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Raising the Bar Part 1

One of the realities personal trainers often neglect is the fact that their enterprise is in fact a business, and needs to, at a foundational level, operate as a business. Because of the social nature of our work, too many trainers fail to manage the balance between dollars in and dollars out, and they mistakenly set their sights on revenue goals without consideration of the subtle costs of conducting a successful business. In line with the neglect of money management is the neglect of another foundational business principle, the necessity of developing an “Identity” before beginning a marketing campaign.

Paul Kelly, principal of KellyCo and former Director of Marketing at Newsweek defines Brand Identity as follows:

Brand Identity. Where it all starts. Values, personality, culture, reputation, overall image. Usually the difference between a business, product or service built on solid fundamentals and one which never finds or has lost its way.

We’re going to start with a foundational understanding of precisely what it is that we’re marketing, and in doing so we’re going to work to refine our identities, to unite our missions, and to establish a paradigm that allows Personal Trainers to command positions as respected entrepreneurs held up on a professional pedestal.

I’m writing this article days after I returned from a 3-city seminar tour (three cold cities in three days) with my good friend Juan Carlos Santana. We met near 300 trainers and they have reinforced what the two of us already know. Trainers are good people.

When I do seminars for salespeople or health club owners, and I ask the question, “what motivated you to pursue this career?” the answer is unanimous. Money. Interestingly, when I ask the same question of trainers, the response is very different. They never respond with the word, “money.” Instead they tell me they “have a passion for fitness,” and “want to help people.” It’s clear we have chosen a noble profession, and it’s clear we deserve to be rewarded for the massive good we are capable of doing. What isn’t clear is how we establish a position where the reward is significant and consistent, where we are recognized by our peers and our target market alike as being deserving of professional respect and compensation.

I can ask anyone to tell me the definition of a “professional athlete” and they’ll do so without hesitation. It’s someone who is paid to perform in a sport where he or she has proven excellence. I can ask anyone to tell me what a “medical professional” is, and that person will almost always respond with a single word, “doctor.”

We prefer to consider ourselves fitness professionals, but if the term is not recognized by those who make up that army we’ve come to know as the general public, our consideration is irrelevant. So, the question that begs to be answered is, “What is a fitness professional?”

Is the answer, “A Personal Trainer?” Well, if so, the question then becomes, “What is a professional Personal Trainer?” I’ve struggled with that question for years, attempting to narrow down the traits of what I’d consider a true fitness professional. As I’m preparing to launch the new American Association of Personal Trainers (AAPT), and preparing for my next PEAK Weekend where trainers from all around the world will spend an empowering weekend with me in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I’ve spent hours examining and re-examining the question, and I believe I can now sum up the traits of a professional trainer in one word. Advisor.

“Wait a minute Phil, that’s not so great. You spent years of thinking to come up with that? Advisor?!?!? Wow, are you slipping.”

OK, so maybe by itself the word doesn’t express that which I want to share, but if we spend some time analyzing, if you allow me to break it down into an acronym with each letter standing for yet another virtue, and if you begin to understand the connection between Personal Fitness Training and Advising, I think you’ll understand why that single word is so meaningful. I think you’ll begin to understand the “Identity” that will allow us to market our businesses with a fierce and aggressive campaign that few of the “miracle solutions” begin shoved down the public’s proverbial throat could ever hope to touch. We can’t beat them at their own games, but we can defeat them if our Identities are cemented in stone and founded in some far-reaching principles . . . if our Identities position us as “Advisors.”

If you’re familiar with my NAVAQA System of Influence, a trademarked system I developed to help personal trainers master the art of persuasion, you know that after finding the Need, gathering Ammunition, proving that you are the Vehicle to get the prospect from where he or she is now to the desired goal, laying out the Alternatives, and Qualifying the prospect to make certain it’s time to capture a new client, you take on the role of an Advisor.

Unlike a salesperson, an advisor is not a threat. In fact, an advisor is much the opposite of a threat. It’s someone who helps to guide you with your best interest in mind, and at a core level, isn’t that what we do?

