Once you've acquired the skills and experience required for personal training excellence, you may wonder "what next?" You may ask yourself, "How do I increase my practice and how do I differentiate myself from my colleagues?" Shifting your focus from training all populations to training a specific niche will both increase your job satisfaction and offer you the potential to energize and expand your business. Begin by asking yourself if there is a group or population with whom you have similar attributes, a type of client to whom you can offer your fitness solutions, or a population that you are particularly passionate about helping.

In addition to job satisfaction, becoming a specialist within a niche makes it easier to brand and position your business. You can build a brand more easily if you can identify your target client and develop a more focused marketing effort. As an expert in a field you also become more valuable. I have found that there can be a large demand for specialized classes for special populations. People are willing to pay for unique programs and the best person who is knowledgeable in their specific problem. By creating a niche practice, you would be able to provide something special and make an impact.

As our life span increases, we will see more clients affected by diseases such as Parkinson's, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), arthritis, cancer and heart disease. You might notice that cardiac rehab centers are all around us. Physical therapists are dealing with the initial rehab for knee and hip replacements and other orthopedic situations. In addition, it can be difficult to find a Parkinson's, MS or cancer fitness specialist. I see a need in the healthcare system for exercise programming specific to those afflicted by certain diseases.

Case Study: Cancer Recovery Fitness Specialist

Discover and commit to your niche
Cancer has been part of my world for over 30 years. My mother, father and several other family members and friends have battled this disease. One goal of most people recovering from surgery is to be able to return to the things that they enjoy. As we all know, exercise is an essential component of the recovery process. Unfortunately, cancer patients often have a difficult time recovering and develop frozen shoulder, stiffness and numbness and other problems due to surgery and treatments.

I was motivated to focus on a niche helping those who have cancer recover their fitness level following diagnosis and treatment. I created the Recovery Fitness cancer exercise program which was inspired by and is dedicated to these courageous people. The program fills a huge gap in the healthcare system. For example, reconstruction surgery, such as TRAM and LAT flap, changes muscle location. My program helps teach patients the very important tools of how to exercise properly and safely after surgery. Cancer survivors need these rehabilitative and corrective exercises to help strengthen bones, improve balance and posture, and decrease pain and fatigue. It is imperative for them to reach a fitness level that provides confidence and peace of mind. Recovery Fitness has also had a broad impact in a number of communities and has had excellent results in both urban and suburban communities.

Become the ultimate expert
After you have defined your niche you should concentrate on understanding the market and developing your expertise. You must become an expert in your field through education and knowledge. For my specialty of cancer recovery, I established my expertise by reading every book available on the subject; met with surgeons, oncologists and oncology nurses; and attended every seminar offered at hospitals in New York and New Jersey. I also decided to obtain additional certifications: American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the Cancer Training Institute. In order to obtain the latest information on cancer I attended every conference possible either in person, via a webinar or podcast, read numerous books and followed the latest studies. By staying informed on the latest procedures it enables me to understand my clients' situations and develop an exercise program that will give them the best results. This also gives me the knowledge to direct my clients to the right medical professional and the ability to speak with authority to their health professionals so that I can understand the particular health issues. Ultimately, through enormous amounts of time, study, meetings and research, I developed the expertise and knowledge necessary to create safe and effective training programs.

Develop key relationships
It is not enough to just obtain the expertise in your niche. The next step is to get your message out to potential clients and referral sources. Just because you are an "expert" does not mean the masses will know about your specialty or how it can benefit them.

In order to establish myself as the expert in cancer recovery fitness, I met with people at various cancer centers and donated my time to establish a pilot program for cancer patients. This included offering free exercise classes at a center for one year. During that year, we monitored various fitness markers. We obtained grants to bring the program to financially-challenged urban and suburban communities. These grants enable survivors with limited financial means to improve their health and become active, productive members of their community. Our classes not only helped the participants heal physically, but also helped to restore their self esteem. They are empowered to go back to their jobs and families and take charge of their lives. The results of the program were compiled and strongly demonstrated that the program worked.

After compiling the results of my pilot program, I set up meetings and presentations with physicians to show them how this program can help their patients and their practice. They were excited about having a place to send their patients after, and as an adjunct to, physical therapy. I was able to demonstrate that the Recovery Fitness program is medically sound and have had internists, surgeons and oncologists endorse the program. The value of adding a fitness professional to a patient's team is finally receiving the acknowledgment that it deserves by the medical community. Developing these key relationships however, is not easy. It can be difficult to reach medical professionals who are busy and focused on their patients, but with hard work and tenacity this can be accomplished.

My career continues to be rewarding on numerous levels since I've focused my practice on cancer recovery fitness. I have a recognized expertise in the area of cancer recovery fitness and am accepted by the medical community. My program has allowed my business to be multifaceted; it offers me the ability to use my program on a one-on-one basis or in group training. Most important, I have a group of clients who are happy and enthusiastic about addressing a very serious illness. I hope that you too can find a specialized career in fitness as rewarding as it has been for me.

Carol Michaels is a Cancer Exercise Specialist, speaker and studio owner. She is the creator of the Recovery Fitness cancer exercise program, which has helped hundreds of cancer survivors improve their recovery from the side effects of surgery and treatments. She is nationally recognized and was identified by ACE and Life Fitness as a Trainer to Watch and is the 2012 PFP Trainer of the Year. www.recoveryfitness.com