Before there was The Gap, Douglas Brooks knew there was A Gap—a great, big yawning one. And it wasn’t the clothing franchise in almost every shopping mall in America. This gap fell somewhere between the A in fitness assessment and the Z in a happy client’s “Zowie! I accomplished my fitness goals!”

After earning his master’s in exercise physiology from Central Michigan University, Brooks eventually moved to Los Angeles around 1983 and took a job as a clinical physiologist. Performing physical assessments in a clinical setting was fulfilling for a time, but he soon recognized that there was a major flaw in the process. Clients received their tidy blueprints mapping out test results and current fitness levels, and recommendations for measuring the end goal of health and fitness. But, no guidance was provided on how to make that often-abandoned journey. There was no road map for the challenging in-between part.

Ah, “The Gap,” you nod.

With the light bulb shining at max capacity, Brooks set out to lay the groundwork. “I thought if I could combine my enthusiasm, credentials, education and personality, I could help bridge the gap,” he recalls. “I thought, if I can do this, just think of what can be accomplished if [clients] commit the time.”

Now, nearly 20 years, a successful training business, six books, countless lectures, videos and training sessions later, Brooks not only continues to help clients cross the bridge from assessment to fitness, he persists
in sharing his knowledge and considerable experience with other personal trainers.

In the early days, Brooks bristled at being called a personal trainer. At a time when having a credential was optional, he felt his formal education and training set him apart. “I didn’t have a chip on my shoulder about it or anything, but I didn’t want to be characterized as a trainer—I was an exercise physiologist. I felt I was different,” he explains. With standards since heightened and credentials mandatory today, Brooks has changed his opinion, saying “in 2002, I’m proud to be called a personal trainer.”

Once he began lecturing and sharing ideas, Brooks’ career gathered momentum that has not slowed. He remembers thinking about the wide range of possibilities for him in the industry. “Taking clients from A to Z; continuing my education; keeping fresh; owning a business. It was like a candy store where I could do anything and everything and never get into a rut,” he says.

His passion for variety is just as compelling today. He co-owns Moves International Fitness, which provides educational products for health and fitness professionals, and is the head physiologist and strength and conditioning coach for the Mammoth Ski and Snowboard Team in Mammoth Lakes, California. He lectures on a global circuit and continues
to write and consult, among many other activities. He urges other trainers to explore the possibilities and opportunities just waiting to be claimed. His advice to colleagues, especially young ones or those new to the field:

Brooks’ business mantra is simple but profound. “Never forget that it all comes back to the one-to-one level,” he says. “Whether you’re a fitness conglomerate or sole proprietor, if you’re not giving consistent one-to-one service and customers perceive a decrease in value, your business is going to suffer. It’s a timeless business principle. As we grow and expand our businesses, we need to focus more on personalization and one-to-one service.”

Along parallel lines with service is customer perception of the personal training industry image, which Brooks describes as much improved over the past seven years. Although there are still issues to be dealt with, he says, the industry has raised itself to a higher level. “As certification and educational standards improved, and as consumers became more informed about trainers’ services, they began demanding credentials and liability insurance, which is as it should be,” he says. “All of these things have brought up the standards of the industry.”

Some key words Brooks highlights as universal areas of concern for all trainers:

1. Partnering. “I really believe in this. We’ve done it in all of our businesses. It’s a different way to leverage yourself, where you don’t have to be present to make money.” One example is to market your services through a local business that attracts potential customers, such as an athletic shoe store. He points out that a nurtured contact can be a valuable referral source.

2. Time Leverage/Time Freedom. “Our industry is very labor intensive. It’s physically and mentally demanding. We all need more time to sustain
ourselves and our businesses. He
recommends responsible scheduling, maturely assessing trends and using strategies such as partnering as three ways to buy more time.

3. Balance. “Learn to achieve balance professionally and personally.” You may be running your business one way, but step out of it occasionally and look at the big picture.”

Reflecting on the past only spurs this successful veteran trainer toward what he sees as brighter prospects. “The industry is surviving and prospering well as a self-regulatory entity, which is outstanding and rare,” he observes. “In terms of growth potential, we are not even close to our peak. If it’s true that 80 to 90 percent of the U.S. population does not exercise, just think of the possibilities!”

Reported by Sandy Todd Webster

IDEA PERSONAL Trainer april 2002