CAREER ADVICE FOR PERSONAL TRAINERS

September 19, 2022. Written byAmir Siddiquifor Muscular Intelligence.

THE SECRETS TO SUCCESS AND EXPERTISE IN THE FITNESS WORLD
WHAT IS SUCCESS?

“Life is a balance of opposites and opposites are joined at the hip.” — Howard Bloom

In my fitness career, now spanning over 20 years, I’ve trained thousands of clients, earned millions of dollars, and managed to do it without sacrificing the craft for profit – or profit for craft.

But HOW did I?

That’s what this new site and venture, Muscular Intelligence, is all about. 

I’m going to give you the real deal about what it takes to have success in the fitness industry. Over the course of the coming months and years, I will teach you everything you need to know so you don’t make my mistakes but instead compound your own gains through learning about my experiences. 

But first, we need to get back to defining ‘success’.

Society at large worships success.

It bends-the-knee for the successful.

Generally: What is success?

Specifically: What is success to you?

How can we identify it?

How can we define it?

Don’t worry because we’re not going to play that game. 

What we are going to do is to take a cue from our friend Karl Popper and NOT engage in this sort of “what is..?” diatribe about definitions. Because in trying to isolate and define ‘success’ on its own, free of context, we risk losing sight of the bigger picture (the context) in which we need to understand “success” in fitness coaching.

Now that we’ve evaded that exercise in rabbit-hole semantics, I’ll give you MY definition of success in the context of personal training and fitness:

Firstly, success has a quality component and a quantity component. A qualitative aspect and a quantitative aspect. Some things about success you can measure, and some things about success can only be observed.

To me, a successful career in personal training means I am consistently and constantly improving my skills (the qualitative) while also constantly and consistently increasing my profits (the quantitative), day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year.

This “definition” (my definition) covers the full spectrum of possibilities; from all the quantitative to all the qualitative parameters and proxies of “success”. If I consistently achieve progress in those two categories, I will not only achieve financial success but also achieve my goal of attaining high-level expertise.

If you’ll notice you can see that my definition of “Success” is not (just) a state, but (also) a process. Responsive, dynamic, and evolving.

As long as you’re moving in the right direction, you’re good.

Never stop moving.

Now, do I mean you should/could expect linear progress?

No. 

Even the lack of linear progress is non-linear.

It will mostly come in increments – in cycles of boom and bust.

You will keep pushing, pulling, and twisting yourself to get that coveted “success” formula working. Sometimes you’ll make progress, and at other times you’ll regress, and a lot of times you’ll get nowhere…seemingly.

But if you’re trying, just like with physique enhancement, then not having any “measurable” progress doesn’t mean things aren’t happening at levels we can’t/don’t measure, just waiting to erupt as an adaptive cumulative net response/result.

Lateral Rant: Financial success and Intellectual success (expertise attainment) don’t necessarily couple together harmoniously; neither are they static – they flux according to how you tend to them. It can be a tough relationship. You could become a recognized expert and achieve NO financial success – or worse – you could achieve tremendous financial success – be considered an expert by people who don’t know any better – yet deep down you know that you’re just a hack with good marketing skills. I would rather be proud of my skill-set and poor than have poor skills (that only I know about) at that which has made me rich.

SUCCESS IS INFLUENCED BY FACTORS YOU CAN’T CONTROL

“Luck is not as random as you think. Before that lottery ticket won the jackpot, someone had to buy it.” ― Vera Nazarian

Now, to just rain a bit on our parade, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman will tell you, that success has a lot more to do with sheer luck than any of your successful heroes, mentors, and idols (*shudder*) would ever willingly admit.

His formula goes something like this:

success = talent + luck;

great success = a little more talent + a lot of luck

He is, of course, absolutely right – and it doesn’t matter one damn iota.

Why doesn’t his formula matter?

It doesn’t matter because we can’t know where, when, and how we may or may not get lucky.

How the confluence of lifes various factors come together and what pattern they weave, whether destructive or constructive, is (currently) wholly unpredictable.

It seems that we live in a random and non-rational world and, at least in the time frames we live, we cannot predict the outputs of inputs with any remote certainty; and what you can’t know you can’t prepare for.

What we CAN do are the things that minimize risk and maximize benefit, the Taleb and Naval idea to take advantage of an asymmetric opportunity.

Which means doing things that have great upside (if they do work out) but minimal down-side (even if they dont work out) such as:

– Reading the best (time-stood) books to optimize your knowledge

– Training people for free (not forever) to prove and hone your skills

Keep “investing” (time or money) in these sorts of activities and you’ve minimized the risk of loss (of money or time).

