I'm a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA and co-founder of Cressey Sports Performance located just outside of Boston in Hudson, MA.
I started in this industry back in 2002 (when social media didn't even exist!) as a personal trainer in the corporate fitness setting. Meaning, I was hired by a company who's job it was to "manage" or run corporate fitness centers where their employees could come in either before work, during lunch, or after work to workout under the supervision of the staff. I did this alongside working at several commercial gyms too.
I did that for three years and then moved to Connecticut where I met my future business partner, Eric Cressey. He and I worked at a commercial gym in the area and then we both moved to Boston, where I ended up at SportsClub LA (which was recently purchased by Equinox).
In the summer of 2007 we opened up our own facility alongside our other business partner, Pete Dupuis. Long story short: we're a semi-private strength and conditioning facility. We don't offer one-on-one training, but rather EVERY person who trains at our facility goes through an assessment and an individualized program is designed for them based off their goals, sport(s) played, unique injury history and/or any current injuries that may be present.
On average each coach is "coaching" 3-5 clients at once.
90% of our clients are athletes; and 90% of those are baseball players (from the Major League level all the way down to Little League). But you name a sport and we train them. We also have a fair amount of general fitness clients, but more so people who take their health and fitness a little more seriously.
Outside of that, I also do a fair amount of fitness writing and am a regular contributor to Men's Health Magazine, Women's Health Magazine, T-Nation.com, Bodybuilding.com, and Stack.com. In addition I also run a popular website/blog TonyGentilcore.com.
Why did you decide to become a personal trainer?Fitness as always been a part of my life. Ever since my parents (I mean "Santa") brought me my first weight set when I was 12-13, I've been hooked. Like most kids at that age I wanted to start lifting weights to get jacked. As I entered high school and college, I kept up with it in order to play baseball at a high-level and to make people of the opposite sex want to hang out with me.
When baseball ended up not working out, I went to school to become a Health teacher (with a Concentration in Health/Wellness Promotion). When it came time to choose between having to put a suit and tie on everyday or sweatpants and hang out in a gym, the choice was easy.
How does someone become a personal trainer?Well to speak candidly, I think most people chose the WRONG reasons to become a personal trainer. Many people, because they lift weights and have a six pack, think to themselves, "hey, I like to lift weights, this looks easy, I should become a personal trainer!"
Not coincidentally, most burn out within two years.
The one's who go into personal training, enter the fitness industry and WHO DO WELL, are the ones who enter it knowing it's a CAREER choice and not just a hobby.
Having said, the thing about the fitness industry is that there's a very low barrier to entry. You technically don't need a certification in order to become a personal trainer. Not only that, all someone has to do is pay some random website two payments of $49.99 and BAM, they're certified!
Cynicism aside, more and more colleges and Universities are offering courses and even degrees in personal training and Strength and Conditioning. My alma mater, State University of New York at Cortland is one such institution (unfortunately they didn't offer anything close to that when I attended).
I think having a health related degree, whether it's in health, exercise science, kinesiology, etc will always help and serve as a easy way to get your foot in the door with prospective employers.
Too, certification through the NSCA, ACSM, and NASM (generally considered the three "gold standard" certifications to get) typically require a degree from higher education anyways.
While having the letters next your name will help, I've always stressed to young fitness professionals that if they really want to do well in this industry it's IMPERATIVE they place a premium on continuing education. Read books (magazines don't count. Books!), attend seminars and workshops, seek out a mentor. All of these will only make you more valuable. Spending $200 for a weekend course is an INVESTMENT not an EXPENSE.
Many will balk at spending $50 for a book. Yet, time and time again a trainer will easily earn back that money and then some because he or she was able to "land" a new client from something they learned in that very book.
What is the pay like?It depends on where one is located. More rural areas won't lend itself to high(er) incomes compared to larger cities like NYC, Boston, or LA. But too, the cost of living is higher in those areas, which is something to consider.
Most commercial gyms will base pay off of experience and/or a "tier system" where you'll get paid "x amount" if you train "x number" of clients per week or month. It can often be stressful for a trainer to have to hit a quota each month; but not all gyms are the same (and much of the perceived pressure stems on how good or bad the fitness manager is).
I feel there's a very high level of entitlement in the industry - especially from incoming trainers. Sorry, but you're not going to be training professional athletes and celebrities on day one. If you do, congrats. And I hate you.
It's not a glamorous job or career. You work long hours, and you work when others don't. But it's a very rewarding career. It's pretty awesome when you're able to help someone attain a goal they never thought possible, or to help someone work through their lower back pain. Even more rewarding if or when you do end up training athletes, and you witness athletes who started training with you when they were in 8th grade and they sign a professional contract six years later out of college.
Can you make a lot of money? Sure. But it's not going to happen overnight. You need to work.
Besides, you shouldn't enter this profession if you're MO is to make money. You should enter it because you genuinely like to help people.
What are the best parts of being a personal trainer?Without question it comes down to having the opportunity to build some pretty cool relationships with people and helping people get better.
And, you know, wearing sweatpants to work doesn't suck either.
What are the biggest challenges in being a personal trainer?It can be a grind. There's that and the fact that it's such a saturated market. When I was working at a fancy schmancy place like SportsClub LA (in downtown Boston), I was one of 70 trainers. 70!
I was literally a number, and all anyone ever saw was the name "Personal Trainer" on the back of my shirt. They didn't see me as Tony, a human being.
Understandably there's an urge or desire to try to stand out and separate yourself from the masses and try to look unique and do different things in the gym compared to other trainers. "Look at me, look at me! My client's standing on a BOSU ball with one leg while pressing a dumbbell in one hand will juggling a pair of oranges in the other! It's functional!"
Get good, really good, at the basics. Learn to be A COACH! Learn how to coach someone how to squat properly, how to hip hinge (deadlift), do a push-up, pull-up, lunge, etc. At the end of the day getting people results (and not hurt) is what's going to get you more clients and separate yourself from the masses.
Best advice you've ever received?You have two ears, two eyes, and one mouth. Use them in that order.
Don't assume you know it all. Go out of your way to learn from other people. Trust me, you're not as good as you think you are.
Any helpful resources or links on this topic.Well, my website would be a great starting point (which has a ton of recommended resources on it): TonyGentilcore.com
Other people to seek out: Eric Cressey, Mike Roberston, Nia Shanks, Molly Galbraith, Nick Tumminello, Ben Bruno, Bret Contreras, Jen Sinkler, Adam Bornstein, John Romaniello.