5 Lessons from "Off the Floor"
Updated: Jan 6
It has been almost five entire months since I've written for my own website. My last article went up in early August; one week prior to the beginning of my new position in a different company. Upon starting that role I promised myself that I'd commit the best of myself, my creativity, and my work ethic towards honoring the incredible commitment that the Co-Founders of my company, The St. James, placed in me directly.
After a decade of "on-the-floor" time for Equinox and the brand once known as Sports Club LA - I accepted a position as the Director of Product Development and Education for a new, and exciting brand in the health, sports, wellness, and active entertainment business. Check us out here.
In taking my role, I agreed to only train a maximum of ten sessions per week as I work to build internal education for our personal trainers, strength and conditioning staff, and sports coaches. In addition, I'm developing our group fitness concepts, organizing our on boarding and staff training, creating and organizing our products, programs, and content, as well as arranging for the industries best talent to come to our facility for workshops, conferences, and more.
I'm also absurdly grateful for the opportunity I've been given and deeply committed to doing something special...
Which led me to giving myself a 90-day blackout on publishing articles for my site or submissions for other sites. Any work that has come out in that time was done well in advance. I wanted to give my best efforts towards learning a leadership role, assimilating to a corporate level position, and creating great work for the brand that invested in me.
I accidentally overshot my blackout period by an additional sixty days, oops. In my defense, I also got married, had my honeymoon, and quickly realized that spending all day on a laptop doesn't make you want to spend more time on one at home.
Whew...now we are caught up...
In my time off of the training floor I've discovered a few things that I truly believe every single fitness professional should know. It's like seeing a sculpture from a new angle. The same piece of art can look radically different and present different meaning when you switch perspectives.
My experiences over the last 150 days have opened my eyes to a bevy of things that I wish I knew as a trainer. Some of have come during meetings and group-thinks with other "non-fitness" departments while others have come from researching our industry deeper than I'd ever done before. A few lessons have come from mistakes I've made and one arises from my greatest success thus far.
Without burning more characters than needed, here are the lessons:
1. Become a "Multiplier"
For a career in the fitness industry, addition makes perfect sense. If you add 5 clients to your roster, then you'll add money to your paycheck, and in theory, add to your quality of life. If we add another certification, then we can charge more, or enhance our biography, or reach a new market. Adding a new piece of equipment to your facility, a new program to your schedule, or a new trainer to your staff makes sense for gym owners.
Yet, real success comes from adopting a "multiplying" mindset. Addition is a slow, but steady and sure, way of improving something - there is nothing wrong with it. In fact, it is probably necessary that we begin in a addition mindset as we build our businesses, refine our crafts, and become the best version of ourselves.
Excellence comes from multiplying yourself and your work though. Being able to increase the magnitude of your efforts by reaching more people in less time, or by making decisions that stretch beyond the standard "add and subtract" mindset so many are stuck in. Let's look at switching from 1-1 training to a semi-private model as an easy example:
Imagine you currently charge $100.00 for your hour. A single client gives you that money.
But what if you charged $50.00 per person, per hour and opened that hour to 6 people? I'm no math major, but I'm certain that is a 3x increase in your hourly wages. That is multiplication if I've ever seen it. You do that with all of the hours in your schedule and you'll soon see your income multiplying as well.
Extending beyond the numbers -
What if you developed the bulk of your social media content in advance and used a scheduling platform for posting?
Or, what if you could standardize some of the processes that you believe are necessary for your business to run optimally without your constant oversight? You could train employees to "do like you" or utilize software to handle the mundane tasks that eat away at your productivity.
Best yet, what if you spent your time teaching the "next generation" and creating disciples of the proven sciences and your methods? What if you invested the time to train your staff to be great instead of just telling them to work harder?
A multiplication mindset requires looking at your needs and finding a way of creating bigger numbers and results by amplifying what already exists.
2. The Market drives the fitness industry - not the professionals
How many incredible strength coaches and personal trainers are fighting to keep the lights on in their well-equipped gyms while SoulCycle fills up every class, every hour?
Why are so many trainers leaving the industry because "their clients don't want to work hard" while others are becoming millionaires?
