ABANDON EVERY HOPE, ALL WHO ENTER HERE ….
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:
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!
If you liked this post, wait ’til you read what’s NOT being said on the web:
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Important post! When you pour yourself into anything with all your heart, you are going to generate stress. How that stress plays out can lead down two paths, eustress & amp; distress. The former is positive and makes us grow. The second is what leads to “burn-out.”
I love your emphasis on learning, growing and expanding your base of knowledge and experience. I’ve found that this is one of THE best ways to avoid the path of distress and generate the positive eustress.
All the best,
Another correct masterpiece of vital information. Although, I don’t believe this would be a big problem for a newbie trainer. It is easy to get lured into the money making aspect of the industry, and that is where the root of the burn out problem lies. Example: For several years I grew very comfortable with consistently making $1000/ day doing in home personal training here in San Diego, CA. My work days were long, typically 17 hours due to long commuting times piled on top of seeing 10 clients. I found myself getting home at 10:00PM, sleeping 5 hours and repeating the process for 6 more sleep deprived days. I admit, I was starting to feel crispy early on in my career, but I wasn’t sure if it was a result of the long commutes on California highways, or if the clients I was seeing sucked the life out of me.
In time, I finally realized I had to cut back on my schedule or self destruct! The decision was difficult to make, due to my lust for $.
This is how it began: Once I started making $24K per month my lifestyle demands increased exponentially. I soon found myself closing escrow on a 1 million dollar 4000 sq ft home in coastal Carlsbad, CA, buying a new Infinity FX45 and other luxury items. I figured my income could easily support these things.
I Soon found myself a slave to my huge mortgage, property tax’s and new car payment. Funny, but I thought these luxury items would cure the lethargy I was feeling,but the high of the newness was fleeting. It soon became evident to me that these luxuries only made me prisoner to a 17 hour work day. How stupid I now feel.
Long story short, I sold the house last month, took a $225,000 loss due to a crumbling housing market here in Cali, and downsized to a 1100 sq ft condo with a much smaller mortgage. My life is now easier with this monkey off my back, I work less and delegate to the 4 other trainers who work for me. I feel much richer mentally and physically even though I slashed my salary. Money isn’t everything!
I hope trainers can learn a lesson by reading this comment. I have been in this industry since 1998, and each day is a lesson learned.
Rivak – whoa, didn’t hold anything back there buddy – thanks for bringing your voice to this post. And yeah that should be a lesson to a lot of trainers –
Funny how much our financial goals mirrored each other, and how we’ve ended up in similar work and living situations – my initial goal when I started getting success as an independent trainer was to buy a home, and I nearly ran myself into the ground trying to achieve it – now I live in an amazing condo too, which happens to be where I train most of my clients.
And yeah, that first thousand dollar day is unbelievable – in your mind, you almost declare that you’ll do whatever it takes to get more of them – but like Biggie said, “mo money, mo problems” –
I loved the input from you guys. Right now I’m waiting to make my move into starting a training business. It seems like a lot of work, but it looks like I need to be careful of letting the work get to me. Even though making $100 bucks an hour sounds amazing, you guys are right – you can’t just work all the time. That’s just gong to burn you out.
I read this book and agree with many of the points you highlighted, but was disappointed at the end when I realized it was written to promote their multi-level marketing . It’s a clever idea, but I felt “conned”.
I have been training for 15 years and go through periods of staleness. My best remedies are scheduling vacations every six weeks, I go to at least 2-3 inspirational conferences each year( great write off) and I no longer work Fridays. I am basically working part time – 35 to 40 clients a week and and still manage a comfortable income that supports my lifestyle. No amount of money can replace the incredible sense of freedom I have . After growing up in a traditional Irish Catholic home where hard work was a normal way of life I am grateful for this career that differs so much from the work-centric life of my parents.
Haha! Yeah Jim I know what you mean – that kind of threw me for a loop – but in general I found the content to be real good – like you know already, hardly anything good out there is going to be TOTALLY free – I mean, I’m selling stuff on this blog now too – it’s just up to us as readers and customers to make up our own minds and use the info that serves us and our purposes.
just bought the book, let you know my opinion when I finish, I too have learned to “manage” my time = $$$, 1/2 day Friday, only 2 nights till 7pm only, 2 days finish by 1pm, always time for me.
I just finished it – I thought it was really good. It made a lot of sense and opened my eyes to a lot of what was going on. The end was weird, but what do you expect. If they’re giving out all of this free information they’re going to want something for it – that’s just common sense.
But I agree with what you said Kaiser here and in the newsletter – there’s nothing wrong with training, just that if you’re not careful you can get caught in one of these traps. Thanks for the site, and I agree with you – this is definitely required reading for every trainer!
Another great post! It’s so true that we’re never taught to be entrepreneurs. I took an entrepreneurship class in college and it really impacted my future-my class project was about running my own gym, complete with business plan! Obviously my career took a slightly different path, but the information was invaluable. Take a class, read up on the subject, go to seminars, work with a mentor-it’s really a total change in mindset from what we’re taught our whole lives.
The advice about never letting your pipeline get cold is vital. I’m always fully booked, but I’ve been impacted by the economic meltdown. I recently lost four longtime clients in two weeks-a Fannie Mae employee, a political appointee, a client who had to bale their kids out so they didn’t lose their house, etc.-all due to economic conditions. Luckily, I kept marketing and taking on new clients even though I didn’t feel I had the time, figuring there would be some impact on my business. I’m back to being fully booked, but that was a very stressful 2 weeks! You can be the busiest trainer in your area, but especially in the current economy, it can rapidly disappear. Be prepared and keep marketing always!
Yeah I agree Doug – that’s another one of the great things about training – it teaches you to be an entrepreneur, with kind of house money. You learn to manage yourself and clients as a business, and your business grows as your skill grows. It’s a great experiment and learning experience for anyone that has the goal of owning their own business –
Yeah, sucks about the economy – hasn’t hit me yet, but it’s only a matter of time – trainers are among those that’ll feel it, but you know what? Entrepreneurs are the ones that learn to adapt to whatever happens – I don’t want to add any more fuel to the panic, but I’m thinking of writing a post about the situation soon.