I'm going toaddress a subject that I've covered more than a few times: the subject ofcompensation. More specifically, I want to address how personal trainers arecompensated in relation to the financial "value" of the service they provide.
This isn't aneasy subject, as there are hundreds of variables that play into "value," andmany of those variables are specific to the individual. Consider myperspectives as simply, "the view from here," the opinions of a man who spenthis entire adult life as a personal fitness trainer.
As I considermy peers, the handful of true fitness professionals who have stayed the courseover a decade or three, mastered their skill set and found their own levels ofexcellence and professionalism, I find a similar emotional course, a journeythat, although unique to all of us, has a similar thread running through it. I'lldo the best I can to share the commonalities of that course, and then I'llcontrast "average personal trainer pay" with professional compensation.
We begin ourcareers with passion, enthusiasm and a blissful and naive sense thateverybody's going to like us. We expect that as long as we do the right thing,people will recognize our virtues, and then ... those of us who won't settlefor mediocrity strive for excellence. We become students at ever-higher levels ofconventional and unconventional learning, and we weigh and measure theimmediate and long term value of everything we study, believing that if we getbetter at helping people, better reward will ultimately come our way.
It's nowonder we grow up with an expectation that if we do for others in the best waypossible, we will be praised and respected. In childhood, the gratification isinstant. You hit a homerun, the spectators applaud and you get pats on the backand lots of congratulatory expressions. You hit an outside shot when you'redown by one with seconds to go and you're celebrated. You catch the fast kidwho's all alone heading for the end zone and protect your team's lead andyou're a hero. You achieve, others offer praise, and it feels good.
Scholastically,it's a bit different, but not much. You do a good job and you hope you wind upwith a good grade. If you strive for excellence, you usually wind up with thegrade you hope for. After all, there is typically a right answer to eachquestion. You're not subjected to opinions. If you take a test that askswhether George Washington was the first president to walk on the moon, it's aclear yes or no. Know your subject and find praise. The praise may not be asimmediate or as grand as the homerun applause, but it's probably longer lastingin its value.
Go on to collegeand you're in a different ball game. Things feel competitive. The grading ismore biased. It's not as easy to stand out as it was when it didn't seem tomatter that much. In college, we make life decisions, although in many cases wemay be ill equipped to take such responsibility before we're fully baked. Ibelieve that's around the time that we begin to assess what we deserve.
We cannotconsider "fair compensation" without developing a sense of what we reallydeserve.
There are twoways people choose to assess what they deserve. The first bases itself uponwhat was invested, the second upon what was delivered.
It would benice and easy if those two always aligned, what we invested and what wedeliver, but life isn't always as just and fair as we'd like it to be. As soonas we find a modicum of success, it appears as if the whole world changes. Theapplause is there, but the critics emerge. The baseball player who hit homerunsin high school hears fans yelling "you suck" when he flies out in the majors. Ifhe's going to stay in the game, he has to consider that he's not going to beloved by everyone all of the time. Eventually he settles in to make peace withthe premise that this is his career, and it isn't about pleasing all of thepeople all of time.
The familywho loses a family member on the operating table will condemn the surgeon, eventhough he might have finished at the top of his class at Harvard. Theprosecutor with a winning record is torn apart in the newspaper when he loses acase to an overly sympathetic jury. Professionals who opt to determine whatthey deserve by their investment of time, perhaps their investment of money,and the volume of effort they put forth can usually sleep well even when theyare not on a celebratory platform. Add a track record that includes some strongsuccesses and they can justify their value, even in the incidence of less thanstellar outcome.
So, if we'regoing to consider professional compensation, we cannot expect that it's purelyabout "doing well all of the time." It cannot be subject to every opinion and everyaffront we may run into. If this is to be your livelihood, your source ofsustenance, you cannot ensure your own financial security if you waver in yourestimation of your deserved compensation. I believe, ethically, it should besolidly based upon the value we deliver, and there's the grandest challenge indetermining "just pay."
