Professional development

Are you a fitness leader?

What makes somebody a leader in the fitness industry?

Before you dive any deeper into FIT Presenter, you need a pep talk. This industry is so full of egos and inflated credentials that a modest trainer like you might feel unworthy of prestige. People make their names in fitness by flaunting their supposed greatness. While others put their energy into self-promotion and personal branding, you put your energy into helping your clients. You may not have the resume to lead the industry, but you have the character to lead people.

The definition of a leader is very simple. A leader is someone who people follow. That’s it.

Your 20 clients have more faith in you than all 15 million subscribers combined put into their favorite online influencer.

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As we look deeper into what fitness leaders do for people, you need to understand how much you contribute and how close to the top you already are.

The showmanship of this industry can intimidate a humble trainer. People who hang their hats on experience, education, and job titles in many cases lack the key components that unheralded professionals have in abundance.

How many years of experience does a trainer need to be a leader?

The answer rhymes with “Mike the FIT Presenter is my personal hero.” Experience as a number means nothing if a trainer hasn’t learned anything new over the years. Trainers who progress with success will promote their abilities more than their time in the business.

Does a trainer with a college degree offer more than a trainer without one? Of course! Just show me a degree in personal training. Those degrees don’t exist. As for kinesiology and exercise physiology, they represent scientific knowledge but not human connection.


As much as this industry needs exercise science, some trainers hide behind textbook knowledge when they lack people skills.

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They will tell you that a trainer’s job is program design, and that anything else that you do with a client is social hour and not within the job description. They have their Power Point slides ready, thinking that they can amaze an audience with applied functional science. You can run circles around people like that when you tell stories that connect.

A gym owner can certainly count as a leader, but that’s not a guarantee either. Some owners lead and motivate people, while others are simply facility managers. As the industry becomes more corporatized, we see more gyms owned by investors who hire business managers who pay the bills, write the work schedules, and keep the gym clean. The fitness leadership is left to the trainers and the instructors, not the management.

Now let’s look at your credentials 

Maybe you have some of the attributes mentioned above, and maybe you have all of them. Perhaps you own a gym, have a degree in exercise science, and claim years of experience as a trainer. Which of these has the most weight in front of an audience? None of the above!

As you speak to the audience, you don’t have to summon the perfect talking points about business or academics. The stage is the place to step away from the professional and give them your personal side. You may feel nervous about taking the stage, but you should feel relieved. As a public speaker, your ability to connect with the audience is what makes you a leader.

If you have nothing special on your resume, you have nothing special to worry about. In your case, the only thing you have for your audience is exactly what they need. You get to be your audience’s best kept secret.

"You knock science so much, what about your background?"

Personally speaking, my jump to industry leader came early in my career. I was training full-time for less than a year when I got the call to teach the personal training certification course at a career institute. The only criteria to teach was a bachelor’s degree. It didn’t matter that I majored in economics. Had I brought more scientific knowledge to the table, I might have dumped too much information on them and called it a lesson. As a knowledgeable novice, I had no choice but to double down on what little I knew and help them to understand it. I taught that class eleven times before taking up teaching ESL as my full-time profession. Occasionally I give the students a course on fitness terms in English, just to remember the good old days.

Go tell it at the lectern!

As your fitness career progresses, the powers that be will rightly insist that you renew your certification with technical and scientific courses. Don’t overlook the industry criteria. However, the unmeasurable, intangible qualities that you offer are what make you a leader. No matter your experience, education, or status, you are ready to command an audience.

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Professional development

Adventures in Toastmasters

I’ll never forget my first Toastmasters meeting, at the Greatland Toastmasters club in Anchorage, Alaska. 

I had just gotten my first apartment. No more roommates, dorms, or barracks, just me, my four walls and my empty refrigerator. I needed to parlay the milestone with another major step in my life. I moved into the apartment on May 1st and went to my first meeting on May 3rd. I didn’t know much about the organization.

All I knew was that if you ever found yourself on stage, Toastmasters would make the difference between champ and chump.

The 14-story Frontier building in midtown looked like the Empire State Building as I pulled into the parking lot. This must be what it’s like to go on stage to give a speech, I thought. The walk to the building, the elevator ride, and the death march to the conference room took far longer than any walk to the stage and added to the jitters.

I don’t know why I was so nervous. After all, I knew the building well. I had an office there -- where I installed the furniture.

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This time I was there on business. As I pulled open those heavy double doors to the conference room, I soon found that I had no reason to worry.

“Heyyy, welcome!” said the first smiling face that greeted me. I felt like Norm walking into Cheers for the 5ooth time. From that day until I moved out of Alaska, I never missed a weekly meeting if I was in town.

For your experience to be as good as mine was with Greatland, you have to choose the best club. 

My absolute worst experience was at a state-run utility company. That day the club was celebrating their anniversary and had ordered some food. I didn’t know anything about the special event, as I was only a visitor. With just two dollars in my wallet, I handed over what little I had at the club’s vice president of membership’s insistence in exchange for a charity plate.