Just as NAVAQA is an acronym (Need, Ammunition, Vehicle, Alternatives, Qualify, Advisor), the word ADVISE can serve as a reference to remind us of those traits that are important in pursuit of Personal Training Excellence. In this series of articles I hope to align your thinking, to help you see the true virtues in what you do on a daily basis, and to recognize the power you have not only to change lives but to build a compelling future. That recognition will help you find a confidence in promoting the merits linked to your “identity.” I’m going to venture off into a mix of anecdotes, history, and etymology (word origins) to deliver the meaning behind those words I feel should stand as the cornerstone of any Personal Fitness Trainer’s business.







Before I begin breaking the ADVISE acronym into its respective pieces, I want to make a point that I hope you’ll be comfortable with.

If we are to deliver value, and in fact, if we are to structure our careers so that we deliver more value than people expect, we deserve to be compensated as professionals.

I’ve at times been criticized because I have learned to command professional fees. Trainers, usually trainers who are not familiar with my work, periodically send me e-mails saying “You sold out Kaplan. All you care about is money.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The authors of those critical emails weren’t with me when I sat on the beach in Fort Lauderdale in 1986, penniless, wondering where my next meal was going to come from. They weren’t with me when I ate my dinners at the local Happy Hours where I could nurse a beer and eat chicken wings and nachos for free. They weren’t with me when I took a second mortgage on my home to handle the legal fees that I incurred in order to preserve my integrity after making a poor decision with an infomercial company. Interestingly, in 1986, as well as during my legal battle, I never missed a client session. I trained my clients because I had, and continue to grow, that same underlying passion that drives you.

After one too many dinners of chicken wings and nachos, I started to feel as if something wasn’t right. I was helping people, massively. They were changing their lives in immeasurable ways. Their doctors were getting paid. Their lawyers were getting paid. Their golf pros and tennis pros were being paid. Didn’t I deserve the same professional respect?

Money was not the driving force behind my career, nor should it be the primary force behind yours, but let’s not lean so far in the other direction that we fail to live the lives we deserve. Let’s recognize that if we are going to commit to deliver value, in order to help greater numbers of people, we have to be willing to shed the skin placed upon us by the health club industry that convinced us that free consultations and free workouts were the norm. We have to be willing to break the mold, to act unconventionally, and to initiate a global change that will allow Professional Personal Trainers to comfortably command professional respect and professional income.

In this four-part series written specifically for, we will address methods of making money, and we will do so by putting ourselves in enviable positions where we can only prosper by bettering the lives of others. We can’t, however, put money first. We have to first focus on a foundation of strength, a foundation built upon morals, ethics, and the consistent ability to help others. That foundation becomes an identity that can be packaged, branded, positioned, and marketed.

I will not discuss money again in this installment, but ultimately we’re going to discuss building careers as professionals. As professionals we’ll need to master business skills, marketing skills, and persuasion skills, and when that combines with mastery of our science and our craft, we can’t help but prosper. There is a great virtue to be placed on what we do. Let’s not sell ourselves short in the process, so as I discuss the ADVISE acronym, and the intangible traits that will allow us to position ourselves as true professionals, let’s realize that we are works in progress, coming together to create a model for Personal Training Excellence, and as the model, we should have no shame in commanding professional fees.

OK, with that said, let’s break the ADVISE acronym down . . .


We know motion and momentum are necessary for any physical change, and in maintaining your own fitness you are fully responsible both for the momentum and the motion. It is unrealistic to believe that you can personally be responsible for getting anyone else into permanent motion, but you can activate that momentum and give your client the tools to keep the motion consistent and ongoing. The word “train,” as a verb, has many definitions, but we tend to think of “training” (activity leading to skilled behavior) as what we might do in conditioning a dog to sit on command. If, after weeks of “training” we have to continue to instruct our clients in proper squat technique, we have not done a very good job in creating skilled behavior.

In order to get our clients to act and ultimately follow through, we must motivate them, inspire them, and help them see the road to their desired outcomes, and then the initiation of action becomes relatively simple. If we teach our clients to rely on us for every exercise session, we are falling short in our promise to help them change their lives. If we learn to consistently activate positive motion, and through that activation the client develops a self-generating momentum, we know that results are soon to follow.


