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Inspiring the Inspirers

Fitness pros get motivated by a variety of personal growth books.

Successful fitness professionals take the time to continually learn new skills and approaches and then apply them to their careers. These pros have learned that tapping into insights from outside the fitness industry can provide fresh food for thought.

Reading motivational books is one way to discover innovative ideas. Which books have fitness pros found especially inspiring? Here’s a look at several selections—old and new—that your colleagues credit with having enriched their professional and personal lives. You may want to put some of these titles on your summer reading list.


The following books helped fitness pros strengthen their management skills.

Good to Great by Jim Collins (HarperCollins 2001)

“This is a wonderful book on organization and management of people,” says Todd Durkin, MA, CSCS, 2004 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and owner of Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego. “It talks a lot about ‘putting the right person on the right seat on the right bus.’ Collins challenged me to look at my own organization and anal- yze each employee’s role. Am I using people correctly? Am I maximizing their strengths? Do I know their passions and what they are great at? Do we need to reorganize any of our people and put them in another seat in the organization? I highly recommend this book to most [business people, including] personal trainers who may be managing a staff or department.”

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey (Simon and Schuster 1989)

“I have read a ton of motivational books, but I have used this one more than any other,” says Helen Vanderburg, 2005 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and founder and president of Heavens Fitness Limited in Calgary, Alberta. “The habit I refer to most often is Habit #5, Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood. I am reminded of the importance of this habit time and time again in managing staff, in communicating with clients and in life [overall]. The habit makes us aware of listening to others before we place our ideas into the [conversation]. It reminds us that we all see the world differently and that to be truly effective with others, we need to see the world from their perspective. We typically seek to be understood or are preparing our answer when we are [talking]. Breaking this habit has been one of the most effective tools in communication for me.”

Client Relations

These books assisted readers in improving their interactions with clients.

Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive by Harvey Mackay (Ballatine Books 1988)

“This landmark book has a large section on client relationships,” says Phillip Bazzini, CSCS, of Exercise and Sports Training Programs in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. “Mackay describes how it is essential to keep records of your clients’ interests, vacation destinations, kids’ names, likes, dislikes, etc. With a client list of well over 40, I can’t remember who went where on vacation or the name of a recent show a client may have seen. As a result of the book, I have been keeping a written record of current events in clients’ charts. The clients think I have a great memory and are paying attention when we talk, but actually I am just writing down little notes.”

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (revised ed.) by Robert B. Cialdini, PhD (Collins 1998)

“This book has benefited me in my business,” says Linda Copeland, owner of Breakthrough Fitness in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. “It is an informative resource for understanding human behavior—your own and your clients’. It has helped me see how other people try to influence me and how I can, in turn, persuade others to exercise and live a healthier lifestyle. Another trainer recommended the book to me when I first started, and I continue to refer back to it today. Understanding how persuasion works made me realize that everyone is selling, all the time. Knowing this made me less afraid of the sales process. Every trainer should read this book!”

Personal Vision

The following books, which include nonfiction and a classic literary text, helped fitness pros determine a strong vision for themselves and appreciate different viewpoints.

Live Your Best Life by Laura Berman Fortgang (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam 2002) and Take Yourself to the Top by Laura Berman Fortgang (Warner Books 1998)

“Ms. Fortgang spoke at an IDEA conference several years back, and I bought her books there. I still refer to them when I am feeling ‘stuck,’” says Copeland. “Ms. Fortgang encourages you to ask, ‘What do I really want?’ (as opposed to ‘What should I do?’), to keep focused on your priorities. Take Yourself to the Top has great advice about taking on only your ideal clients and freeing up the time you spend dealing with ‘high-maintenance’ people who consume too much of your energy. That advice alone was worth the price of the book to me!”

6 Questions That Can Change Your Life by Joseph Nowinski, PhD (Rodale Press 2002)

“This book has changed my thinking, both personally and professionally,” says American Council on Exercise master trainer Priscilla J. Bell, who is director of group exercise and yoga at Seattle Athletic Club/Downtown. “It asks you to explore such questions as ‘Who am I?’ as opposed to ‘Who should I be?’ and ‘Where do I belong?’ as opposed to ‘What is my position?’ It has helped me to see that where I am today is exactly where I wanted to be, except for a couple minor adjustments.”

Healing Into Life and Death by Stephen Levine (Anchor Press/Doubleday 1987) and The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle (New World Library 2004)

“Both books gave me a wonderful insight into understanding my importance in this life and how to maximize my time on earth by being present,” says Georgianna D’Agnolo, RYT, of Phoenix. “Even if illness becomes part of my ‘quality of life,’ I can still choose to accept it and find peace within myself.”

Don Quixote (reprint ed.) by Miguel de Cervantes (Harpers Perennial 2005)

“The book’s theme is that there are many ways to interpret reality,” says Lawrence Biscontini, MA, 2004 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and group fitness manager at the Golden Door Spa in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. “Is [something] a windmill or a giant? It depends on perception, and that is reality. Don Quixote himself represents the spirit of the law, subjectivity and interpretation. His sidekick Sancho Panza represents the letter of the law, objectivity and literalness. When we train, we can incorporate both ideas. For example, there is no one exercise for everyone. Thoughtful interpretation is key. Also, there is no one trainer, instructor, schedule, circuit [or class] that’s appropriate for everyone. All aspects of fitness are relative to everything else: purpose, population, procedures, etc.”


These texts inspired readers to ponder spirituality and inner peace.

Conversations With God: An Uncommon Dialogue by Neale Donald Walsch (Putnam 2005)

“This series of books is a concise collection of everything I have researched, believed and practiced over the years about spirituality,” says Eve Lees, Can-Fit-Pro certified personal trainer, writer and speaker in Surrey, British Columbia. “Everything is handy in one publication! The author’s humanitarian objective and hopes for world peace are enlightening and comforting. I have happily referred these books to my personal training clients. ”

Inneractions: Visions to Bring Your Inner and Outer Worlds Into Harmony by Stephen C. Paul with Gary Max Collins (HarperSanFrancisco 1992)

“This is a nice bedtime book,” says Lynette Larsen of Chicago. “Each page has beautiful artwork and a contemplative saying. For instance, page 36 states, ‘Your daily affairs are the sacred ceremonies you perform within the temple of your life.’ You can use the sayings as meditations. I have shared [them] with clients and group fitness participants. They appreciate the focus and inspiration.”

Inspirational Readings

Fitness pros were motivated to succeed in their careers after reading these two books.

Think & Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill (Lifetime Books 1998)

“This timeless book is a compilation of interviews and meetings that Napoleon Hill had with such greats as Henry Ford, Thomas Edison [and] Franklin Roosevelt,” says coach Rich Carroll, strength and conditioning specialist at High Intensity Training Systems on Long Island, New York. “Hill’s work exposes the many limitations and challenges these men faced and how they forged forward to success. Hill shares various principles, [which] include creating a mastermind group, focusing on attention and improving your mental attitude. As these principles can be found in many [current] newsletters, [it’s interesting that] this book was written in 1937! The message I received was that the people we know who are successful, past and present, are not the people who did not fail or fall. They are the people who fell time and time again, but kept getting back up.”

Skills for Success by Adele M. Scheele, PhD (Morrow 1979)

“Reading this book in the mid-1980s gave me inspiration, determination and direction to start a training and consulting business for fitness professionals,” says Ken Alan of Ken Alan Associates in Los Angeles. “Light bulbs came on from useful suggestions on networking, communication skills and plain old people skills. At a time when I questioned whether I could have a fitness career without working for someone else, it offered the guidance I needed and gave me the confidence I desired.”

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