Lateral Rant: You could experience some bad luck, some terrible luck even on your journey. Just don’t make the mistake of “dyadic completion”. Which means do not search for an agent to blame. And do not make the western mistake of thinking the problem is outside of or external to the system. It doesn’t matter when/why the bad stuff happens; what matters is your attitude about how to move forward even with wounds still bleeding.

SUCCESS TAKES TIME

“No matter how great the talent or efforts, some things just take time. You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.”― Warren Buffett

One of the major gripes I have had for years with young up and coming coaches is that they simply don’t appreciate the sheer time (and effort) it takes to achieve expertise and become successful.

Here’s the truth – no matter how intelligent you are coming into this field, you will STILL need to put in 10 years of (deep) work (theoretical and practical) before I can take you seriously as a colleague or before anyone can/should take you seriously as an expert.

Famous philosopher Massimo Pigliucci wrote about the “10 year rule” in more than one of his many published books, and though it is an approximation, it certainly applies broadly and holds true across domains.

He writes, “Moreover, the ten-year (approximate) rule applies even to particularly talented individuals, like a child prodigy.”

And whether or not you believe that Malcolm Gladwell is right about his rule for achieving expertise – that it takes 10,000 hours of specific and dedicated work to achieve expert status at that work – one thing is for sure, he is NOT WRONG.

Lateral Rant: Young coaches with under 10 years experience training themselves, much less training other people and clients, enter this industry with massive delusions of grandeur. All stemming from their personal success with their own bodies as being indicative of potential professional success with bodies not their own. Working OUT and working a client OUT are two different worlds.

SUCCESS TAKES WORK

“These days the first thing people want is an easy job. Then, they want lots of free time. And then, they want lots of money. But they aren’t thinking of building their skills.” – Jiro Ono (Dreams Of Sushi documentary)

Not only does attaining expert status and success in fitness require 10 years, but it requires 10 years of DEEP WORK.

10 years in which you paid attention to every single rep of every single set you did and did with your clients.

10 years of paying attention to what you’re reading and researching, and making sure you are retaining the most important information so that you can put it to use and let it evolve into (expert) knowledge and eventually into wisdom.

You cannot spend your time superficially and expect to be one of the best in your field; you cannot expect deep knowledge.

Here’s what it means to do Deep Work as defined by Cal Newport, “Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship.”

This means you need 10 years of DEEP (high quality) WORK with hundreds and thousands of clients from diverse backgrounds and with diverse needs and wants. Each one of those clients is a treasure trove of puzzles, which will require study and application, theory and practice, to solve. The more client problems you solve, from getting them fit to fixing their back, YOU gain 10x more than they could ever pay you. Because they are giving you the gift of “a problem” (to solve).

SUCCESS REQUIRES OBSESSION

“Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine.”― Ludwig van Beethoven

Your average coach is bored, distracted, and disinterested even as she/he is on the floor doing what they supposedly ‘love’.

And if you’re NOT lit up and excited about your work, and if you’re not morbidly and disturbingly OBSESSED about reaching the darkest depths and brightest heights of your craft, then do the world a favor and quit TODAY.

Because it’s this lack of obsession which is why so many people absolutely despise their work, their job, and their chosen career; their life.

They don’t treat it as a craft to master – they treat it as a means to an end.

Which is the perfect recipe for personal and professional failure.

The major trait of the successful expert is that they are obsessed with their craft.

To be immersed in the process is the goal and the goal is the immersion in process.

You’ll see it in geniuses from all fields: They manifest the quality of obsession.

Now here’s the practical culmination of this idea – that the obsession that is characteristic of all your top experts in all domains, requires kicking the pop-culture idea of a “balanced life” to the curb.

It’s not going to be possible to develop asymmetric expertise living a symmetric life-style.

You must embrace a brutal asymmetry in how you live your life; that is what expertise development requires if you want to achieve expert status. A life patterned around and upon the driving force(s) of obsession.

Lateral Rant: I find it extremely interesting how far we push ourselves when driven by pain or curiosity. Limits burn, constraints melt, and time evaporates into one singular ball of fire that forces its light into the dark.

SUCCESS IS A JOURNEY

“The journey is difficult, immense. We will travel as far as we can, but we cannot in one lifetime see all that we would like to see or to learn all that we hunger to know.” ― Loren Eiseley

Hopefully, the literary journey we just took together gives you a sense of understanding about where I’m coming from and why I want you to adopt traditional craftsman-like approaches to your work. Because I truly believe that a deep understanding of your craft, both theoretically and practically, is what an expert maketh.

But…

Why and how did we lose our way?

Why are so many coaches so bad at their jobs?

Why are fitness coaching and personal training plagued with such a high churn rate despite being a 10 billion dollars per year industry?

Well, it has a lot to do with success-anxiety fueled by the drama of lies and likes on the digital stage that is all of social-media; the inter and hyper-connectivity spectacle and debacle.

