Personal Trainer Jessica StormI was real happy from what I got out of my recent conversation with Jessica Storm – some bona fide, real-world, implementable training info. Getting straight talk like this in Personal Training isn’t always easy to find – that’s why you see so many Personal Trainers just running in circles for years on end, because you can’t always get candid info from people in the business really doing it (that by the way is what this blog is all about).

Most of it comes from people looking to sell us products, or conferences looking to sell us tickets or systems. They’re full of good-sounding ideas, but they have little or no real-world application. Jessica isn’t involved in any of that kind of stuff – all she is through and through is a trainer. And in the process of creating her great small business she’s gone through a career progression to get there that a lot of us can probably relate to and definitely learn from.

Looking at Jessica’s career we see her exercising every privilege that comes with being a Top-Level Trainer –

  • Left a high-stress, burn-out inducing job to become a trainer
  • After working in a training gym, realized she could do this on her own
  • Has created a thriving training practice branded after herself
  • Runs a successful training studio with her own values and vision
  • Chose the place she preferred to live and set-up her business there

She’s taken her passion, made it into her career, and turned it into her business.

Sausage FestivalAlso, Jessica’s the first woman we’ve had on here, which is about time because a large number of the Super-Trainer readers are women.

Although I spoke to Jessica last month, her interview proved to be very relevant to the issues coming up on Super-Trainer recently. Issues like working for a training studio, small group training, and the role of education and credentials all got talked about.

Ok let’s get to it – the first thing I wanted to know was how’s Storm Fitness set-up?

Jessica: Storm Fitness specializes in In-Home training and one on one training. We aim to make our training as holistic as possible incorporating things such as boxing, plyometrics, yoga, pilates, balance drills – to expose the client to as many different scenarios as possible. Of course our main objective is always on strength training and form. We gear our workouts towards the individual and create a foundation based on their level and then continually build them up based on their goals and objectives. We have diverse clientèle which keeps training interesting for us since no two workouts are ever the same. For example, we have some semi-pro athletes who train pretty hard core as well as your average baby boomer that wants to get in shape and learn how to strength train so that they can do activities with their family and continue to live an active lifestyle – we build them up with a variety of different exercises and also put a strong emphasis on balance and core training.

We are a small company with only about 6 trainers – I like keeping the company more Mom and Pop like that so we can cater to the needs of the client and not let customer service slide by the wayside like it does with so many other businesses that get too large for their britches. I plan on keeping it small and maintainable – our clients are happy and like the personalization.

This idea of “staying small” that Jessica talks about here was talked about recently in our (secret) newsletter and was the subject of the book Small Giants by Bo Burlingham.

In talking about Storm Fitness, Jessica also got into what it’s like to work for her training business and the experience she tries to create for her employees. In the last post on Health-Club Horror Stories, the topic of working at a training studio was opened up, and here Jessica talks about what it’s like to work at hers:

The trainers at Storm Fitness are happy and love what they do. I treat them with a great deal of respect as long as they treat me with respect and are performing their job to the highest standards – this means always creating a positive and fun experience for the clients and showing up on time among many other things. If the trainers are responsible, knowledgeable and educated they are going to find it a great working environment and I won’t be on their backs. I get them clients and let them role with it – so it’s almost like they have their own little mini business –they are able to develop a strong working relationship with their clients. They also earn great money with the potential to earn over 50k a year with just 20-25 hours per week. If they keep a client for more than 3 consecutive quarters they are rewarded with a hefty raise. It shows me they are doing their job and building the clients program enough so that they are adequately challenged and want to keep with their program. In terms of clients, most of our clients stay long-term – probably about 75% of them and we really pride ourselves on that. We have plenty to teach them and can keep their programs challenging and fun for years and years to come.

Great point about the retention figures in high-end Personal Training. This makes maintaining or growing a practice very easy.

Each of our trainers has a specialty so I always try to make a good match when matching trainer to client – for instance, some of my trainers are tri-athletes and others focus on training people with disabilities. I am usually able to find a great fit and if I am not able to do that I make sure that I can always refer them to another company that I think can do the job in helping them out. It’s not about competition to me, it’s about helping people get the healthy lifestyle they desire and steering them in the right direction.

Jessica also touches on the idea of small group training that’s become so popular recently. If you listened to the conversation with Eric Cressey (and also Mike Boyle from last year) you heard the pros of this approach. Here’s her take on it:

The industry has definitely opened the doors to small group fitness and it has become quite popular especially since there is lots of money to be had in it. We do a bit of group training but still our primary focus is on the one-on-one training. I have found that when you get 4 or more people in a group it can sometimes start to become more like a large group exercise class and you often can lose that individual attention to detail and form which personal training is all about. You really can’t beat the customization of a personalized program for a particular individual – the client can see results and progress so much faster when the program is fine tuned to their exact needs and condition. That being said, even though small group training seems to be exploding I believe there will always be a place for one on one training in this business – it’s how it started out – it’s the staple and the main core.