As a coach, we evaluate, we understand, and we suggest adjustments in the course of action. This may involve a graduation in exercise intensity, in exercise difficulty, or in exercise volume, but it may also involve a reduction in any of those areas.

If you watch a leaf on a windy day find it’s way to the ground, it isn’t a straight course, but gravity serves as the director and ultimately, despite distractions and interruptions, it leads the leaf to its resting place. When an airplane flies to its destination, it is continually making adjustments due to wind and air currents. While at any given moment it may be off course, the pilot directs the plane to its destination.

Our clients will have questions which we’ll answer, concerns which we’ll address, and uncertainties that we’ll help them get past. Being human, they will at times be off track, even though we’ve activated positive motion. We will allow them their mistakes and missed steps, but we will direct them back on course, ultimately leading them to their desired goals.


The first two steps were simple to address. “Activate” and “Direct” can be described in few words. The next three words will require a greater description so be prepared. We’re going to explore these concepts in depth.

With every customer I do the best I can to deliver more Value than is expected. That ideal has become a foundational element of my business, as it should be of yours. I share that in all of my trainer seminars, but while I’m defining words, allow me to delve a bit into the meaning of value.

Too many trainers believe value and cost are synonymous. I believe they are opposites. A “cost” is a “price,” or the amount of loss. We should never, as fitness professionals, be viewed as a “cost.”

In Latin and Italian the word valere refers to an item’s worth or a person’s strength. The English word, valor, was derived from valere and has also come to refer to the strength and internal might of those who wield power. When we refer to value in financial terms, we are referring to an object’s equivalent in terms of financial exchange.

Value - The power of a good or service to command other goods in exchange for the present worth to typical users and investors of future benefits arising out of ownership of a property; the amount of money deemed to be the equivalent in worth of the subject property.

When I refer to delivering value, I’m suggesting that the “strength” of our offering, the virtue of our service, is so powerful, our customers and clients find it far exceeds anything they expected, and that it far outweighs any perceived monetary exchange in its ability to joyously impact their lives. To be “valiant” is to make each and every client recognize that you have a unique power that is contagious. While you deliver that valued empowerment, you too shall find additional reward, not only in monetary terms, but in the joy and gratitude your clients share (yes, that too can be contagious).


I’ve written many articles and conducted many seminars on the topic of Integrity. Being that we’re beginning a new year, a year in which I believe professional trainers will see a massive elevation in the public’s perception of their value, integrity’s a topic I want to re-visit at length.

While Activate and Direct are action words, along with Value and the soon to be addressed Sincerity, Integrity is one of three words that I’ve come to recognize as rudders, guiding my decisions and my growth.

Bear with me as I begin by revealing where the concept of integrity was first introduced into my life . . .

After the fire extinguishers doused the flames at the back of my eighth grade English classroom, Mr. Isaacs turned an inflamed shade of red. I’d never seen him so angry, not even when I came in dressed in a gorilla suit and jumped on his desk in the middle of class. As the red turned to purple the clamor died down and the room went silent. Shattering the silence, Isaacs let out a scream, “KAPLAN, GET OUT OF HERE AND NEVER COME BACK!”

In hindsight, I guess it wasn’t a good idea to light the back wall of the classroom on fire. I was banished from Mr. Isaacs’ class forever and exiled to Mr. Contrada’s office.

Mr. Contrada was the Assistant Principal. I liked him. He used to tell me stories about his son Timmy (who he made sure he mentioned could palm a basketball in one hand although that never had anything to do with the story) and about the “bad kids” and how they turned out. Some of them turned out dead. Some worse. Then he’d tell me to do my math homework. That’s one thing his son Timmy always did. Before he went out to play basketball, he did his math homework, and he was an “A” student.

I hated math homework. I also hated math class. I actually enjoyed learning, but the monotony, the slow pace, the students who couldn’t “get it,” and the whining drone of the teacher made it an agonizing 45 minutes. The only good thing about math class was, Sara, the blonde with the incredible eyes. Sara sat next to me. Back then, with 8th grade hormones kicking into high gear, integers were the last thing on my mind, but the concept of integers would have a dramatic and lasting impact upon my life.

