The Industry's Toughest Job? Hiring Great Trainers

by Matt Young on Mar 01, 2001

As owners and managers of fitness facilities, one of our greatest challenges is attracting, training and retaining great personal fitness trainers. While there are no guarantees when hiring employees in any profession, there are ways to significantly limit the amount of time you put into choosing the right kind of trainers for your facility. At Innovative Fitness, a Vancouver, British Columbia-based company catering exclusively to personal training clients, we use very specific criteria when hiring staff members.


The personal training business, by its very nature, relies on close interaction among individuals. The trainers you hire must be able to communicate clearly, intelligently, effectively and respectfully to your clientele. In my experience, most customers assess the overall credibility of a fitness professional in a matter of seconds. Conversation, body language, friendliness, professionalism, humor, focus—all of these impact that crucial first impression. Therefore, when hiring and deciding whether to keep a trainer on staff, you must consider the very same elements.

How do you judge personality during the early stages of the employee-employer relationship? You pay attention to every possible detail. For example, how does the initial telephone call go? Listen carefully to the tone of the applicant’s voice. Is it professional and enthusiastic? If not, try asking what excites this trainer. If the person still does not display some sort of exuberance, however canned, then that personality trait likely will not change on the job.

During your initial interactions with the applicant, put yourself in the consumer’s shoes. Before you even interview the individual, ask yourself: “Has this trainer sold me on his or her own self?” If the answer is no, then don’t take the interview to the next step. If the answer is yes, then continue your evaluation during the interview process. Assess the trainer’s clothes, eye contact, anxiety, confidence and so forth. Does the individual tell you what you want to hear or what his or her real beliefs are? During the interview, try to create some type of minor adversity—true personality shines through in the face of challenges!

Team Player

Job candidates who possess ample experience working on a team already are ahead of the game. Solid teamwork skills mean they are equipped with many of the tools needed to succeed in business—and in life. Communication, responsibility, accountability, loyalty, adversity, success, failure, goals—all of these are necessary prerequisites to “making it” in almost any industry.

Team players typically have distinct advantages over individuals who need instant gratification or reward for their efforts. Understanding how short-term sacrifice can lead to long-term success is crucial to starting, building and maintaining a great personal training program, department or facility.

To properly assess an applicant’s ability to work on your team, the first round of questions should be directly related to team sports. Of the trainers who have left our business, a full 78 percent had not played any team sports. They were more concerned about personal issues than the well-being of their teammates, clients or company. Yes, it is this blatant. At Innovative Fitness, we conclude every interview with an invitation to play basketball, volleyball or soccer with veteran and rookie trainers already on staff. During the games, we evaluate how the candidate plays. Does the person show up on time, pass the ball, display confidence in taking a shot? If the trainer is not familiar with the game, does he or she still try to contribute? What role does the individual assume during play? What is the response to winning and losing?

All of this information is crucial for us to properly run our businesses. We must know how someone will react to everyday circumstances. For example, who will volunteer when another trainer is ill? Who will go all out to make something work or get something done? Who slacks off and who does not? Whether you manage a facility with private contractors or your own employees, establishing a team atmosphere will bring added excitement and marketability to your services and exponentially increase your bottom line.


Along with personality and team player abilities, great personal trainers are knowledgeable about their field. When hiring new teammates, we thoroughly assess what they know about personal training.

Here are areas we consider:

  • To what extent has the applicant obtained appropriate, credible certification? The amount of time a person has spent in the industry is typically related to his or her knowledge base, education and experience. Consider what you want your trainers to know to meet the needs of your business.
  • Is the applicant qualified based on past work? If a trainer has so much background from so many other facilities, we want to know why the person moved around so much. Were there problems in the past? Or what if a trainer has such an abundance of experience that his or her views about the industry are pretty much set in stone? Naturally, we want to know if a person can truly embrace our philosophies. Can this trainer be coached about our methods? Be aware of candidates with too much “trainer baggage.” Ask the individual what he or she likes least about the industry.
  • How long does it take for the trainer to “get it”? Many people can be coached and recoached, but at the end of the day their actions speak louder than their words. We have an entire manual outlining the what, why and how of our business philosophies. Every employee takes a one-day seminar and then is given a test about what he or she has learned.

Bottom Line

In a largely unregulated business such as ours, it is crucial to develop the necessary hiring systems and avoid the frustrations involved with empowering young, ungrounded trainers. Utilizing the three criteria I’ve outlined in this article has enabled our recruiters to identify quality candidates as well as to accurately predict how long a trainer will stay with us.

The key to the success of your personal training business relies on hiring people smarter than yourself and then providing them with as much training, education and positive reinforcement as necessary.

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About the Author

Matt Young

Matt Young IDEA Author/Presenter