4 years ago in March, I wrote a blog where I broke down the pay scale of trainers at various gyms, and helping the buying side understand what it’s like to be a trainer, showing what the trainer’s take-home is and the struggle behind it. While the information is most likely no longer accurate (some of these gyms no longer exist and have been either bought out or have gone bankrupt, while others ended up making their pay structure more attractive to trainers), the points remain the same for the most part.
What I wanted to do now is provide an update and because I am on vacation as I write this, I will ask that you simply trust me, and for those who know the information already, back me up. If you open up a fitness magazine, you will find ads that say something along the lines of “work your dream job”, “get paid doing what you love” or “get paid to work out” (the latter is bad for the client, btw) and then offering some kind of online personal training certification (accredited by NRGB, or Not Recognized Governing Body. That’s a joke, btw). These ads a few years ago use to say “make up to $50/hr” and now are down to only advertising $30/hr. Last I checked, that’s going in the wrong direction in relation to inflation.
The health and fitness industry is one of the fastest growing industries. Attend any fit expo (LA Fit Expo, IDEA FIT, IHRSA) and you will see more gear, apparel, supplements, programs than you can imagine. And (very much like myself), the trainers that have been around for a long time try to branch out (to make passive income, independent of the one hour/one client model, or running a small studio which is running 2 jobs). What’s also happening is that the average yearly income of a trainer is under $32k, with a workload of over 60 hours of clients trained per week. The road to burning out is paved with well intended workouts… The career-span of a trainer is 18-36 months. For some organizations, that’s awesome: it’s a constantly renewable source of customers to whom you can sell the same stuff over and over and never need to update your content. The more seasoned of us still, in some cases, buy into those “memberships” to keep active, but with little ROI, honestly, other than being in a community of friends which can sometimes make you lose sight of the forest for the trees.
So, there you have it. The average trainer makes under $32k/year. Works their butt off, burns out and then looks for a way out. I’ve said it before: a true trainer doesn’t enter this field for the money. Some get lucky, some take risks which don’t pay off, while some treat it like a gig better than waiting tables until something better comes along. I once recall some young kid coming up to me when I was working in a corporate box to “be a trainer as a Summer job” (no comment).
If you’re an aspiring trainer: this doesn’t have to be you, but you gotta be sure you’re willing to sacrifice a lot to get a little in the beginning, and if you stick it out, you’ll make something of yourself (read on, so you can be in the category I am about to mention). If you’re a potential customer, you HAVE to vet your potential trainer: ask what’s their skin in the game, do they have another job, how long have they been doing it, what’s their retention rate etc? If the answers satisfy your needs and you feel that the trainer has a commitment to their craft, which translates into a commitment to their clients, you will also realize that that trainer makes more than $32k/year. If you’re going to trust your body to a millionaire doctor, trust your body and your money to a seasoned, dedicated, educated trainer.
So, trainers, the odds are not in your favor starting out. I see a revolving door at the gym of trainers who don’t last. Fastest growing industry with the highest amount of turnover. Corporate gyms grow, studios struggle. But those who stick around are the gems you want to train with. And in that case, the pay per hour is worth it (and still understand that from that, you deduct: gym fees, Uncle Sam, insurance, accreditations, equipment, permits etc, so it takes a significant amount of time and volume). True labor of love!