One morning, in gym class, we were playing 3-on-3 basketball, and some wise-ass kid named Glenn, who I never really liked anyway, kept running his mouth. He fouled me when I was going up for a sure-fire lay up. I knew then he was going to wind up on the ground the next time he touched me. I’ll admit now, when I slammed my shoulder into his chest it really hurt my shoulder . . . but he went down and it felt good. Really good. Until . . . the teacher, who only saw me slam into him with all of the force an angry skinny eighth grader could muster up, sent me to my familiar bench in Mr. Contrada’s office.

Mr. Contrada looked at me and shook his head. He sat down next to me and I braced myself. I expected to get suspended, or perhaps expelled. Instead he told me how talented he believed I was. He spoke about potential and about the great shame of wasting ability. He of course told me about his son Timmy and then he asked me if I knew what an integer was.

A-ha! I was being tested! He wanted to see if I was really doing my math homework. I knew what an integer was and with confidence I told him, “it’s a whole number.” Rather than recognizing me for getting the right answer, he threw me for a loop. He told me that all of the bad kids, all of those kids he knew who were now adults in prison or homeless, started off on the same track as I was following. For some reason, the intensity of his voice, the way he looked into my eyes, and the passion with which he spoke hit home. I started to understand. He then taught me a word that has ironically become the cornerstone of my career.

“Phil, an integer is a whole number. It isn’t divided, it isn’t fractioned, it’s whole. I want you to know what helps kids like you who are headed in a bad direction find a rewarding path and a future filled with pride and gratitude. Integrity. It comes from the Latin word, integer, and it means “a whole person.” Right now you’re in pieces. A part of you wants to fight. Another part of you wants to rebel. I see another part that you’re neglecting. It’s the part that has the ability to learn, that has the ability to win people over, and the part that combines a raw intelligence with a street smartness. If you remain fractioned, if you fail to bring the parts together into a “whole,” you’ll never know success, and that would be the worst shame of all. I want you to go home tonight, look up the word integrity, and write a paragraph about what it means to you.”

I suddenly saw Mr. Contrada in a whole new light. I always liked him, but I never realized how wise he was, and how committed he really was to helping kids like me make something out of our lives. I went home that afternoon and wrote two pages about integrity. I really wish I had those pages today. I don’t, but the experience impacted me far more than I realized it would.

I’d be lying if I told you that the incident changed me immediately. I still had to go through lots of growing up, but at some level it ingrained itself within and helped to shape who I’ve become today.

I believe that as the fitness industry becomes more and more polluted with those who are dishonest, who are making money at the expense of others, and with those willing to masquerade as benefactors when in reality they are thieves, the need for and recognition of integrity will lead to a breakthrough, a point in time where true fitness professionals emerge as heroes. You can’t break integrity. The nature of the word suggests a wholeness, and when individuals of integrity come together to provide empowerment, a global change is inevitable.

I want to urge you to recognize the power of the trait. I want you to recognize the virtue of what you do on a daily basis. I want you to then realize how desperately that virtue is needed and accept that if you are going to impact our society with any positive measure, you must market yourself aggressively. Aggressive marketing and integrity can and should walk hand in hand.

Mr. Contrada passed away in 2003. He unknowingly had a great impact on my life, and he did it with words, with influence, with passion, and with . . . integrity. He made me feel as if he cared, as if there was actually value in what was first intended to be a punishment. Integrity is a powerful force in influencing a positive outcome.


Sincerity can be construed as “without hypocrisy.” Before I define sincerity, allow me to share the roots of hypocrisy.

Back in the 1600’s, actors were called “players” and plays were popular entertainment for the affluent. Players didn’t spend hours in “hair and makeup,” but they rather put on their costumes and carried masks. Typically players would either play a comic role, a dramatic role, or a melodramatic role, and each type of role had its affiliated mask. As the player would speak his lines, he’d hold the mask up over his face. In order to be heard he’d direct his voice downward, to speak “down under the mask.” Hypocrisy meant “speaking down under the mask.” That would translate to a character who acts in a fashion other than the person behind the mask.

