Monday, November 28, 2011

How a Chubby Trainer Became the "Go-To" Guy Among Dozens of Hardbodies

The world today is full of short cuts. Not that its never been, but over the past few years businesses and marketing have aimed to sell consumers on short cuts.  People want to get things quickly. Blame it on technology for making society less patient. today, we want food cooked and prepared quicker...we want the Internet to be quicker....we want to lose fat quicker...and the list goes on and on.

We tend to forget what it takes to go from point A to point B. We are only concerned about results and how those results inherently affect us. Nevertheless, its the process of getting to each point that defines who we are. I wish I can tell you that I subscribed to all the money-making newsletters and attended all the weekend mastermind meetings learning all the "secrets" to making $100,000 in less than 3 weeks. But I didn't. I was too stubborn. Still am. However, I will tell you a personal story of how I became a respectable trainer among my peers and clients.

Back in 2002, I was hired as a personal trainer for Golds Gym. I had already been in the field for a couple of years and wanted to work for a commercial gym. To me, Gold's Gym was the ultimate commercial gym. It was the "mecca" in California. I had grown up watching "Pumping Iron" and seeing Arnold work out at Gold's Gym Venice was awesome. My Gold's Gym had expanded into a new building with over 38,000 square feet of exercise space and all new equipment. The gym was busy everyday. The personal training department was pulling in around $9,000 monthly and selling supplements in-house. As a trainer for Golds Gym, I was excited to go into work everyday and be around people that "got it". I loved hearing the weights clank each day or hearing the blender make delicious protein shakes. I loved the people I worked for. The management team was old-school. They believed people should be deadlifting, using alot of weight, and wearing skin-tight clothes. It made the atmosphere very energetic.

I was among 6 other trainers. The other trainers were gym-rats. These guys and gals looked like they were carved out of stone. They were laden with rock-hard abs, 16-inch arms, and jaw lines that can make a railroad tracks bend. And me...? I was a broad-contoured weight-lifter that looked...hmmm...soft. I was strong. I remember after my initial interview I was asked if I wanted to get a workout in on the gym floor simply to get a taste of the environment. I agreed and hit the gym floor on a Monday night at 5 PM. I was hitting the incline bench with 225 for reps and getting some stares from the regulars. I introduced myself to some of the members and told them I was going to be a new trainer on staff. Without hesitation, the eye-brows crinkled and I got the body scan (look up/look down). So, I was under some heavy pressure going in.

I wasn't reluctant to market myself. I was confident going in that I was capable of helping people with exercise. After all, I had worked in two organizations prior to Golds Gym and had already trained close to 100 clients. I remember finding a huge 5x8 foot bulletin board on the gym floor that was empty. I asked the management if I can use it to market myself. With their approval, I went balls to the wall. I pinned a huge head-shot including a large font bio of myself. During the busiest times, I would watch members read my bio in between sets and then walk by me to greet me. The other trainers were busy on the floor most of the time and I don't think liked my bold move. They were thinking, "how is this chubby guy going to come in here and try to outshine us?". Truth was...that was my strategy.

In talking with the other trainers, I knew they had only an ounce of knowledge that I had. They were big, tan, and had gelled hair, but they knew squat (not the exercise). I was a relentless reader. I had just obtained my certification from National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and was in the middle of reading Essentials of Strength & Conditioning by the National Strength & Conditioning Association. I was reading books constantly in between appointments. Books that I probably didn't need to read--especially "Essentials..." by the NSCA. I remember, one of the trainers had seen me reading it and asked me if I was studying for the certification. I replied, "No, I'm just reading it". I got a funny look and was kind of brushed off. He was probably thinking: "What an idiot. Reading books even though he doesn't need to".

Here I was,  the new trainer on the scene and probably not looking like I should be accepting people's money to help them exercise. But,  the more I began talking with members and giving them advice; word was spreading that this chubby trainer actually knew what he was talking about. I would walk onto the gym floor and help people, correct their form, and demonstrate different exercises. As I helped one gym member on the floor, five more were watching me from the treadmills. Soon enough,  the other staff trainers were watching me while they counted their reps for their bored clients. When I obtained my first paying client, word began to spread and I was getting new sign-ups daily.

You know I wasn't gimmicky. 

The other trainers were loud, boisterous and down-right obnoxious at times. They were pretty confident in their physiques as they constantly flashed their 6-pack abs in front of me. They were cheerleaders. At times,  they would try and sabotage a consultation I was giving to a prospective member by flashing their abs, or posing with a huge peaked bicep. But I held strong. Members like me because I was down-to-earth. I was empathetic and knowledgeable. They felt comfortable around me because I didn't seem intimidating or didn't make them feel "smaller". They looked to me as a resource.  My consultations also contained some basic fitness testing. Back then, I was conducting the Sit and Reach Test, Push-Up Test, and Bent-Knee Curl Up Test with everyone. And you know what? They loved it. Today,  those tests may be an after-thought, but the time I spent with propsective members was actually building my value. No other staff trainer was doing that stuff with clients and when I was seen doing it; members were equating VALUE next to my name. Soon after, I was getting respect on the gym floor by many of the big meat-heads--many of which have become my friends.

