Nine Traits That Top Trainers Look For in Managers

by Ryan Halvorson on Feb 23, 2015

PFT Director

Learn ways to upgrade your management style, so you can recruit the best personal trainers.

As an owner or a manager, could you be putting off talented trainers without knowing it? We asked some top fitness pros what they look for when seeking employment. What they have to say may help you become the type of manager that the best-quality trainers yearn to work for.

Be an Advocate and a Coach

Bill Sonnemaker, MS, founder of Catalyst Fitness in Atlanta and IDEA’s 2007 Personal Trainer of the Year, insists that a manager must do more than focus on operations. Sonnemaker coaches up-and-coming personal trainers to look for opportunities with someone who can be their mentor and guide. He cautions that if you’re a manager who is too busy to engage with your staff and help them become better professionals, you run the risk of losing top talent. The best trainers seek to learn, grow and expand; they don’t simply want to collect a paycheck at the end of the week.

Danny Weiland, creator of Corbing™, agrees: “Be a teacher. Chances are that you are in a management position because you possess more experience than your peers. Use that experience and wisdom to teach us how to do a better job—and to facilitate success through a learning environment where employees strive to become better. An environment like this will provide contagious, positive energy“ and everyone [including clients] will thrive together.”

Open Your Mind

The typical employment scenario often places managers on a pedestal, from which they dictate company agenda. While a successful business requires a strong leader, Eric Bach, CSCS, is put off by managers who talk more than they listen. “I look for someone who is easy to work with and who is willing to look at situations from multiple points of view,” explains the owner of Denver-based Bach Performance. “If you're a growing, ambitious trainer, the last thing you need is a power struggle or to clash with a manager.”

Nic DeCaire, owner of Fitness Fusion Center™ in Newark, Delaware, adds that a manager should welcome insights and suggestions from staff. “A lot of times, trainers have great ideas because they’re on the floor every day. But some managers think they know it all,” he observes. “Managers should have an open-door policy for ideas.”

Join the Team

Brian Nunez, owner of FNS Training Center in San Jose, California, encourages managers to step out of the office and into the training space. “Great managers are in the trenches with the team,” he declares. “They train clients and teach group classes. Of course, they don’t do this as much as everyone else, but enough to stay engaged with what is going on in the facility.”

“Good managers need to be able to jump in and help at any moment,” DeCaire says. “They should never be too good to clean the toilets if that has to happen. They need to be team players.”

Promote Growth

“What opportunities can you offer a personal trainer besides personal training?” asks Nicole Pizzi, MA, general manager of the Malkin Athletic Center at Harvard University. “We recognize that some people just want to train clients. However, many trainers want to be involved in special projects and programs within the company, or they’re looking to gain management experience.”

The Boston native adds that top trainers will be drawn to employment positions that allow them to network within a company and enhance the overall quality of the business. Instead of punching in, training clients and punching out, these people will welcome opportunities that make them feel more invested and loyal. This kind of growth inspires them to become your company’s greatest advocates within the community.

Be the Change

To develop a successful business, you have to focus on business. However, when Adam Wright, CEO of Wright Way Fitness in Irvine, California, is looking for employment, he wants more from a company than a solid bottom line. “I look for managers who have a greater purpose than reps or financials,” he declares. “I prefer to work with managers who have a passion to really change themselves and the community around them. This should already be inside them. It can evolve, but the purpose needs to already be rooted there.”

Give Feedback

Seeing a client achieve a goal is enough of a reward to keep a good personal trainer motivated. However, observes Nunez, a little recognition from the top can go a long way. He feels that it’s imperative for business owners to celebrate individual and team successes. “Give recognition and acknowledgment where they’re due, and also give constructive feedback.” He adds that you should not be too heavy-handed, whether you’re giving praise or constructive criticism.

Be Balanced

While professional growth requires significant effort, Pizzi warns that managers should appreciate and promote balance between professional life and personal life. “Trainers look for employers who understand and practice work/life balance,” she explains. “They also look for their managers to model this behavior themselves, which in turn gives employees permission to do the same.”

She suggests that one way to promote better work/life balance is to offer a competitive salary. “Trainers want to feel like they can make a healthy living without working 12–14 hours per day.”

Always Be Learning

When personal trainers interview for a position, common topics of conversation are education and continued professional development. Most managers look for someone who has a vested interest in self-improvement. But, as a manager, do you hold yourself to the same standard?

Irene Lewis-McCormick, MS, says that one of her top management turnoffs is lack of education. “When I ask a few direct questions, it becomes pretty obvious to me whether the manager attends continuing education regularly,” notes the trainer, who is based in Huxley, Iowa. “This is important because it demonstrates a commitment to the ever-changing nature of the industry, as well as showing me how open-minded this potential employer may be to new ideas and suggestions—not to mention whether the person is leading through continuing education.”

Mind the Meetings

Meetings are a necessary part of ensuring that everyone is up to date on company happenings. These gatherings also offer management and staff an opportunity to communicate. However, Lewis-McCormick finds that, when it comes to meetings, there is a point of diminishing returns. “I am all about collaboration, but weekly meetings can become a waste of time, particularly when I am not paid for that time. Bimonthly or once-a-month meetings with an agenda are enough for me.”

As a manager or an owner, you have a lot of responsibility. However, you are also in a great position to recruit and cultivate a team that can help you grow your business beyond your wildest dreams. Incorporating some of our experts’ suggestions into your personal growth plan will elevate your status within the industry and help you become the manager everyone wants to work for.

What traits do you think are important to being an effective manager or gym owner? Post your insights in the Comments section below.

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About the Author

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson IDEA Author/Presenter

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.