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July 18 2023

How to develop the next generation of fitness professionals

Screenshot 2023-07-18 at 10.27.48 AM

When you think about managing performance of your team members, I am sure, like myself, you tend to think of two areas: revenue and experience. We must have revenue to create the best experience, yet we need a great experience to generate great revenue.

So in this conundrum of the fitness industry, how do I manage my fitness staff? Do I incentivize class attendance? Do I pay by percentage? Do I give bonuses based on certain behaviors that drive results? Do I get a new app that lets members give feedback and manage based on that?

So many questions, yet none of these options are the end-all, be-all solution. The reason these questions seem valid, yet aren’t good answers, is because first, we must understand the staff we are managing. So before we dig into specifics of how to manage your staff, let’s take a look at who they are:

Trainers get into fitness for passion.
As I think back to the hundreds of interviews I have done with trainers over the years, the overwhelming majority of responses when asked why prospects want to work in fitness is because they "want to help people," they “want to change lives," they “want to help people be their best." So if we know that this is the goal, we need to align our management style with how we can help them do this. To earn the respect of your staff, always remember and tie into your motivation and vision to how you are working to help enable them to make a difference.

Trainers want to grow in knowledge of getting results.
A second thing to consider is trainers want to be skilled in their craft. Even trainers that don't formally educate themselves follow loads of social media influencers and will add new workouts they find on Instagram into their own programming. Knowing this, the best thing you can do is find ways to keep upskilling your staff in the ways you want them to grow. One way or another they are going to be exposed to new evolving tactics, strategies and programming cycles. You need to ensure how your staff evolves is in the way you want them to.

Trainers love people, so treat them like one.
The final point of understanding your fitness staff is to remember that they are a person first, and your staff member second. When you are giving feedback to your staff members, it's always best to know what they have going on in their lives. Is one of their parents having surgery? Did they just get a new apartment? Are they looking for a new car? Simply asking a few questions about their lives can really relax the situation and allow the staff member to know that you care about them so they will be much more likely to take coaching from you without getting defensive.

So How Do I Manage Them?

Make it about behavior, not just result.
The biggest mistake most owners and managers make with fitness staff is they look at the numbers only. As long as the gym is selling memberships, or the trainers are getting client results, it doesn't matter how it's getting done. The problem with this thought process is a client can lose weight short-term without keeping it off long-term on the wrong program. A manager can sell a lot of memberships by telling clients whatever they want to hear. So when you give feedback, don't make it only about the result. Make it about the process. If you are asking a trainer to run a class a certain way, have a checklist that you can use to audit the class and give direct feedback on how they did. If a manager sold a membership don't just high five them for making a sale. Do they know the client’s goals? Did they ask for referrals? If they followed a process that you have in place, then they've earned the high five.

Normalize feedback.
When you begin the relationship with a new staff member, you need to have a very in-depth onboarding process where the trainer can demonstrate skills, explain movements, offer programming and whatever else you would require them to do. Why do we have fitness team members answer questions about their work history and not show us exactly what they're going to do on the job? Within the interview process and during onboarding, you need to provide feedback every step of the way to allow the staff member to get used to getting feedback from day one. Once you have staff members fully onboarded, monthly or quarterly check-ins aren't enough. Every time you spend a moment with a staff member is an opportunity to coach them.

Freedom within a framework.
One of the most important things to remember is that fitness staff have personalities. We have all seen trainers that are all hype and shallow content, while simultaneously, seen trainers that are all content yet have the cadence of a documentary putting you to sleep at 1am. So how do you find the balance of giving both types of trainers and all types in between feedback? This is where freedom within a framework is the best solution.

Touchpoints: how engaged do you expect the trainer to be with clients? What does a touchpoint look like and sound like? How many touchpoints do you expect the trainer to give during sessions.

Form correction: What does form correction need to look like and sound like? The careful balance here is finding ways to encourage the members while still challenging them. Having best practices of how to explain and correct most basic movements is great, but remember, your customers are paying for every second they spend with your fitness staff, so getting the most out of their sessions is important. How to effectively and efficiently explain muscle groups, movements, contractions and focuses can be very wordy, and not all trainers are great at this. Training and teaching are often two very different things, and so as the leader within your organization, it is your responsibility to help your team do it at the highest level.

Client experience: Class experience is such a mystical topic because so many clients have different expectations. The key to managing client experience is to remember that people vote with their presence and with their dollars. When reviewing client profiles or notes with your team members, be sure to give feedback on how they should generally handle clients, as well as help them understand the nuances of individualizing client care. Every client will have different goals, different needs, different likes and dislikes, but ultimately, we are here not as a customer service representative of fitness, we are fitness professionals.

Our clients need us to help them achieve their goals and to keep them accountable to staying consistent. If we want to see the fitness industry thrive in helping humans live their best lives, it starts with how we develop the next generation of fitness professionals.

Ben Ludwig is a leadership, sales and strategy expert. He has led global trainings on fitness sales, marketing and operations for fitness business owners in 60+ countries, has had a hand in creating sales trainings for global fitness brands and currently acts as the Chief Operating Officer of Traction Group LLC, an F45 Training company which holds the highest AUV within the US, Serves as the Growth Pastor for CrosspointNow Network of Churches across Kansas, as well as consults fitness business owners globally. He also contributes regularly to multiple fitness business magazines on broad topics. Ben also volunteers his time serving on multiple Boards and is open to contributing his time and expertise in causes he feels align with his values.