Vail Daily column: Fitness: A tough but rewarding career |

Vail Daily column: Fitness: A tough but rewarding career

Ryan W. Richards
Make It Count

I receive a substantial number of phone calls and emails about the process of becoming a fitness professional. What are the required credentials? How financially rewarding is the profession? What are the hours? What are the best fitness strategies for developing wellness within a target market? What are the most important attributes of a true fitness professional? I will answer these questions today. Even if you don’t have a desire to pursue a career within the fitness industry, the following can help you identify a true professional if you are seeking a qualified coach.

HAVE Patience and persistence

The most important credential is a great deal of patience and persistence. Fifty-three percent of all fitness professionals have less than four years of experience in the field. I’ve observed that most of these professionals move on to greener pastures quickly.

After four years of experience, the pie gets very small, with only 5 percent of the industry professionals that bear at least 20 years in the trenches. This is because some trainers dabble in the profession for extra money, or do it part time early in their career path on the way to a physical therapy degree for example. The trend is mostly due to the reality of what’s required to be truly great at this profession.

The best teacher is the gym. … A student isn’t going to know anything about your credentials, and frankly, they don’t care.

The industry is littered with competition. It’s easy to understand why. Fitness professionals don’t require a college degree, and depending on the location, a trainer may charge up to $150 per hour for their services. Given how many stay-at-home moms, former athletes and general fitness enthusiasts there are, it makes sense that passionate health nuts end up pursing a weekend seminar, get a letter of competence and start charging $100 per hour. Just like anything else in life, though, it takes several years to rise to the top in terms of knowledge, experience and pay.

Novice fitness trainers lose patience and usually quit right before the harvest. Don’t expect to get a degree in exercise science, receive a bunch of fancy letters and then within a year make a six-figure income. This doesn’t happen.


As for credentials, it really doesn’t matter. Get a credential from a reputable fitness agency and apply yourself to learning on your own. The best teacher is the gym. The second best teacher is through trial, error and failure. A student isn’t going to know anything about your credentials, and frankly, they don’t care.


Humility goes a long way. Want to get rid of a new student immediately? Pretending to know facts or concepts you really don’t know, and using big fancy words to confuse poor little Jane who doesn’t know what a femur is a bad deal. I recently overheard a trainer say something like, “Pull your transverse abdominus in, internally rotate your femur, squeeze your lats together, externally rotate your shoulders, pick your sternum up and ground yourself. Breathe, be one with yourself.”

Yeah right. How about, “Tighten your stomach, point your foot directly straight and pick your chest up towards the ceiling.” Use the minimum amount of words to explain the task. The body will figure it out. If you don’t know something, you just don’t know something. Remember, the public is intimidated. They are coming to you for help. They don’t want to be intimidated any more than they already have been.


Next, seek out other fitness professionals for mentors. I remember taking an exercise theory class in college in which the professor said that “three sets of 15 repetitions is great for building local muscular endurance; this set and rep range is ideal for all exercises if the goal is to build endurance.” In the real world, this doesn’t work and will hospitalize most students. Hands on learning experience from a seasoned coach goes much further than any four year degree or weekend seminar.


From a business side of things, get ready to hustle. We all know the unwritten statistic in our valley about the real estate market. How many brokers are there again? Exactly. The rumor is that 20 percent of our brokers perform 80 percent of the work. This is the case with trainers as well. Want to make a good living? Wake up at 5 a.m., train students between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. and 3 and 7 p.m. six or seven days a week. Forty hours per week isn’t likely going to cut it. By the way, who works 40 hours per week anyway? Successful people don’t work 40 hour workweeks, save a few lucky ones who were at the right place at the right time.


Lastly, you must assess, implement training for the desired goal and test the result. Develop a system. A bad system is better than no system at all. Without a system, it’s difficult to be effective in the long run. Everything must be documented. Movement competence, baseline strength, tolerance for discomfort, etc. Build out a program that fixes the burning fitness problem and document what your student is actually doing. Retest every six to eight weeks. If your program isn’t delivering measurable fitness improvement, change directions. Don’t get stuck on a particular philosophy if it’s not delivering.

This is a truly blessed and rewarding career. If you have the patience, work ethic and basic understanding of how to develop fitness, then the field is worth pursuing. Have a great week!

Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at or 970-401-0720.

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