7 Success Factors That Lead to a Thriving Personal Training Career

We asked three of the industry’s best-known and most accomplished personal trainers to share the secrets to their success.

Personal Training Squat Instructor Column

As the fitness industry has grown and evolved over the past several decades, so, too, has personal training (PT). Today, more opportunities exist both for newcomers and for veteran trainers than ever before.

However, with increased opportunity comes intensified competition, and, as a result, trainers—if they’re serious about succeeding in a significant way—need to think about and plan for their professional future.

To identify the basic building blocks, the foundation on which a person can construct a sound, rewarding, and constantly evolving career, CBI conferred with three of the industry’s best-known and most accomplished personal trainers, Todd Durkin, Fred Hoffman, and Greg Johnson. In addition to working with clients, all have managed to share their expertise, grow their brand, and develop their businesses by writing, speaking, and providing consulting services.

7 Personal Training Success Factors

To develop a successful PT career, Durkin, Hoffman, and Johnson, have acknowledged the critical importance of, and patiently cultivated within themselves, the following personal characteristics and commitments.

Success Factor #1: Passion

At the top of the must-have list, loving one’s calling is absolutely essential to excelling. Passion drives and satisfies trainers.

Durkin spent five years doing everything possible to rid himself of the pain from a back injury, and it changed his life. “I got ignited with more passion to share my knowledge and help people out of pain and to improve their performance,” he says. “Despite having no money, no clients, and no business plan, I started my company with the purpose of creating impact and inspiring millions to greatness every day.”

Success Factor #2: Diligence

As with any career, PT requires ongoing effort and perseverance to excel. “It’s not as easy as you think, so be prepared to work hard, and aim to become great,” says Johnson. “This industry is full of grunt work, such as cleaning equipment and conducting maintenance, so embrace it.”

“New graduates may have to put in their time when they start out, and accept that this can be a stepping stone to something greater,” says Hoffman.

“Be persistent, work hard, always over-deliver, and never give up,” Durkin says. “Success is a marathon—not a sprint.”

Success Factor #3: A Service Orientation

Although it may seem obvious, it’s important to remember that the PT business is about the clients.

“People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” Johnson says, quoting Theodore Roosevelt. “When you first meet a client, don’t rattle off your certifications or accomplishments, but, rather, get to know them, understand why they came to you, and listen.”

According to Durkin, trainers should always be thinking about how to improve client satisfaction. “Be on the lookout for new ways to enhance their experience and create a ‘Wow!’ moment for them.”

Success Factor #4: Constant Curiosity and Learning

In an industry where research, products, and training methods are always changing, it’s imperative to keep abreast of the wealth of information—above and beyond fitness-related CECs—that’s available.

“Personal training is no longer just about exercise,” says Johnson. “Always be on the lookout for new ideas, concepts, and business practices. Go to live events, read books, watch DVDs. Learn from other fields about such things as finance, business, customer service, and mental focus.”

Durkin recommends attending at least two industry workshops and one personal development seminar per year, and reading one book a month.

Success Factor #5: A Business Mindset

Trainers who own their own businesses need to be businesslike. They should create a business plan; identify their corporate and personal goals; develop a solid strategy; hire the necessary professionals, e.g., accountants and attorneys; invest in a strong staff; and cultivate a positive team culture. Joining industry associations and participating in trade shows provides valuable opportunities to learn and network.

As the industry has grown, so has the opportunity to branch out to develop additional revenue streams, advises Durkin. “Write more and speak more to grow professionally.”

Success Factor #6: The Pursuit of Excellence

Durkin recommends that trainers do what they do best...and hire the rest. Quoting Kevin Plank, the CEO of Under Armour, whom he met in 2009, Durkin says, “The bigger your dream, the more important your team.” He goes on to note that “Your coworkers elevate your thought processes, inspire your mindset, challenge you, and support you.”

Johnson focuses on connecting—versus competing—with industry colleagues. “We’re all on the same team,” he says. “As soon as you shut yourself off from the industry, you miss out on networking opportunities and don’t hear about a skill or marketing technique that could make or break your business.”

Success Factor #7: Balance

Trainers appreciate that cultivating all of these characteristics, while also working with clients, could easily become a daunting load.

“If you work 16-hour days and never say ‘No,’ it can lead to fatigue and burnout,” Johnson says.

Durkin acknowledges the importance of self-care, including workouts, nutrition, and massage.

“Permit yourself at least two weeks of ‘mellow’ time each year. Vacation and time away are critical to restore and reenergize your spirit, and can lead to big ‘Aha!’ moments.”

Todd Durkin

In addition, giving back to others helps trainers maximize their impact on the community, beyond clients, and fosters a broader focus. Johnson’s Varimax holds charity events and sponsors one nonprofit organization each month; and Durkin’s IMPACT Foundation awards scholarships to needy college-bound student athletes.

For Hoffman, maintaining a sense of gratitude helps provide balance in the face of long hours and constant travel. “I cherish all the opportunities and experiences I’ve had, and I appreciate how lucky I am to be doing this for a living,” he says.

Author avatar


This article was a team effort by several IHRSA experts.