Thinking of starting a career in fitness…or maybe you already started, and you’re trying to figure out how to make the most of it? First, congrats on deciding to get involved in fitness as a career, business, or side business. You chose to be a part of something that is not only fun but truly changes peoples’ lives! Having had just about every job you can have in the industry, I get really excited for people who make this decision!
While this industry truly is an amazing thing to be a part of…there are two challenges that almost every fitness professional must face at some point: burnout and trading your time for money.
I’ve had just about every job in the fitness industry and learned a lot of things the hard way – so I feel obligated to share tips and shortcuts for how you can make a decent (or even incredible) living in fitness and still love what you do!
It can be difficult to make the kind of living you want (and still have a LIFE) when your income is based off of how many hours you spend teaching an exercise class or training clients. There are only so many hours in the day you can fill…and you only have so much energy to do your job well (mentally and physically).
Because of this, “burn out” is something every fitness professional needs to be aware of and know how to avoid in order to keep enthusiasm for what you do, to take care of yourself, and also to continue to love your job.
The good news is there are ways to avoid burn out…and you can diversify what you do to reach more people with your services and expertise without adding more hours onto your already packed schedule (more on that later)…but for now, let’s talk about burn out, how to know if you’re experiencing it, and how to avoid and/or overcome it!
What is Burn Out?
So what is “burn out”? Just for the heck of it, I decided to look up the dictionary definition, and I found it to be pretty interesting…and spot on!
burn out: to be completely consumed and thus no longer aflame.
You no longer feel a burning desire to do the thing you were once so passionate about. It used to be fun, exciting, and give you butterflies in your stomach – you were on fire about it. But now, that passion has burned out.
As much fun as it is to work in health and fitness, for people who are trying to make a career out of it, it can completely consume your life if you’re not careful. Trainers and Master Trainers and Fitness Instructors all have a tendency to overbook themselves. They have to fill hours to get paid, but it comes at the cost of spending your entire life in a gym. Most people are able to attend fitness classes or sessions with a trainer in the early morning (before work) or in the evening (after work). So your day must be worked around that schedule.
My Crazy Schedule as a Full Time Fitness Professional
Can I give you a little glimpse into my life when I was first attempting to make a full time living at this? Here was my schedule most days…
5am – Wakeup, get ready and drive to Gym #1
6:30am — Teach a group exercise class
7:30am — Teach another group exercise class
8:30am – Teach yet ANOTHER group exercise class
9:30am – Clean up, change, and take a quick break to stuff my face because I was STARVING from working out for 3 hours!
10:30am – Train a client (usually a stay-at-home-mom or a retired person who had off work during the day)
11:30am – Break for lunch
12pm – Train a client on their lunch break
1pm-4pm – Work at the trainer desk, prep new music and choreography for class in down time
4pm – Drive to Gym #2
5pm – Teach ANOTHER group fitness class
6pm – Teach my FIFTH group fitness class for the day
7pm – Train one more client
8pm – Drive home
8:30pm – Arrive home, stuff my face because I was starving for working out another 2 hours and being on my feet and active all day…and.then…die.
Ok I didn’t die…I just went to bed…but I was EXHAUSTED by the end of the day. Physically and mentally. When you train people, you have to use your energy to bring their energy up, and you also kind of act as a therapist. It’s rewarding and completely exhausting at the same time.
I did this FIVE (count them….FIVE) days a week. Then on the weekends I typically taught a class or two on Saturdays and another one on Sunday mornings if I wasn’t running a fitness instructor certification for my other job I worked as a Master Trainer…which meant doing several workouts and being active all day teaching a group of “soon-to-be” fitness instructors how to instruct classes. Again, another very fun and rewarding yet completely exhausting job…especially on this type of schedule.
All this, and I was barely making enough money to move out of my parents house to live in a small apartment with a roommate.
I’m not trying to discourage you here. If you have a passion for fitness and helping others, I 100% believe you should go for it!
I’m just saying don’t do what I did. Be smart about it and diversify your services from the beginning.
Have a plan, so you can make a great living, actually have a life, and love your job for years and years to come!
So, let’s talk about the signs of burnout, common mistakes, and steps you can take to avoid it.
Signs You’re Experiencing Burnout
When researching what exactly burnout looks like, I found some helpful information from Forbes Magazine and ACE (American Council on Exercise) that I felt was pretty spot on.
Forbes Magazine described burnout (in any profession) as “An extended period of time where someone experiences exhaustion and a lack of interest in things, resulting in a decline in their job performance.”
