6 Habits Holding You Back from Becoming a Top Trainer

Jessica Botte | 18 Apr 2017

Your clients have self-sabotaging behaviors and unhealthy habits that keep them from hitting their goals. That’s why they’ve asked you for help. Together, you strategize and come up with a plan to help them get out of their own way and onto the gainz train.

I know you take the same care when it comes to your own fitness goals; if it's time to smash a PR or cut weight for a fight or a show, you have no trouble finding your focus, planning and doing the grunt work. Yet why do so many fitness pros let bad habits hold them back from achieving entrepreneurial goals and financial success?

While working as a fitness manager, I observed that the trainers with the most talent or widest array of knowledge sometimes struggled to develop their business. Often, they were baffled and couldn’t understand why it was so hard for them. Once they reached out for help, we discovered that they were letting one (or several) bad habits hold them back...

Are you?

Eyes on the Prize

Top trainers set weekly and monthly session goals and monitor them closely. You need to start with an Outcome Goal and lay out your Behavior Goals when you're developing a training program - planning for your business is no different!

Bad Habit #1 - Not having clearly defined monetary or session goals.

You need a tangible target to work toward. Here are a few examples to choose from:

  • Yearly, monthly and weekly income: Once you know how much money you need/want to take home, you can figure out the next layer.
  • Sessions per week and month: Figure out how many sessions you need per day, week and month to hit that financial goal, then you can simply keep a count.
  • Active clients: You know how many sessions you need so based on how frequently your clients train, how many clients do you need to maintain that amount of sessions? How many do you have now and how many do you need to close the gap?

Strength in Numbers

Back to my programming metaphor… Once you've set your goals, you would never train without tracking the weights or changes in volume from week to week. That's how you know if the program is working and if you're on the right track. Your business is no different! There are key metrics to monitor to ensure you're hitting your session goal. Trainers can often rattle off their PRs but have no idea what their conversion rates are. The top trainers on the other hand always have their finger on the pulse of their business.

  • Leads Generated: Are you keeping track of how many potential clients you come in contact with and where they come from?
  • Conversion rates: Of those potential clients, how many actually talk you up on a sample session? One step further - how many purchase a package and start to train with you?

Do you know your stats?

Bad Habit #2 - You don’t know your stats and you’re not open-minded enough to admit there may be an issue with your business skills.

Having an open mind here is key. I know sometimes ignorance is bliss and it’s scary to measure your efforts. It’s the same as a client that doesn’t want to get on the scale or do a reassessment. Use these metrics to figure out where you're falling short. If you find that your marketing methods aren’t generating enough leads, then reevaluate that process and try something new. Are you converting those leads to potential clients who take you up on sample sessions or freebee offers? No? Then something's missing from your offer or you're doing something to scare them off before you build rapport. Maybe you're enticing plenty of people when it's free but no one is handing over cold, hard cash? Then you may not be conveying value or focusing enough on sales which leads me to habit #3.

The Professional Recommendation

Here is an actual conversation I overheard on the gym floor as a trainer was wrapping up a complimentary service:

Trainer: “Ok man, great work on those cleans. Happy to show you some more stuff so hit me up sometime.”

Member: “Ok, great. How many times a week should I be practicing what you showed me?”

Trainer: “At least 2-3, and always warm up with some hip openers and wrist mobility drills.”

Member: “Mobility drills? Hum, ok… yeah, I'll google some.”

Trainer: “Oh yeah, you'll find plenty online and videos. Ok, well, see ya around!”

I wanted to scream when I overheard this!

That interaction would have gone vastly different if the trainer had clearly defined their Professional Recommendation, or their “Exercise Prescription” as I call it. Slam dunk! The person wanted to learn more and understand programing.

Later, when I got the trainer in the conversation alone, he admitted that he got nervous and totally choked. He was simply unprepared. He didn't practice presenting the program or have any visuals to refer to as an example. Luckily, with some timely follow up, we were able to invite that member back in to show him some mobility drills and close the sale properly. That pair is still training together today.

Bad Habit #3 - You try to sell packages without being prepared for your session, presenting a program, or showing value in a way the prospect understands.

Your Complimentary Session will not "speak for itself" as many trainers have told me. It’s common knowledge to us as professionals that following a plan works but it’s not always obvious to potential clients.

Adversely, you may run into prospects who are on information overload. Either way, show them the path to results in black and white and that you have a plan for them. You need to get comfortable with telling a client what they need to do and how much it will cost. Stand firm with your Professional Recommendation.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting

Setting clear expectations and finding out what someone expects from you seems like a no-brainer but it’s often a detail that’s overlooked.

We assume our clients want nutrition help or prefer total-body workouts.

We expect that they are following our recommendation to the letter.

Our clients assume we’ll be check in on them constantly and expect that simply showing up to their sessions is enough to get results.

Your managers may assume you want to overproduce and do X-amount sessions per month when in reality, you’re more comfortable at a lower goal.

You may expect that your manager will be sending you only “qualified leads” or clients that already have sessions, but the truth is they don’t have all that many to dole out every day.

See where I’m going with this?

Bad Habit #4 - Assuming and not setting clear expectations.

