There isn’t a more dreaded term in Personal Training than BURN-OUT. Think of it as a kind of purgatory where life starts to lose pleasure and meaning, without an end in site.

It might sound like I’m exaggerating, but this is a place that a lot of Training careers end up and eventually die-off. Some just assume it’s the inherent flaws of the career itself that leads to BURN-OUT. In reality there were probably a lot of things you could have done along the way to save you from this problem and lead to continued happiness with Personal Training. So just like a dreaded disease, right now let’s get into the causes, prevention, and cure.

For that I brought on the couple that wrote the book on the topic, literally: Chris and Brianne Snook, who are the authors of the book Personal Trainer’s Burnout. Brianne is a former Personal Trainer herself, and both have been active in some way in the fitness industry for more than a decade. I loved the book because most of it read just like an expanded version of The Whistleblower Report, going over a lot of the same benefits, shortcomings, and misconceptions about the industry and work in general in our society. If you’re a trainer that’s been working for a little while you’ll be able to relate to a lot of what’s talked about in the book. If you’re new to the industry, the book’s essential for you as you get to planning your career.

Chris was great enough to join me on the phone for a conversation which you can listen to right here:

Talking to Chris Snook

It turned out to be an excellent conversation and as you could tell, the subjects we talked about were a lot broader than just fitness. If you’re feeling too lazy to read the book, here are my choicest passages from it –

Here are the Snook’s talking about the negative conditioning regarding work in society:We have been taught for over 14,000 hours, from kindergarten through 12th grade, how to be a good employee, not an employer. From the age of five on, we are taught to start at the bottom and work our way to the top of someone else’s company.

Most of us have never been taught how to start our own company. The question you have to ask yourself is “Who do I know personally, that started at the bottom, and now owns the company?”

We were never taught how to be an entrepreneur. We were never taught to begin at the top and to fill in the rest on our own. The big corporations know this, and the owner of these companies inside and outside of our industry are the ones who donate millions of dollars to universities nationwide.”

Haha – sounds like a conspiracy to me!

Here they talk about setting boundaries when it comes to your clients: “Don’t be a whore to your clients and put up with whatever they want, just because they’re paying you $50 to $100+ an hour. You are worth whatever you are getting. The minute you realize that providing your clients with proper guidance to getting fit and living a healthier lifestyle is enough, you will fell comfortable creating straightforward boundaries with them, and your sessions will be mutually satisfying.”

Setting these professional boundaries is important, which they brought up when describing the trap a lot of trainers fall into: becoming Dr. Phils. This is where they just end up soaking up their client’s problems. It’s important to make it clear that you’re not a sounding board for your clients problems and cut-off any of this type of conversation early on. In my sessions, I always look to keep this in mind, and no matter what keep the atmosphere positive and fun with all the attention on the workout itself.

Here was another point I agree with strongly: Never let your pipleine of new prospects get cold, When your client book is finally full, start promoting yourself even more.”


And here’s one more I liked: “Going into business alone, with no mentorship or proven system, is the riskiest of all propositions. This is why we strongly recommend you find a system that is proven and plug yourself into that system so that you can benefit from the experience and knowledge of someone who has already figured out the game you are playing. This way, you can work for yourself but not by yourself!”

That’s just a sampling of some of the great info that was in the book. Here’s the link Chris mentioned to picking up the book for just the price of shipping.

First off, I’m realy happy we’re even tackling the subjects of overwork, job-dissatisfaction, and the blurring of life and career goals. This is a luxury we have as trainers, and one that people entering most careers don’t spend a minute thinking about. I’d blindly estimate that 90% of people live their lives in a state of burnout. If they’re lucky, it’s only money that gets them by – unfortunately they have to trade their entire waking lives for it.

Burn-out isn’t discussed in other fields. It’s just considered part of the territory; something you have to self-medicate yourself through. But in Personal Training that’s not acceptable. This is a career based on passion, energy, vitality, being an example and role-model to other people. For that reason, burn-out’s a serious thing that needs to be avoided at all costs.

Before we go on, we need to point out that burning-out is not the same as copping-out. You’ve got to achieve something before you get burnt out. BURN-OUT is NOT that you can’t find any clients; it’s NOT that you’re tired of looking for clients; it’s NOT that you’re earning bad hourly pay; it’s NOT wanting to sit on your couch and play with your X-Box instead of actually working toward your goals. Although Chris and Brianne’s definition is a little different, in my mind it’s achieving the initial success you set out for, but then not being able to maintain the success and fulfillment that first came with it.

