Five minutes after getting into fitness, everybody wants to become a personal trainer.

I’m going to save a lot of people from wasting their time reading this article.

If you get past the introduction, I’ll give you what I believe to be the best route to becoming a well paid, well respected trainer who enjoys their work.

If you don’t like the introduction, you won’t make it.

Don’t kid yourself.

This stuff takes a special person and you might not be them just because you love doing a few classes per week.

Being a great trainer is an art form that requires life long dedication – nothing less.

When I did my first ‘gym instructor’ course, 2 out of 32 in the class were working in fitness six months later.

That gives you an idea of the scale of the ‘failure’ rate.

I’ve had a small personal training/group studio, fitness camps of 200 people, worked with championship winning athletes, opened and closed a 5000 sq ft town gym and held fitness retreats in Africa.

Along the way I have spent thousands and thousands on mentoring, coaching and courses including travelling across the entire world to get the knowledge.

This is not to impress you but to impress upon you what it takes.

If you are not willing to do the following, you will not make a quality personal trainer/fitness coach.

Please don’t skip this.

I’ve seen WAY TOO MANY people invest hundreds and thousands of pounds in courses only to find it’s not the sexy bed of roses they thought it was.

Unfortunately there are a lot of poor to average coaches who make very good money because they get lucky with some good PR and this skews the beliefs about what is required.

However, if we play by the odds, you’re going to need to welcome the following into your daily life to make it as a quality trainer who really makes a difference.

  1. Dealing intelligently with people who act unintelligently without getting angry or frustrated.
  2. Living a constant quest to find out why people won’t listen through intense study of human psychology.
  3. Accepting that very few people will fully do what you ask them to do, then question you as to why things aren’t working.
  4. Getting up early and staying at the gym late for a long, long time. Yes probably on weekends too.
  5. Enduring lonely times in the gym training on your own because everyone’s at work when you’re able to train, discovering what really happens ‘under the bar’.
  6. Being peppered with questions, doubts and haters increasing proportionately with your success
  7. Feeling like you know less and less every time you learn something.
  8. Going to seminars and realising their are people who are doing 10x better than you in every way.
  9. Taking pretty much everything that happens to your clients personally for a long, long time.
  10. Getting up every damn day with a fired up attitude and being so good for long enough that ‘they’ have to notice.

If you are happy to welcome all of the above on a daily basis, let’s get down to it.

This is what I recommend you do, in this order.

Step 1) Do what you have to do to get insured and teach people safely

I usually recommend that people do the qualification that enables them to get insured in the quickest time possible.

This might sound like cutting corners and being cheap but it’s quite the opposite.

I want you to go do the real learning, the deep dive and the hard graft as soon as possible.

Qualifications are improving now but for me, too many are still very text book based and as soon as you hit the real world, you realise that something very, very different is required.

Like most things in life whether it be sport, business, learning to swim or bringing up a child, no book will prepare you.

You need to get in the arena BUT with putting safety first and with the attitude that you know nothing.

At this point, all you have is permission to take part.

You will soon realise that your first qualification gives you the right to…absolutely nothing.

Step 2a) Go intern with someone who has trained a variety of clients for at least five years

Five years probably.

You know what…ten would be best.

These people will have had successes, had failures, hit all the sticking points with new and old clients, and experienced how to work around various mental and physical blocks.

They will likely have thrown out a lot of the ‘amazing, groundbreaking secrets’ you learned on your course or at least sculpted them to chuck out the useless stuff.

They will know amazingly simple but powerful coaching cues that induce improvements in your clients in seconds.

I tried telling people to “maintain a neutral spine whilst loading before extending at the hips with maximal force and recruitment of the gluteus maximus starting with applying force through the heels”.

The results were average to poor.

One day I told a very wealthy, high powered lady to push her ass back like pulling a bow then imagine I was about to stick my finger up her bum hole.

Instant success!

Some people may ask for practical coaching on that.

I recommend not doing it, unless you charge a lot more.

Your mentor can also give you some VERY useful insight into the business side of things such as…

  • Why you should fire clients quickly
  • How to create a velvet rope around what you do so you avoid a lot of issues down the line with certain people
  • How to manage the considerable stresses of the job
  • How to not end up giving up your 9-5 job to replace it with a lower paid 5-9 job!

I call this 2a because I think you should do it in conjunction with 2b.

2b) Pay a reputable coach for fitness coaching

Do what they say.

Don’t mix it with what you think you’ve learned so far just because you want to try stuff out.

This is important because you learn what the coaching process feels like from the other side.

The doubts, the questions when life throws up new situations and difficulties and what accountability feels like. 

By hiring a coach yourself, you’ll soon see how tough it can be to focus and develop new habits that someone else wants a report on regularly.

You’ll soon find out that empathy and understanding on this front is often the hidden tripwire before you even get to try out your latest, greatest fat burning monster of a workout.

You will also learn what it’s like to have your limits pushed (and why those dumbass sessions you create with a million reps and 50 exercises are both stupid and unnecessary).

Step 3) Start training individuals not groups

It’s great to be in front of 30 people and feel like you’re commanding an army!

I love it!

However, if you want to really help people improve you need to develop your coaching eye with one person.

Next, try coaching 3-4 people and learning how to switch approaches for each individual and develop an eagle eye for the slightest errors in form.

This can feel like spinning multiple plates at first!

When you progress to large groups (if that’s what you want to do), you need to be able to make each individual feel like they were the only person getting your attention and that you were there every time they needed a push or a correction.

To do this you have to start small, learn how to scan a room, instantly note and correct form issues and detect and manage changes in atmosphere.

When I teach large groups nobody is left behind.

Everybody gets a ton of attention and the approach they need.

