I started training people when I was nineteen years old and still in school. After working in the college weight room I got out on my own. At first I was working with adults in a one on one setting for twenty bucks an hour. Eventually I worked that up to fifty and had a pretty good base of clients. They were all the average fat loss personal training client, however, and that was really the last thing I wanted to spend the rest of my career doing. I wanted to work with athletes and I wanted to train guys who were really serious about getting bigger, stronger and faster. That’s what I am passionate about. I have zero passion for any other type of training or any other clientele.
If the average middle aged female asks me for fat loss advice I don’t know what to tell her… primarily because I don’t care enough to think about it. It’s like asking for my opinion of the new Usher record. I don’t have an opinion of it because I don’t think about it. It doesn’t enter my thoughts. Ever.
One day back in the mid 90’s, while out with my dad, we ran into a friend of his who was out with his son. It was discussed that I could help the kid become a better football player and wrestler. A week later Mike Schwalb became my first athlete client. He later became my little brother and is one of my closest friends in the world to this day. That was sixteen years ago.
Mike’s dad did pretty well for himself so he was able to pay my rate of fifty bucks an hour, four days a week for Mike to train with me. Soon after that, because of the great results Mike was getting, he had referred me two more high school athletes. At that point I had three high school athletes paying me $800 a month and thought life was pretty good.
I was training them one on one at first but soon they started asking if they could come train together. Once we started doing the small group thing it got even better. They were having more fun and their results came at an even faster rate.
I then knew that small group training with athletes was what I wanted to do with the rest of my career. But I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to get a ton of them because most parents wouldn’t be able to afford that rate. So I decide to offer a special rate for student athletes.
I cut the monthly number in half then took fifty bucks off the top and decided that the student athlete rate was $350 per month. I had no clue about business or marketing back then so I just came up with that. I later shared that business plan with guys like Zach Even Esh and Eric Cressey and several others when they used to call me for advice on how to get started in the industry.
Funny enough, that’s what everyone who makes money does these days and what all the fitness business guys teach- small groups of 3-8 clients to one coach at somewhere between $300 and $1000 per month.
Anyway, word of mouth referrals started pouring in and the business was taking off. Then I came up with the idea of incentivizing referrals by offering a free month of training every time someone brought in a new client and that led to a whole new stream of regular business. Before I knew it my gym was overflowing with high school, college and pro athletes all day long. I was living the dream.
The Darkest Hour
One day all tenants of our building were notified that we had six months to find a new location. The building had been sold and the new owners had plans to take over the whole thing.
I searched frantically and eventually found a perfect spot at the last hour. But then it all went to shit when my lawyer screwed something up that we needed for the zoning permit. So after more than a decade in business Renegade no longer had a home. During this time I spent many hours on the phone with my good friends Dave Tate and Alwyn Cosgrove, discussing what to do with my future. We bounced around between a couple different locations and eventually decided to open in a new town just about three years ago.
When opening the doors of the new place I figured that the world had changed dramatically since the mid 90’s. Back then there was no competition. I was the only game in town. No one did the type of training I did. And if they did there was no internet to let my potential clients know it. I owned my town and the surrounding area. No one could touch me. There was no Velocity, no Parisi, not a sports performance place on every corner, not five million strength coaches who flip tires, no internet, no crossfit and no bootcamps.
On top of that the economy was a hell of a lot better back then.
So I thought, maybe the old plan won’t work anymore. The world is a completely different place. Maybe there’s too much competition, maybe people don’t like to pay for high quality service like they used to anymore because they’re used to paying lower rates for crossfit and all these silly little bootcamps. There was also the fact to consider that every high school these days seems to require the athletes to train in the weight room because they all have a strength coach nowadays.
Things had also changed dramatically for me. I was in a much different position than I was back in the mid 90’s. My name and business had grown over the years and I now had a ton of other commitments that would prevent me from being on the gym floor for twelve hours per day like I used to. So figured I needed some type of business plan that would reflect that.
With that in mind and in a horrible lack of judgment I decided to charge less than we used to and have more people training at once. Back in the days we almost always kept the client to coach ratio at six (or eight at most) to one. This time I decided that since the rates were lower we would have to increase that number to 15 or so. This can work if all of those people are experienced lifters with the athleticism of an Olympian. You get a few less than skilled lifters in that group, while trying to do barbell exercises, and the whole thing goes to shit.
There are really only two ways to run a profitable training facility these days. The first is you can run large group fat loss bootcamps. This is the type of training that I hate and have zero passion for. Now, if you know a thing or two about training you can make these workouts pretty cool and exciting. But for me, training middle aged women for fat loss is one of the worst possible jobs I could imagine. Not that there’s anything wrong with it. If that’s something you are passionate about out more power to you. I doubt you’d be reading this particular site if it was, though. The point is you have to do something you are passionate about otherwise it will never work. For me to put on my Richard Simmons wig and little striped shorts and go hop around in the morning with the ladies would be a huge mistake and would be a dismal failure because I wouldn’t be into it at all and everyone would see through it. Do what you love, first and foremost.
If you want to run bootcamps the training has to be pretty simple with a low risk of injury. No complicated exercises (because they’re not paying for that level of coaching and most of them don’t want to do those exercises anyway) and no fancy equipment needed. There should be a client to coach ratio of about 20-40 to one. The price per month should be around $199. If you start going much lower than that it’s going to be pretty hard to make money.
The other way to make money is what by doing I started doing back in the mid 90’s and what Eric Cressey, Zach Even Esh, Joe DeFranco, Alwyn Cosgrove and countless other successful coaches do today. You run small group training with a client to coach ratio of 4-8 to one. The price for this should be in the range of $249-499 per month, on average. If people would expect to normally pay $75 for personal training let them pay $20-35 and be in a small group where they are going to get much better results and have a lot more fun.
Coaching complex barbell lifts (or even advanced bodyweight exercises) in big groups for low prices (under $249 per month) DOES NOT WORK. Trust me; I tried it. People don’t get the attention they need and they end up getting hurt or with shitty results.
No matter what anyone tells you people will still pay for high quality service these days. And the only way you can offer high quality service is at the right price. Personal training, in most markets, is dead and bootcamp training is, well… bootcamp training. Small group training at a price somewhere between personal training bootcamps is where you want to be if you’re running your own facility or considering opening one.
As for getting clients into your training business, I suggest you check out Low Cost Client Getting by clicking HEREnow.