Mind you that as a club member I have paid for plenty of guests to eat whenever we brought in pizza, snacks, or a birthday cake.

The meeting carried on with the efficiency of any meeting run by state bureaucrats who hate their jobs until his excellency, the company’s president showed up.

“Let’s get something straight,” he said as he burst into the conference room. “Everybody here works for me, right?” 

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He didn’t even know what Toastmasters was but he decided that since it was carrying on in his building, he wanted to observe. After standing in the back and watching what was left of the meeting, Mr. (name withheld, but let’s just say his name rhymes with a word that describes him well) decided to lecture the group about what they really needed to know about public speaking.

He left us with a message that everyone (except the lowly visitor) was to get back to work immediately, and an indication that Toastmasters would have served him well.

This is why choosing the right club is so important. The wrong experience might chase you away from the organization forever. Had this been my first experience with Toastmasters, I would have never gone back to another meeting.

I have belonged to three clubs and visited about a half dozen more, and can tell you that not all clubs are the same. A club typically meets every other week, though some meet every week and others just once a month. They also vary between morning, noon, and evening clubs. Aside from the scheduling, the real variety lies with the attitude of the club.

Don't let the fancy clothes fool you.

If you visit the Toastmasters website, you will see that they promote a formal business image. The organization brands itself with the allure of executive leadership, but the reality in the meeting is much different. People come from all professions, and for a variety of reasons. In fact, a club full of members focused solely on professional advancement and not personal growth is usually a very boring club. I was installing office furniture at the time that I joined, and a year later I was the club president. 

My criteria

You want a club that is professional, but not too formal. You know that a club is well organized pretty early on in a meeting, as they follow a system but are still willing to deviate from it. A good club cares more about getting its members in front of the room than it does about following parliamentary procedure. You want a club that is big enough to offer variety, but not so big that you will never get a chance to speak. Although you want a club that welcomes you, be careful about a group that is too eager to have you join.

Believe the testimonials

Most literature that you see about Toastmasters raves over the experience, and rightly so. The semi-annual dues and bi-weekly meetings are the smallest investments of time and money that will ever do so much for you. Just make sure that you choose the right club based on schedule, rapport, and opportunity.

If you’re tired of dozing off in front of PowerPoint slides in a conference room and can’t wait for your turn, then Toastmasters awaits you.

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Professional development

How is the weather?

When you meet a client for the first time, how do you decide what questions to ask?

What do you really want to know about the client? Standardized intake forms (three ugly words that should be purged from our industry forever) account for medical history, exercise history (liar liar) dietary habits (pants on fire), and an inventory of specific, haphazard, irrelevant, time consuming goals (I think there’s an acronym for that). But what about the client’s human side? If you want to document their personality, motivations, and attitudes about exercise, you have to create your own forms. Luckily, the assessment tools already exist.

The DISC personality profile

With a few quick questions, you can put your client into one of four personality categories. With that information, you can tailor your approach. Should you hold their hand and tell them they will love the workout? Maybe they want a load of details to be sure that the program is well-planned. In other cases, humor matters most. Another possibility is to simply say, “Okay, now let’s get to work.” Which approach works the best? That depends on your client’s personality.

D -- The driver. This is your type A personality. They like to be in charge and want to get things done. They don’t have patience for details. They think more than they feel.

I -- The influencer. They like to have fun. They would rather persuade people than give orders.

S -- The sentimental one. This person cares mostly about other people’s feelings. They feel more than they think.

C -- The conventional one. This person loves details. They love to follow steps and procedures.

What does that mean to you as a trainer?

Once you determine their personality style, you know the best way to communicate and motivate. 

In the first training session with my client, I always ask, “How is the weather?” Their answer almost always gives away their DISC type.

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A “D” will answer with one or two words. 
An “I” will probably tell a story or describe the scene.
An “S” will tell you that it’s cold and that you should wear a jacket. 
A “C” will give you a meteorologist report.

The first time you discover a client’s personality type, you can not prepare for that Eureka moment. Try to hide your excitement. The communication portal is now open and will stay that way.

Here are some ways to maximize the relationship with each client.

For a "D" personality, let them make as many decisions as possible. Even though they are no-nonsense people and like blunt instructions from a trainer, they also need to feel like they are in charge. As they build confidence and know-how in the gym, give them a chance to select their own exercises.

“I” personalities like to play games. Your responsibility, and it’s a very serious one, is to make the routine fun. Give every exercise and every machine a special name. Let them jump up and down on the BoSu, just because you can.

“S” personalities feel more vulnerable than most. Give them a chance to do what they do best and offer you comfort. When you need to break the ice or build rapport, tell the client a little something about yourself (just a little something -- remember, the client is not your therapist). Without dumping too much personal cargo, give them a little tidbit about your family or your pets. This will knock you down a peg in their eyes and bring you to their level.

A “C” personality wants details, so give them details. Explain the joint actions and the muscles that you recruit. Give them a nutrition plan with charts and graphs. When you ask a question, expect a long answer.