The answer lies in studying the market and providing what they want instead of being hell-bent on what they need. Success depends on being able to subtly address your clients needs while making your marketing and core offering about what they WANT.
Being that hardcore diet coach that carb-cuts every client, demands fasted cardio in the morning, and 2-hour weight training sessions isn't speaking to THE MARKET...it is speaking to a vacuum of people like themselves. Of course, this person will find some success with individuals who are motivated by the trainer's physique, personality, or attitude. But how many of those people will see long-term results and recommend the experience to their friends?
How many incredible strength coaches are struggling to get personal training clients because they want to squat, bench, and deadlift everyone?
How many personal trainers are missing sales because they are spending too much time telling people what they will do for them instead of asking more questions about the lead in front of them?
Meanwhile, boutique fitness studios, marketing-savvy trainers, and well-ran organizations are making millions of dollars by catering to the market that exists. Instead of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole - the make the peg round and work to coax a person to adapt themselves to fit other pegs too.
(I know how that sounds...relax...)
If you would have told me five years ago that I'd be co-developing a ZUMBA-style format for a big fitness brand, then I would have told you that you have hit your head and have found the wrong person. But here I am currently helping to shape our "dance-fitness" space for our brand to ensure that the individuals who aren't going to be doing barbell deadlifts, HIIT classes, or AMRAPs are still given great options.
My secret sauce?
Give them what they want but add in "segments" that give them what they need.
The market pays your bills; not your ego.
3. Leadership = Listening 10x more and speaking once
I'll keep this one short.
The best leaders are the ones who willingly shut their mouth and learn the opinions, thoughts, and ideas of everyone in the room with them. They listen intently and take notes.
And when they speak it matters. It is usually profound. And it moves mountains.
When you are working with clients - be a leader...not a trainer. Ask more questions and do more research into the person and their being. Don't pry like an FBI interrogator, but be genuinely curious to read the pages of your client's proverbial book instead of simply accepting them at the cover.
Be the student who considers that everyone could be right in their own n=1 sort of way. Experience is a funny thing. We often begin to assume that our experiences apply to everyone around us too - as if everyone is feeling the same flow of time, thought, and consciousness. Anyone with a quarter of a brain knows that isn't remotely true. Thus, it is important that we study and learn from others without allowing our own bias to influence our ability to receive (OR TEACH).
If you are running a fitness business, then listen to the feedback of your team, your customers, your peers, and beyond. In fact, seek it out. Don't think that you should be solving every problem and directing every directive just because of the title you've given yourself. Think about it...
Leaders ask questions and deliberate prior to delivering meaningful direction.
4. Assessments are a Mandatory 1st step in all that you do
Being a personal trainer for over a decade taught me that assessing clients is imperative to delvering exceptional results. Without a proper assessment I couldn't possibly write the best program for the individual I'm working with. Sure, I could give them a cookie cutter program that has given other people "like them" results in the past - but is it really giving them what they need as an individual?
More importantly, will it deliver LASTING RESULTS.
Listen to these next words extra carefully,
Never accept short-term success as proof of concept. Anything can work in a vacuum of time or demographic. Only sustainable results that lack substantial regression over time, across populations, and under a variety of stress "count".
One of my tasks in my new gig involves optimizing our processes and way of doing business. Beyond fitness, I thoroughly enjoy logistics and conversations about how to optimize processes and people. I see certain problems as Jigsaw puzzles that beg to be solved.
But you can't solve the puzzle without assessing the pieces in play, or what the completed picture should look like, or even how many pieces you have to account for.
And so the advice here is to ensure that you assess every aspect of your fitness business, your clients, and yourself, to ensure that you are completely understanding every part of the puzzle before acting. Assess your program design methods, your program creation strategies, your time management, your marketing, your customer service standards, your outreach scripts, and beyond. Assess how you dress, how you speak, how you write, and how you posture your body during tough conversations.
Assess with the intent to do research on better methods and with the intent to create a plan of attack for you, your business, and your future.
