Article on choosing a Personal Training specialty originally published in PFP Magazine.

Lets all say it together now: Show Me The Moneeeeeeeey!

Let’s all say it together now: “Show Me The Moneeeeeeeey!”

Through this blog, emails, and speed coaching sessions I have held with MANUAL owners from time to time, I’ve talked personally to literally hundreds of trainers looking to start their own training business, get more clients, and make more money, and there’s one common obstacle I see coming up over and over again …

All trainers know they should charge higher rates – they just don’t feel they’re worth it.  This goes for trainers that were used to charging top dollar when working for the big sales factories known as big-box gyms, but once they go solo, they for some reason feel they’re no longer worth the high rates.

Charging high rates in a corporate sales factory, and not doing it when you’re a private high-level consultant providing the top services in the industry is pretty ridiculous if you ask me, but there has to be a reason for it, and that’s what we’ll get into now.

Of all the ways to get new clients, there really is no faster and simpler way to make more than to charge more, so this week  I’m going to feature a series of three articles where we’ll cover the reasons why you should charge higher rates.

You dont always need an excuse to be ridiculously expensive, but it helps.

You don’t always need an excuse to be ridiculously expensive, but it helps.

I use the word WHY instead of HOW because for you to charge higher rates, it often needs to be JUSTIFIED.  You have to have a reason why you’re charging the most, if for no other reason than you need to convince YOURSELF of the fact that you’re worth more.

And in reality, most businesses that have the highest rates have justified the higher rates in some way.  You can do the same thing.

These three articles originally appeared in Personal Fitness Professional Magazine and are based on chapters of THE SIX-FIGURE TRAINER MANUAL.  Even if you own THE MANUAL or caught these articles the first time they were in PFP, this should serve as a good reminder to put these principles into effect starting now at a high level.   Put them all together and you’ll get a much better idea of how to justify being the highest priced, most in demand trainer in town.

Specializing For Personal Trainers


At my barbershop recently I observed an interesting phenomenon. All the barbers there will cut the hair of anybody that walks through the door.  Every new customer is an adventure in haircutting for them, and I think that’s what holds them to $12 per haircut and such long hours – it’s the lack of specialization.

Health-club trainers are the same way; they’ll train anyone that walks in the door.  For that reason, most of them probably earn much less than my barber.  They train whoever they’re assigned, and it could be someone different every hour.  They think this allows them to see more clients and add to their incomes, but what it really does is hold them back and leads to their failure.
In medicine, we know that the doctors that earn the most money are the specialists.  But specialization in training doesn’t require an additional degree, or any other particular differentiating strength, at least not initially.

All it takes is a decision.

Once you’ve made this decision about what to make your specialty, it then becomes the focus of all your future work.  It guides the knowledge you accumulate and the clients you take-on.  It becomes the basis of your success image, how you describe your job to others, and all of your promotions and marketing.  Needless to say, it’s a pretty important decision to make.

It’s also essential for your job satisfaction and well-being.  If you don’t specialize, you’ll find your job-satisfaction begin to diminish.  We all need growth in order to be happy, and you’ll find mastery hard to achieve if you don’t specialize.  This then makes it hard to move on to anything greater in the future.  Just like any professional, your career and personal success are closely aligned. Therefore, it’s not only important for your happiness, but also one of the most crucial things you do for your success as well.  You’ll either burn-out or find your training practice die-out one day unless you make this choice early on.


My Search For A Specialty

When I first started as a Personal Trainer at a major health-club, I was expected to train anyone that was thrown at me.  With just a general understanding of overall fitness, me and all the other trainers were expected to be able to troubleshoot the problems of every potential client.  The only mastery the management in those positions was looking to instill in their employees was sales.  Indeed, the trainers you’ll find in most health clubs, even the best gyms, are a group of unhappy journeyman trainers moving from one place and one career to another.

After leaving my job as a health-club trainer and creating my independent practice, I unfortunately still continued to generalize.  Among my client roster was an 84 year old woman, a schizophrenic, and a 12 year old boy.  Weight-loss?  Sports Performance? Body-building? I was expected to know it all!  However, this kind of diversity didn’t give me the opportunity to specialize.  Since I didn’t consistently do one type of training, my ability to deliver an outstanding product to my clients was limited.  At this time in my career, I had a high level of client turn-over and couldn’t figure out why.  Although I had the thrill of being on my own, I was miserable: I didn’t like what I was doing or who I was training.  In fact, I  was actually looking to move out of Personal Training and find other work  because I was so unhappy with it!

