How much money does a trainer make? (Part 2)


Last week I delved into how just because you pay boatloads of cash for your membership at the “plasma screens’R’us” and “supermodels work the front desk” doesn’t mean you get the best trained coaches. Yes, they are certified, went through an in-house training program (some parts they had to pay for, yet is mandatory if they want to work).
Now I’m going to tell you the nitty-gritty stuff that only an employee knows, and to get access to this, I had to be undercover.

Just like I do, they offer sliding scales rewarding frequency of training and volume purchase. The more you buy and/or the more frequently you train, the more you save (or the less you pay per session). Makes sense, good business model and the prices are also all spelled out for you. As a matter of fact, you get to see all the options up front, and they throw in an incentive which is your Day Of Join, and another on your Day Of CPT (Complimentary Persona Training session). They have 60 and 30-minute long sessions to accommodate your busy schedule, or your limited budget if you do want training but can’t quite afford or spare 60 minutes to achieve your goal (that’s what TiVo’s for, or last season’s DVDs of Nip/Tuck if you want to save on cable, by the way, or save time, but that’s another story).
The rates are fair, to be honest, and given the choice, I’ve seen some good trainers there (Encino location), though some could benefit from reading my post on functional training (and so can you if you don’t want to get duped by a fancy word that helps sell). All trainers are at the same rate level. Their payout is dependent solely on their productivity. The more they train, the more they get paid (obviously) but the greater their percentage, or cut.
Here’s how they break it down:
1) Trainer gets 30% of what you pay if they train less than 15 hours a week.
2) 35% between 16 and 30 hours per week.
3) 37% between 31 and 35 hours per week.
4) 40% for anything above 36 hours per week.

Training over 30 hours is honestly hard to achieve in a week. Not impossible. There will always be a cancelation here and there, be it with 24 hours notice or not. No pay if proper notice, pay if under 24 hours, but since you didn’t work the hour, it doesn’t count towards your “fulfillment pay”, meaning you can get 35 hours paid at only 30% if 5 people canceled without proper notice. That’s rip-off #1 by the gym to the trainer.

At Equinox, trainers belong to 3 “tiers”. Top tier gets paid the most. Bally’s used to have that system, which was based on certifications (the more specialties and certifications you have the more you can charge, like a car with many options), but I understand it changed. At Equinox, the tiers, or levels, only have to do with your seniority in the gym. You can have a Master of Kinesiology, a Ph.D in biology, NASM and RKC, you’re still going to start putting weights away, handing towels and do floor time, or prospecting, for $8/hr. If you’re RKC (Russian Kettlebell Certified), you’re not allowed to touch a kettlebell (for instruction) until you’re Tier 3, sometimes Tier 2 if you pay for an Equinox-designed kettlebell workshop (with questionably knowledgeable instructors).
Now, YOU pay even more than at Bodies In Motion, but your trainer gets just as little! And, if you are a fit, coordinated, advanced lifter/athlete, your trainer, though potentially overqualified, is still not allowed to train you at YOUR level, with HIS/HER expertise. It’s a great way to keep you doing the safe stuff. While I am a fervent proponent of the basics, there are some things I just don’t believe in and cannot ethically make a person do them just because some bureaucrat decided for me, not knowing my client. Result: you don’t get what you asked for. Rip-off #2

Gyms like to overstaff their facility, resulting in trainers competing for the same pool of clients. Instead of having a trainer work say, 10 clients for 20 sessions, you have 5 trainers fighting for those 10 clients, getting 2 each and working 4 hours each instead of 20. Great for the gym: same amount of training, but less salary to pay out to trainers, thus more profit for the gym. That’s rip-off #3.
At Bally’s for instance, you get $2 pay cuts in increments: Full pay at 50 hours per pay period (25/week), -$2 at 20-50 hours, and another -$2 at 20 and under, and another cut at under 10 hours. That’s up to $6 less per hour the trainer is not getting, but you’re still paying for it. AND, you could have been conned into a top tier trainer, because you paid the asking price, but your trainer might not even be certified! (Some trainers there have trained that way for years, with a Photoshop cert, or lapsed one, or not even having one). Rip-off #4.

Why Should You Care?
Since this doesn’t affect your bottom line, you’re still paying your 75 bucks for the training, why is this important for you to know? Well, look at it this way: you pay $75, but your trainer only gets $22.5 for the hour. “Hey, that’s not bad, that’s more than I make, or about the same, and this trainer’s getting paid for working out? He/She should be lucky for such an easy gig!”
If that’s how you think, which I know some of you do, allow me to retort: if it’s such an easy gig, then your trainer is not doing the job. I, for instance, know nothing of how to code a web site, design a 3D character for a video game, clean your teeth or rewire your ignition. But I know physiology, form, progression, assessments of posture, gait, working with injuries, how to treat it, individual program design, biomechanics, neuromuscular facilitation, a multitude of training protocols, endocrine and CNS effects on the body and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. What’s underwater is what the lay person doesn’t know, or think they know from reading a magazine, which more often than not is the reason why they’re not achieving their goal. Most people are actually walking around injured, but are asymptomatic. Some people even got offended when I exposed weaknesses they touted as strengths.