10 Signs You’re Experiencing Burnout:
- Lack of motivation
- Frustration, cynicism, and other negative emotions
- Cognitive problems – inability to pay attention or focus
- Slipping job performance
- Interpersonal problems at home and at work
- Not taking care of yourself
- Being preoccupied with work, when you’re not at work
- Generally decreased satisfaction
- Health problems
ACE listed some thoughts you might have when experiencing burnout. Have you ever said any of these things to yourself?
- I’m bored. My job doesn’t excite me anymore.
- Energy? I can barely get out of bed in the morning.
- I would rather be doing something—anything—else.
- I can’t seem to focus or finish a project.
- I’m late to work a lot lately. Some days I just decide to not even go in.
- If I have to listen to one more clients’ or coworkers’ problems I just may lose it!
- I can’t relax enough to unwind or even sleep.
- I feel depressed.
While it may feel embarrassing to get to this point, keep in mind that professional burnout is not uncommon, and there are some specific reasons why fitness professionals experience it.
“Personal trainers are often up early in the morning for work [and work late-day hours, as well],” says Franklin Antoian, ACE-certified Personal Trainer and founder of iBodyFit.com. “We’re on our feet all day. We talk with—and work out with—our clients. We don’t have a cubicle where we can catch a nap if no one is looking.”
Here are some common mistakes fitness professionals make that lead down this road. When you know better, you can do better!
3 Most Common Mistakes of a Fitness Professional:
Mistake #1: Training from early morning to late at night. Training clients from early morning until late at night according to their schedule, demands, and what is convenient for them. You have spots to fill, so you will take anyone at any time. Long hours can cause you to quickly lose your motivation.
Mistake #2: Limiting yourself to 1 type of service. You are attempting to make one-to-one client sessions your sole source of income because you want to provide a personal experience. Focusing solely on training and narrowing your options for providing other services narrows your opportunity for growth. Without diversification and down time between sessions, your programs will all begin to look the same and no longer be personalized.
Mistake #3: Working 6-7 days a week with no time off.
You’re working 6-7 days a week straight without taking any time off.
Many clients can only train during the time you would normally take off (like weekends). When any kind of opportunity knocks, you take it. You justify it by saying it’s only a few hours and you’re getting paid. Training is a very service oriented business and requires you give a lot of energy to others. You need downtime to replenish that energy.
With that said, here are some proactive steps you can take to make your fitness career one that you love!
How Fitness Professionals Can Avoid Burnout:
- Define what you consider a “full” schedule. Set your ideal schedule first and fill
appointments into that. Set parameters, boundaries, or policies around your schedule.
- Think of ways you can diversify your career. All of that physical activity takes its toll on you. Start thinking now of ways you can use your skills to provide additional services that don’t involve physical activity or training. What can you do online – providing articles or information, offering services or support online, starting a blog that is sponsored by your favorite products/programs, training others in doing what you do?
- Know what excites you. What do you get really excited to do? What’s your favorite class to teach, training session to run, client to train, etc.? Or maybe you actually get really excited about sharing health/fitness related things on social media or blogging? Take note of what you do and what is just the right amount of it on your schedule to keep you excited about what you do.
- Know what drains you. On the other hand, what do you notice yourself dreading or getting tired of quickly. If you have to psych yourself up to teach a class or train someone, it’s probably something you should consider eventually replacing on your schedule to stay excited about what you do and be good at it, too!
- Create your own definition of success. What do YOU consider success? Is it a job title or “fitness fame”? Or living on your own terms? Doing what you want, when you want with whom you want? Being limited by the amount of hours you can put in, or creating residual income, so you can make a living doing what you love without sacrificing more of your time? Be careful to create your OWN definition of success when you set out to do this, so you know exactly what you’re after and don’t get distracted by bright shiny objects. Think about your future and the kind of life that you want, so you can take the steps to get there!
This is quite the lengthy article, but I just want to help you avoid some of the mistakes I learned the hard way. Burnout is totally something you can avoid, and you can create ridiculous success in the fitness world working for yourself! You just have to be really clear about what it is you want and diversify yourself from the beginning.
I said it before, and I’ll say again that the SMARTEST step I ever took for my career was building a brand online, sharing things that help people, and reaching people all over.
It made my time in the gym so much more enjoyable (knowing I didn’t have to spend sun up to sun down and all of my weekends there), and it also gave me a creative outlet and a way to create an income where I didn’t freak out if I got sick and couldn’t train someone…or if I wanted to go on vacation that didn’t mean that I didn’t get paid. Definitely something to consider! And if you want more info on how I did it, I’d be happy to help! Just email me your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.