Personal Training and the fitness industry are relatively new and largely unregulated fields, so not much of a career track or progression is mapped out for us. It’s exploded, with conferences everywhere, at least a dozen reality shows, and something like 10,000 new trainers entering the field every year (that can’t be right can it ?!?!), but it’s still not clear where all this can lead. Even though the sky’s the limit in the health and fitness field, most trainers don’t always have direct access to any role-models that have taken Personal Training to a high level and walked on to greener pastures (if you read SUPER-TRAINER, that’s not you).

Super-Trainer was created to be part of the answer to that, because without some sort of plan you can easily get stuck in a rut. Just like every single other aspect of training, your career path is all on you.

There’s a certain rush when you’re young and you start your personal training business, become an independent Personal Trainer, and all of that. Where you can go on a shopping spree at the mall after one shift, or eat dinner at the most expensive restaurant in your neighborhood for less than the money you earned in just one hour. You feel like you’re ballin’, but trust me, that feeling can wear off quick. Even me, super-cool trainer man, has felt this monotony and lack of sustainability set in too. Don’t get me wrong – I recommend every trainer go through the phase where your income grows and your marketing and client roster stabilizes. You can’t move forward until you’ve mastered this part. Once you get there, you’ll realize that Personal Training can be easy and not require much effort to maintain. But even this best of situations can get monotonous, or on the flip side, our efforts to over-expand on a good thing can become overwhelming.

In addition Personal Training is a very labor and emotion intensive profession. You’ve got to be ON for it. This is great when you’re very young, when it’s fun and challenging, and the income is fulfilling. But if you’re earning low hourly rates and need to work a ton of hours to make decent money, or you earn a high hourly rate but have gotten used to a lifestyle that requires you to work a ton of hours to support, at a certain point, BURN-OUT is inevitable. Despite the fact we feel indestructible at times, we’re all human – you’ll eventually find yourself grown out of your britches and sapped of your energy and motivation. You end up with nothing more to give.

It’s up to you to pump fresh new challenges into your work, find new situations that will challenge you, and grow your knowledge in different ways. Just throwing in a new angle or twist into what you’re doing will do that – here’s a list of some immediate cures:

  • Raise your rates – this naturally brings a certain excitement to what you do, and will force you to be creative and think of more ways to bring value to sessions.
  • Fire some clients – get rid of clients that aren’t holding up their end of the bargain. If you consistently dread seeing a certain client, it’s a good sign you need to get rid of them.
  • Specialize – further hone your set of skills so that you can take on a more challenging group of clients.
  • Become active in the training industry – talking to other serious trainers will reinvigorate you
  • Start planning your JUMP – that’s what your next career step in training might be: A training center? Health-club? Further specialization? More education? Writing?
  • Get in better shape – take the high-level of effort and discipline you preach to your clients to a higher level in your own life. This will make you a better trainer, improve your image, and lead to greater satisfaction.
  • Improve your image – set yourself apart as the best trainer. Look the part, improve your marketing materials, conduct yourself like one of the top trainers in the country.
  • Get more clients and get better clients – refine your marketing process so the headache of where your clients are coming from isn’t something you need to worry about anymore.
  • Improve your social life and expand your outside activities – spending time on renewal, taking vacations and blocks of 3-4 days completely off at least once a month will really re-charge your batteries.

You could also add “start cool blog” to this list, but that’s entirely optional. My ways of keeping the career fresh has run the entire gammut, and I’m still implementing new things.

Another quote I forget to mention from the book is that your income will be the average of the five people you spend the most time with. I couldn’t agree with that more. The most amazing benefit I’ve gotten from this career are the lessons I’ve learned from my clients – being able to meet and model dynamic and successful people I would otherwise have never had access to. While they pay to model our enthusiasm for fitness, this is a benefit that we can get for free from our clients.

For me in even my relatively short career as a trainer, BURN-OUT’s been something to avoid like the flu. But it’s pushed me to work smarter and harder. I hope I didn’t paint Personal Training out to be TOO easy – but at least you can’t call it boring!


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