As a trainer of trainers I often get questions from students about how to plan their next steps following completion of their certification training. Often those questions include big gyms vs. small gyms, pay structures, and how to choose where to work.
And as a trainer in the industry for 12 years and counting, I've had the opportunity to work in a variety of settings and to learn about the different pay structures and the pros and cons of each.
I've run my own business, worked in small gyms, done online consulting, and worked in big gyms.
A lot of students are immediately drawn to big gyms because they assume that this is where the big money is. But, there are many things to consider, not just the pay.
Here, I have a short list of what you need to know about how you get paid to train in a big gym setting. Use it as a guide while you plan the next step of your fitness career.
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It is true that in most cases you can charge more in a big gym than a small gym. This is your charge rate.
Charge rate is the amount of money you charge a client for an hour of your time. This is your market value as a trainer, and in general it can be much higher in a big gym setting than in a small gym or in a home or outdoor setting.
As an example, in 2010, I trained at the Baylor Student Life Center (a small gym for college students) and I charged $20 per hour.
At the same time, I held part-time status at the Gold's Gym down the street (a big gym open to the public) and I charged $55 per hour.
I was the same trainer but charged two different rates because of the different training environments. Was I cheating the system?
No, absolutely not.
Big gym training rates are higher for a number of reasons, most importantly because of the access you get to a variety of high-quality equipment. The equipment in a small gym is necessarily more limited. In a big gym, you also have the convenience of a number of offerings in one building: towel service, a pool, group classes, and so on.
When you interview for positions as a trainer, always ask what charge rate you can leverage based on your education and experience, and then make comparisons.
Charge rate is not the only pay jargon you need to know when looking for a job. Commission percentage is just as important. Commission percentage is your cut of what your client is paying per training session.
For example, if the big gym sets your charge rate at $100 per hour, and you qualify for a 50% commission percentage, you take home $50 for every $100 your client spends to train with you.
Since this is essentially your paycheck, it's important to spend some time pouring over this information to decide if you can do better elsewhere.
Commission percentage structures vary from place to place, but they are usually based on several factors:
Education level. How many and what kind of certifications do you hold? Have you taken additional classes beyond certification or achieved any specializations?
Experience with the gym. How long have you been working for the company?
Revenue production. How much money do you bring in from clients every month? Are you a popular trainer?
Management status. Are you a manager as well as a trainer or are you working only as a trainer?
In addition to clarifying charge rate during interviews, make sure you get a handle on what your commission percentage would be starting out and how much potential there is to earn more in the future.
While you're considering the charge rate and commission percentage, don't fall into the trap of simple transactional math.
Don't only ask, "How much of my client's session fee goes to me?"
A better question is,"What do I get for my rent money?"
Instead of just looking at the commission percentage as the pay the big gym allows you to keep, also look at it as rent that you pay the big gym and ask what you get for that rent. Your client pays $100 and instead of getting that full amount, you keep half of it and pay the other $50 to the gym as rent for training there.
Obvious benefits include not needing to deal with:
Liability insurance, and
And there are other factors to consider and important questions to ask:
What client base or demographic are you paying to have access to?
What condition and type of equipment are you paying for?
What marketing is done on your behalf?
What coaching and support is available for your own professional development?
What career advancement options do you have?
Is shift scheduling flexible or fixed?
Do you get health insurance?
Do you get paid or unpaid vacation?
Are there retirement account options available?
All of these questions need to be answered so that you can find the best fit for you. If you interview at two places and are comparing a $60 payout per hour with a $70 payout per hour but find that the $60 payout includes paid vacation time, health insurance, and a 401K where the $70 job does not, then the decision is more complicated than simply an extra $10 in salary.
Every big gym has a different list of certifications they recognize for hiring qualifications and internal advancement. Before you invest in certification, make sure you know where it will be accepted. Does the big gym you want to work for even accept the certification you are interested in pursuing?
It's important to do your homework and be aware of certification requirements ahead of time, but if you fall in love with a gym and find out it doesn't accept your certification, don't dismiss it out of hand.
Many general managers at gyms will work with you and negotiate starting commission or advancement based on your experience pending a verification of the legitimacy of your certifications. This is always worth a face-to-face meeting to talk about. You may be surprised about what kind of deal you can work out.
Personal training in a big gym can be a rewarding and smart career move, but it's not necessarily the right choice for every trainer. Before you commit to a big gym, find out what your charge rate and commission percentage would be, what you'd be renting, and what certifications are accepted for hire and advancement.
If the Big Gym Business is for you, treat it like you want your clients to treat their fitness: Work smarter, not harder.
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