Should I be an Independent Personal Trainer or Work at a Gym?

Should I be an Independent Trainer or Work at a Gym?

Things You Need To Know:
1.  Gyms can provide a safety net and potential community of experienced trainers to learn from.
2.  Gyms have a harsh income ceiling and can restrict your overall growth as a trainer.
3.  Sky is the limit for your business as an independent trainer.
4.  Being independent has its share of challenges.
5.  Everything considered, being an independent trainer is the best option for a personal trainer.

 A common question encountered by newly certified personal trainers is…

“Should I be an independent trainer or work for a gym?”

Or, for personal trainers who are an employee of a gym…

“Is it in my best interests to become independent?”

These are tough questions to tackle, as they should be.  The answers have a large effect on your eventual income and growth as a professional.  After working at one of the biggest gyms in the world (considered a comfortable job position), and leaving said gym and having a successful independent business, I have first-hand experience with the benefits and challenges faced with each choice.  In addition to my experience, I have also taken into account the advice and musings of some of the top trainers in the country.  Between both I have derived a list of highlighted positives and negatives to both career routes.  This is not the end all list but should highlight the key concepts of each option.  Below I have highlighted some of the benefits and challenges faced by independent trainers and those employed by a gym.

Benefits of Being Employed by a Gym:

  1. Under the Brand Umbrella:
    As part of a gym, especially a bigger brand like LA Fitness or 24 Hour Fitness, you immediately are represented by the brand and you represent them.  Potential clients immediately recognize the brand and what it represents.  As a new trainer this can be nice for finding your initial clientele.  The gym will find its membership and you will have access to this membership.
  2. Constant Contact with Gym Members:
    This can provide a nice advantage initially for a new trainer, as you are surrounded by hundreds of potential clients who have already acknowledge an interest in their fitness. In-between training sessions you can interact with members and build relationships.
  3. Minimum Wage Hours While You Build Your Business:
    Often gyms will have newer trainers manage the front desk and monitor the gym floor as the trainer builds their business. This often provides you some income to survive and pay bills while you are building your clientele from scratch.
  4. Opportunity to Watch and Learn from Other Trainers:
    As part of a trainer team, you have the ability to learn from trainers who have started their businesses.  Learning training logistics, coaching techniques, and business approaches.  Experience levels will vary at gyms but depending on the gym this could provide the new trainer an early advantage to learn while they build their business.
  5. Ideal for Those Who Are Not Self-Starters.
    Kind of self-explanatory, but those that like to have a boss and have business goals set by others will appreciate this environment. Though, if you are not a self-starter becoming a personal trainer will be a tough gig to be successful.  The success of your business hinges on you selling your service.

Challenges of Being Employed by a Gym

  1. Low Income Ceiling
    According to payscale.com, for the average training session gyms will collect 63% of your training rate. That means on average you are only collecting 37% of your training rate.  Even at the most well regarded facilities your commission will top out at 50%.  Tough to swallow when your clients pay for your services.
  2. Controlled Training Rate
    In addition to taking 2/3rds of your income, gyms will control your training rate based on their guidelines for business needs, your education, and your experience. Imagine you have little control of what you charge clients and you don’t see much of that rate.
  3. Restricted Client Pool
    At most membership gyms, your potential clients must be members prior to training with you. This adds a significant barrier for potential clients you find outside of the gym.
  4. High Pressure Sales Demands.
    You will be required to meet an expected number of training session per month for satisfactory standing with the gym.  In addition, many big box gyms will require you meet add-on sale requirements (supplements, etc).
  5. Restricted Location
    You are often restricted to one location. Training clients at home or outdoors is typically not allowed.

Benefits of being an Independent Trainer

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  1. Freedom to Control Schedule
    As your own entity you have control over how much you train and when you train. You are not under the pressure of meeting gym requirements.  You can be a full time or part time.
  2. “Sky is the Limit” Income Ceiling
    As an independent trainer you collect a high percentage of your training rate even after business costs. Trainers using Guided Fitness collect 90% of their training rate.
  3. Establish Your Own Brand
    Build a business that highlights your clients success, your training style, your approach to fitness. Build your dream fitness business.
  4. Reach Out to a Larger Client Pool
    Your outreach can be highly localized or anything up to international expert. Who you market to is completely up to you.
  5. Train Anywhere
    You can train client at their homes, outdoors, and rent space at a gym(s). Trainers using Guided Fitness have access to a network of gyms in their area for no cost.

Challenges of being an Independent Trainer

  1. Business Growth is 100% Your Responsibility
    The success of your business completely hinges on you.
  2. Building a Brand Takes Time
    It takes consistent effort every day. Building an online presence, building your professional network, and building an army of raving fans ready to bring other to you, it all takes time and does not happen overnight.
  3. Not Part of a Training Team
    You will need to build your network of mentors.
  4. Continuing Education is not reimbursed
    You will need to invest in your education. Not all gyms reimburse for continuing education but when you are on your own you are on the hook for any costs.
  5. Absorb Business Costs
    Any starting business costs, equipment costs, marketing costs, etc, are now costs of operating your business.

What is best?

Regardless of if you are an employee at a gym or an independent trainer you are primarily responsible for the growth and success of your business.  That said, if you want to…

–  Maximize your income.
–  Build your own brand.
–  Have a positive impact a larger community.
–  Focus on building strong client relationships, not pushing sales numbers.
–  Build a business that fits around your lifestyle.

Then you should be an independent trainer.  If you are a newly certified personal trainer or employed at a gym and nervous about making the switch to independence there is a solution that meets your needs.

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Have all the tools of starting, managing, and growing your new independent business with Guided Fitness.  Guided Fitness is the best resource for independent personal trainers.  Providing a network of gyms for you to use at no cost, the tools to manage your business, and the tools to grow your business.  For more information on Guided Fitness, visit How It Works for Guided Fitness Trainers.

“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

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-Coach Nick Tyree BS, ACSM, FMS, TPI
Co-Founder & President of Guided Fitness
Weight Loss & Lifestyle Expert
Ultra-marathoner
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2 Responses

  1. Great article Nick. A few questions.

    -how do you find your clients? Where do you advertise?

    Thanks for the article.

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