How to get started in the fitness industry

You get no sexy or witty introduction from me today – we’re jumping straight into the thick of it!

1. Move beyond passion

You’re going to need passion in order to get started, but passion is just a prerequisite, a starting point;  passion alone won’t pay the bills. I wish this weren’t the truth, but it is, and it’s something that I wish someone had told me when I was getting started in this industry. In both the commercial gym and strength & conditioning setting the hours can be long and the pay won’t be great initially, so it’s very easy to get burned out before you make any significant progress if you’re fueled only by sunshine & rainbows, which leads me to my next point.

2. Level up consistently

One of the most important life lessons that you’ll ever learn is from a little known movie called Napoleon Dynamite:

Skills pay the bills. If you have them, the world is your oyster, but if you don’t (or at least work towards getting them) you’ll become easier to replace as time marches forward, which is the whackest thing known to man. Luckily for you though, you have one fact working in your favor: The internet is awesome.

There is so much great content out there to be found on the internet that it boggles my mind. Most of it is free if you have the time to do the required digging, yet some of it you’ll have to pay, but even then it’s an investment in yourself and you’ll come out way ahead because of it.

Whatever you do, PLEASE never stop investing in yourself. Read research journals and blogs, purchase educational products, go to conferences and whatever else you have to do to step your knowledge game up. If you’re just keeping up then you’re actually falling behind everyone else.

For example, I graduated with a degree in English Literature with plans to go on and become a teacher, but during my senior year I decided that I was going to pursue my passion and try my hand in the health & fitness industry. At this point I had two options: I could change my major to exercise science, delaying my graduation by a few years and incurring more debt or graduate then and get my education through alternative means (aka the real world) afterwards.

I chose the latter option, and it was the best choice that I could have made. Because of my passion, I devoured anything that I could get my hands on and learned more on my own through experience than I ever would have in school, plus I received this education at a fraction of the cost and got to choose what I studied – take that, Sallie Mae!

Here are some resources to get you started on your way. Make sure to check at your local library and see what you can find before spending big bucks.

Don’t forget to develop other skills such as writing, public speaking and business skills (i.e. sales and marketing) along the way as well.

3. Commit to excellence

I was lucky enough to get my start at Cressey Performance, one of, if not the best, gyms in the country. It was a fantastic experience that I cherish to this day, but as a newbie who never experienced anything else, it completely ruined me because of one undeniable fact: that place rocked. The clients were self-motivated, the variety of equipment was amazing, and the staff, get this, actually cared about their clients, doing anything in their power to help them achieve results, both in and outside of the gym.

Now step into your standard commercial gym -what do you see? Most likely the opposite of what I described above, with the most important missing element being this: the trainers don’t give a hot damn about their clients or their results.

Between trainers texting on their phone while their client teeters on the edge of face planting from some goofy exercise or giving them a cookie cutter program that doesn’t take into account their goals, experience level or time commitment, you would have thought that shares in the FCK corporation were selling for $88339857 billion dollars because you’d be hard pressed to find anyone looking to give one.

The bar is set low. How low? We’re talking Flo Rida, subterranean gnomes digging towards the center of the Earth with rocket-powered shovels low. Pretty much imagine any horrible scenario that could happen in a gym, and odds are that there is someone out there that you haven’t even heard of that’s making it happen (or worse).

So with expectations already set low, this is an awesome time to be you. Why? The fact that you’re reading this shows that you’re at least interested in becoming better, so imagine what would happen if you took the action steps necessary to make it happen? You’d blow those around you out of the water – it’d be like Salvador Dali entering a 1st grade art contest.

By getting involved in this industry, you’re placed in a unique position where people pay you to help get them to a place that do by themselves. Respect this bond and you’ll be in demand, but take advantage of it and fail to deliver results and you’ll be dead in the water.

It takes just as much effort to suck at something as it does to be awesome at it, so make the commitment to become an absolute beast at what you do and you’ll be far ahead of the game.

4. Get your hands dirty

Filling your head with information is great, but it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t apply it. Before my internship, the most experience  that I had with coaching and leading a group was coordinating raids in Everquest, which doesn’t really translate well into the real world all that well. As a requirement for bringing me on, I had to volunteer as a coach in some capacity to show that I actually possessed the skills that would be required of me during the internship.

So, what does the guy who has no interest in sports,  other people’s unruly kids, or catching balls volunteer to be? A assistant coach for an after school flag football team. Sweet!

The experience served its purpose though: I became more outspoken and a lot more comfortable with coaching than I was before, all of which carried over into my internship experience. Besides, after coaching a huge group of kids who are hopped up on juice boxes, coaching athletes and adults was a piece of cake, and Rog loves cake.

Whether you know for sure that you want to get involved or are still on the fence about it, an internship is a low-cost way to test the water and see if this is something that you want to commit to for the long term. Find a local gym or school in your area (or outside of it if you’re willing to travel) and see if they have any internship or volunteer opportunities. The worst that they can say is no, but people love free help, and the learning experience is worth it in the long run.

If you want to forgo the internship route for the time being, at the very least you can contact professionals in the field via e-mail and ask them questions, or ask if you can stop in and visit their facility for a few hours to see how they do thing. Just ask – there are a lack of jerks in this industry and people are more than willing to help you if you reach out to them.

Do anything that you can in order to see if this something you want to turn into a career, or of it just sounds like a cool idea.

5. Get Certified

I put this one last because out of everything else I’ve found that it is the least useful factor of all.  Yes, it’s important as far as getting your foot in the door at a commercial gym or as a strength & conditioning coach since the best ones usually require that you hold at least one nationally recognized certification. Aside from that though, it only shows that you can prepare for and pass a test.