My Rise

After about 8 months, I was promoted to fitness director. Here I was sitting in my own office, when weeks earlier I was conducting all my consultations on the gym floor while sitting on a bench. Now, I had an office with computer, files, and Internet. The other trainers were sharing another room. I had won some over. Half of the staff trainers liked me because they realized what my clients already knew: I was real and I knew my shit. The other trainers that didn't like me soon fizzled out and were terminated simply because their numbers were falling monthly. I was hiring new trainers; attending meetings with management; organizing weight-loss contests; meeting with supplement vendors, conducting in-house education seminars, and training clients. I was busy. One day, I was approached by some people from ESPN2 to provide an interview regarding youth fitness. I was a little taken back. They had heard from members that I was the fitness director and the "best guy Golds has on staff" and asked me to sit for 20 minutes to provide a little info for a segment they were doing on local sports. Without much prep, I sat on the gym floor and answered their questions as best I could:

Here I was... the damn fitness director who had started out as the chubbiest trainer on staff, was left on my own, and eventually out-selling every trainer on staff. Not because I was a good talker--but because people were comfortable opening their wallets for me. It came down to trust and genuineness.

So how did I achieve this in a year?

1.) I worked my ass off. I loved working in a commercial gym. As a trainer, I felt like I was on a "stage" every time I was on the floor with a client. After I finished with a client, I would remain on the floor to make myself available for anyone.

2.) I didn't hide in the office. Most trainers that are introverted or hate striking up conversations will sit in an office navigating the Internet or texting on their phone. Not me, I was on the floor walking around. I was refining my communication skills each time I stepped foot in the door. You cannot be afraid to talk to people. Surely, at first it is awkward, but when you begin to make friends with many gym goers it becomes easier and easier. I would keep conversations short. If they were not needing my help and simply conversing with me about the game last night, I kept the discussion short and my eyes moving on what was going on around me.

3.) I took initiative I didn't sit around and wait for clients to fall into my lap. I knew it wasn't going to happen--especially when I didn't look like an Adonis. So I had to share with people other parts of me that would sell them--mainly my personality and the information I knew. It helped that I wasn't afraid to walk the gym floor and demonstrate exercises that didn't make me look pretty. I didn't care. I wanted to teach people exercises that were beneficial for them--not what made me look pretty. In retrospect, I think people saw that I was willing to put effort in helping them, in front of making me look good. For instance, one day I was showing someone how to perform hanging ab raises. You know,  the kind where you use straps under your elbows and hang from a bar; then you lift your knees up to your torso. Here I was...the chubbiest trainer...showing a young muscle-head how to perform an exercise that he can easily kick my ass in. Which he did of course; but he was more impressed with the fact that I gave him 10 minutes of my time and helped him learn a new exercise. I bumped into him years later and he was still remarked by my professionalism and the time I gave him. That impression lasted longer than his 6-pack abs.

4.) I invested in expanding my mind, not my wallet. Around that time, many online fitness marketers were blowing up. I won't mention names because I know at least one will come to your minds. I was on fitness forums debating exercise programming, reading the newest fitness books, and checking out the latest fitness websites. I wasn't worried about making money with an online website. I was winning the respect of my peers. I was motivated on justifying my passion for fitness, money spent on education, and hours put into the gym. I still feel the same way today. Many trainers are too caught up in striking huge paychecks or counting revenue. I stuck to the basics. Learning more enabled me to provide more. Period.

5.) I believed in myself. I guess it all starts with that right? In a field where you are judged first by your cover; I was already pinned against the wall. I knew what my weaknesses were and I dedicated my efforts to making my strengths stronger. With that hardwork, I grew more and more confident in my ability and it showed. Testimonials, referrals, background checks, word-of-mouth....I got them all. Its didn't happen over night...but it happened and I am glad that I received no hand outs because of it.


  1. One of the best and most motivational posts I've read in a while! Awesome stuff John, keep up the great work!

  2. Thanks for reading Damon and glad you enjoyed!

  3. Glad I clicked Gentilcore's link to this post. Excellent! See and be seen and hard work -- such "revolutionary" concepts! Congrats on your success.

  4. You just made my day with this article. Thank you!!!

  5. @Deb: GLad you clicked on Tony's link too :)
    @Gab: Thanks for reading and happy it helped!

  6. Definitely encouraging as a pretty new trainer. Respect. Thank you John, keep up the hard work!

  7. Thanks Katie. Keep reading--lots of good posts for new trainers!!!

  8. Once again amazed by your confidence.


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