Becoming a personal trainer is one of the most exciting decisions an individual could make with their career. Suddenly, your passion becomes your profession. You can exercise, and help other people exercise, while getting paid for it. The classic quote of “never working a day in your life if you do what you love” comes to mind. Instead of clocking hours at a desk, you’ll be walking the gym floor, changing lives, maintaining your own health, and becoming a star in your own way.
Yet, personal training is an irregular job in more ways than just the outfits you get to wear every day. When examining the financial health of personal trainers, regardless of location, it is scary to see just how many are living paycheck-to-paycheck in an industry in which so much good is being done. Why is it that so few personal trainers achieve real wealth?
For one, working by the hour is always going to limit your earning potential. Secondly, many gyms do not offer retirement plans or financial guidance services to help educate employees. We must also factor in a trainer’s location in the world and their proximity to wealth. Lastly, we must consider the irregular pay schedule, the risk of losing business, the boom and bust seasons, and the highly competitive marketplace.
Each of these points will be discussed as we dive forward. It is imperative for you to take heed of these tips as soon as possible to preserve your ability to live the life you deserve. Your financial freedom isn’t about being able to buy fancy things – it's about being able to afford a vacation, sick time, and retirement in an industry that does not operate like other businesses.
“Location, location, location”
Depending on your location, you could be paid quite well; major fitness brands in big cities charge well over $100.00 an hour for a session, of which you’ll get somewhere near fifty percent. Small towns and less financially stable neighborhoods may only charge thirty or forty dollars per session, regardless of your credentials and skill set. The economy simply can’t support a higher rate.
And therefore, any personal trainer must ask themselves two questions:
- “Is personal training a career that I want to maximize?”
- “Do I live in an area that allows me to earn what I’m worth?”
The answers to these questions are critical for the decisions you’ll make going forward. For example, if you aren’t interested in making training a full-time gig because you are a mom of two who wants to train clients in the mornings while your kids are off at school, then fear not - this isn’t a huge concern for you.
However, if you are the entrepreneurial type and you want to make this career as amazing as it could be, then you’ll have to consider moving to a city where the rates are higher because the local wealth can support them. Otherwise, you’ll always be earning well below what you are worth, especially if you are only getting a cut from a commercial gym.
Personal training earnings are much higher in affluent areas that support the cost. Just know there is one caveat though, and that is cost-of-living. It is far more expensive to live in a city like New York or Washington D.C. than it is to live in a rural town in the Midwest. Thus, a person who makes more will also pay more for housing, services, and goods. Always factor this in.
Irregular Pay and the “Flow” of Business
A personal trainer’s salary is not constant. It is painfully inconsistent and potentially troublesome if a trainer isn’t proactive about building a stable business. Simply put, a great personal trainer must be an excellent business person too – they must keep track of the little details.
A trainer’s clients are the ones who pay him/her. Sure, he/she may work for a gym, but if he/she didn’t have clients, then he/she wouldn’t get paid. For this reason, a successful trainer is a person who manages their schedule, their clients, and their income each month. There are a few critical things a trainer must do to ensure they are healthy financially:
Schedule your Clients a Month in Advance
As a month ends, you’ll want to email your clients and get them to commit to their sessions for the entire month that is ahead. This shouldn’t be too hard with the consistent clients who typically train the same time on the same days each week. Others might need to examine their travel schedule and will require your flexibility on time and day. Knowing who is in and who is out is crucial for your stability.
This type of preparation allows you to see what your next month is going to look like in terms of client load. If it is a lighter month, then you’ll want to pick up a few new clients to fill in the gaps that are there. Offering short term packages for curious leads, increased frequency for current clients, or taking some time off are all good options for you to consider depending upon your needs.
Budget the Booms to Survive the Busts
Personal training is a unique industry in the fact that there is a noticeable ebb and flow to the business. Each year, people get excited in January, early May, and September to return to their fitness plans. Without fail, they also lose steam by March, June, and November. Of course, the holiday seasons of spring break, Thanksgiving, and Christmas also make fitness facilities ghost towns.
To survive this up and down cycle, you’ll want to train more clients during the boom seasons while limiting your personal expenses, thus saving money for when it gets a bit slower. You can also get creative and create incentives for your clients to stay on through the dull periods. Ask them to train as frequently as they can before travel and generate new leads during the “bust” months by targeting different demographics.
