fbpx Skip to content


10 “Exercises” to Build a Better Career

It’s time to make the mental shift from surviving to thriving: Let these sometimes surprising insights on success help you kick your professional life into overdrive!

Fit pros meeting to build a better career

We have an incredible capacity to change lives through the power of fitness. While the past couple of years have challenged us in impossible ways, every situation—good or bad—offers a gift. It’s just a matter of discovering the gift. Some “bad” situations catapult us out of our comfort zones that were holding us back. What might that gift be for you, in terms of your career? Now is the perfect moment in time to pause, reflect and think about what next steps you can take to achieve your full potential and build a better career.

To help you get the creative juices flowing, we’ve gathered the top 10 career insights that can help you achieve your personal best, develop greater resilience and thrive for the long term in the fitness industry. They’ve worked time and again for fitness professionals (me included!) and entrepreneurs in other areas as well. Follow their lead, and you, too, can embrace today’s opportunities to the fullest and build a better career.

First, Some Warmup Exercises

Before we get to the good stuff, we’d like to offer a few important points to help you make the most of what’s to follow.

First, define what success means to you. One of the biggest differences between those who succeed and those who don’t has nothing to do with intelligence, beauty or money. Those who succeed know exactly what they want and are willing to do what it takes to get it! It’s important to be very clear with your goals for all aspects of your life: physical, professional, mental, social, travel, relationship and more. Paint a very vivid picture of what your dream life would look like. Write it down! The brain processes things differently when you write it down and you read it. (You may want to amend this after you’ve read further—or after you’ve adopted some of these approaches! Consider this a living document.)

Avoid the Law of Diminishing Intent. This concept states that you may be motivated after reading this. You may have a few aha! moments and decide you need to start or stop doing something. But the longer you wait to do something, the greater the chance that you will never do it. So take action right away, no matter how small and insignificant! It doesn’t matter what it is—anything that points you in the direction of your goals. Avoid paralysis by analysis. Just do something, even if you’re not ready and it’s not perfect.

Now, without further ado, let’s explore 10 of the top tips for creating a better career and taking it to the next level.

See also: How to Rebuild Your Fitness Career, Part One

1. Surround Yourself With Amazing People

If you want to be great, surround yourself with great people. You become who you hang with. Todd Durkin, MA, 2017 IDEA Jack LaLanne Award recipient, calls it “contagiasm” from the words “contagious enthusiasm.” If you hang out with people who are fit, positive, happy and successful, you will be, too. The opposite happens when you hang out with people who are negative, tear you down or steal your joy. Choose your friends, co-workers, coaches and consultants wisely! Surround yourself with people who will inspire, challenge, empower, build up and support you. Once you have your team, take great care of them, and make sure they know you love and appreciate them.

Get started: Think about your inner circle. Who’s amazing and supportive? Give them some extra attention this week!

2. Give Back to Your Community

This never fails! When you focus on how you can help your community, you’ll likely be rewarded with more business. In addition to being committed to helping people adopt a healthy and fit lifestyle, you might make a plan to raise dollars for local nonprofits. It feels good to give back and watch your business thrive. There is definitely a correlation there! Remember: Every little bit counts. You can give some of your time, your money or your resources.

Get started: Ask yourself how you can help, contribute and make an impact. Choose one thing to do this month, and put it on your calendar.

3. Develop a Thirst for Knowledge

You can’t do better if you don’t know better! Ben Franklin said, “Empty the pennies from your purse into your mind and your mind will fill your purse with dollars and keep it full forever.” Learn everything you can about exercise science, nutrition, behavioral change, lifestyle coaching, business and leadership. Attend conferences and workshops, read, listen to podcasts, hire coaches, and find mentors. Learn best practices and stay on the cutting edge so you can be the best in your community.

Remember this tip from The Successful Trainer’s Guide to Marketing (IDEA Press 2000): “You’ve got to know what you’re doing. You’ve got to know you know what you’re doing. You’ve got to be known for what you know.” If people know you for what you know, they’ll come to you for you, not the lowest price!

Get started: Write down what you’re known for or want to be known for. Start marketing yourself that way—and consider what you can do to become even more of an expert in the area!

4. Strive for Excellence, Not Perfection

Fit pros coming together for better careers

Put your time in! It pays in dividends.

Mediocre effort produces mediocre results, so set high expectations for yourself and others. But don’t let this get in your way. Perfectionism is one of the biggest obstacles to success. You must start somewhere. Even the experts were novices at some point.

British entrepreneur Richard Branson once said, “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes—then learn how to do it later!” It’s the sink-or-swim model to success.

Get started: New client with a challenging scenario? Just do it! New project you’ve never done? Just do it! Want to be a speaker? Just do it! Want to be a writer? Just do it! Don’t worry about getting paid for every little thing in the beginning. Put your time in! It pays in dividends.

See also: How to Rebuild Your Fitness Business, Part Two

5. Ritualize Your Priorities for a Better Career

Many fit pros make the mistake of working and helping others so much that they neglect themselves. Practice what you preach. Do the workout—then do the things. And remember: Food is medicine.

