Have you ever stressed over the security and stability of your personal training income? Even before Covid-19 turned our industry upside down? Are you tempted to jump into trades, be a paramedic, or find an office job (now a home office job with Zoom meetings)? You wouldn’t sit alone in this camp. There has never been a better time to stay in the fitness industry.

Expect Short Term Decline In Supply Of Coaches

Trainers are fleeing our industry. The people who always felt uneasy about their income security on good days are looking for stability. And we haven’t had a lot of good days in a while.

This isn’t new behaviour as trainers routinely treat personal training as a temporary stop along their career path. Not all trainers see a fitness career as an end goal. Not everyone has the mindset or intestinal fortitude to be an entrepreneur. Even fewer have the stamina to relentlessly market themselves, existing in a constant state of new business development. It’s often a waypoint toward their idea of a secure salaried career. 2020 merely accelerated this trend.

Trainers were locked out of commercial gyms as businesses were forced to close. Though most have reopened, California gyms remain closed at the time of writing while other jurisdictions are rattling sabres about more restrictions to ward against a second wave.

It’s difficult to think of the owners of small businesses who weren’t able to survive the crisis, leaving trainers and clients displaced. Big chains weren’t immune to the carnage either. For surviving facilities, not every client and member returned upon reopen. People scrambled for scarce home gym equipment. Many will delay their return as other never will.

Of surviving gyms, we may see fewer new trainer hires near term. We may see a slowing of the usual groundswell of passionate and enthusiastic people seeking training certifications. New trainer growth may level off or even decline after years of growth before trainer ranks eventually surge as the world settles into a new rhythm.

Out of choice or necessity, we should see short to medium term net outmigration of qualified coaches, through accelerated departures and choking off new entrants.

Expect Increased Demand For Coaching

It’s now well documented how a fit active lifestyle is one of the best defences against an adverse outcome from Covid-19. It isn’t exactly news about the relationship between exercise and the classic array of major causes of death and loss of quality of life in our society. Though it would be disingenuous to suggest Covid is going to fundamentally change everyone’s mindset and mobilize all of society to join gyms and spawn better eating, it is a novel shock to our collective system. We incorporate the risk of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimers into our mental risk matrix as we leave the house each morning. This doesn’t stop most people from some combination of chronic overeating, problem drinking, poor sleep habits, smoking, inactivity, or even acknowledging the statistical possibility of a car accident driving to work.

Though some remain fearful, many more trust the return to gyms, as no evidence has emerged supporting gyms as vectors for disease spread. Large scale collection and analysis of gym check in data points to negligible COVID-19 spread. Despite the presence of the disease in our society, gyms simply aren’t where people are catching it.

Meanwhile the relationship is clear between adverse Covid outcomes and obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and other lifestyle health issues. Covid is disproportionality killing people with obesity, heart disease, cancer, and other serious health concerns. The novelty of Covid will motivate more people to begin healthier lifestyle behaviours. Hiring a trainer and joining a gym is where many start. It’s your responsibility to make the experience so positive and valuable they stay long enough to develop the habits for life. This is where our industry becomes the front line in this fight and trainers will see opportunities.

The Illusion of Income Security

You probably think salaried corporate jobs are stable and secure compared to your variable weekly hours. Reconsider this notion. I’ll bet you know people with proverbial secure jobs who’ve been laid off unexpectedly. Their income evaporated overnight. Severance or unemployment benefits may temporarily buffer the loss, but they still need a new job, and fast.

Meanwhile as a small business owner you have the ability to track business and income, catching and reacting to unfavourable trends. No matter how much you fear it, all your clients won’t up and leave within a 2 week block. You can change marketing tactics, hours, policies, professional conduct, social media, ask for referrals, and countless other pivots to increase your business long before your clientele slowly trickles down to nothing. We are more resilient than all or nothing salaried jobs. We are Antifragile, a concept detailed by author Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book of the same name. We benefit from shocks in our environment as they force us to be better, more resilient entrepreneurs. Often the true reason for trainers departing our industry is the unwillingness to continually work at their brands and businesses. They desire an easier, dare I say, lazier path.

That easier path is an illusion. You will need to work hard to keep any “stable” job you find, let alone advance and grow income. Be wary of the allure of “secure” salaried jobs. Likely you’re already more secure in your career with far greater income and fulfillment upside. A shift in your attitude and perception can reveal how lucky you are to earn a living doing something you love and how safe and resilient your livelihood really is. If a global pandemic didn’t wipe you out of the game, what ever could?

More Avenues To Diversify Income Than Ever

We are no longer relegated to commercial gyms. We have more private facilities and options to work under our own set of rules. We keep more of our hourly rate, meaning we earn the same income in less sessions. As you gain experience and knowledge you deserve to be compensated accordingly and can increase your training rates. You have a built in vehicle for long term income growth. There has never been a better time to cast off the restrictions and income limitations of a commercial gym job and forge ahead with an independent business.