This also created a lot of confusion from my potential clients.  They couldn’t understand or identify what I stood for and what problems I was skilled at solving.  They would see me with one type of client one hour, and another the next.  When any new potential client would see me in action in the gym training such a diverse range of clientelle, they probably could not identify in their mind that I was the right type of trainer for them.

This is a trap I’m sure many independent trainers have fallen into, but one they can ill afford.  Their success depends on differentiation – on developing what’s called these days a mavenship position, where everyone knows what you do and they find you when they need that problem handled. Here are a few more benefits:

  • Reduces your marketing costs – allows you to focus all of your marketing and advertising on a smaller group of potential clients
  • Keeps you training the people you want to train – people that you enjoy spending time with, that bring you satisfaction beyond just the money you earn.
  • Increases your level of expertise – you don’t have to spend your time studying information from every possible subject; you can instead concentrate on just one area, which is absolutely vital long-term in your career.
  • Creates mastery – causes the routine and repetition in activities that eventually leads to a superior quality of your training.
  • Competitive advantage – When you’re a specialist, you can slowly accumulate more knowledge in your niche than anyone else.  It makes it harder for new trainers to serve your same client base.

Choosing Your Specialty


Besides it’s importance, choosing your specialty is also one of the most fun things you can do.  It’ll force you to find yourself and analyze what you enjoy teaching as well as partaking in the most.  In some ways, you can turn your area of highest interest or your hobby into your specialty.

For me, choosing a specialty was built simply around the most obvious set of standards – my own training regimen and goals. I simply looked to attract people that shared my particular workout goals, and were willing to train at my level of intensity.  This narrowed the list down to people that were already in shape, that were younger so they could handle the intensity, and were looking to achieve outstanding, well-balanced bodies.  This specialty limited the total pool from which I could draw clients; for example, I could no longer train children or senior citizens. But at the same time it created a small group of clients that I was best suited to train.  When these clients met me or came in contact with me, they knew right away that I was the right trainer for them.

To put it in words, this is how I would describe my new specialty:

Helping committed and motivated individuals achieve a higher level of fitness and imrpoved appearance through intenst training and a results focused aproach.

This does sound king of broad, but it defined a pre-requisite ability level, stated what to expect from my training, and described what the client would have to be brining to the table.  If you’re already a trainer, you know that a large number of clients do not mee even the broad criteria I’ve outlined in that specialty.

Although I didn’t use these exact words all of the time, this specialty was apparent in all of my marketing materials and in how I described my services to other people.  And I backed it up big time – from their very first session, my clients knew that they were getting exactly what they signed up for: complete focus on achieving their best possible bodies with the absolute minimum in wasted time and effort.

Inherent in this new self-image were a few new rules:

  • I would no longer be training children
  • I would no longer be training senior citizens.
  • I would no longer be training individuals with tremendous pre-existing conditions that prevented them from engaging in intense exercise.
  • I would not be helping with post-rehab.
  • I would not be their to “baby-sit” people that had not intrinisic motivation.

Although this initially forced me turn away several new people that were seeking my help, it was well worth it.  Not only did it improve my work enjoyment and make my job much easier, it also helped me to see exactly the type of people that I most wanted to train: young, fit, and healthy people.  It might seem like I took the lazy route, choosing what I did most easily as my specialty and the people I wanted to be around as my clients.  But that’s just the type of synergy that this profession allows us, so it’s to your benefit to take advantage of it.

In instituting this system I did come across an interesting dilemma.  Through my exclusive training agreement with a health club I partnered with, I had many people asking for training that didn’t fit at all into my niche.  But, turning away all of these people wouldn’t be fair to the health-club’s owner, who was looking for the best possible service for all of his members.  Rather than compromise my standards, I hired two more personal trainers in order to handle these special populations for me.  They trained the children, obese, and complete novices, and allowed me to focus on my specialty.  This set-up allowed me to offer my training services to a wide range of people without creating a confusing image in the mind of potential clients.

Creating Your Own Specialty


In your quest to chose a specialty, you need to ask yourself a few questions:


– What are you naturally good at?

– What will yield a fairly large clientele?

– What specialties will you be able to carry further into different areas as your career expands?