The secret here? Ritualize your priorities. If it’s important to you, schedule it in. It’s like brushing your teeth. You do it every day, no matter what. You never say, “I’m too stressed so I’m not going to brush my teeth today” or “I’m too tired so no teeth-brushing today” or “I’m running late so I’ll just skip brushing my teeth.” If you don’t put your priorities into your schedule, other people’s priorities will fill your schedule.

Get started: We can’t give from empty tanks. Make time for sleep and vacations so you have the energy to change lives. Schedule these (and rest and recovery days for workouts) on your calendar this week.

6. Provide a First-Class Customer Experience

You have to understand we are in the customer service business. Be mindful of what you’re doing. How do you greet your clients? Are your sessions engaging and interactive? Do you stretch them out or provide some muscle release at the end of a session? Do you give them a free session on their birthday? Do you send them an inspirational note just to let them know you’re thinking about them?

According to Forbes, studies have shown that 68% of customers decide to no longer do business with a particular organization because they perceive an attitude of indifference by the employees, and some say it’s five times more expensive to get new clients than to keep the ones you have!

Get started: Think about those questions above, and find ways to be committed to making your clients’ training sessions the best part of their day. If you give them an experience they can’t get anywhere else, they won’t go anywhere else.

7. Prioritize Personality Alongside Technical Skills

You may have heard the saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care!” What does it mean to have a great personality? Be upbeat, positive and energetic. Develop self-worth in others by listening and giving people your attention. Build clients up, and look for and highlight their successes in and out of the gym.

It’s also important to re–member that exercise is not fun for most people, so you have to be! Give clients a great workout, provide accountability but, most importantly, laugh and have fun!

Get started: Deliver specific praise in every workout session. For example, “Do you remember when you could only lift 10 pounds for that exercise and now you’re lifting 20 pounds?” or “Last week you did 10 reps and today you were able to do 12. You’re improving so much!”

8. Remember That You’re Running a Business

If you don’t believe you’re running a business, you’re probably not—that is, not a successful one. Being in the fitness business means understanding both fitness and business.

An important part of the fitness business is self-promotion. Do you understand internal/external marketing, guerrilla marketing, digital marketing, email newsletters, Google ads, social media, print ads and referrals? Do you have multiple funnels from which you can find new clients? You also need to develop your sales skills. Many trainers say they hate to sell, but selling is really just influencing, persuading, motivating and inspiring someone to take action. That’s something you’re already doing every day, just with a different focus!

Get started: Identify one or two areas of business where you’d like to learn more to better your career. Also try role-playing sales scenarios, reading business articles and books, and/or listening to podcasts that can help you hone your sales skills. For example, the IDEAfit PRO SHOW podcast offers weekly conversations with fitness pros about all aspects of running a successful fitness enterprise. Check it out at ideafit.com/idea-podcasts/.

9. Make Yourself More Dispensable (As a Leader)

This is an important lesson for those of you who own or manage a business. If you make yourself dispensable, you become indispensable. The goal is to lead your team so they are high performers whether you are there or not. Teamwork makes the dream work!

Create organization and systems. Be sure all team members understand expectations. Record your vision for your business, your studio, your team. Your software system is critical and must be automated and centralized.

Make sure every aspect of your business is documented, including what an ideal training session looks like, cleanliness and safety standards, behaviors (how you greet clients, answer the phone, provide tours, handle customer interactions, etc.), and anything else you can think of.

Get started: If you’re hiring, look for go-getters who “light their own fires” and who you don’t have to micromanage. For existing employees, give people responsibility and authority (and support and guidance), then get out of their way!

10. Live Your Dream Life

Oprah Winfrey, the queen of motivation, said, “Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life because you become what you believe.” Manifest your dream life and a better career. Dream it. Believe it. Live it.

See also: How to Rebuild Your Fitness Career, Part Three

Get Started on a Better Career

In the fitness industry, we make a difference, we change lives and we do incredibly important work. These tips will help you develop endurance in your career. Stay strong. Our world needs us, now more than ever!

PRO TIP: Feeling Motivated After Reading This?

Avoid the “Law of Diminishing Intent” by taking action right now on one thing you learned in this article. The longer you wait, the greater the chance you will fail to act!

Sherri McMillan, MS

Sherri McMillan, MSc, has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for 30 years, and has received numerous industry awards, including the 2010 canfitpro International Fitness Presenter of the Year, 2006 IDEA Fitness Director of the Year, 1998 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and 1998 canfitpro Fitness Presenter of the Year. She is an international fitness presenter, personal trainer, fitness columnist for various magazines and newspapers, author of five books and manuals, including Go For Fit: The Winning Way to Fat Loss, Fit Over Forty, and The Successful Trainers Guide to Marketing, and a featured presenter in various fitness DVDs.

Related Articles

When you buy something using the retail links in our content, we may earn a small commission. IDEA Health and Fitness Association does not accept money for editorial reviews. Read more about our Terms & Conditions and our Privacy Policy.


November-December 2020 IDEA Fitness Journal

Concerned about your place in the new fitness industry? We have 40 years of experience supporting pros just like you! Let’s create a new wellness paradigm together—IDEAfit+ is the extra edge you need. Once you team up with IDEA, be sure to take full advantage of all the benefits of membership.