Jessica also gave her input on the education debate in training. Even though we talked about it here in a previous post, this is a subject that isn’t going to go away. Personal Training remains an unregulated profession, and the areas of exercise, performance, and motivation, possess an almost unlimited number of variables that will lead to success. The trainers relying solely on education are always kind of shocked by this fact. Jessica got into this topic very honestly:

Jessica: Until you actually train a fair amount of clients – and different kinds of clients with very different body types, it’s hard to really get it. The best knowledge comes from years of just doing and training. As long as you have the right attributes to be a trainer, great personality, enthusiasm, responsibility and fitness knowledge to name a few, then the more experience you have training clients the better trainer you will be. I personally would much rather hire someone who loves what they do, has a great attitude, has trained a diverse clientèle in many different types of situations but may only have 1 certification and no college degree in exercise science, then someone who may have a great personality, thinks they already know everything because they have a degree in exercise science and 4 training certifications but has only been a trainer for 3-6 months. Really, it’s the years of experience and different situations that add up and that can take years – but it’s fun getting there so if you love what you do then find a good mentor and enjoy the ride of learning something from each and every client you train.

(I hope she doesn’t get any hate mail for that last one …)

Also, never ever stop learning and never ever think that you are at a place where you are bored and know everything there is to know about training. There is so much information out there and so much to learn. If you ever get to that place you need to go to a fitness conference or do something to try and inspire yourself because there is always someone out there who knows more than you or who you can learn something different from. You just can’t be closed off – that’s a terrible sign for a trainer and a bad road to head down. It could take a lifetime to learn everything there is to know in the world of health and wellness. Continue learning and experiencing things – nothing tops that! It’s the sign of a great trainer.

Billy Polson also went into this in detail in one of his audio clips which everyone can check-out – as did Gunnar Peterson. I just want to point out again that you usually hear the opposite from people selling courses and certifications, but when you talk to the top-dogs in the training industry, they all usually agree on this one.

Here on the Blog we talk about how the responsibilities of owning a business can get in the way of training and lifestyle. Jessica got into this a bit and her roles as a business person and Personal Trainer

Jessica: I still train about 35 hours a week of clients – that’s a lot considering that I run the business as well. I do all my own financing and sales, answering calls etc., So I am very busy. I don’t have to do much marketing because most of our marketing comes from word of mouth and people checking out our website. I find that I need to keep the training hours because my clients are the reason that I love what I do and I never want to lose site of that. When I don’t train many hours I find I lose touch with the training aspect of things and I don’t like being solely about the business. I need to have a fun side to it as well. This is why I choose to keep it small and manageable for me – I enjoy training and for now I believe that will always be a part of what I do. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing my clients successful at their goals – it truly makes my day and makes me proud to continue running the business!

Here’s Jessica’s take about being in a male-dominated field:

I did not find it an issue. In fact, I found there was a dire need for female trainers. Lots of women in particular really wanted the female perspective and felt that a woman trainer would understand her body better and what she desired. Not only that, I have also found that plenty of males have enjoyed training with a female trainer and sometimes even prefer their approach to that of a male trainer. My personal style is to be sensitive to the clients needs while also pushing them further than they believe they can go. I do this in a firm manner but without being overly forceful about it.

In our conversation she also talked in detail about her start in training, but this info is listed very candidly in the bio on her website: Jessica Storm’s Bio.

Also visit the other pages of her site to learn and understand what a top-notch training business is about. You can learn a lot just from looking at the services and offerings from training practices like this: Reston Virginia Personal Training. Hers is one of the top Personal Training websites you’ll ever find and should definitely model for aspects of your own site.

When me and Jessica initially talked it was on the phone for a recording like a lot of the ones you’ve heard on Super-Trainer. But I unfortunately lost the entire sound file in a computer crash – I guess I’m just not cut-out for this blogging thing :-( ! I was really upset about that because her passion and many more golden tidbits and details got expressed. But much thanks to Jess for going back and writing out these summarized answers to all the topics we discussed (it would have been kind of cheesy to record it all over again). As you’ve read, tons of good info has still come across.

As you can see, the inside scoop in this business is sometimes unconventional. There’s really not another profession or service like Personal Training, so the best info comes from people that have climbed up the ranks and learned how it works the hard way. Kind of reminds you of the old days when the best info was passed out around a camp fire. Just getting back to basics, that’s a lot of what Personal Training is about.