A certification is a way of showing gatekeepers that you’re not just some random off the street and that you possess a certain level of knowledge as well. It is only that – a starting point. If you’re going to stop learning after you obtain a certification then you won’t last long at all.

Many of my biggest influences in the fitness industry don’t have any kind of formal certification, which goes to show that you don’t need to hitch your hopes of success solely paper credentials. If you can help your clients get the results that they desire, then I highly doubt they’ll care whether or not you’re certified.

If you have a gym in mind that you want to work at, call ahead and see what certification(s) that they require. Here are a few of the big ones out there:


6. Start a blog

This is entirely optional as you don’t need a website or a blog in order to be successful, but I’ve found it certainly helps. Think of the gym that you work out of as your physical platform and your blog as your virtual platform. With one, your influence is extremely limited – you’re only able to affect the people who are physically able and willing to come to you (unless you’re a rock start like, then people will come from all over the world) but with a blog your reach isn’t limited at all.

A blog is also a great tool to use in order to gather and put down your thoughts on e-paper everything that you’re learning during your journey, which is not only helpful to you but for others as well. Odds are if you blog consistently the likelihood of meeting a ton of other awesome fitness professionals is quite, leading to a wealth friendships and professional relationships.

7. Stay hungry, stay foolish.

Initially you may be overwhelmed by everything that you have to learn, but take solace in this fact: you’ll never know it all. Don’t put that burden on yourself. What you don’t know will always outweigh what you do know and success won’t happen overnight, but as long as you keep grinding forward and learning, you’ll be eons ahead of your peers.

So, how are you feeling – feeling good, feeling great? Did I leave anything out? If you have any questions about specifics or something that I didn’t cover here, send me an e-mail or leave a comment below and I’ll get right on it.

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  1. says

    Great post! I’ve been thinking about recertifying as a personal trainer, but like you said it’s only the first step. My biggest challenge is the coaching aspect of it. My voice is more of a squeak and I’m not very intimidating. Ha! Thanks for the tips!

    • says

      Hey Eunice,


      So you’re thinking like a personal trainer in the gym setting, right? I’m sure you’d do just fine, especially because you don’t need an epic voice or an intimidating personality. Shoot me an email and lets talk about this more.

  2. Nancy C. says

    Not interested in going into the fitness industry but I have to say that you and Eric and Tony and the rest of the crew in the S&C community rock so hard. I’ve learned so much reading all of your blogs and articles and it’s totally changed the way I train. As I’ve mentioned, I train at a “health club” (hesitate to call it a gym) and I wouldn’t trust one of their trainers to tie my shoelaces (which btw are on some awesome pink Chuck Taylors which I get a lot of weird looks about). Talk about cookie cutter…some of the things I see them make people who are utterly unfit do are horrifying. Thanks for being here, Rog. You’ve made all the difference to my progress.

  3. says

    Thanks for pointing out these points in such an informative and entertaining way. I think the industry is changing (slowly) for the better with the new generation of trainers out there. That having been said, too many people put a lot of stead in certifications and not internships, in superficially making money and not setting themselves up for the future by actually taking the time to plan programs that will get results, and in signing up for conferences to fill their CEC requirements while not even attending.

    Let’s be part of the change dude!

  4. Gayla says

    As you know, I am not in (nor am I trying to enter) the fitness business, but I enjoyed this post all the same. Whatever success means to you, I’m quite sure it will come to you. Your heart is in the right place, and that makes all the difference.
    P.S. Extra points for using a “Napoleon Dynamite” clip.

  5. says

    I recently took on a few of my first clients and this was really helpful. I still have to think about getting certified, but in the mean time I’ll rely on #2 and #3: ASS KICKING RESULTS 😛

    Great work Rog and thanks for the timely post.


  6. Patrick Ochoa says

    This is awesome! As a newly certified personal trainer trying to make it in a commercial gym(ymca) i find it isnt all sun shine and rainbows like you said. Im finding it hard to find client who actually want to train and not just come here to just socialize read a magazine/watch tv on the treadmill. I read all the time, that it pisses my wife off because im always on my new iphone reading a blog lol. I also use twitter to keep upto date with the pros. My coaching skills arnt the best and i love the idea about coaching a pee wee football team or maybe high school. I also found a personal training studio near by that is more focused on sport conditioning and strength training. My writing and public speaking skills arnt up to par but i hope to start taking classes soon to fix that. This is exactly what i was looking for!

  7. Risto says

    Love this post! I have to bring highlight to your language too: “The bar is set low. How low? We’re talking Flo Rida, subterranean gnomes digging towards the center of the Earth with rocket-powered shovels low.” This part was pretty cool in terms of playing with words.

    I wish I had found Tony Gentilcore’s and Eric Cressey’s resource pages sooner, it definitely made me understand which books to read over others.

    The number one idea I took away from your post was the part about internship. I’m going to contact the head of the gym I train at in the fall; I actually worked for her about a year ago as a salesperson and she said that whenever I need an intership place, I can contact her. At the time, I thought I was going to get into marketing/business/sales, but now I’m extremely passionate about coaching. It also helps that I know several coaches there who I believe would love to help me even more than right now. We’ll see. Thanks a lot for the idea!

  8. Noooooor says

    Rog Law once again your words and work inspire and encourage me. Thank you kind sir.

  9. Ama Adams says

    Roger, how lucky am I to stumble into here just when I was trying to decide to leave my deskbound job to go into the fitness industry. I’m an almost 52 year old female and a regular gym goer. I had a session with one of the personal trainers at the gym a few months ago and he put me through a thorough workout which was great, but at the time I thought – not all ‘mature’ people could do this. I didn’t even have a fitness assessment beforehand

    Most of the members using personal trainers are a lot younger than me. I think there’s a niche for older personal trainers for older people. My point I suppose is, am I too old to start now? I’m hungry and foolish enough.

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