Personal fitness training is a profession. I’ll stand behind that statement without the least bit of hesitation. Those of us who are committed to excellence, who have commanded a knowledge of the scientific process of positive physical change and who have managed to accumulate significant revenues as a result of changing people’s lives for the better stand as an example of what is possible.

Restated in simpler terms, we study, we learn, we apply, and we are rewarded. The reward comes in the form of dollars plus expressions of gratitude. There is no greater thrill for me than knowing I’ve made a difference in yet another person’s life, and there is no greater privilege than earning a comfortable living in an area where the financial reward is matched by the expression of gratitude. I love what I do, I do what I love, and my life has been an adventure of unexpected magnitude. Yours should be as well.

A personal fitness trainer within three years can earn professional income in line with medical professionals, and within the two years that follow, can achieve professional status and financial independence.

Oh, if it were only that simple. Some trainers feel it’s somehow wrong to pursue money. Others feel those who command professional income have violated some moral code. Still others feel that if fitness professionals command professional income, they must have some unfair advantages.

Let me make a bolder statement than those I’ve already made. Every personal fitness trainer with a sense of responsibility, a true passion, a willingness to act upon that passion and enough humility to see the value in investing in professional education beyond technique and practice can earn a comfortable six-figure income without limit on potential for growth.

There are three keys: perspective and mindset, wiring and strategic action.

Keeping It in Perspective
If perspective could be imagined as one side of a mirror, the side that reveals a personal trainer to be a professional in every sense of the word is the side I live on. There is, however, the view from the other side, and it isn’t pretty.

Personal training isn’t regulated by anybody anywhere. It’s a free-for-all. Many health clubs fail to recognize the value of trainers, and they operate their training departments with a revolving door. The average trainer earns a fraction of his or her financial need, and credit card debt is an accepted evil for most. From the consumer perspective, trainers are expensive, and they fail to understand the inherent challenges the average person faces in attempting to integrate fitness into an impossibly hectic life. From the employer perspective, trainers are unreliable, unrealistic, lazy and irresponsible.

So which perspective is accurate? Incredibly, both. There are two sides of the mirror, and they are as different as good and evil, polarized opposites sharing the same reflection but with radically different traits and perspectives.

Which side of the mirror do you prefer to stand on? Do you choose to believe in your ability to enjoy the rewards a commitment to excellence can bring, or do you find comfort in commiserating with those who opt to see limits, obstacles and struggles?

I’ve been on both sides of the mirror, and I’ve chosen my side. I know the respect of a professional must be earned, and those who unwittingly choose the uglier side of the mirror are either unwilling to put in the necessary energy or misdirected as to where the energies should be placed.

If you choose the side of the mirror with greater potential, the one that reflects the image of a professional, you’re going to face an initial challenge, and that’s one of wiring.

Rewiring the Mind
Researchers at the National Institutes of Health and Duke University identified that the specific regions of the brain activated by financial promise or risk are unaffected by acts of altruism. Conversely, the region of the brain activated by the desire to help others hasn’t any impact upon the “risk/reward” centers. As an individual habitually activates given neural pathways, those pathways become reinforced. If you wonder how Wall Street criminals who prosper at the expense of others can pursue their actions without regret, the answer lies in the repeated dopamine/adrenaline release stimulated by the habitual reinforcing and activation of risk/reward. Conversely, if you wonder why so many trainers commit to helping others at all costs, it becomes clear that the altruism connections are reinforced, but the risk/reward center that pursues financial gain is fast asleep.

If you want to experience the mindset shift and ultimately the reality shift that follows, much of it falls in your court. Experts can provide tools, evidence, direction, strategy, perspectives, resources and personal experience — then there’s your part. If you’re going to achieve the “I love my life, I love my career, my clients love me, and I’m financially secure” condition, there are some “musts,” and those musts will lay the groundwork for strategic action.

The Nine Musts for Strategic Action

  1. You must recognize fear as a restrictive force created by your emotional experiential memory and master a strategy for obliterating the restriction. If you have an aversion toward selling, it’s important to destroy that aversion and learn to influence and persuade.
  2. You must recognize that much of the existing paradigm almost all personal trainers find crippling is created by a follow-the-leader, blind-leading-the-blind parade initiated by a massive health club industry committed to limiting personal trainer profit potential. This doesn’t make health clubs bad. It simply means that if you’re going to grow outside of the paradigm, you have to take responsibility for liberating yourself from rules that need not apply.
  3. You must take solid risks with proven outcomes, risks that will test your “stuff.” These need not be risks with potential for undue loss but rather risks that ask you to step outside of the safety of your present, risks that ask you to produce additional revenues by moving away from familiarity. This will serve to create greater balance between altruism and reward, wiring you for greater success.
  4. You must accept a new sense of responsibility, one that forbids you from pointing fingers and blaming outside forces for your own misfortunes or unwanted outcomes. This includes taking responsibility for client outcomes, despite challenges they may present.
  5. You must accept that your business is in fact a business, and while you don’t need to master business skills in line with an MBA, you have to understand simple business strategies that guarantee profitability.
  6. You must learn to leverage your time so you can connect with hundreds of clients, optimizing the value of your time, allowing you to move away from the reliance upon one-on-one for a set hourly fee, even if one-on-one training is the core of your business. There is an inherent ceiling when you limit your income to sessions reliant upon a single person, a predetermined time frame and an established market value.
  7. You must learn to separate who you are from what you do. If you are to become a true professional, there should be clear separation between being “at work” and being yourself, enjoying the life your business has helped you design.
  8. You must be willing to go inside, identify your own beliefs and examine emotional links that have led you to your present. Only then can you learn to master your emotions and accept beliefs that serve as pure fuel for growth and achievement.
  9. You must be willing to step near the boundaries of your perceived scope of practice, recognizing that there is a sea of gray most trainers aren’t willing to step into. Within that sea, bordering on medicine, nutrition and psychology lie some of the most powerful keys to achieving a respected position as a fitness professional.

Perhaps you just want to take people through exercise programs and haven’t an ounce of interest in developing a business strategy of exploring your true potential. Perhaps you enjoy following the crowd. Perhaps you’re comfortable with the existing paradigm. If that’s the case, you’ve chosen your side, and it’s up to you to make peace with that choice and enjoy your avocation with all of its inherent limitations.

If you believe there is a professional level of achievement you haven’t yet tapped, consider the nine musts carefully. Examine them with your guard down and your ego pushed off to the side. You’ll find the view from the more professional side of the mirror may be more challenging to hold on to at first, but if your experience mirrors mine, you’ll find the reflection from the professional side glares so brightly it becomes the only side you’ll ever choose to see.

Phil Kaplan (www.philkaplan.com) has been a personal fitness trainer for 25 years and receives awards and acclaim for his programs aimed at propelling fitness professionals to new levels of success.

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