7 Tips to Avoid Burnout As a Personal Trainer

Coaching may be a dream job, but it has some unique challenges that make burnout very real.

No matter how extroverted you are, coaching and bringing energy to people all day can be exhausting. And it’s one of the reasons being a personal trainer and burning out often go hand-in-hand.

In 10 years of coaching, and interviewing hundreds (possibly thousands at this point) of personal trainers and fitness coaches, I have learned it’s also one of the reasons most fitness coaches don’t end up pursuing a lifelong career in the industry. They give it a shot for a few years and then move on to something else.

Can you imagine if lawyers, electricians or engineers weren’t able to have long-term careers in their trade? There’d be nobody to pass their expertise and lessons they learned down to the next generation.

In my opinion, this is one of the current shortcomings of the fitness industry: A lack of long-term, career coaches to pass on best practices to the next generation.

And while it’s certainly only one piece of the puzzle—the other big one is an inability to earn a professional wage—if we can solve the personal trainer burnout factor, we’ll be a bit closer to creating more long-term coaches.

7 Keys to Stay Fresh

1. Don’t Do Split Shifts

A common personal trainer lifestyle is to coach clients in the early mornings before they go to work, go home, take a nap, and then return to the gym at 4 or 5 p.m. for the afterwork clients.

I don’t care how good your napping prowess is, split shifts quickly become exhausting. You might be able to do it for a little while as you’re building your career, but soon you’ll start resenting your evening return to the gym.

Instead, become either morning coach or an evening coach. Not both.

But I won’t get enough hours that way?

In recent years, I have found more and more people have flexible work schedules, or work from home, so the ability to book 10 a.m., 11 a.m. or early afternoon clients is also useful. To entice people to train during these off-hours, offer a bit of a discount. It will allow you to build a sustainable life where you can stay fresh and energized to coach.

2. Be Strict With Your Time

In my early coaching days, I would let clients bully me into training them at times that were inconvenient for me. Sometimes I would even kill my intended day off from the gym because it was best for their schedule.

I quickly learned to be more strict with my time. I stopped asking clients when they wanted to come in, and started telling them when I was available.

What happened surprised me: I thought people might get their backs up when they couldn’t train at their ideal time. Instead, they just started to respect my time more.

3. Seek a Percentage of Revenue Compensation System

If you’re a fitness coach, there isn’t much long-term potential in getting paid by the hour. Typically you’ll find yourself making around $25 an hour, and will have to work too many on-floor hours—and burn out—in order to make a decent living.

Instead, seek a percentage of revenue compensation model, where you’re paid a percentage of revenue off your book of clients. Your earning potential will be much higher, and you’ll be able to maintain a reasonable workload in the process.

Personal Training Challenges

4. Offer Individual Program Design

Another great way to ensure you don’t have to spend 40-plus on-floor hours each week is to build an option for more experienced clients to follow an individual program that you create for them. A couple hours spent programming for clients requires much less energy on your part than one-on-one coaching.

Obviously new clients need the hand-holding, but once clients are self-sufficient, they don’t need you babysitting them, counting their reps every moment they’re in the gym. Instead, you can create time slots where four or five clients can show up at the same time and follow an appropriate program designed specifically for them.

A combination of personal training and individual program design also allows you to take off on vacation here and there and know your clients can still workout without you.

5. Sell a Relationship, Not a Workout

If all you are to your clients is a weight changer and rep counter, who administers hard workouts, you’re somewhat replaceable.

However, if you develop a real, genuine relationships with all of your clients—get to know their kids names, find out what’s going on in their lives etc—you’ll stand a far greater chance of keeping them for years and being more fulfilled in the process.

More importantly, however, is that a trusting relationship between a coach and client makes it more likely the client will open up about other stuff in their lives they need help with, such as nutrition, their relationship with food, sleep habits, stress levels etc. And if you can help them, not just improve their fitness, but also make important lifestyle changes, your value as a coach increases dramatically, and so does your job satisfaction.

6. Pursue Continuing Education

Continue to find new areas that excite you, and then take courses, seminars or self-educate to expand your knowledge base. Not only will continued education make you a better coach, but it will keep you learning and growing and interested in what you’re doing.

7. Focus on Client Retention

If you have coached long, you probably have noticed it requires much less emotional energy to work with a client who has been coming for five years, who you know well and who understands how to move and what his body can do, than it does to work with a brand new client and teach them how to squat for the first time.

And the more clients you keep, the fewer client you’ll need to pick up each month. Not only that, but the pressure of hunting down new clients each month provides a whole other stress.

Pro tip: Don’t run a short-term fitness challenge to bring in new people. You’ll attract nothing but short-term dabblers. Seek clients with a long-term mindset. It will seriously reduce the burnout factor.

The point: Focus more on client retention and you’ll have to focus less on client acquisition.

The keys to doing this are in the previous tips: Stay on top of your education, get to know your clients as human beings, offer individual program design, avoid working in a dollars per hour system, and design a schedule that keeps you fresh, so you remain excited about what you’re doing and can provide the best possible value to your clients.

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Emily Beers

Emily Beers

Emily Beers is a freelance health, fitness and nutrition writer. She has also been coaching fitness at MadLab School of Fitness in Vancouver, B.C. since 2009. A former college basketball player and rower, Emily became heavily involved in CrossFit after finishing her Masters degree in journalism at the University of Western Ontario. She competed at the 2014 CrossFit Games and also worked with CrossFit Inc.’s media team for 8 years. You can also find her work at Precision Nutrition, the Whole Life Challenge, OPEX, and a host of other fitness and nutrition companies and media outlets.

1 thought on “7 Tips to Avoid Burnout As a Personal Trainer”

  1. Hello, I felt the need to comment on your commentary on the avoid trainer burnout article that you just posted. A number of the things in the article I found extremely frustrating as a trainer not that they’re wrong but that they’re nearly impossible for most people in the training business. With the exception of a few private gym companies there is no negotiating your percentage unless you’re bringing your book and if you have a book one would just seek a rental studio or gym. Secondly it’s almost impossible to not have a split day as a trainer in all but the largest of cities ,in rural America the 9-5 is still the norm and while it’s possible to book 4 ish clients between 430 and 830 it’s not likely . Also scheduling multiple clients at the same time who you program for is a quick way to lose clients . Outside of the competitive athlete clients are often looking for human comfort in the gym to help them get over the gym anxiety that prevails amongst lamen people.Their are a few more points that I can make but those are the largest I think . I love the idea behind the article but I think it’s not going to be effective or helpful for the vast majority of trainer. If anyone would like to further discuss this I’d be glad to chat . I’ve been coaching since the age of 14 I am the career trainer this article is targeting.

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