Sincere, in being viewed as the opposite, would be someone who is genuine, someone who doesn’t present a false persona. The fitness industry is so marred by hypocrisy I’d suggest it is perhaps the arena where the most consumers are being lied to on a consistent and ongoing basis. If you are going to display a sense of congruence, of integrity, and you are going to speak, write, and communicate with sincerity, you are going to grab a tremendously opportune position in 2004.

Let’s further understand what I mean by sincerity.

Back in ancient Rome, a person of greatness was “carved in stone” as a tribute. Sculptors became renowned for their abilities to reproduce images in stone. When the stone would chip or fracture, some sculptors learned a trick. They could mix the dust from the stone with wax and create a plaster of a sort that could be used to patch up and hide defects. In the marketplaces of ancient Rome, potters sold their wares, and they too learned to patch their pots with wax. Of course, when the buyer put the wax-repaired pot over heat, the wax would melt and the pot would be revealed to be worthless. Quality potters and sculptors committed to the purity of their crafts wanted to clearly separate themselves from those who were hiding imperfections, and so they hung signs that carried the Latin translation of “without wax.” Sin cera.

So you want to be whole in your message and your character, and you want those who come in contact with you to realize that you are in fact precisely what you display. There aren’t any disguises or hidden imperfections.

So, this year, I’m going to ask you to challenge those who are hypocritical, put yourself on the line, create opportunities for out and our challenges, make yourself available “any time,” answer your own phone once in awhile, speak to at least five new people every day, get out there in the media, and be congruent. Be whole. Be sincere.

The two words that describe what you “do:”

The three words that should govern your business decisions and daily operations in 2004 and beyond are:

That leaves us with one more word, a word I’ve used for years and the single word that best describes what will make you an outstanding long term influence upon the lives of everyone you touch.


When we apply the actions and live by the ideals I’ve suggested by dissecting the word ADVISE, we wind up giving others the greatest gift of all. Rather than giving them momentary guidance that must be repeated again and again ad infinitum, we reward our clients with the power to actually activate and direct their own physical futures. That is the mark of a true professional . . . the willingness to give enough of yourself (of course in exchange for well deserved compensation) so that you plant seeds in others, seeds that allow bodies to flourish without a reliance upon anything other than the commitment you’ve instilled.

While Empower has several definitions, I’ve come up with my own that might sum up all that we do for our clients:

Empower - To elicit one into an enthusiastic, emotionally stimulated, well prepared state so that he or she can respond to a situation, overcome a hurdle, or achieve a goal.

How will this help us grow? How will this help us market ourselves? How will this help us command the fees we deserve? I assure you, it will. Remember, there are three installments in this series to go. We’ve barely gotten our physically fit feet wet.

When you look at the “best sellers,” be they books, supplements, or infomercial devices, you recognize they’ve concentrated on marketing at the expense of quality, and while they do have possibility of generating a few million dollars, they can only do so at the expense of people. We are driven by an unwritten but ever-existent moral code. We couldn’t sleep at night if we knew our fortunes were amassed by “taking” rather than “giving.”

If you have the passion, the heart, the desire to do some good in this world, summoning up integrity and sincerity are simple, and given the chance, there’s little doubt you’ll be able to deliver value. Become an ADVISOR and your marketing strength elevates exponentially. The principles that make up the ADVISE acronym allow us to develop an “identity” that very few fitness offerings can touch, and that allows us to challenge, persuade, expose, and empower. Those who offer fraudulent “solutions” can not bare all, nor can they stand up to challenges the pursuit of excellence will inevitably cause to manifest.

First focus on the service you offer. Become a resource for basic understandable truth. Activate, Direct, deliver Value, behave with Integrity and Sincerity, and Empower everyone you touch and with a bit of marketing direction you’ll become a revenue generating machine, earning a significant income as you positively impact greater and greater numbers of lives.

In the next installment we’ll focus on Personal Trainer responsibility, but to give you a bit of insight, you’ll note that I’ve altered the spelling. I will discuss, at length, Professional Personal Trainer Response-Ability!

For now, grow comfortable with your Identity. Grow comfortable with the idea of acting as an Advisor at the highest level. That in itself becomes a spark to skyrocket you to the top of the field.