But I digress. The point I want to make is: You may make $20/hr, but you make it consistently, every hour you’re clocked in. You get benefits (retirement, health insurance), bonuses, vacation, sick days, holidays and have your infrastructure paid for. You also are not RUNNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS! Whether the trainer works at Bally’s or on their own, they run their business. You’re not paying your trainer for the hour. You’re paying your trainer for all the years of experience and thousands poured into their education. If your trainer is happy getting so little for that, QUESTION their ability! Trainers need to hustle all the time (as I mentioned before) and oftentimes, Management does little to help. And when they do, it’s to promote the business, not the individual. Please read on.

When I was fitness manager at Bodies In Motion, they wanted me to sell packages of as little as 3-8 sessions, for the 3x per week rate, for someone to only show up once every other week. I always refused to do that for my business, because you simply CANNOT monitor any consistent progress when you see someone 1 hour per week and that have 167 to screw it all up. Everyone SHOULD have a trainer AT SOME POINT, even I do, hence my investment in my education. Alas, not everyone can. The trainer, not matter what the trainee does, bears the sole responsibility for someone’s progress. We can motivate only so much, but if you don’t want it, or just expect it to happen, then sorry, you’re an idiot, you’re not accountable. When has ANYTHING worth doing NOT required some effort on your part? I recently read in a post someone asking to look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club. OK, it’ll take:
1) 6 months of training.
2) Perfect Nutrition, sleep, time management.
3) Training intelligently several hours a day.
4) A fit baseline (i.e. you can’t start looking like Jack Black or Dom De Luise).
5) Get his genetic make-up.
But, the person wanted that after training 2-3 times a week and not doing the rest?

So, why do we value the doctor, physical therapist or the lawyer? Because of their education, mostly. I’ve had some recent bad experiences with Western medicine doctors using medieval tools where I wound up more damaged than repaired, to the point of considering a malpractice suit. Alas, many idiot trainers plague the gyms and you, the public, do not always spot the difference because what you usually see in the gym is what you read in a fitness magazine, and that shapes your perception.

Clients who have been with me for years understand that:
1) I run a business (and sometimes, those who still have an “employee mentality” need reminding).
2) I have overhead.
3) I am better: I have experience, skills and know-how. I’ve transformed my body many times, demonstrated by example and guaranteed results which, when all directives were followed, got people there.

I charge what I charge. How much is it? More or less than the 5 mile radius of Corporate Gyms… So what’s the difference in my take-home? A little more, but I am running my business, adapt instead of complain, deal with the boss directly and any setbacks our my own doing, can’t blame management, or poor member traffic. I am accountable for a product for which I have passion and investment. I am happy, the average “box” gym trainer is not, unless he/she takes you ‘under the table’. Don’t ask me for a deal if I present you a price. It’s already a deal. Take it or take your chance. You don’t haggle with your doctor, your lawyer or your grocer. You may look for the deal, the coupon, which I offer some times, but I am not a rug salesman or car salesman (no offense to those trades, but that is expected there).

7 comments on “How much money does a trainer make? (Part 2)”

  1. What “Chain” Gyms Don’t Want You To Know (Part 1). « The Actionaut

    […] Part 2: What And How Trainers Get Paid I will show you how trainers are duped by management by setting […]

  2. Janessa M

    Awesome Post! I’m gonna tweet this because it’s so informative!

    “I am accountable for a product for which I have passion and investment. I am happy, the average “box” gym trainer is not, unless he/she takes you ‘under the table’. Don’t ask me for a deal if I present you a price. It’s already a deal. Take it or take your chance. You don’t haggle with your doctor, your lawyer or your grocer. ” SWEET!

  3. Philippe Til

    Educating clients on why we’re worth every penny over unqualified trainers is the key!

  4. Alpharetta personal injury attorney

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  5. Derrick I

    Fantastic Article. Straight, to the point and entirely TRUE

  6. Rajib

    Great. How do you feel about training clients from that gym but at another location? ‘under the rada’? I guess you can say it’ll affect the quality of the session since you have a worry of being watched by other trainers that are employees there. I am trying this today. I think if I get approached I will sincerly ask why I can’t train a friend who needs assistance and doesn’t want to pay the gyms high rates?

    1. Philippe Til

      Here’s the thing in my situation. I have since been terminated from Gold’s. Why? Simply because I had a client base at another location for years which they wanted me to give up.
      I didn’t.
      They cited a non-compete clause (I wasn’t taking clients outside, but some followed me to my other location). All corporate gyms are set up for high turnaround. There is little to no difference between a great and mediocre trainer. The great ones leave, like you plan on doing. It’s the nature of the business.
      I have a better answer for you here on another post about your question and what happened exactly.

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