We are pleased to launch a new regular feature on BodyRock News, ‘Confessions of a personal trainer’. This is the first column by our new guest contributor, Veronica. She will be sharing her experiences as a personal trainer and instructor at a major international corporate fitness studio. This is her first post.
My name, for the purposes of this article, will be Veronica. I’m a personal trainer from Toronto. I’m 26 years old. I work at an upscale studio, one that if you are familiar with the big name, corporate fitness world, you would have heard of. I think my studio is owned by a holding company. It’s cloning locations all over the world now, and pretty soon we will be like Starbucks. Too much like Starbucks.
The people that I work with think that they are hot shit, because they work here. And I get it. They set these places up to impress. The name is cool. They splash a lot of cash on marketing. It’s better than working at a graveyard like 24 hour fitness, which is the equivalent in my world of cleaning toilets in the subway. What people don’t realize, is that the more of these locations that pop up, the weaker the talent pool becomes. There are only so many decent trainers in every given city. Not all of them aspire to work at these ego farms.
I once worked as a bottle service girl. For like a minute. I wasn’t willing to trade my sanity and self-respect to walk out of a bar at 4am with $500 in tips. I like money as much as the next person. Maybe more. But I didn’t feel like aging at 3x the biological rate of humans my age that don’t work in the bar industry. I also didn’t like the amount of drugs that circulate in the average nightclub. Dealing with people high on coke, who think that they own you because they spent $1500 on a bottle of Grey Goose is not my idea of sustainable employment.
The fitness industry is somehow related to the bar business, in that they both employ people who primarily ride on their looks. There is an unspoken emphasis on looks. Most places do a shitty job of hiding this, and as a trainer you want to believe that your fitness prowess and knowledge are why you are there. But as soon as you step into a hyper-corporate chain, the only thing anyone cares about is making money. Did you fill up your class? Is it wait listed?
The most popular trainers get the most popular time slots on the schedule. What makes most people popular? Let me give you a hint. They don’t pay us to be ugly.
I’m very aware that I’m 26, and moving down the conveyor belt towards a future that has a fixed expiration date. Not that I will want to be at a chain gym when I’m 35. 35 is ancient in this game. I’m aware that 35 is not old, but it’s all the rest of what goes into it that makes us all so disposable. Social media is a big part of it, and social media is largely a young persons game.
We are expected to leverage our social media followers to fill classes and promote the studio and brand. Except that this is bullshit, because that’s not really what they are paying us to do. I’m paid to teach, to show up, to give the best experience and workout that I can. I’m not paid for the hours that I spend making content to promote the corporation.
Let me tell you something that I witnessed first hand. Two trainers walk into a big fitness chain looking for a job. One trainer has invested in courses, has invested in seminars, and they really know their stuff. The other trainer has 25k instagram followers, and spends all her time posting half naked pics. The studio hires the trainer with the most engagement and followers. That’s how it works. They want the popular accounts, not the best trainers.
The narcissistic toxicity of social media has exactly nothing to do with fitness. But you have to play the game.
You need to push your socials. So I post ass shots. Abs shots. Flash my assets. Lean into what people want, be what they wished that they looked like. In the modern fitness game, you are the object of desire, the body that they are buying, a piece of meat on the social conveyor belt. If you don’t post, you aren’t participating in your career. I post the laziest snaps of my butt. My butt is easy. Sometimes I think about trying to post something that actually has meaning, but I resent the extra time I spend trying to project this perfect existence, just so people will sign up for an overpriced class.
The corporate guys that own the holding company that owns our studio chain get to squeeze a few more bucks out of me every time I flash some skin on Instagram. It’s beyond exploitative.
I would love to share something that matters, but when am I supposed to make that happen when I’m training, teaching classes, and doing my 1 on 1 sessions? Maybe this is my chance. Maybe this is why I reached out and wanted to start this column.
It’s not all terrible. People know who I am. I can walk into clubs without waiting in line. I get boxes of free merch from companies that hope that I will do ‘unboxing’ videos and link to them.
Most of this is just absolute nonsense, and doesn’t make me anything. But I do it because I’m faking it just like everyone else.
Look at all the free shit that I get, I must be so special right? No. They try and make you feel like the free samples are somehow a bonus, part of the compensation almost. I re-gift most of it. I’m always giving my girlfriends eyebrow tinting kits, eyeshadow kits, protein samples, and endless varieties of tea cleanses.
The best jobs are when someone reaches out on Instagram and wants me to be a fitness model. When I’m a fitness model, I just show up and turn off the part of my brain that is a personal trainer. I get paid $100 an hour to be dissected by the camera, responding to directions like ‘turn your core on’ and ‘tilt your hips back’ by flipping my hair and hitting my angles. The more your images appear out there, the more DM’s you get from photographers trying to book you.
It’s a hustle. On an average month I can make $5k. Rent is $4600, because I live downtown and I refuse to commute. My roommate splits with me, so my end is $2600. That doesn’t leave a lot of extra cash. I try and be smart with my money, but keeping up the lifestyle for the gram isn’t cheap. I’ve promised myself that I’m going to start saving, but I like to travel, mostly to top tier American cities. I like wearing a new dress on Saturday night. I like going out. I tell myself that I’m still young, but my body is already rebelling.
I work hard on my body, but how much of it is just youth? I sense my own weight gain like most people sense a bad smell. I’m afraid that at any moment my hips will open wider, and I will start to get bottom heavy, and I will fall out of this world that I find myself in.
Not that you have to have a perfect body to be a trainer - but lets face it, in this business it’s pretty much all physical. I know that this might piss a lot of people off, but it’s true.
I know that I sound cynical and that might change the more that I write. It’s just hard when so much of my job has nothing to actually do with fitness. That’s why I like what you guys are doing with BodyRockPlus.com. You hire real people to coach your workouts. You keep yourself apart from the corporate machine.
This is kinda fun. Being honest. Telling the truth. Being more than just a body. There are a lot of good things about the fitness industry, but there are a lot of dark corners that no one wants to talk about. No one except me. I want to talk about them, because I’m living them, and I’m tired of pretending otherwise.
If there is anything you want to know about, please ask in the comments.
I have to go. I have a class to teach.
I have to agree with the previous comment. An average of $5k a month and living in an apartment with a roommate with half your pay is pretty crummy. Big deal, you get free stuff, everyone knows you, you get into clubs…I know someone who is a well known fitness trainer, she travels worldwide, training other trainers and getting them certified in barre fitness. She developed a product and marketed it, built her brand and does functional training. She just finished writing a book and is promoting it. She is in her early 60’s and going strong. Be smart, don’t allow yourself to be used and exploited. You can be doing way better. “What you allow will continue.”
V, I would like if you could recommend your work out gear brands. Thank you DT
I was once you. Then I left corporate fitness because I couldn’t stand the BS. I started my own business, trained more than 40 hours a week, made way more than 5k a month, and didn’t have to shake my ass on Instagram for anyone. If you want to get out of it, do it. Don’t complain. Saying you’re the victim isn’t any way to better your life.
Start in-home personal training with urban moms and dads, seniors, and business executives who commute. Many have their own gyms, and you can charge $80 an hour. They will feed you or ask you to go for lunch and coffee dates, not look at your ass, and you will find a new love for your job. I certainly love personal training and this clientele is maintainable. They love me like a daughter or son. We bond during every session.
I’m now married, 31, and I have four kids. My hips are great and I’m definitely not a ticking time bomb. What a terribly pessimistic way to look at yourself. Don’t sell out if you don’t want to. It’s all up to you.