Can you switch from a bit of TLC and gentle encouragement for the new lady to aggressively dropping the trigger words you know Big Dave needs to fire him up and push himself to a new PR?

In conjunction with this, you may want to offer some free/discounted training to build up a bank of testimonials for marketing purposes.

However, this must always come with a signed contract that they will provide social media shouts and testimonial shots as payment.

This contract must be enforced otherwise you are just giving away your valuable time and knowledge.

Never train someone who puts less effort than you into their health and fitness.

Step 4) Study the brain and psychology

Once you are rolling with experiencing coaching yourself, delve into psychology.

No not more workouts or more diets.

I wish I had understood this because my success rate in my earlier years would have been much higher.

Study the triune brain.

Find out how sleep affects thinking and food cravings.

Understand why people have all the tools they need but seemingly ‘choose’ not to use them.

Your tools are worthless if your clients feel too threatened to use them.

This stuff truly is the key to the kingdom of creating life long transformations.

Beware when you delve into the human brain.

Everything you see in the gym and outside of it changes.

As Morpheus said in the Matrix…

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”

Step 5) Study nutrition

Now study nutrition in depth but do so from 30,000ft up.

Don’t get obsessed with one method.

Study all methods and note the similarities.

The logistics of nutrition will suddenly become so, so simple.

The differences between different diets rarely matter and you will see that all long-term successful diets look like this.

  • A calorie deficit is created 90% of the time
  • The person feels satisfied and not deprived
  • Variety is evident
  • They drink enough water
  • They get about 2g of protein per day per 1kg of lean bodyweight 
  • They eat vegetables at most meals
  • They eat enough carbohydrates to sustain hard training but not body fat
  • They eat enough fats to sustain optimal hormone and immune systems
  • They are adapted through personal trial and error

Step 6a) Go intern with a strength and conditioning coach

If the person you worked with previously has not dealt with athletes and sports people this is your next step.


Because when you work with an individual athlete or team you are generally not a priority in the weekly timetable.

This coach will have learned to become ultra efficient in how they train people and stripped away anything that didn’t deliver a clear and tangible training effect.

I swear 70% of what many trainers do in the gym with clients is utterly pointless.

These guys will teach you how to get the most out of every minute you have with a client in the gym.

You will learn to get the best results with the Minimum Effective Dose – this is crucial with people who are to busy as it is.

They will also understand more about stacking training phases so that each one builds on the last rather than just making stuff up and entertaining clients.

You will also likely see how things change when you work with people who have a clear goal.

Step 6b) Study annual programming

You might do this with the guy or girl mentioned above.

Like nutrition, look at how different coaches program over 3, 6 and 12 months but try to pick out the similarities rather than thinking that you need to learn 100 different methodologies.

You will usually find:

  • Total reps don’t vary between ideologies that much for power v maximal strength v hypertrophy.
    • For instance, we can argue about 5×5 v 4×6 x 3×8 but if we look from the outside, we see that they all recommend 24-25 reps. Don’t waste time arguing which is more effective.
  • Mixing power, strength, hypertrophy/supplemental, conditioning/power endurance work is a common theme. All that changes is the proportion of time given to each depending on the phase, goal and individual’s capabilities.

Step 7) Create 10 principles 

Having a set of principles/commandments/values helps give you an identity and bring a solid foundation to your approach and programming.

The methods chosen can and should change depending on the situation but your ‘core values’ will always be there.

These must be things you believe in and can communicate with knowledge, passion and accuracy to others.

If you believe in bodybuilding and the use of machines over ‘functional’ training and only ever using free weights, that’s your choice provided you believe in it 100% and use it consistently as a value that underpins your work. 

Step 8) Decide who you want to train

You don’t have to train everyone with a wallet and a pulse, as tempting as it is at first when you want clients.

This may be from the perspective of training athletes versus obese people versus those with learning difficulties etc.

Rather than choosing a narrow population to work with, you may just want to focus on deciding who you want to train by creating a set of coaching rules in the form of an agreement.

If someone is not willing to uphold the rules, you don’t work with them.

For example maybe you require the following to guarantee results:

  • They must train four times per week
  • They must give in a nutrition diary every week without fail and demonstrate 90% compliance.
  • They must have an additional monthly review/feedback session
  • They must turn up to training in your yellow polka dot branded t-shirt!

Often niche’ing who you will work with creates a strong demand from those who fit the niche and really get turned on by your rules and approach.

You have to be willing to turn down 99% of people to work with the 1% you need for a great business.

Part of this stage is also understanding your personality.

I’m all for living your dreams, but you might just not have the personality to be a great group fitness trainer.

Coaching thirty people with very different personalities, needs and reactions whilst making the whole thing an entertaining show is a high level skill like being an actor.

Your mood, bad day and fatigue are irrelevant.

If you can’t turn on the magic every single time, you will not make a good group trainer BUT…

…you might be the best 121 trainer on the planet.

Play the right game.

Step 9) Study relentlessly

This is a never ending step and should not be seen as the end or the last step!

You must keep looking for slight improvements to your systems.

As you go on, you will learn less and less groundbreaking stuff.

You are looking for the 2% that makes the difference.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that’s not important.

The difference between Olympic gold and not getting a medal is usually about 2%.

You should also accept that the more you learn the more you will realise you don’t know BUT you shouldn’t tear apart systems that have always worked for you just because someone has an improved method.

Make tweaks slowly and test them before you proclaim you have some new magic pill.

Don’t get over excited by anything and don’t let a gap in your knowledge panic you.

Stay open and avoid just looking for confirmation of what you already know.

Don’t argue with people.

Even if you are ‘right’ you can learn a lot about why people are confused and struggling.

Go meet them where they are then be so damn good they have to notice.