue.
You might not think that a career in the fitness industry would be subject to stress, as a lot of the time you are acting as your own boss and therefore don’t have to answer to managers or angry customers.
The reality is that being your own boss means you are in charge of everything you do, your personal and business finances, declaring your own tax each year, and managing and organizing a (hopefully) large client base.
In this article, I will outline some of the mains stressors that Personal Trainers come up against and how best to avoid them altogether. By the end of this article, you will no longer wonder “is personal training stressful?”
Personal training can be a lot more stressful than many would imagine, from gym rents and session targets to hit to signing up and retaining clients, and this is on top of 12-14 hour workdays. It can not only be stressful, but also very tiring. Luckily, it is also an incredibly rewarding career.
Before we get into the meat of this article, I want to explain that I have experienced a great deal of stress as a personal trainer.
What I quickly learned is that in the vast majority of cases (but not all of course), these stressors can be mitigated almost entirely by simply being as organized as possible and pre-empting them.
So, what are the main factors that would cause personal trainers to become stressed during their careers?
Here’s a completely non-exhaustive list:
- Paying rent if self-employed
- Hitting session quotas if employed
- Ensuring your clients have paid you
- Long working days (and the lack of sleep that comes with this)
- Managing a large client base
- Dealing with difficult clients
- Lack of client progress
- Personal sick days and lateness
- Unpredictable income
This list paints a rather negative picture, doesn’t it?
Well, no matter, I am going to through and explain each of these points, and then what you can do to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Covering your rental fees if self-employed
If you have taken the self-employed route, your gym will have explained to you that will be charged for using the gym’s facilities.
The amount you will be charged will vary greatly from gym to gym and will depend on factors such as the size of the gym, the location, and the brand.
Smaller gyms will typically charge a lot less, but these facilities are usually smaller and less likely to have members that are either willing to pay for personal training or lack the equipment the larger chains.
It may seem like a good idea to start in a smaller gym that charges less rent, but as a result of the above reasons, you may find it hard to gain clients.
I would suggest that you do opt for the larger gym chains, as there are usually more members, so more opportunities to convert into paying clients of yours.
So how do you prevent getting stressed about covering your fees?
When you start at a new gym, you will usually be given your first month either free of rent, or at a heavily reduced rate. You may then go on a ladder where you progressively pay more rent as you gain more clients.
The idea behind this is that by the time you are paying full rent, you should have had plenty of time to establish a large client base.
In these first weeks or perhaps months, you need to do everything you can to pick up as many clients as possible.
You may think this goes without saying, but I have seen a lot of new trainers that get complacent about how many paid sessions they have coming in each week because they treat the issue of paying full rent as something that can wait until later.
Why let yourself get into this predicament?
Get yourself into a gym and start cracking on straight away. The first few weeks will be exhausting, but totally worth the comfort they will eventually provide when you are easily clearing your full rental fees.
If you have been training for a while and are stressed about covering your rent, then you need to imagine that you have just started your career all over again.
Go into the gym with the same enthusiasm you had when you first started picking up your clients.
It may also help to set your own targets each day to help you stay on track of remembering to pick up clients when you are not training people instead of working out all day or sitting in the PT lounge areas.
Hitting your session quotas if employed by a gym
When you are employed by a gym you may not need to pay rent.
Instead, they will ask that you conduct a certain amount of sessions per week as they take a cut of each session.
This is usually the preferred option for new trainers that may be intimidated by owing a gym money if they are required to pay rent.
You will still be required to hit this target regularly and will be pulled up if you are not hitting your quote of sessions.
If this is the case for yourself, please follow the advice given in the previous section “Covering your rental fees if self-employed“, as exactly the same processes can be used.
Ensuring your clients have paid you for their sessions
Asking for money is not a pleasant part of a personal trainer’s role.
The good news is, most people fully understand that you are not working for free and will happily remember to pay for their sessions when reminded by yourself.
However, there are plenty of clients that I had that (very frustratingly) “forgot” to pay for their sessions on an almost monthly basis.
This puts a lot of pressure on you as a trainer to ask for the payment as it is something you cannot avoid.
In order to make this process less stressful, I would heavily suggest getting into the habit of asking your client to sign off for each session so they can see how many sessions they have remaining.
You can then gently remind them that they are coming up to the end of their block of sessions and will need to buy another one.
An even more stress-free solution would be to ask your client to set up a standing order account with their bank to your account.
You can decide between yourself and your client how many sessions they will be paying for each month and agree on the amount, then ask them to set up the direct debit to come out on the first of each month.
This way, you will no longer need to ask your client for any more money at all, it will come out automatically and completely hassle-free.
Working long hours each day
New personal trainers can easily get trapped into thinking that working 50-60 hour weeks is just “part of the business” when it really needn’t be.
