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How to ignite the fire as a personal trainer [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Nov 14, 2017 10:00:00 AM

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How to ignite the fire as a personal trainer

This is a review of the book Ignite the fire written by Jonathan Goodman. You will get an overview and in depth examples of how to run a successful personal trainer career. The book delivers what it says on the tin. The principles are sound in business theory and explained in a practical way. 

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Ignite the fire lists some of the most common and professional certifications on the market. Jonathan Goodman points out that what type of certification you obtain highly depends on the locality you want to train and which group of people you want to train. As a general rule of thumb, the more professional, risky or special the group gets you want to train the more certifications you will need to work with them. Here is a selection:
CPTN stands for certified professional trainers Network and was founded in 1991 in Canada with its Headquarters situated in Ontario. Membership is about 100 Canadian dollars a year and they provide several personal trainer certificates on their website. Their objectives are as followed:
  • Integrate current research and practical applications to education and marketing opportunities for Personal Trainers.
  • Form a strong, supportive, and active network of Personal Trainers.
  • Establish health and fitness partnerships at the local, and national levels.
  • Increase public awareness of personal training, and its direct relationship to health & fitness.
  • Develop and implement nationally, and internationally recognized Certifications.
  • Encourage international liaisons to maintain a global perspective and a cutting edge on personal training developments.
The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology is another certifying body for personal trainers. Their membership fees range from 75 to about 200 Dollars. It was founded at the Pan American Games in Winnipeg in 1967 and its goals are
  • To be the national and international voice for exercise science and prescription in Canada, and to represent and advance CSEP positions. 
  • To pursue the vision and mission in an ethical, effective, and financially responsible manner. 
  • To provide members working in exercise physiology and health and fitness with timely, relevant products and services. 
  • To increase awareness of CSEP in Canada and internationally with funders, within the exercise physiology sector, and among the general public. 
  • To promote evidence-based practice through the development of standards, policies, guidelines, and research related to exercise physiology and health and fitness. 
  • To define, develop, and implement effective knowledge translation activities related to CSEP’s evidence-based body of knowledge and advancing certification in a timely 
NESTA stands for national exercise and sports training association. Founded in 1992 in southern California it was able to build a membership of 55.000 professionals all over the globe: their main body of members is situated in the U.S. In addition, the personal trainer certification has sprawled into a triathlon, mixed martial arts and life coach and wellness certificate depending on your needs. The personal certification is about 500$ and there are many specialist options to choose from in the 100 - 400$ range. If you want to be certified in everything, here is a good source. If you want to test them out there are also free webinar options.
ISSA is the short form of International sports sciences Association. According to their website, they had over 200.000 students worldwide since they were established in 1988. Their go to price for most courses is 599$ with a long list of specializations to choose from. They pride themselves in their online learning capabilities which I can not comment on except that the sheer numbers suggest that they figured out an efficient and effective way to deal with a lot of students at the same time.
Probably the coolest acronym in the List Goodman provides as bodies of certification the American Counsel on Exercise was founded in 1985 and is a Non Profit. They describe themselves as one of the most trusted sources in the U.S: for advice on exercising and change of behavior with 70.00trainerser in their database holding 77.000 certifications.
The American College of Sports medicine takes an approach more tailored to health and rehabilitation. Clinicians, academics, and Scientists are listed first as their target groups. The personal trainer certification is roughly 400$. The specialist certifications of this college are more targeted towards trainers who want to work with the elderly or in a clinic, which can be a lucrative specialization. 
The Certified Strength and Conditioning specialist is the certification the author opted for himself. Price wise we are talking roughly 500$ for this certification. This course is provided by the national strength and conditioning association which is a non-profit organization. 
All in all it is hard to find the right certification for your needs as the offers are widespread and unregulated. This is the shortlist provided in Ignite the fire and I got the feeling when reading the book that the author knows what he is talking about. 

Work hours and pay

Going into any profession you should know what the pay is and how many hours go into the salary that you earn. Ignite the fire combines statistics with applied practical knowledge of the author to give you an overview of what to expect when you enter the fitness industry. The experiences are majorly focused on the Canada. The book could do with some rework for comment on YouTubers and Instagram as a route to as these seem to have gained in significance since the last update of the book.
You will learn that the average pay per hour is 18 to 75 dollars as a personal trainer depending on what kind of establishment you are working in and what kind of training you provide. The different options of one on one training, work for a gym and group training are discussed and outlined for you. You will find further detail which compares the gyms you can work for based on clientele, staff and development potential for yourself. Generally, you can take away that the more specialized and up market a gym is, the more likely you will get clients which are more dedicated to their results. In turn of the lack of size of the gym you are working in, there are fewer trainers to learn from as it is very likely that they all have the same specialization which got them hired in the first place.
When you are just starting out Ignite the fire provides checklists for you when you apply to a gym and also further tick boxes to use with your clients on first assessments. For example, look out what kind of additional benefits your employer provides besides the salary such as
  • Contractual days off
  • Opportunity to get certified in different areas
  • Opportunity to work for client groups you usually would not get access to (elderly, special need etc.)
  • Maximum hours you are allowed to work
  • Guaranteed hours that you are given and/or base salary depending on arrangement
Always be aware that the only commodity that you can not buy back in life is time. If you work 80 hours a week and do invest in recovery and development you will soon become a nuisance to your clients, your market value will drop and you will feel like a hamster in a wheel and get depressed. Ignite the fire helps to avoid that if you apply the principles on the pages.