You don’t need to be the best in the world at your specialty: you aren’t trying to reach a global market with millions of customers.  You just need to create an image of excellence and trust in your particular market and situation.  For that reason you aren’t really limited at all and have the freedom to do what you want; just think about the work that will be simultaneously the most fun and profitable for you to tackle.  This could fall into many different areas:

– Sports you enjoy

– Modes of exercise you engage in

– Special Populations you have an interest in

– Your own specific skills

– Your own particular fitness goals

Here are some examples of potential specialties for you to chose from:

Senior Citizens

If you are looking for a very non-demanding client group, you have specialized work or education credentials, or just have a love for older people, specializing in training seniors may be good for you.  For those that find this population a good fit, there are many potential benefits:

– They have a lot of free time to devote to their training

– Many are looking to train for the rest of their lives

– Many have lots of money

– They aren’t too demanding for results, just looking for an improved quality of life.

If being around senior citizens is meaningful to you, this could prove to be an excellent niche that can easily grow to be a highly lucrative career path.  The aging baby boomer population and the increased life expectancies through medical science will make this a very large market that will only continue to grow.  And if you can properly explain the value of your expertise and credentials, you should also be able to charge higher rates than traditional trainers.  Just make sure that you seek the affluent segments of the elderly population as the focus for your market.


On the opposite end of the age spectrum are children, which are unfortunately the fastest growing part of the obese population.  Many of us just find it rewarding to work with children; they’re fun to be around and it feels good to know you’re making a difference in a person’s future.  They are also very easy to work with from a training design stand-point; the only thing that matters to them is lots of fun and activity.  And your market is assured, because if there’s one thing that parents are willing to spend money on, it’s their children.

If your practice is designed around weight loss for kids, you’ll have to keep an eye on results.  In this type of practice the results may actually be more dependent on your coaching of the parents in choosing the right foods for the child and encouraging them to participate in sports.  This greater contact with the parent is also important because for all purposes the parent is your real client – keeping them happy is the key.

With children, another major but entirely different market for training is sports perfromance.  Parents are very competitive when it comes to the performance of their children at sports.  In general small group training and camps centered around making children faster, stronger, and more competent in their sports is an area with room for tremendous growth.  The national training chain CATS is built around this area, and it’s major focus of numerous successful private trainig facilities such as The Fitness Edge in Colombus Ohio and Philbin’s Family Fitness in Gaithersburg Maryland.  On a smaller scale, this is a strong basis to begin a Personal Training practice as well.  The child training market is huge and at this point still largely untapped.  Of all the training markets, this one has the most potential for growth.


This is the specialty of Personal Trainer David Kirsch in New York.  How’s that for loving your work?  As an exercise, let’s consider how you would you go about making this your specialty.  The truth is, if you made this your specialty people would simply believe you – they’d have no reason not to.  You could just put this information on all of your materials – whenever you sought a joint venture with another business or told people about what you do, you could tell them improving the bodies of the already naturally gifted was what you specialized.

You would certainly have to spend a little time to in the beginning to think about the goals needs of this market, and probably have to develop systems and assemble principles around which to achieve them.  But does this sound conceivable?  Of course it does – that’s the beauty of this profession.

The list of potential specialties is endless. Although we talked about how a decision is the only barrier to entry, it’s true that some of them do require some specialized knowledge and skills and it may take a little time for the new trainer to build these areas.  Many new trainer may not have even completely thought out what they’re particular skills or interests really are.  That’s fine as long as you make this a priority that you seek to achieve as your career contiues.

Until then, my specialty is one that every trainer can relate to and use for themselves.   As you’ll remember, my training specialty put very simply is providing intense training with an eye on results.  This is probably the most popular reason why most people seek Personal Training in the first place so feel free to borrow mine until you fully explore your interests and craft your own.

But remember this is cornerstone of every trainer success story.  Look at Gunnar Peterson and his reputation of creating Hollywood Bodies, Jason Ferrugia and improving the performance of Mixed Martial Artists, or Cynthia Conde and her Bridal Bootcamp; all of these were possible because they don’t try to cater to everyone.  It’s just that for the small portion of people they have decided to servive, they are now the go-to choice.

Even if you’re a trainer at a health-club right now, choosing a specialty and letting your fitness director and fellow trainers know about it will make a huge difference in your client load.  When your director encounters the type of clients that fall into your niche, you’re the first person that’ll come to mind.  Your fellow trainers will do the same as well – why shouldn’t they? You’ll be sending them all the clients that you can’t accept because they don’t fall into your specialty.

And of course if your on your own or have a facility, it’s a decision you can’t live without, and that’s why you won’t see any major independent trainers or training facility succeed without one.

So have fun choosing your specialty; if you already had one, re-define or refine if it isn’t serving you perfectly.  This’ll be one of the most rewarding things you ever do and will make a huge difference in your career right now and in the future – it’ll be the difference you can ride straight to the top!


Stay tuned later this week for parts 2 and 3 of this series.