It is essential that when you first start picking up your clients, you block them together as closely as possible.
If you have your sessions spread out between early morning, afternoon, and evening sessions from Monday to Friday each week, you are setting yourself up to burn out really quickly.
Instead, aim to have your clients back to back as much as possible to make for more efficient use of your time.
This may sound easier said than done, but you would be surprised at what times people can train if you ask them rather than assuming they can only do 7 am 12 pm, or 7 pm sessions.
Once I had established my own client base, I was able to ask all my Friday sessions to other times in the week. This gave me very busy days from Monday to Thursday, but a full three-day weekend every week to recharge.
This only came about because I asked, so maybe suggesting a time that they train rather than asking them when they would like to train would be a better option in terms of your organization.
People are generally more flexible in their working hours than you would imagine. You can even sell the quiet slots of the day by saying you can give more interesting workouts due to more equipment being available.
Managing a large client base
You 100% want to gain as many clients as you can handle (emphasis on being able to handle). However, the negative aspect of this is keeping up to date with your diary, payments, clients’ progress, client assessment dates, payments, etc.
Organization is the key to being a successful PT and this article will tell you everything you need to know.
Dealing with difficult clients
This will happen at some point!
Whilst you are in the process of building your client base, you do not have the luxury of saying who you will and won’t train.
You need the rent covered and you need to start making progress in your career, so you will likely want to accept everyone that agrees to take up sessions with you.
However, there will come a day when you realize that you have clients that just drive you mad.
Either they frequently “forget” to pay, are always late but demand the full hour’s session, dislike every exercise for them or you find that you just don’t get on with them personally.
This is ok and perfectly understandable, but before you get to the stage where you can push them onto another trainer (the option when you have a nearly full client base), how can you resolve this?
Well, the best way is to decide what it is about that client that is irritating you.
Are they always late?
Have a sit-down chat with them about how it is unfair on your other clients that they have to wait if you are late for your session. Explain that you cannot go over into the next hour as your following client has paid for that time just like they have.
This should get them back on track and make the most of the session they have booked with you.
Are they “forgetting” to pay?
Some people genuinely do forget to pay for things, however, they didn’t forget to turn up the session did they?
In this circumstance, I would suggest giving them the benefit of the doubt just once. If they see that you are a pushover and allow them to pay late constantly, they will continue to do so.
Instead, after they pay late the first time, explain that it can’t happen again or you will not be able to take them for the session and they will forfeit it.
It’s as simple as that. They wouldn’t walk into a café and not expect to have to pay for a coffee, so why should your services be any different?
Don’t be pushed around in this business!
Do they hate every exercise you give them?
I had this with a few clients, but fortunately not many.
There are just some people that will not seem to like any exercise you give them, even if you know it’s exactly what they need to do.
The answer to this is usually, compromise.
Sit down with them and discuss what it is that they don’t like about whatever exercises you have prescribed.
Once they have told you, you can explain why you are giving these exercises and the benefits of them and how they will help them reach the goals they have discussed with you faster.
That is usually all the motivation these people need to start doing what you ask, but if not, you can agree to give them a few less of the exercises they don’t enjoy and try to give a few more of the ones they do enjoy.
Do not change your whole workout around so they are dictating the whole hour’s session to you, that is not what you are being hired to do.
What if you just plain don’t get along with your client?
In some cases, there is no getting around the fact that two people just don’t get along.
If you find after a few sessions that you really don’t seem to be able to have an enjoyable session with this person, it may be advisable to recommend they finish the current block of sessions they have with you then move on to another trainer.
If you really cannot complete the block, you might suggest they move the sessions over to another trainer so they can carry on with them.
In this situation, you would have to discuss financial issues with the trainer they moved to, but this is a very rare scenario, and may never happen.
Lack of client progress
If you are a great trainer (and of course you are), you will have a lot of clients that will make fantastic progress and really justify your passion for health and fitness.
There will also be people that just don’t make any progress at all, they may even get worse with time.
So what causes this? Why would some people have great progress and others make none or get worse if they have the same great trainer?
Chances are, it’s almost certainly not your fault.
You are only with your clients for a few hours each week (if that), so what they do when they are not being watched by you is entirely up to them.
I almost guarantee you that come assessment day when it is time to get them on the scales or do the bodyfat measurements, they will be incredibly disappointed by a lack of progress.
They will probably act shocked and say they have been doing everything you asked and watched all the food they ate etc, so they can’t understand why it’s “just not working for them”.
The reality is that you are probably not hearing the whole story or even a little bit of it.
Your client will probably “forget” the fact that they went out for work meals, ordered takeaways, drank lots of alcohol, and a whole other bunch of things that they know you won’t be pleased to hear.
If they truly put in all the required effort and listened to everything you did and acted on it, they would be achieving the same fantastic results the rest of your clients are.
