Lee Cain is the founder of HFE, one of the UK’s foremost fitness industry training providers. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and has a First Class Honours Degree in Sport and Exercise Science. For over 15 years Lee has designed, developed and delivered a wide-range of fitness industry qualifications, helping thousands of aspiring professionals launch their career in the fitness industry.
We met with Lee to learn how he believes the industry needs to review its attitude towards personal trainers for the benefit of the entire market.
The Fitness Network:
Why do you think gyms need to be reviewing their relationships with personal trainers?
Gyms make the mistake of thinking personal trainers are there to just add a little extra revenue, but in reality they have a huge impact on membership retention rates and the overall perception of the brand. The way PT’s are viewed by the industry simply doesn’t do their role justice and the resulting attrition rate is something that we as an industry should be ashamed of.
The Fitness Network:
So what are the changes that you believe gyms need to be making?
1. Accept responsibility for the ongoing development of your personal trainers
There is a lot of fuss in the industry about the poor quality of personal trainers coming through the system and there’s no question that the current regulation needs reviewing, but there is a limit to how much training providers can do. Our job is to get students to a point where they’re conversationally fluent, familiar with the required terminology and have a solid understanding of the human body, but that is where it ends. Gyms need to take responsibility for the continuation of this journey. Every gym has a different set of values and propositions, so it would be impossible for a training provider to meet the requirements of every last one.
“How many have a clear value chain in terms of inducting and investing in their staff?”
Gyms have a clearly defined value chain for members, from sign up to retention, but how many have a clear value chain in terms of inducting and investing in their staff? Gyms need to be holding regular training and ensuring that each member of the team has a clear development plan. Far too few gyms take this responsibility seriously, particularly among the rapidly growing budget sector.
2. Have a strong induction process for new trainers
A lot of the independent operators have broad and irrelevant job descriptions with flimsy inductions, which means many inexperienced trainers are simply left to their own devices. When a new team member joins they must be given a specific set of responsibilities, along with clear instructions of the duties that will enable them to meet these obligations.
The new PT should first be given their training, followed by he opportunity to perform it under supervision and only then should they be left to deliver it alone. To complete the cycle they should ideally then help induct future PT’s, which helps cement their understanding and facilitates an ongoing culture of learning.
“My advice would be to have the trainers on a low basic salary and to allow them to supplement it through their training sessions.”
3. Consider having full time personal trainers
Over the last 10 years there has been a shift away from employing trainers on a full time basis. There are of course short term financial benefits to this, but it also explains many of the current problems in the industry. Not only do part time PT’s lack financial security, but they often don’t feel a central part of the organisation which is hugely damaging to culture. My advice would be to have the trainers on a low basic salary and to allow them to supplement it through their training sessions. You can then have a hierarchy of PT’s based on their experience and customer feedback, where clients pay more for the senior trainers. The result would be a more cohesive and loyal team who are still motivated to bring on new clients and grow their earnings.
4. Hire for personality
Too many gyms underestimate personality and attitude when they’re hiring and instead focus too much on the tangibles. We often have people go through our courses who meet the requirements of the assessment but I know will struggle on the gym floor because they don’t have the right personality; the one thing that you cannot train!
5. Take culture seriously and be clear on your values
Within any organisation the cultural factors are incredibly powerful. People need a sense of belonging and will work far harder if they think you care about them. When you create the right culture you don’t need to monitor your trainers, they monitor themselves. If, on the other hand, you depend on nothing but processes and systems, they will only ever have a very superficial level of understanding. Steps will be missed and service levels will suffer.
“When you create the right culture you don’t need to monitor your trainers, they monitor themselves.”
Of all the points to get right this is the most important. When you start a business it’s very easy to get distracted by short term considerations and dismiss values as something intangible and hard to quantify, but the long term implications of culture are only too real. You must take the chance every few months to take a step back and really reflect on the environment and culture you want to build. In the long term there will be no single bigger determinant of your success.