First, let’s talk about clients. If you aren’t clear with your directions and professional recommendations, you can’t expect that they know what to do. For example, you expect your client to come to the gym 10 minutes before your session to foam roll and warm up. You showed them what to do and expected they understood then moved on. In reality, either they aren’t doing it or they aren't really doing it right. Rather than expecting they understand the value of your warm up, think back to when you taught it to them. Were you clear in describing your expectation? Did you show them why each movement is important?

On the flipside, maybe they expected you to guide them through it each time because their brain is too full and distracted to learn the routine. They don’t mind taking the first few minutes of their session to warm up and you want them to warm up. Simply talking it through would solve the issue.

I know the same can be said for your manager or the person running your gym. Let the people that are there to help you know what you expect from them and what they can expect from you. Be clear about your wants and needs. Keep the lines of communication open rather than gossiping and harboring negative feelings.

Side note: Try applying this to your personal relationships too...just sayin’...

Your Network Is Your Net Worth

Think outside the box when you’re looking to generate leads.

Bad Habit #5 - Sitting back and waiting for leads to magically come to you.

Find people to WORK FOR YOU.

Start with your clients; they are your walking billboards. I was shocked when I started to ask my clients for referrals and the leads came pouring in. Back to #4, I expected that they were talking me up to friends and family. They certainly were, but I never really told them how to get their contacts in front of me for a session - huge miss.

If you work in a Big Box Gym, you need to leverage the sales team that are constantly bringing new members. No, you don’t need to brown nose, but getting to know them will help when their new members ask for recommendations.

What about networking with individuals who already have a client base that could benefit from your services and vise versa? Think physical therapists, OBGYNs, weight loss clinics, massage therapists and local physicians. As an independent trainer, I worked with travel agents and bridal shops. When someone booked a vacation or bought a wedding dress, my contacts there would offer a complimentary session with me as a “perk” for using their business. Get people generating leads for you, then treat each lead like gold. Diligently keep records and focus on your follow up. This network and lead list is the lifeline of your business.

Bonus Tip: Don’t forget to return the favor or offer some incentive to your “marketing team” for their efforts.


Trust me, you will never keep your appointments straight or your productivity up without keeping your calendar organized. Top trainers plan EVERYTHING.

Bad Habit #6 - Winging it and not keeping a tightly monitored schedule.

I’ve seen several systems work for people, but most boil down to the Weekend Ritual. Spend some time on Saturday or Sunday to lay out the week ahead and review the week you just had. Count your sessions and review your metrics. Then, you can follow up with leads or give your active clients some attention.

Most importantly: PLAN. Once you get everything out on paper you’ll see there’s time to get it all done. The trick is to stay with the plan. When the event reminder pops up, do the task! Here are the key components you should have on your calendar:

  • Confirm all your paid and complimentary sessions
  • Plug in your own workouts
  • Add time to meal prep if that’s important for you
  • Programming, studying and practicing your Program Presentation coming next
  • Dedicate time to prospecting and following up with the leads you already have
  • Network!
  • Schedule downtime or events with family and friends. You can’t run yourself into the ground.
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY: Review your To-Do List daily and Identify your most important tasks for the day. Put them on your calendar. The gym is a very distracting place and the open hours mid-day pass by quickly without focus.

Check Yourself

I hope this post got you thinking about your process. My objective was to highlight that there is more to training than just keeping up with your continuing education and working with people. Before the green-eyed monster joins you on the floor and you think to yourself, “why is that guy so busy and I can barely make ends meet?” … Check yourself.

Take responsibility.

Figure out where you are self-sabotaging your business.

Stay tuned, over the next few of my posts on PTontheNet I’ll be breaking down some of these points so you can dive deeper and avoid these pitfalls.

Have questions in the meantime? Leave me a comment below!

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Jessica Botte

About the author: Jessica Botte

Jessica Botte has a unique perspective on the fitness industry. In the last 10 years she has transformed from an overweight desk jockey to a top ranked fitness professional and entrepreneur. In 2011 she quit her corporate job in construction management to pursue a career in fitness as a NASM certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor. After a year of independent training, she began working at an Equinox on Manhattan's Upper East Side. She quickly became one of the most sought after trainers at the club and a mentor to her colleges. Her professionalism and past experiences made Jess a great candidate for her current role as Fitness Manager. Jessica has been "training trainers" in that position since 2015. Most recently, Jess has branched out into public speaking and developed her own Corporate Wellness Program, JBeWell. Her goal is to use all these channels to help as many people as possible create lasting change in their lives. Jessica received her BS in Applied Mathematics and Statistics from Stony Brook University, holds a Behavior Change Specialist certification from NASM and is Precision Nutrition Level 1 Graduate.
Photo credit: Rula Kanawati

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Comments (2)

Sabatino, Robert | 20 Apr 2017, 00:46 AM

Great information, wish I could the will power like you

Zweck, Dean | 18 Apr 2017, 17:40 PM

Love this post Jessica! Regarding asking for referrals, if I may add, the hottest time to do this is immediately when the sign up with you. Many companies do this when you first use them 'refer a friend and get £25 off your next order' or an offer to that effect! Most PTs miss this opportunity and only ask for referrals once the get results, is at all!