Keep Clients up-to-date with Session Counts
Far too many trainers make the mistake of waiting to ask for a client to purchase more sessions once they have already run out. Some even let their clients train on “credit” in hope that they’ll pay up soon. This practice is one the fastest ways to gut your profitability as a trainer. Avoid this trap by letting your clients know when they are running low, such as their third-to-last session, and again on their last.
You are a business person who works hard for your pay. Don’t cut your paycheck down because you want to “take care of your client”. They wouldn’t expect their car to be fixed for free, or for their doctor to not charge them…so they must pay you.
Establish your Minimum Number
We all have a specific financial number that represents the minimum amount of money we need for our lives. For some, it is much higher due to children, real-estate, college-debt, and beyond. Others can live on much less. This number is the foundation of your workload and efforts in personal training.
You must understand what you must do to meet your minimum number, the amount of pay you need after taxes, if you are going to consistently hit it. How many sessions must you do? Are there other ways to utilize your skillset for pay? Everything you do in any career should be meant to get you to this number. Everything extra is incredible, but we must meet our minimum demands to be happy.
Invest in your Future without Fail
It is absolutely disheartening to know how many personal trainers do not have retirement accounts. There are millions of hard-working individuals toiling away each day without concern for their future-self; quite literally leaving free money on the table.
In some ways, this disparity is because the median age of personal trainers is hovering around 35, thus making it an exceptionally young industry. It can be incredibly hard to plan for 64 when you are only in your twenties, but it must be done.
There are a variety of ways that a person can prepare for their future, but one constant must be present – consistency. Just as you would coach your clients to exercise daily, eat their vegetables, and sleep at least seven hours, you must save every month for your future. It can’t be a “sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t” type of behavior.
Every month, people forego their savings accounts in favor of paying bills and enjoying life’s luxuries. For some, it truly is a matter of not having enough money. However, most of us are guilty of splurging a bit too much on simple expenditures, such as a coffee from a local shop or a few too many lunches out. Choose a number that fits your budget, in multiples of 50, and be sure to set up an “auto-save” each month.
A person who only saves $100 a month will still end up with $1200 dollars in a single year if we don’t calculate interest. A stable future starts here.
Employer Matched 401Ks
If you work for a larger gym corporation, you may be eligible for a 401K – an investing platform that takes a percentage of your earnings and invests it into the market for growth. Many companies will offer to match 50% of what you put in each year (under a certain cap). That match is very literally free money.
When you factor in the growth rate of a healthy market, the match of your employer, and your own contributions – setting aside 6-8% of your monthly earnings for your future should be a no-brainer. This account will stay with you even after you leave your current company (their match will stop of course). This money will grow for ten, twenty, and thirty years into an incredible amount of cash. Don’t miss out.
This is a training site after all, so we won’t dive deeply into the variety of options that are available to you to invest your money, after-tax, into these accounts. Know this though: Your future is dependent upon your ability to leverage individual stocks (think Apple or Amazon), bonds, mutual funds, real estate, and more. Having IRAs and private investing accounts can allow you to be exposed to all these elements, thus setting you up to having money that grows while you sleep.
Don’t worry if you aren’t sure what you are doing. You can use online platforms that do the work for you for a small fee. This way you’ll have the peace of mind that a professional is managing your money and the excitement that comes from knowing your future will be OK.
You are More than Hourly Pay
Our final point is for the more ambitious of personal trainers. So long as training is your only income, you’ll be trapped by making money by the hour. While this is the most normal pay structure for at-will employees, it is important to realize that it traps you into trading your time for money.
You only have so many hours in your day, in a year, and in your life. Thus, your earnings potentially is limited.
However, expanding your skill sets and learning how to write articles, train large groups at once, create products and education, and consult other professions with your knowledge, is critical to earning what you are worth, and not just exchanging hours for cash.
Many trainers find this step intimidating, and rightfully so, as it requires you to see yourself as more than just a personal trainer. However, if you trust your vision and allow your reputation and opportunity to merge, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results.
Look for opportunities to expand your reach and your earnings by creating pathways to income that don’t involve in-person training. The options are available, you just must go get them.
Many trainers approach the fitness industry with an altruistic attitude. They feel they are here to do good and help others. This sort of vindication drives them to forego their own happiness at times. They get less sleep then they often prescribe, miss their own workouts, skip meals to see clients, and only have enough money each month to make it to the next.
Manage all aspects of your health with the same intensity – a pride in your work and a desire to be the best you. Your finances are not much different than your body – it requires attention and consistent effort. You can do this if you try.
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