Depending on which personal trainer  you ask they will tell you that their biggest challenge is most likely sales and getting clients. This topic is addressed solid in Ignite the fire and I am talking from a perspective of someone who studied business and has been in sales for over ten years. All of the concepts of marketing and sales are explained with solid everyday examples. There is some brushing up to do on the theory as the ideas could be better explained with models from business studies. No harm is done for you though.
Even though not explicitly mentioned and applied the five principles of the porter model are touched in the book for the fitness industry. They are the threat of new entrants, threat of substitutes, bargaining power of suppliers, bargaining power of buyers and Industry rivalry. This will give personal trainers who never got in touch with these concepts a better overview of how to analyze their competition.
The book provides ten buyer personas to the reader for the fitness industry with long and detailed descriptions on how to deal with each of these. This will come in handy, especially when you are shy around people and have never sold before. The scripts are helpful to practice and implement in real life. The Buyer personas in the book are tailored to one on one interaction. If you are a mass marketer targeted with building a target group/buyer persona for a worldwide corporation the book will lack the statistical data to underpin your case and get it approved by the board or Unit leader. It does not make the observations less true, you will only have to turn to other sources to create your report.
There is some advice in the book on marketing your brand and what kind of name to pick on your business card. This is a good start to determine whether you want to build a personal brand or something which does not rely on your name. If you want to dominate the planet, Ignite the fire does not cover all of the necessary tools. You will find more detailed information on how to build your online fitness empire on the author's website in the additional material
Last but not least regarding business Goodman addresses the importance of positioning and a SWOT Analyses. SWOT stands for Strength, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Based on what your profile is, what you like and dislike it is smart to play to your strengths by finding potential clients who match these. Find a group of people who you can easily get access to, which have a need for fitness and that you can address based on your strengths and specialization. Focus on their two primary needs and solve them.

Personal trainer Models

There are several options on how to work as a personal trainer and it is hard to group them in a given manner. You have following choices in terms of how you provide your training
  • One on one
  • Group training
  • Virtual training
  • Webinars
  • Streaming
  • EBooks
While this is the there is also the question of where and to what extent you own the premises in which you deliver your services. Here the options are
  • Running your own gym
  • Floor Gyms
  • Boutique training studios
  • Box Gyms
  • YMCA / COmmunity gym
Running your own gym has become more popular and gives you full control over everything. What kind of equipment you provide, who is allowed to train in your gym, which location you pick, who you want to work with amongst some of the things. The list is endless and it is one of the most rewarding paths financially and personally if you make your own gym a success. While this comes with great privilege there is also more risk involved than in any other options. As you have to decide everything yourself there is a higher likelihood for mistakes which could end the business, especially if you are new to fitness and/or to run a business. To not underestimate the overhead which goes into contracting, paying bills, insurances, keeping staff happy and other things which you have to do as the CEO of your very own little world.
Floor Gyms are recommended as a great starting point in Ignite the fire for most aspiring personal trainers. Here you have the opportunity to experience a lot of different clients and training styles until you have figured out which kind of business you want to be in and what you are good at. Some popular floor gym locations are
Boutique training studios can be placed in the middle of the spectrum between big commercial gyms and running your own business. Boutique gyms are usually run by fitness enthusiasts who wanted to his/her own thing as a result out of entering the fitness industry and/or working in a big floor gym and experiencing poor service there. The strength and weaknesses of this individual will usually be reflected in the type of gym they have created. If it is a chain of boutique gyms and is not uncommon that the locations are close to the original founder. The clients are usually more wealthy than in floor gyms, more demanding and more dedicated to achieving their results. The challenge for you is that expectations are high, you usually have to be more specialized to get hired and most of your coworkers will have the same / a similar skill set to yours. So, the pay is better and the clients are easier to manage but the opportunities to grow and learn are fewer.
Box Gyms have gained popularity with the surge of the CrossFit craze in the United States and especially in California. Box Gyms utilize group dynamics and usually focus on performance rather than aesthetics where the focus with boutique gyms can be more on aesthetics than athletic performance. The loyalty between the owners and the staff are usually quite high, according to the author while you will still face the challenge of similar skill sets between trainers. 

Talking to clients

According to this book, you will find most of your clients for fitness during the day in coffee shops around your local gym. In fact, you will find more clients outside the gym than in it. I think that is an easy trap to fall into when you are new to sales. The assumption is that the clients which are already with you will make you the most money. Fact is, the most money gained and new business is not found at your desk, but outside meeting people who do not know you or your establishment. 
You will learn how to deal with most common objections of pricing, time and injuries and how you can gather information about clients so that you are ready once the objections come up. For this, the book provides prompters for discussions and how to do small talk. It is also shown which gifts work and which don't to make people like you and opt for personal training with you.


Ignite the fire is not just a good book for personal trainers. It is also one of the best sales books I have read in my life and I have gone through quite a few of them. If you want to build a business and be successful in the fitness world, this is a must read. The hype is well founded, get a copy.
Further Reading