Should I Make a Career Change to Fitness Coaching?

Should I Make a Career Change to Fitness Coaching?

An In-depth Look at Three Different Fitness Coach Careers

It’s a new year. A chance for a fresh start. For some, this sometimes means a potential career shift. 

If this is you, and you have been contemplating becoming a personal trainer, or a fitness coach of some sort, it’s worth doing a little bit of research about the pros and cons of the various options you could pursue in the industry.

Before we do that, let’s reverse engineer this for a moment and consider your end goal.

If you’re looking to become a coach as a career, this means you need:

  • To acquire a full-time job
  • The ability to earn a professional wage (so you can one day own a house and raise a family etc.)

And you probably also want to avoid burnout from having to work too many hours to earn this living, and have the ability to take some paid vacations here and there. And job satisfaction. That would be nice too, right?

In light of the above, let’s consider three common routes to pursue.

Three Common Fitness Coach Careers

1. Become a personal trainer

Becoming a personal trainer can sound like a great idea when you’re 20 years old and love fitness. It seems like a dream job to be able to spend your day at the gym. And US$20 an hour might even sound like a pretty good wage. 

On top of that, the barrier to entry is fairly low, in that you can drop a few hundred dollars on a weekend course and, boom, you’re hireable.

The reality, however, is often much more grim.

The average personal training wage in the United States sits at around $19 an hour. While some trainers are able to earn closer to $40 an hour—or more if they get to keep 100 percent of their pay by training their clients in their homes, for example—the average yearly salary sits at around $35,000 to $40,000. Again, when you’re 20 that might sound like a lot of money, but good luck comfortably living off $35,000 a year in your 40s.

This is part of the reason the shelf life for personal trainers is fairly low—in the neighborhood of three years: Not enough earning potential. 

The only way to earn closer to $60,000-plus is to overwork yourself and spend way too many energy-draining hours on the floor with your clients. You might be able to work 40 on-floor hours for a couple years, but it’s the fastest way to burnout. Not only that, most people like to train before or after work, so many personal trainers find themselves working split shifts, which only compound on the burnout.

On top of this, in this type of model, if you take a vacation, your paycheck takes a hit; paid vacations are non-existent.

Finally, once clients become more self-sufficient in their training, many trainers explain they soon start to feel like they’re just rep counters for their clients, which isn’t exactly fulfilling.  This was the case for Michael Pilhofer. Read his story here.

Bottom line, it’s difficult to achieve any of the goals we laid out at the outset of this article—professional wage, avoid burnout, paid vacation and job fulfillment—by going down the personal training road. 

2. Become a group class, functional fitness coach

Another option is to become a functional fitness, CrossFit, Bootcamp, Orange Theory, Spin Class (or whatever the latest fad might be) instructor.

Again, when you’re young this sounds like a lot of fun, but many of the same problems arise here as they do for personal trainers.

Check out these two articles that highlight some of the deficiencies for group class coaches:

3 reasons I’m not coaching a group class.

Group fitness instructor or professional coach.

More often than not, in the group class model, you get paid by the hour—usually between $15 and $30 an hour—to administer a group workout. In order to make a living, you have to work way too many hours coaching the same workout over and over. Needless to say, it gets boring after a year or so and ends up feeling like you’re just a timekeeper who babysits adults.

This is what Kayla Smith felt like.

“I was so over babysitting adults,” said Smith, who used to coach six group classes a day and found herself “repeating myself over and over.”

“At one point a couple years in, I would be there from 5 a.m. until 9 o’clock at night. I coached every single class,” she added. 

On the flip side are the coaches who simply aren’t able to work enough hours. This is often the case with small gyms, where the business just can’t afford to pay a full-time coach, so the owner does the bulk of the coaching. In these cases, coaches become part-time coaches and have to take on another job.

Further, group class coaches usually find they’re not actually able to help their clients in the group model, as there is no consideration to individual needs, wants and goals. The best they can offer is a generic workout that most definitely isn’t what nine out of 10 people in the class actually need.

The workout aside, there’s also no opportunity to dig into other aspects of your clients’ lives in a group model—things like nutrition, sleep, stress. You will discover pretty quickly that the above are requirements when it comes to helping your clients make lasting health changes in their lives. 

This is why Smith, and so many others, abandoned either the personal trainer’s or the group class instructor’s life to pursue a third path: An OPEX coach.

3. Become an OPEX coach

Becoming an OPEX coach involves taking the Coach Certificate Program (CCP), which takes around 6 months. Check out this article about how the CCP is the best path to becoming a professional coach who can earn a professional wage, take paid vacations and experience true job satisfaction—all of the things we laid out at the outset of this article.

In short, OPEX coaches are the most knowledgeable experts in the industry, who are able to mitigate all the problems personal trainers and group class coaches experience.

They’re paid a percentage of revenue based on their own book of clients, clients who pay a premium for an individualized training program. This allows them to be able to eventually earn a professional wage. 

Take Shanna Guzman, for example:

As of last year, she had 50 of her own clients, who each paid between $US235 and $300 a month for an individual program and monthly consults, of which she earns 50 percent of the revenue. Read more about her story here.

As already mentioned, a second shortcoming of both personal training and group class coach options is the burnout factor because both types of coaches have to work too much to earn a decent living wage. The OPEX model is designed so most coaches spend an average of 8 to 15 on-floor hours each week. 

Guzman, for example, said she coaches a manageable 9 to 11.5 hours a week on the floor. The rest of the coach’s time is spent programming, administering lifestyle consults, and on continued education.  

Thirdly, let’s talk about vacations:

Because OPEX coaches are paid a percentage of revenue, they can now take off on vacation without their paycheck taking a hit. More often than not, they simply get another coach to cover their on-floor shifts while they’re away in a sort of informal barter type of situation. 

Check out this article about Jim and Julie Migliaccio, the owners of OPEX Gold Coast in Norwalk, Connecticut. The couple takes off to Florida each year for weeks at a time. They are still able to program for clients and hop on Zoom calls, so being away doesn’t negatively affect their business, and they know their clients are taken care of back home. 

Finally, job satisfaction: 

In the OPEX individual program design model, coaches are finally able to help their clients see real success, which provides a fulfilling career—one they can pursue, not just for a few years, but for life. 

This has certainly been the case for Bobby Scott and countless other CCP coaches.

“My clients are better served (in the OPEX model) for sure. The monthly consultations are a big thing. In a personal training session, you kind of talk about surface, day-to-day stuff, but in a consult you can sit down in an office, one-on-one, and you can dig a little deeper about their needs and wants, and that helps your relationship with them become stronger…They get so much more value from this,” said Scott, the owner of OPEX South Shore.

As a result: “I enjoy my days a lot more now,” he added.

So if you’re looking to become a fitness coach of some sort, what makes the most sense to you? Personal trainer? Functional fitness group class coach? Or OPEX coach?

Take the first step in your career change today and sign up for our free coaching course which will introduce to the essentials that you need to become an OPEX Coach.


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