As fitness managers, we are reliant upon the efforts of our trainers and staff to make our facilities profitable, our members happy and ensure the success of our club. When asked the secret to his success, J. Paul Getty (the richest man on the planet at the time of his death) simply replied, "I'd rather have one percent of the effort of 100 men than 100% of my own effort." Of course, he meant more than "one percent" effort, but his point is very clear. Even the hardest working, most talented fitness managers can't do it all themselves. They need trainers and staff members to give their best effort in order to reach their club's goals.


One of the best ways to guarantee the success of a health club is with a great staff. But in a struggling economy with growing competition fighting for a piece of the ever-shrinking pie, this becomes increasingly difficult. The growing challenge is: How do we attract, keep and motivate the best trainers and staff? Here are a few ideas that worked for me:


  • Added personal touch - This could be a cold bottled water, a fresh warm towel (in winter) or ice-cold moist towel (in summer) or a post-workout smoothie prepared for each client when their training session is done. If you don't have a smoothie, offer the training client a protein shake on the house. After all, that nice touch costs you less than 50 cents, and with a $40+ profit per session for your club, it's a no-brainer!
  • Trainer options - We allowed our trainers and those we wanted to hire to bring one of their outside clients (on off-peak hours only) into the club for a much more exciting workout then they could offer that person in their home. We allowed them to bring in one outside client for one hour for every three hours of floor time or in-club training they did for us. They were asked to have the client sign in (name, email and phone number) and to give the house a small percentage of the session price (paid at the front desk).
  • Commissions - When a training client bought a smoothie, paid for a group class or any other additional activity, we gave the personal trainer who brought them (or directly referred them) a 50% cut for the first four visits and a 30% cut thereafter for as long as the trainer maintained at least 10 hours of work a week in our club. Since the club was slow during those off-peak hours, as most are, it was "found money" and a new client that the club didn't have that can help spread the buzz to her friends about our club - everyone wins!
  • Let trainers and staff feel respected - We also tell trainers and fitness staff that if they have an issue or if they have an idea for a group class, club promotion or event, they should speak to the director or manager one-on-one. We work hard to maintain their trust, including listing the trainer's name (for credit) and give them a percentage of the profits for new ideas. Again, found money!
  • Personal trainer price options - We set up 30-minute sessions (for $49) and full-hour sessions (for $80) as well as six, 10 and 20 training session packages. You can alter the price to steer the client into the package you want to fill - a larger amount per session for a smaller total number of sessions, or a smaller amount per session for a larger number of sessions (easier to sell and easier to see results, per package).
  • Act as an assistant and a friend to your staff, not like "the boss" - Everyone wants to feel important, and trainers are no exception. And every client wants to know the trainer they hire is important. So we set up a system where we confirm each appointment for the trainer and client either via phone or automated email. We deliver the post-workout smoothie (prepared for each client's specific tastes) directly to the trainer and client as they are ending their session. We prepare all tracking sheets and notebooks for our trainers, load the personal trainer computer with all the files, allow Internet access for the latest industry research and personally introduce clients to our trainers.
  • Stability - In this economy, luxury items and expenses such as personal training are often the first thing people cut. Clubs can offer personal trainers their biggest asset: members. Even the best trainers are not guaranteed a paycheck from a handful of in-home clients, and waiting for referrals can be grueling. With vacations, holidays and people moving, a trainer needs a constant pool of new potential clients. I have always started trainers with an hourly wage (or floor hours) for hours that they are not in training sessions to have them present, helping members and introducing them as my new stars to potential clients. I have always considered this an expense we should incur as club owners. The incentive for trainers to build a client base and earn $45+ an hour is much stronger then a $10 to $15 an hour salary for his floor hours.
  • The biggest draw of them all - Perhaps the biggest draw to a quality trainer is to book their opened hours for them, without them needing to build their own client base by soliciting members. I got their open hours from them, called each member of the club personally and let them know: "We are currently booking a few limited complimentary personal training sessions with our fantastic personal trainers! These sessions are obviously going very quickly, so what time and day works best for you?"

Tying It All Together

Joe Gibbs, head coach of the Washington Redskins, three-time Super Bowl Champion and Pro Football Hall-of-Famer once said, "People who enjoy what they are doing invariably do it well." If you show trainers you care by listening to them, asking questions of them, leading by example and throwing in some incentives to help generate business, trainers will come and will stay motivated, happy and productive.


Brian Jay ( holds both national and international fitness certificates and memberships from ACSM, IFPA, ISCA, CPT, IACET, NOCA, NCCA and CSN. He is a Certified Sports Nutritionist, Master Personal Trainer, NCAA and Professional Baseball Strength Coach and international author.


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