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Introduction to Apprenticeship Programs

Set the stage for excellent employees through personal trainer interns.

As the director or owner of a personal training business, you know that your greatest asset is the people you choose to work with. So how do you hire the right team of trainers to join your cause? How can you be sure that every fitness professional you hire will truly help you move forward? The answer lies in having a sophisticated and well-planned personal training apprenticeship program that will serve as a feeder system for the kind of employees you want.

Here is an overview of such a program—including three principles for success—to help you get started.

Choosing the Right People

Taking a little extra care upfront will help ensure that your apprentices don’t disappoint you.

Principle #1: Expand the Interview Process

As the owner or manager, you know what type of personal trainers you want to hire, what qualities they should possess and how they should treat your clients. To ensure that an apprentice (and thus, a potential employee) possesses the qualities you’re looking for, you must do more than conduct a single interview.

One of the many benefits of an apprenticeship program is that you’ll be able to view your prospective employees in multiple situations, to help ensure that they are the right fit for your business culture. The apprenticeship takes prospects far beyond the standard interview process.

During the apprenticeship, the intern’s tasks could include assisting with a personal training session, supervising a station during a group workout and leading the “core” segment during a boot camp—to name just a few. Pay attention to how a prospect responds in these situations. Is this individual professional and on time? What strengths do you see in this person?

Principle #2: Create a Connection

Your team’s ability to develop relationships with your clients is a critical component of your success. So relationship-building should be an integral phase of your apprenticeship program. Watch carefully to see how your apprentices interact with patrons, and notice what kind of effort they make to create situations where communication and interaction are warranted.

To see how these potential employees develop relationships, ask them to try to get to know your customers on a first-name basis during the time they spend at your facility. Encourage interaction (e.g., handshakes and high-fives). Often, the simplest courtesies go a long way to developing lasting client relationships.

Principle #3: Embrace the Battle Cry

When your employees believe in your business, they can complete many tasks and overcome great challenges. Thus, it is imperative that you come to know whether these potential employees would stand up for your organization’s cause. Do they embrace and believe in what you are working toward? To answer this, ask yourself these three questions as you come to know each apprentice:

  1. “Is this person someone I can trust?” Is this apprentice willing to stand beside me when times are tough? Will this person weather the storms and stay loyal to the organization?
  2. “Is this person committed to excellence?” Does this apprentice possess the desire to improve, the willingness to receive feedback and the humility to grow?
  3. “Does this person care about this organization?” Is this apprentice willing and able to embrace a larger cause?

If you can answer yes to these questions, the person you’re considering probably possesses the character of someone who is fit to win. Great organizations are innovative and able to adapt to change. However, they can’t succeed without a high level of trust. Making a commitment to understand someone at a deeper level (that is, beyond the surface elements of certifications, degrees, resumé and physical appearance) takes effort; you need to make time to ask pertinent questions and you need to listen actively to the answers. In the long run, having people of character by your side will always result in greater accomplishment.

Structuring an Apprenticeship Program

What does an apprenticeship program look like? To find out, ask the apprentice to complete each of the following steps with direction from you.

Stage 1: Shadowing

  1. Shadow veteran personal trainers 3 hours per day for a total of 30 hours. Keep a log of exercise ideas, techniques used, motivational cues, personality attributes and administrative duties. Submit a copy of all notes to the manager.
  2. View 10 initial complimentary sessions.
  3. View five group training sessions.
  4. View three clients who are in advanced training programs.
  5. View two clients who have special conditions.
  6. Work out at the facility 3 hours per week.

Stage 2: Relationship-Building

  1. Learn and memorize the names of clients at every opportunity (at least five clients each time you visit the studio or gym).
  2. Whenever possible, greet clients and inquire about their programs.
  3. Introduce yourself to the employees and management of local businesses as a member of XYZ facility’s apprenticeship program.

Stage 3: Business Training

  1. Read and review the facility’s personal training handbook.
  2. Schedule three “sales training” appointments with the manager.
  3. Schedule an “initial complimentary session” training appointment with the manager.
  4. Schedule an appointment with the manager to learn how to use the client forms.
  5. Schedule time with the manager to review overall performance. (If it’s appropriate, this might be the time for the manager to recommend that the apprentice be hired.)

Helping Trainers Grow

The goal of great teachers is to propel students further than the mentors themselves have gone. As a leader, you should continue to learn from the best. Then, share openly and often with the people who are seeking to learn from you. An apprenticeship program is a win-win way to develop people who may turn into highly motivated and effective members of your staff.


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Troy Fontana

Troy Fontana is a 13-year veteran of the Fitness Industry. He is CEO of Freedom Fitness Unlimited and founder of Business for Fitness Professionals, an organization designed to educate, inspire and serve the fitness community. Troy is the author of A Climb to the Top and Time Freedom ÔÇô Money Freedom. In 2010, Troy was recognized as a Top 3 "finalist" for IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year Award.

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