Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Combating Trainer Burn-out

Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, my blog has been getting some new readers lately.  Because of this, I like to dig up some old blog posts that I have written over 12 months ago and re-read and make revisions to them. With a wider audience, I am hoping to help more and more people out. So without further a due, here is another important  topic.

As a personal trainer becoming "burnt out" is a major reality in the field. As with any other profession you dedicate all your energy to, the risk of becoming burnt out is always there. I became burnt out in 2004....that is why I partially left personal training full-time (35+ clients/weekly) to pursue fitness management. I figured if I was a manager, I could step away from the constant responsibility of motivating clients that would not give me 100% effort; or design exercise programs constantly to combat boredom; or stop listening to the whining and numerous excuses. So, I managed trainers for 4+ years and taught them all I knew. While I did do some personal training on the side, I liked management. I am a 'numbers' I like handling budgets, trainer's monthly quotas, and negotiating salaries. As well, I like taking new trainers under my 'wing' and motivating them to grow as professionals--both from a business sense and exercise program design sense.

Towards the end of 2007,  I missed the human aspect of personal training. I missed the chance to really change people's lives. All the things I knew contributed to my burn-out, were the things I missed. So I returned to full-time personal training. This time,  with a better understanding of my role as a professional and  with better control.

Here are a couple of tips to combat trainer burn-out:

1.) Dictate your schedule - Set aside the times you want to work. I know far too many trainers that work from 5am -8pm and try to live life in between appointments. Big mistake. Figure out when you want to work: mornings/day/or evenings and cement your schedule. Plan your life around the day, not when-ever you have "free spots" in the day. This is a sure-fire way to become burnt out in the field if not controlled early. There is nothing worse than feeling like a prisoner each day because you try to be available for everyone.

2.) Tell the client WHEN to come in - I always tell my clients, "pick a spot in the times I have available and that is the time slot you purchase." This way, this makes THEM adjust their day to mine. The more scarce your time is; the more valuable you are perceived by the client. Some gurus calls this the "velvet rope marketing tactic". If your clients feel as if they are buying a hour in your day, it makes them feel like they own it and will do their best to adhere to the session schedule.

3.) Make time to workout - Don't stop working out. I've been get fat, lazy, and you feel like crap. If your outlook doesn't look pretty, it will translate to your sessions. There's nothing worse than being an ambassador of fitness when you are feeling sluggish, tired, and fat. It eats away at your energy levels and your psychological mojo. Worse of all, it affects your business. Make teh time to workout in between clients or on lunch breaks. Not only it will elevate energy levels for a few hours, but it will help burn off any extra calories that you had to shove into your mouth between your 1 o'clock and 3 o'clock clients.

4.) Take days off - Sounds simple? Well, many trainers feel obligated to their clients and fear letting them down if they skip a session or take a week off. Take some personal days to energize and re-fuel. This tip can be applied to any profession. Personal trainers are mentally drained after a few weeks because their job is dealing with the emotional side of training. Clients walk in with psychological baggage and the trainer must sift through in order to get the client on track for the program. This is draining and really puts alot of weight onto the trainer's shoulders. It is always good to take a day off in between 3 or 4 block days. Don't wait until the weekend!

5.) Talk to other trainers -Sounds like it couldn't help...but it couldn't hurt either. Networking with other professionals serves a variety of purposes.It provides an outlet for trainers to speak to each other and bounce around ideas; discuss like-minded issues; and is a great way to ask for help in certain areas. There is no need to live your career on an island. Don't let your ego stand in the way of receiving tips, help, or ideas from others.


  1. Good post, John.

    I am in my 2nd year of training clients part-time doing in-home and private gyms. Haven't gone full-time yet, as I'm still in school and my current job pays for school.

    Anyway, I have learned that if you don't start with the right systems you plant the seeds for non-compliance, flakiness, chasing money, etc. etc.- all the things that make you feel burned out.

    Thanks for you insights. -A

  2. Thanks for posting and I am glad that this info helps you out!!

  3. Great post. There is a tendency for trainers to put themselves last on the list! In my experience it is also very important to make sure your PT biz can run without you in case you yourself experience an accident, family emergency, etc. I run a successful boutique PT studio and experienced this first hand. Make sure to cover yourself for the unthinkable. Have Plan A, B, C, D and if that fails choose Plan E

  4. Thank you so much for posting this. I've been training for about a year and a half, the past 2 months full time - push upwards of 50+ sessions per week. I AM having a difficult time carving out time for myself but will definitely start now. Thanks again.

  5. Remember, as a trainer, you have to leverage your time--by doing so, you have to put YOU (& family) first. This will make your business better! Doesn't sound right on paper, but we are in a business of human dynamics--we are not selling plumbing products!

  6. To add to what Catherine & John said - put yourself first.

    Treat yourself as you would a client. Set time aside for your own training sessions, get enough sleep every night - 7 hours doesn't cut it when you're managing clients and training yourself - you need rest, lots of it. In fact, if you haven't gone through the same process you would with a client - i.e goal setting, assessing yourself, planning and designing a programme with your lifestyle considerations, tracking and reviewing your own progress regularly (and making changes as you need to), there's a good chance you're neglecting yourself.

    Play the long game - think and plan your time in terms of years ahead.

  7. Debbie - are you actually performing 50 hours of personal training a week??!!

    Even if you're doing 50 1/2 hour sessions, I can't see how that is sustainable, not to mention, how it is possible to manage that amount of clients (unless of course you have 10 or 12 clients doing 4 or 5 sessions each per week.

    How do you fit in programme design, tracking and reviewing and admin duties?

  8. Thanks John! May I add one more thing? I am a full time independent contractor in my gym. I am the ONLY personal trainer. Needless to say, I have been very busy. I currently have 27 clients, 1 hour sessions. I am also a group fitness instructor. I give 10 classes a week. There have been many times when another fitness instructor calls in sick, I have been asked to take over the class. At first it was hard for me to say no. I was exhausted!! I finally found the courage to say, no! Please think of yourself first! Listen to your body. I was to tired to give more classes. An exhausted instructor is a bad instructor! All I wanted to do was get the class over with and go home! That was not fair to the class members!


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