But I’m not going to sit here and type out some sort of anti-modernity and anti-technology tripe about how we’ve created better fitness marketers instead of better fitness experts – but it IS true.

And I think a lot has to do with being in a rush to succeed perceptually before one is successful professionally. To get the dopamine hit reward in units of likes on images and posts. The more the better. It’s the perfect drug.

You see, via social media, we assume everyone is doing better than us – and more than enough research and your own personal experience will tell you that its mostly pea-cocking and virtue signaling – a perceptual scam of people curating a very specific image and message to the world about themselves – layered in exaggeration and lies.

Banking on one thing – if I can get people to believe I am living the high-life, then that is as good as actually living the high-life. The more likes I get from you, the more I believe in my lies.

But I digress – because its not a topic that interests me enough to keep writing about.

80% of your success will come from the basic study and practice duo.

Not from learning about marketing.
Not from joining some ‘master-mind’ scam.
Not from someone selling you on ‘mindset’ training. 
Not from social media business tactics.
Not even from attending the ultimate fitness clustrf*ck of evidence-based (blogging) conferences; the ultimate incestuous circle-jerk. 

None of that matters until you put in the study and research time, and the ‘in-the-trenches’ client training time. 

It won’t be easy and it won’t come fast – but it will be the ride of your life if you commit…

SUCCESS IS LOVING YOUR CRAFT

“Craftsmanship to be artistic in the final sense must be “loving”; it must care deeply for the subject matter upon which skills are exercised. –  John Dewey, “Art as Experience” (1934)

And love requires a lot of work…

Study Your Craft: 2 hours per day of reading and research
Listen, if you don’t like to put in the time to read (a lot) and to study (a lot) what we know about our world and about the human body, about psychology and neurology, and the philosophy of how it all connects to construct the perceptual tapestry of reality – then this field is not for you. Take my advice and quit now. But if you are a nerd and geek, you’ll realize that the neuroscientist Read Montague was right when he called the human ability to take pleasure in abstract ideas (from reading and thinking) a “superpower”. That it literally gives us pleasure is power.

Practice Your Craft: 8 hours per day of training clients
8 hours per day of straight up coaching SHOULD be a JOY if you actually love what you do. I think it’s a great way to test if this really IS what you love or whether what you really love is training yourself. Be honest. If you don’t like training people in the real world, then this is definitely not the field for you. You need real-world success before you start selling people your obviously un-informed and in-experienced fitness coaching services online. BUT here’s the best part – it’s on the floor during those 8 hours that you will experience the coveted state of Flow. According to the Flow theory by Cziksentmihalyi, we experience the best moments in life when we are consumed in our work. When people are in Flow they feel “strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities.” This is why so much research shows that we have the most positive experiences of our lives at WORK – and NOT on vacation. Interesting and TRUE. And no better way to experience flow than through coaching people back to back for 8-10 hours per day. I know from personal experience that the fact that our job is so physical and combined with being mental, it pushes us coaches into a flow state that only possibly athletes can achieve. It’s a beautiful thing. Staying so busy that you don’t even notice time.

FINAL ADVICE

“The average teacher explains complexity; the gifted teacher reveals simplicity.” 
—Robert Brault

As a beginner to fitness coaching and personal training, the idea is to be more of an idealist than a realist. 

Yes, I know how that advice goes counter to everything being pushed on you today about the rush to make money, and the rush to get rich and famous. 

Trust my years of experience and put in the 10 years of WORK instead– endless hours of it at a high quality. 

Be well on your path to expert-status before you learn about marketing and blog article writing. That stuff is evil manipulation when you have no actual in-depth knowledge or experience; you are fooling people.

Stop it. 

Develop your personal expertise and the financial success WILL come – if you stay the course.

So my final bit of advice is – SLOW DOWN – take in the process – as painful as it may be. 

Because destination pleasure can only be reached by traveling the road called pain.

WHAT IT REALLY TAKES TO SUCCEED AS A PERSONAL TRAINER

Here’s the truth: it takes work and time to reach the top 10% of experts in your field, and especially in the fitness field.

But what is truly annoying (and saddening) is how much time you will end up wasting getting there without a mentor guiding you. I know because I did.

What I can do for you is to make sure you read the most effective and important books, cultivate and hone your skills of coaching and programming, and dramatically enhance your client communication quality.

If you truly have what it takes, and combined with my help, you will have the success only a few have ever achieved, but everyone is trying to.

The first step is to subscribe to my email list and make sure you don’t miss the gems I pass along. Secondly, read the blog. Thirdly, put what you learn into action. By doing this your career will progress in light years while your competition stalls at the speed of in-action; I’ll see you on the other side.

ALMOST THERE! WHAT'S YOUR EMAIL?