Like most personal fitness trainers (PFTs), I love what I do. I can’t think of too many other careers that would enable me to meet people of all ages, backgrounds and vocations; blend my technical and business skills; and enjoy as much freedom and flexibility.

Even with all the perks of a career as a PFT, however, most of us at times feel that we’re in a rut. While we enjoy the freedom our profession affords, it often comes at the expense of long and irregular hours. In addition, we may wish that compensation levels in our industry were more generous. Such was the case in my career a couple of years ago. After a very successful decade in the industry, I was burned out. I began to question my career choice. I wondered, “Why do I make only x dollars a year while a comparably accomplished doctor, lawyer or executive makes three or four times as much? Wouldn’t it be nice if I had a cushy office and a six-figure job with Fortune 500 benefits?” Fortunately, my outlook changed after I attended the 2003 IDEA World Fitness & Personal Trainer Convention® in Anaheim.

The theme of that fitness event—which continues to be IDEA’s initiative—was Inspire the World to Fitness. The whole fitness conference revolved around the idea of reaching out to people who do not engage in an active, healthy lifestyle. It all sounded nice, but how did it bring home the bacon? I mean, I wanted someone to “show me the money!” During the fitness event, I talked to many trainers who were leveraging their time by doing partner or small-group training. I saw its benefits but wondered, “How can I reach more people, make more money and refresh my career?” I wasn’t sure. The rest of the convention was great. I took several workshops from presenters I hadn’t tried before, got reacquainted with old friends and developed some new relationships. I even embraced the whole Inspire the World to Fitness theme. I just didn’t know yet what it meant for me.

On the flight home to Ohio, I had an epiphany of sorts: I decided to start a fitness boot camp in my neighborhood. Now, I know that I didn’t invent this concept; boot camp programs have been successfully implemented nationwide. But I decided mine would be different. It wouldn’t be an “in-your-face” military-style camp, and it wouldn’t be for the ultra-athlete. It would be for almost anyone at almost any fitness level. It would inspire participants to get their friends to participate. It would be outdoors—a “Club Without Walls,” to borrow another IDEA concept. It would create friendships. It would provide guaranteed results. And it would be profitable. On the plane ride home, I visualized the plan.

The Concept

I live in the beautifully restored German Village neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio. Four thousand people live within 233 acres. The 150-year-old brick homes are densely packed around Schiller Park, a beautiful 27-acre city expanse. As I pondered the concept from 35,000 feet above the ground, I decided to develop my Club Without Walls at the park. I would set up eight stations in a course arranged around a simple 25-by-25-yard square. Stations would consist of some of the cool and nontraditional techniques and modalities I had just learned about at the IDEA convention and fitness expo (see “Suggested Equipment” on page 31). The camp would meet three times per week for 6 weeks. I determined that I could handle up to 16 participants and charge $149 per head. (Originally, I thought I could handle just 16, but 20 turned out to be no problem.) By the time my plane landed at Port Columbus, I even had a name for my camp: “Shape Up at Schiller.”

The Plan

The next day, I began formal planning. Actually, it was quite simple. I just needed to accomplish several key tasks:

1. Determine the start-up costs.

2. Determine how to get the word out about the camp.

3. Implement a pricing strategy to maximize participation and profit.

4. Protect myself with liability coverage and informed-consent documentation.

5. Determine how to measure the participants’ success.

6. Develop a camp format that would work for nearly all abilities.

Start-Up Costs

For the camp to turn a profit quickly, expenses needed to be kept in line. My initial start-up list included the following:

equipment* $   580

liability insurance* *$   300

vinyl banner $    95

flyers, postcards $    35

Total $ 1,010

*I already owned a core board and a BOSU® Balance Trainer.

**$2,000,000 aggregate; $1,000,000 liability; $1,000,000 products; $1,000,000 personal/advertising injury; $300,000 fire; $5,000 medical expense.

After completing my first camp, I plowed my profits back into other less- essential necessities:

financial software $285

professional photos $385

additional equipment $300

Getting the Word Out

Spreading the word about this program was quite easy. Since it was vital that I get the message out as economically as possible, I developed professional-looking miniposters and postcards using Microsoft Publisher. These described the camp’s purpose, format and times. They emphasized guaranteed results and appealed for an immediate call to action. After producing these materials, I simply walked around the neighborhood and got permission from business owners to place the material in two coffee shops, a vitamin store, two delis, every restaurant, the grocery store and a laundromat. I also put up posters on two neighborhood bulletin boards and placed postcards nearby. While canvassing my neighborhood I handed a postcard to any friendly face I passed. In no time I had enough people to hold my first camp. Since then, word of mouth and passersby in the park have been my best sources of new clientele.

Liability and Informed Consent

Before you start a boot camp program like this, it is critical that you review your current liability insurance policy to see how broad the coverage is. My carrier didn’t cover the use of agility ladders, so I shopped around and found a company that did. Once you secure your policy, be sure to carry a copy of it to all camp sessions. Another way to protect yourself is to develop a registration packet with a health screening form, such as a PAR-Q. Also include a participant release form and an information sheet with details about rain-out, refunds, referrals and your money-back guarantee. Although I “require” preregistration for the camp, I won’t turn down business if space is available, so I bring extra registration materials to all sessions.

Camp Format

My camp is focused on improving the fitness of individuals at most ability levels. The program develops strength, agility, muscular endurance and, for the more deconditioned campers, aerobic endurance. Each hourlong session is formatted around five distinct modules:

  • dynamic warm-up: jogging, skipping, carioca, side shuffles, jack squats, etc.
  • strength: walking lunges, side squats, push-ups, burpees, medicine ball chops, etc.
  • circuit (glycolitic training): 30- to 90-second (based on ability level) stations around circuit
  • fun/competitive daily activity: team relays around course, individual time trials around course, breakaway games, etc.
  • cooldown: relaxation and stretching

After the session, everyone helps break down the camp.

Measuring Success

I guarantee participants success based on two criteria: the mile run/walk and push-ups. Although not a comprehensive battery of field tests, both are good indicators of improvements in fitness after a 6-week camp. Admittedly, I was nervous when evaluating my first camp, but the results were amazing. Even my fittest participant lowered his mile time from 6:29 to 5:58 minutes. Every participant improved on both tests. It was great to see all the smiles on the last day. So great, in fact, that many of us celebrated by pigging out at a locally famous dive specializing in 11/2-pound hamburgers!

Extending the Concept

After running three concurrent camps in my neighborhood, I introduced the concept at The Westerville Athletic Club, where I lead the personal training program. We now conduct 4-week women-only camps and evening coed camps. We are able to help a demographic that otherwise would not choose one-on-one training. Making a profit has truly been a bonus to my boot camp programming. The most rewarding part has been realizing that I have the ability to reach out to formerly inactive people and make a difference in their quality of life. After all, isn’t that what inspiring the world to fitness is all about?