So how do we fix this?
Call them on it!
After the first month, you should again give them the benefit of the doubt.
Maybe they had a difficult month and needed to relax a bit, so ordered more takeaways than they should and didn’t stick to the workout plans you gave them.
If you see no change in the second month, you need to sit down with them and discuss what’s going on.
As a PT you are in a teaching position, people are coming to you to be educated, so you need to do just that.
If you weren’t doing well in your maths classes at school, do you think your teacher would pull you up on it at some point? You bet they would and you should be no different.
Don’t let them get away with it, and they will thank you for it later down the line.
Personal sickness and being late to sessions
This is completely unavoidable, if you are worried about letting your clients down if you are ill or are running late, you should stop.
It’s going to happen at some point so as long as you prepare for it, it shouldn’t be an issue.
Sure your client will be disappointed, but there is nothing worse than waking up sick and feeling like you have to go and do a full day’s work as a PT. You also don’t want to make your clients ill if you pass something onto them either, so do not worry about this.
So what’s the solution?
This is very simple.
When discussing with your clients the terms and conditions of your sessions, you should have a section about what happens if either yourself or your client cannot make a session for whatever reason.
My suggestion would be to say that your preference is to be given at least 24 hours’ notice if a client finds out that they need to cancel a session with you, and if they cannot do this for whatever reason, they understand that they will be charged for that session.
They might like the sound of this, but you cannot have people canceling sessions with you all the time or you will quickly fall behind on your gym rental fees.
To disarm them a little and to show that you are fair, you will say that in order for this to be a fair rule, you will stick to exactly the same set of rules.
If you have to cancel a session and cannot give 24 hours’ notice, you will give them one session for free to make up for the lost hours of training.
It won’t happen very often, but when it does, as long as both you and your clients understand the rules in place, there should be no need for anyone to be angry or cause a fuss.
Unpredictable monthly income
Being hired in a “normal” role has the advantage of predictable monthly payments.
You know exactly how much you should expect to be paid each and every month and be able to easily plan around this.
You very rarely have this situation when training people for a living.
As the above point mentions, people can cancel at the last moment, they can finish training with you unexpectedly, they can change jobs or location and there is nothing you can do about it.
You should have a general idea of how many sessions you will be conducting at the start of each month, but there are no guarantees that these will all materialize.
So can you do anything about it?
The easy way to not have this stress you out is to make sure you always have enough sessions booked in that month to cover all your expenses even with 10-15% of your sessions not being paid for.
If you have calculated your expenses and have just enough sessions per month to cover these, you need more sessions.
Do not put yourself in a situation where you need to complete every single session in order for you to make rent each month or you will always be stressed.
Think of these additional sessions as not only extra income for you but as contingency sessions. These will be the sessions that will bring you in a good amount of extra cash when everyone turns up and the sessions that cover your expenses when not everyone does.
The key point here is to make sure you always have more sessions than you need, but not so many that you can’t handle them if everyone shows up. You need to find a balance between these two situations that you are comfortable with.
Is it hard being a personal trainer?
Being a personal trainer is hard at times, you’ll need to get used to waking up early and going to bed late, learning how to sell yourself, getting used to clients canceling sessions or training altogether, and still remaining positive. It’s a tough career, but it can also be a very fun one.
Every job has its ups and downs, and personal training is certainly no different, you’ll have good days, bad days, great days, and terrible days, just like in any other career.
Personal training can be especially tough because it’s pretty difficult to bring in sufficient income to cover all your expenses month in month out. You’ll need to constantly keep on top of how many sessions you have each week and make sure people aren’t canceling on you too often.
From the points I’ve mentioned above, you can see that being a coach or personal trainer can be pretty hard, that’s why up to 90% of trainers quit within the first year they have qualified.
Don’t let these stats put you off though, as long as you take the precautions to cover all the negative aspects of training (always being on the lookout for new clients to cover if you lose one or two etc), you’ll be just fine.
Remember, there are a lot of trainers out there that are making a great income and loving their work, there is no reason you need to be any different from them.
Personal training can be a pretty stressful job, but if you put these practices into place, you should rarely find yourself getting into any real problems.
The list I have given above is not exhaustive, you will come up with your own issues, but these are the main problems I found that caused me stress as a trainer.
A lot of the time, if you think through what is causing you to become stressed and put a plan in place to resolve it, nine times out of ten it will be resolved fairly easily.
If it is an issue with a client, the majority of the time a quiet sit-down chat with them will resolve any issues.
If it is something in your business or schedule, it can be resolved, but you may need to make some big decisions such as letting a few clients go if you are too busy and can’t handle the long days, etc.
I hope this article has alleviated some of your concerns, and now that you know how to avoid the stress you can go headfirst into a personal training career without getting yourself too stressed.
Go get ’em!
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