The physicianwho fails some of his patients doesn't adjust his fees. The lawyer who doesn'tbring the desired outcome all of the time is still compensated for hisservices. Here's the question that begs to be asked: Did they provide theirservices as promised, at the desired level of agreed upon commitment, and didthey do the best job they possibly could, and if so, does that in itselfdetermine value?
Whether thefans think a player sucks or not, if he brings a crowd to the stadium, createsa winning mindset among his teammates and delivers in line with the team'sneeds, he will be compensated accordingly. If his salary becomes public, thesportscasters will call him overpaid and criticize his performance, but what he "deserves" is between his manager, the owner, Major League Baseball, and theplayer. By that token, if you work in a health club or for any independententity that hires you as an employee, "making members happy" is not enough. Muchas the professional baseball player, you have to provide value to the entitythat employs you. A personal trainer who increases club revenues by $200,000annually is likely going to be more valued than one who barely covers his or herown compensation, and most of the trainers who work for health clubs aredisposable. The exceptional performers who bring value to members and thefacility, not only in terms of demeanor and presence, but in real dollars andcents deserve to be paid as professionals.
Anindependent study I conducted revealed that, in a sampling of 150 health clubemployed personal trainers, the average compensation is $12.50 per hour.
I'd expectyou'd like to believe you deserve more than that.
I started inthis field paid under $5 per hour, elevating to an independent trainer charging$15 per session. That was 25 years ago. From $15 I went to $35, and monthslater, I had established my fees as $75 per hour. When I had a full calendarand hired a staff I began charging $150 ($75 to work with my trainers). When Iwrote my first book and did my first media tour, I raised my rates further, andI have never, ever, not once in my entire career, had a client who failed tofind extreme value for their investment. If I charge $350 per hour and deliverextreme value, does that mean the average health club trainer is underpaid? I'dhave to say no. The average health club trainer is anything but a trueprofessional.
If you takeissue with this, I understand, and while years ago your opinions might havebruised my ego or caused me to re-evaluate, please trust that every word Icommit to an article is genuinely based on "the view from here." I've beenslammed many times, most often by people who barely know me, sometimes bypeople who thought they knew me better than they did.
I rememberwhen I ran my first full page ad for my Personal Trainer Business Forum, Ireceived an email that said, "Phil you sold out, all you care about is money." Iread it aloud at the conference. It revealed a flaw in the mindset thatpermeates our field. I's almost reminiscent of the "starving artist"mentality, a thought process that says we should do what we love because welove it and not for pay. That's certainly a noble thought, but an absurd one ifit's applied to our chosen profession. Somehow, because I was able to teachothers to earn in line with their value, an assumption was made that money wasmy primary focus.
About a yearafter the "sold out" email, I received another from a personal trainer who attendedmy Breakthroughs seminar with an audience of 1,200 people, most of them regularpeople looking to better understand how to improve. Rather than expressinganything positive about sending 1,200 people... well... 1199 people backinto the world empowered, the email asserted, "You like to call yourself atrainer. If you were really a trainer, you'd be on the gym floor every day,training people one-on-one."
Then thereare the things I've heard people say about me:
"He doesn'tcare about anyone unless they're young, fit and rich."
"He onlyworks with older unfit people."
"He's allabout being in the media, a walking infomercial."
And finally,there are the dismissals:
"I've learnedeverything I can from Phil."
A recentepisode in my life opens the door to continue on the topic of "what is just" interms of financial remuneration (pay).
The Pothead Turned Lawyer
I have afriend I haven't seen in well over 25 years. When we were 16, he was the guywho knew where to get the best weed. I guess that was his primary "value" backthen. Through the miracle of Facebook, we reconnected, and on a recent trip Itook to New York, we decided to get together and catch up.
We had a fewbeers at the lobby bar at the Renaissance Hotel in Times Square and laughed forhours reminiscing. We spoke about divorce, money, kids, and at some point allthe barriers came down. Everything was on the table. There's a lot to talkabout when you have a 25-year span to cover.