We are also no longer forced to exclusively trade hours for money on a gym floor. Though I personally find this the most financially lucrative and fulfilling part of the job, many trainers hope to reduce their gym floor role by diversifying. Trainers can develop an array of possible revenue vehicles including but far from limited to:

  • affiliate marketing of other coaches products
  • create and market your own courses, programs, and products
  • writing for major publications(you’re currently reading one)
  • supplement or apparel brands
  • corporate or conference speaking
  • teaching group exercise
  • business coaching and mentorship of other fitness professionals(just don’t emulate the sleazy ones in your DMs)
  • editing writing, video, or audio for others
  • meal prep services
  • nutrition coaching
  • online coaching

You’re limited by your imagination and the opportunities created by your network of relationships.

Meghan Callaway has been able to step away from most of her gym floor hours by developing and aggressively marketing her information products. Beginning with her Ultimate Pull-up Program. After selling well across the world she followed up with The Ultimate Landmine Program and now The Ultimate Push-Up Program. These products are promoted across the industry through affiliate sales, earning income for Meghan and her partners.

Perhaps the easiest way to diversify income away from the gym floor is to offer online nutrition coaching and/or online training. I recently connected several friends with coaching jobs at Stronger U and Macros Inc, two successful and growing online nutrition companies. Online personal training is a booming trend trainers can no longer afford to ignore.

The Growth Of Online Training

Fitness consumers have increasingly seen online training as an alternative to traditional in-person coaching. Covid lockdowns catapulted online training into a viable primary fitness career pursuit or a strong complement to an in-person coaching business. Coaches can no longer ignore the appeal of online training. Many consumers rushed to acquire home gym equipment as lockdowns ramped up. Many others developed a preference for doing their workouts when and where most convenient instead of fitting into their trainer’s schedule. You don’t just want to offer an online option, you need to. Online coaching allows you to work with followers in distant cities and countries, continue to train clients who move away, and offer an alternative to your ongoing clientele who aren’t ready to return.

I tried online coaching with spreadsheets and emails but found the process torturous and my results mediocre. I signed up for Jonathan Goodman’s Online Trainer Academy to learn systems and how to build the business and brand. My online clientele now love the ease of use of the Truecoach platform while allowing me to enjoy, not dread the work.

You can also add virtual personal training to your offering. Many coaches including Chad Landers and Chris Cooper maintained their income and client interaction by moving the in-person slots to video. The client continues to get their interactive session and its embedded accountability and progression. You both enjoy the interpersonal interaction. I continue to offer virtual training to clients who feel more comfortable in their homes and garages while filling in open training time slots.

You can no longer afford to ignore the growing popularity and viability of online coaching. You are leaving income on the table.

The World And The Fitness Industry Will Recover

Humans are resilient and we will overcome our current slate of challenges. Our industry and entire economy will recover in time and grow to new heights of prosperity. People will continue to spend and invest more on their health and wellness. Many aspects of our world will change going forward, but if you are forward thinking you will prosper. A lot of trainers will be paid well to service the demand for caring and skilled coaches as more people place health higher among their priorities.

Sadly many gyms and businesses won’t survive the economic hardships befallen them. You as a coach will be able to move your business and clientele to other spaces. In any economy, individual businesses falter while their industry endures and grows. The fitness industry will see a lot of casualties but it will be a stronger, more versatile industry within a few years. It’s your choice to stay as you pursue relentless education in training, nutrition, behaviour and psychology, marketing and business, communication, and any skill to see your fitness business flourish. Or you may leave and discover the security you crave is lacking, while missing the fulfillment of our work.

The world’s best medical minds and resources have been mobilized to find a vaccine and treatments to manage COVID-19. We continue to learn more about the lifestyle, nutrition, supplementation, and exercise which minimize the chance of an adverse COVID-19 outcome, while learning more about the protective measures we can take to avoid coming into contact with this novel disease. We will adapt and thrive.

Eyes to the Future

Returning to author Nassim Nicholas Taleb, his book Black Swan(which has nothing to do with Natalie Portman or ballet) explores the role of unpredictable events and developments that shock the world. If you developed a robust online business with multiple revenue streams or a basement gym to ride out business closures, you braced for unprecedented worst case scenarios. Go forward hedging against the worst thing that could happen. Plan against your gym closing or getting fired. Consider natural disasters. Imagine being affected by an earthquake in California, tornado in Kansas, hurricane in Florida, or flooding and fires in Fort McMurray Alberta.

All of these things have happened to trainers and businesses. Keep an eye toward and a plan in place for worst case scenarios. This pandemic is probably the most serious macro scale problem you’ll face in your career and if you came through without being too battered, you can handle anything. You’re in the best place for true fulfillment and your long term career and financial stability. Just like buying stock when the market is low, there may never be a better time to further invest in your career in fitness.

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Article by Clare Hudson

First published: June 29 2024

Last updated: July 02 2024