Why does it matter?

The number one reason your client is coming to see you is that they don’t like the gym. You will never win a client over with useless paperwork. 

Try filling out 20 minutes worth of forms and checklists before your next workout, and see how well you do in the gym!

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Even though we see constant developments in training systems and online coaching platforms, the paperwork has never changed. After all these years, we are still pulling the same useless information.

As a personal trainer, client rapport is your number one marketing tool. 

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More than anything else, our clients come from referrals. In word-of-mouth advertising, your only promotional device is your instant rapport. The client doesn’t want to know the features and benefits that we learned in our Principles of Marketing class. They are not impressed with your ability to decelerate the talus over the calcaneus in three planes while exercising in a closed kinetic chain (that’s why I drop it on you instead). They want a personal connection. We connect through communication. We communicate by speaking to their personality type.

This sounds like a head game

Are we playing Pretty Boy Freud on the training floor by tearing open their psyche? Only if you abuse it. If you say the wrong thing just to provoke a reaction and laugh about it later, this article and this profession is not for you. We use the personality indicator to learn how they wish to be treated. It is no different than varying your tone of voice based on the client’s age, gender, energy level or sense of humor.

Support the mission

FIT Presenter seeks to raise the professional profile of the entire fitness industry through top-level communication. Although this is a public speaking coaching business first, we cover all modes of client outreach in order to get the respect that we individually and collectively deserve.

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Professional development

Crunches burn brain cells

Whenever I interview a trainer for a job, I always ask them about a misconception they had before they learned the truth.

I want to see if they are modest enough to admit that they are wrong from time to time. I also want to see if they know how to learn from their mistakes. I can’t believe how many people are not willing to answer the question! So many industry professionals try to show the world that they know everything about fitness without admitting any flaws.

However, a confident trainer knows that we not only make mistakes and have false beliefs, but we can also use them to our advantage.

Just like your personal training clients, your audience will have their wild ideas about exercise. They believe in spot reduction, and perform crunches with the hopes of eliminating belly fat. They think that the preacher curl has a different effect on biceps than a standing curl does, even though they both use the same basic joint action. They take pills that claim to “burn calories” and speed up “metabolism” without knowing what those words actually mean.

We know our responsibility to correct wrong thinking, but there’s a good and bad way to do it.

Use it to your advantage

As a speaker, your audience’s misconceptions create learning opportunities. If you were teaching astrophysics or organic chemistry, you wouldn’t have to deal with misconceptions, but you wouldn’t have the luxury of background knowledge either. You never start from scratch in the fitness industry. Your clients have years of information, legitimate or not, that guide their decisions.

Rule number one when addressing misconceptions is that even when they’re wrong, they’re a little bit right.

Spot reduction is a myth, but you can spot-build a muscle. Preacher curls and standing curls are the same exercise, but it’s normal to prefer one over the other. With a client, you can build a personal relationship of trust and teach them in stages. With an audience that you see one time, you have to give them an immediate lesson with a grain of salt and a teaspoon of sugar.

We’re not perfect either

What about you? Have you ever learned from a misconception you had in the past?

As a trainer, I used to believe that the typical client was the extreme before and after case that you see on TV. Those transformations do happen from time to time, but most of our success is on the margins. I trained clients for years, believing that golf didn’t have much of an effect on the body. Was I wrong? Yes, but only a little bit. Compared to wrestlers and roofers, golf isn’t all that rough an activity. However, after working with several golfers I saw firsthand that even though the club is light and the ball is little, a rapid 180 degree spinal twist with a back arch can put anyone in a traction device. I love telling audiences about my golf revelation. It brings me down to their level without giving up my credibility as a trainer and as a speaker. I can admit that I was wrong, but I was still a little bit right.

But … look at these biceps!

Let’s face it, there are a lot of egos in the fitness industry. The professional speaking business is even worse. The audience will like you a lot more when you come down off of your pedestal. Your own greatness is a lot easier to promote than the benefit of your services, and I must admit it feels pretty good to hype my own credentials from time to time. While so many people try to stand out by flaunting perfection, you can beat them all by showing how human you are and admitting that you have learned a few lessons the hard way. When you admit that you have been wrong from time to time. you open the dialog to let your clients and your audience share their misconceptions. You now have a launch pad to start a lesson.

Plan your responses

With this idea in mind, the next time someone asks, “How do I lose my arm fat?” you now have a more constructive response. Instead of saying, “You can’t do that!” you can reply with, “The biggest myth going in exercise is the idea of spot reduction. As you build strength, you’ll see changes all over your body, not just on the back of your arms.” Pretty smooth, right?

As you prepare various stories, anecdotes, and lessons to bring on stage, include a list of misconceptions about fitness that you have had over the years. Each one represents a lesson learned, and a measurable experience far more reliable than the number of years you have in the industry.


For the comment section:

What misconceptions have you had about fitness that you have since corrected? How did you discover the truth?

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