I told Artie aboutthe $250,000 debt I incurred from a legal battle gone bad, about my climb backto being solvent and about the shifts in financial condition that caused me tofind my own resilience. He had a very different 20 years. He embarked upon astraight course, and it's served him. We both expressed gratitude for where weare today, but Artie told me his challenges over the past two decades wererooted in an overwhelming sense of pressure. He suffered severe periods ofdepression and anxiety, but today all is good. He charges $350 an hour as apartner in a prestigious New York law firm.
As someonewho has paid attorneys far more than anyone should ever have to, the question Iwanted to ask got stuck in my throat for a moment. I finally coughed it out. "Doyou deserve it?"
There was asilence. I suspected he was offended by the question, but he appeared to beconsidering the best way to answer. His voice raised up a decibel or two.
"Of course Ido! I worked my tail off for eight years of college, then as an intern, and Iworked 70 hour weeks until I finally earned my partnership. When I started inthe firm, I was a slave, and I lost a good part of the enjoyment of my lifebecause I gave this 100%. Of course I deserve it."
It'sinteresting that he didn't say anything about the value he delivers. I believehis assessment of what he deserves is fair. It just isn't the way I'm wired. Ifeel good knowing I'm being paid well ONLY if I'm making a positive differencein someone's life, only if I know I'm delivering more value than any of myclients expected.
Thisperspective puts me in a place where I can teach trainers, not only to strivefor excellence, but to align their internal wiring that says, "we have to dothe right thing," with a true valuation of the service they deliver.
Based on thesame study I referred to earlier, the average independent trainer (I onlyconsidered trainers who acknowledged submitting tax returns with personaltraining as their primary source of income) earned $26,750. The average perhour fee reported was $45 (considering the "package" rate) but clearly the mathsuggests that isn't the case in a 30-hour work week.
So in ourfield, compensation is all over the map, and despite anything the hyped up "guru" ads claim, there are only a few places on the map where $100,000-plus isa reality.
I want you tothink about your career, and perhaps consider a bit of re-evaluating.
Let's go withmy proposed determinant, based not on time invested, and based not on havingeveryone like you all of the time, but on the true value of the service youdeliver. If you change people's lives for the better and you are an expert withthe ability to ensure your clients find extraordinary value, how much do youdeserve?
I've heardsome speakers at the fitness conferences use the term, "what the market willbear."
"What themarket will bear" is simply an examination of what those who have preceded youhave found. I believe it has little to do with the value you deliver.
Know this. Mostpersonal trainers are NOT earning the type of money you hope to, so if you dowhat most personal trainers do, you'll be disappointed and frustrated, and youmay wind up on a path to regret. You have to be different than most, and sayingyou're different isn't enough.
Let's bereally honest. If you're focusing primarily on an aesthetic, on helping someonefind leanness, are you playing a role of extreme value? You can be a fantasticadjunct, an incredible coach and a spark that leads them to a great outcome. Howdo you put a number on that? You can consider how much people are willing tospend for liposuction, gastric band procedures or absurd arrays of purportedfat-burning supplements, and you can easily determine that, because you'reteaching and empowering, you're saving them from fruitless investments. Let'sput a number on that, just for the sake of discussion. Let's say there's a $75per hour value for that service, one-on-one training aimed at helping someonereshape a healthy body.
Now let's goa step further. Are you looking at the person as a whole, going beyond theaesthetic? Are you helping them alleviate back pain? Helping them lower bloodpressure, reduce risk of heart disease and improve ease of movement? There hasto be more value in that then simply helping someone get lean, so let's saythis perspective takes you to $100 per hour ($25 more per hour in a 30 hourwork week amounts to an additional $37K in a year).
Now let'stake it a step further. Suppose you could reduce inflammation, reducelikelihood of metabolic syndrome, reverse blood sugar irregularities, and helpimprove endocrine function. Stack this on top of helping with fat loss, theaesthetic want, alleviating pain and improving movement and now we're talkingabout extreme value. Now we can consider medical costs, medication costs,health insurance costs and the intangible cost of "feeling bad,"and the valuetakes on an entirely new meaning.