5. Think Wide: Work Deep
It breaks my heart when people stifle their creativity. Seth Godin talks about how our lizard brain holds us back in his book Linchpin, and it couldn't be more true when looking at the "common" fitness professional. In short, our fearful brain is afraid of rejection and failure and so it will actively sabotage our creative process to protect us from pain.
Fear tells us our ideas for a new class, or a new program method, or our new marketing campaign are stupid. So, we choose to post pictures of our bodies with meaningless captions in place of creating unique works that help people change their bodies, their minds, and their lives. It's safer that way.
How much further would our industry be if everyone was willing to just think as if there were no rules. Money, time, resources, popularity, the nutritional comparisons between white rice and brown rice...
None of it would matter during your thinking time, otherwise known as "thrashing". The key though, is to apply the same discipline that elevates good writers to great ones:
"Edit with no prejudice and fall in love with nothing you've created."
Once you exit your idea sessions you'll find that some of your ideas are absolutely destined to be gold if you were to spend more time and effort fleshing out the details. Other ideas are going to be absolutely shit.
Most will be right in the middle and will likely be best suited for your "parking-lot" - a place to store ideas for a later time when resources and capabilities (as well as perspectives and maturity) have changed.
Once you've isolated a few of your best ideas - go deep. I mean go molten core of the Earth deep. Do everything to make your idea work. Things like:
Explore the current market, the competitors, yourself and your capabilities.
Discover and acknowledge all of the necessary steps for preparation and an elite launch
Build the freaking idea into a tangible product/program
Let others test it and pick it a part (remember - no love to your ideas!)
Crash test it and try to break it and make it fail (adjust components of it and retest until it passes 100%)
Build the systems needed to support it, which may mean hiring people or investing in technology
Create FAQs, Email scripts, etc to streamline customer service
Add necessary final touches, polishes, or "ribbons" that make sales easier.
The mistake so many of us make is that we try to edit while creating and it stunts our process. It keeps us paralyzed in fear and prevents our wildest and craziest ideas from becoming tangible concepts on a white board, notepad, or laptop screen.
In my new role, I have started many meetings and thrashing sessions by using the "Magic Wand" intro. I ask for everyone in the room to tell me what they'd build/create if they could Harry Potter it into existence.
The result is amazing:
Tons of ideas hit the white board and no one feels inhibited or fearful of sharing their thoughts. We work together better as a team and optimize our best ideas quickly!
BONUS: Count your Wins
As a bonus thought I wanted to share with you something that I've failed at my entire life. This shortcoming has led me down roads of anxiety and depression in the past and can still make me a different person when I overlook this crucial action step.
You have to take the time to count your small wins. You must enjoy the steps you take towards your summit, no matter how high you are reaching.
Being a striving-personality has always meant that you didn't bask in small glory like others. You chose to celebrate only once the job was truly done. But now, with social media and a 24-hour news cycle in our lives we feel incredible pressure to never stop succeeding.
We "share" our wins for the sake of "likes" and "comments" and completely overlook the act of ACTUALLY FEELING our success.
Want to know why we are so unhappy all the time?
It's because we work our assess of to pay our bills, get ahead in life, experience success only to spend our "peak" moments taking selfies and staged photos to impress our "followers".
So I say all of that to say this:
Take inventory of all of the little and big things you've accomplished.
Helped a client lose 5 pounds? Write it down.
Published your first article on a major site? Write it down.
Won a major award, got a promotion, increased your rates, or something of the like? Write it down.
And once a month - review your wins and ACTUALLY FEEL the feeling of success. Bask in the smile you'll have knowing that your work is not in vein. Enjoy the reprieve from the grind and acknowledge just how cool you are.
Seriously. Feel your fucking wins.
Don't be a jerk and think your wins make you better than anyone else though. Simply acknowledge them privately so that you know that you've done a good day, week, month's work when you put your head to a pillow at night.
Ahhh. It feels good to be back.
I'm excited for the perspective that I can continue to share with you all as I continue to move towards new challenges that will shape me, evolve me, and craft me into a better version of myself. I'll gain new perspectives, ideas, and successes that will hopefully allow me to do what I've always aimed to do:
Change the fitness industry in a way that it helps everyone involved.