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Personal Training: Sink Or Swim


shutterstock_168030440Most people who are currently managing a staff of trainers and coaches once started out as trainers themselves. And chances are when they reported to work as a trainer, the on-boarding method in use was “Sink Or Swim.”

The scenario likely went like this: “Uniform? Check. Name tag? Check. There’s the floor. Go get ‘em!” While some people in this scenario will swim, many others will not. Instead, they will sink.

If you’re reading this, you might be thinking, “There might be a better way,” and there is. So how do you improve the process, the experience and the results?

First, you should have a set start date for when new hires begin. For the process to be repeatable, the environment has to be as well. 

The experience for new hires will be different if they start in the midst of your month-end or mid-month close-outs, as opposed to starting at the beginning of the month (doubly so if your program isn’t where you’d like it to be). Maybe the first few days of the month have you tied up with reporting, meetings, conference calls and goal setting. As a result, pick a time that will be least likely to run into scheduling conflicts or “due to the state of the business” distractions.

If at all practical, choose a location off-site, or at least secluded, from the main gym floor and membership sales area to do on-boarding. Find a way out of the hustle and bustle of the day. There’s a ton to go over and the process is already at least mildly overwhelming — don’t add to it. This is your chance to paint a picture of company philosophy and purpose. Move into policies, software and operational details. Cover assessment protocols and programming preferences. Having an environment where the front desk isn’t paging every few minutes and existing staff aren’t asking if you “have a minute” will help new coaches stay focused.

One thing to keep in mind is having a fixed start day creates a “dead period” between the job offer and the first day of work. Left as a void, this can create undesired outcomes. However, used properly, it can work to your advantage. Once you’ve offered the position and the trainer has accepted, ensure that each day in this “dead period” you have a member of your staff reach out to the new trainer to introduce themselves. Whether they reach out via e-mail, phone call or social media, all forms of communication will be welcome by the new trainer. Each time they’re contacted it is reassuring to them that you’re excited to have them on board.

Second, take away the daunting sensation of being the new kid who moved schools in the middle of the year.

To prevent a new trainer from feeling out of place, provide a picture and a brief bio on your new coach to everyone on the existing staff, in all departments. Let your existing staff know what day they’ll be starting and encourage them to seek out the “newbie” and make them feel at home.

The day before they actually set foot on your gym floor in uniform, use your social media pages to introduce the new coach to your members. Encourage your members to come up and introduce themselves to the new trainer. The sooner that trainers feel comfortable and relaxed, the sooner they’ll start producing!

Third, why it takes a village. 

Assign new trainers a mentor, or at the very least a “buddy.” No matter what you say about open-door policies, new trainers are always going to have a sense of, “I don’t want to bother you,” and guess what — as busy operators, it’s true that you’re likely too busy to answer a ton of questions. There are likely some day-to-day type questions that can be answered by some of your veteran staff. Allow them to help — they’ll feel empowered.

In addition, restate expectations that were covered in the interview process on job functions, expected results, etc. At UFC Gym, we’ll also make sure we’re using checklists that engage and hold accountable both parties — new employees and employers — with tasks, start dates and completion dates. Ownership and resources will be a mixture of the new trainer, their mentor and you.

We know that results aren’t luck and guesswork. The very bedrock of our industry is that results are predictable when clients are held accountable to a detailed and measurable process. The successful on-boarding of new trainers is no different. In a way, new trainers are now your clients, and if you establish a detailed process and hold them accountable to measurables, their results (and successes) will be predictable.


Donnie Oliver is the director of fitness for UFC Gym in Torrance, California. He can be reached at donnie.oliver@ufcgym.com.

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko is the editor-in-chief of Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at rachel@peakemedia.com.

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