I reached apoint where I charged $350 per hour for a consultation. Today I charge $2425for a program that involves six hours of my time over an eight-week period, andI have a waiting list. I'm not suggesting all personal trainers should charge over$300 per hour, but I am suggesting that my evolution has radically increased myvalue, and if the average health club trainer is earning $12.50 per hour forteaching people exercises, that trainer is in an entirely different categorythan I.
The questionfor you is, what is the true value of the service you deliver? You don't haveto do a three-hour assessment as I do, nor do you have to collect biochemistryreports (lab tests) to evidence improvements in insulin efficiency, thyroidfunction and sex hormones, and it's perfectly OK if you want to limit yourofferings to purely "fitness," but know what you deliver and know what youhonestly believe that service is worth.
Let's look atsome of the hypothetical numbers I have outlined:
Averagehealth club trainer: $12.50 per hour
Averageindependent trainer: $26,750 annually (reported $45 per hour fee)
Independenttrainer with a track record of aesthetic improvement: $75 per hour
Independent trainerwith expertise in movement patterns and biomechanics: $100 per hour
Independenttrainer with ability to improve aesthetics, health, and ease of movement: $200+
So what isfair compensation? I'll give you "the view from here," and leave it to you to decide.
My employeesare hired at $25 per training hour with very real opportunities to increasetheir rates based on a multitude of factors, all playing into the "value" theydeliver. We charge $50 for in-club training, although our trainers may chargeup to $125 per hour with time and development.
After atrainer works with me for 12 weeks, proves competent, and can document hard "results" data, they can raise their rates by $10 per session. The club wouldthen charge $60, the trainer gets $35. As a trainer continues to grow, the "persession rate" can increase, but the club only keeps the same $25. The lion'sshare goes to the trainer who has proven valuable.
We, as theemployer, provide ongoing trainer training, we maintain an exceptionalfacility, and we provide our trainers with benefits including medical and paidvacation.
I don'tbelieve any of my trainers ever found the pay sub-adequate.
For in-hometraining with a member of my staff I charge $75 per session, the trainer gets$50, with the same escalation opportunity with time and proven value.
I personallycharge $350 for a one-hour consultation (with a money-back guarantee), and then$2425 for six predetermined sessions over an eight-week period.
There arelikely a handful of trainers who charge more than I do, and if they're gettingit, you better bet they're delivering value.
If you wanteda simple answer, you're not going to find it. You have to find it within you,and then match your perceived value with the fees you collect, always beingsensitive to the balance between your time and energy investment and justreward.
Complicated? Perhaps,but shouldn't it be? After all, the trainer who earns $12.50 per hour doesn'tlikely see the gap between what he or she does for a living and what theestablished mature fitness professional with an extraordinary service abilitydoes.
Honesty willhelp you find your value, and if honesty proves disappointing, that's OK. Increasingyour value is a given if you commit to an ongoing path of continuedimprovement. I would safely say that when I charged $15 a session, it wasdifficult for me to ask for pay. I realize now I wasn't really confident that Iwas worth that much. Today, it's simple to ask for the fees I command anddeserve.
Consider yourvalue an upward curve and you can literally write your own paychecks withdiligence, adherence, commitment, and honesty.
I not onlyencourage, but request feedback including perspectives that may align with ordiffer radically from my own. How much are you paid? How much are you worth? Dothe two match? Should they? Why?
Note: Phil Kaplan founded the Be Better Project in2005 to help fitness professionals elevate to find professional reward andcompensation. The Be Better curriculum runs eight months and is only open to career-mindedfitness professionals able to articulate specific desires for the future. Thereare a handful of openings in the current Be Better group. If you have interestin mastering sound and fail-proof success principles specific to personaltrainers, email email@example.com withthe Subject: I Want to Be Better or visit http://philkaplan.com.