Stepping up Your Fitness Career: From Frontline to Management

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Stepping up Your Fitness Career: From Frontline to Management

Douglas Sham, M.Ed., ACSM-EP, ACSM-CPT, ACSM-GEI |  May 22, 2023
Stepping up Your Fitness Career From Frontline to Management

When enthusiastic fitness professionals get certified as either a personal trainer, group exercise instructor and/or exercise physiologist, they are usually eager to get started helping others with their health and fitness goals. While many fitness professionals knew they wanted to be in this field from high school or college, others decided to change career paths later on. Whichever the case, some may feel they’ve hit their career ceiling.

However, fitness professionals can continue their career growth in a leadership role. This can be in the capacity of a lead (responsible for a service line like group exercise), supervisor (responsible for one department), manager (responsible for the entire facility) or owner (responsible for the entire business). When I first started my fitness career, I didn’t realize my opportunity in management until my director brought it up to me as an option. You may think you’re not cut up to be in leadership because of the responsibilities that you see your own supervisors or managers carrying out, but if you look closely, you’ll notice that there are many similarities between the characteristics of a fitness professional and someone in management.

Similarities between Fitness Pros and Leadership

  • Passion for working with people: Fitness professionals interact with people every day. They enjoy helping others improve their overall health. Leaders interact with people every day as well. They just have more variety in the people with whom they interact, such as the employees and members or patients.
  • Ability to motivate: Motivating others is the primary job of the fitness professional. To get someone to start on their health and wellness goal(s) and to continue requires the skill to effectively encourage the person. Likewise, motivating others is one of the skill sets a leader in management must have to ensure that their plans get carried out by their staff.
  • Empathy: There is a reason fitness professionals are referred to as “therapists.” We understand that we need to be compassionate as well as dependable with our clients and class participants. Leaders also need to be able to understand where people are coming from, whether they are clients, employees, investors, or others.
  • Creativity and problem-solving: How many times have you had to think on your feet and be creative when solving a problem your client throws at you? Maybe they forgot to properly fuel themselves before a workout or they got injured while doing a chore and now you must scrap the workout you’d planned and come up with a new one. Being creative allows a fitness professional to be successful with their client or participants, just as leaders in management are always finding new and creative ways to solve a problem; the company’s growth comes from creating new ideas.
  • Communication: Active listening is a skill that all professionals must possess. As a fitness professional, communicating effectively with your client or class participants will lead to their continued success. Outlining the plan of care will ensure that the client or class knows that they’re heading in the right direction. Supervisors and managers utilize this skill to effectively carry out their vision. Whether that’s to let their team know of new policies or offerings, hearing out a member’s concern or molding the culture of the organization, being a good communicator keeps all operations running smoothly.
  • Willingness to learn and stay current with the industry: Education is key to staying up to date with the ever-changing world of health. Successful personal trainers and group exercise instructors must be up to date with the latest research and fitness trends to keep their workouts and classes fresh and relevant. At the same time, they also want to be sure that what they’re still doing is safe for their client or participants. In a similar way, leaders stay updated to know what new service lines or classes to provide in their facilities. Managers and supervisors also network with other professionals in the industry for tips about best practices and warnings about possible downward trends.

As you can see, what you’re already doing primes you to be a great candidate for a leadership role. Of course, there are some other responsibilities like budgeting, hiring and policy creation that go along with many of these positions. However, your current manager can often teach you these responsibilities if you’re interested. When I took the supervisor position with my organization, I learned those other parts of the job but felt comfortable taking on the role. The experience I had as a fitness professional gave me more confidence when speaking with my team and members because I was able to relate to them. Some of you may be worried that you may have to give up on what you love most — training or teaching! Know that this may be the case, but I was still able to personal train some clients, and when one of my group exercise instructors couldn’t teach a class, I stepped in and taught. Other reasons to look into stepping into a leadership role are having a larger impact on the people you serve, increase your salary and build your resume.

If you’re interested in continuing your career path and climbing the ladder, talk to your current direct report and ask them if you can help with the next big project. Positioning yourself will help you get noticed.

Related Content: 
Blog | A Not-So-Traditional Path to a Career as a Certified Wellness Professional
Blog | 5 Skills of High Performers in the Fitness Industry
Resource | ACSM Career Guide

Douglas Sham
Douglas Sham, M.Ed., ACSM-EP, ACSM-CPT, ACSM-GEI,
is the manager of HealthFit – Powered by Sarasota Memorial Healthcare System. He earned his Bachelor of Science and Master of Education from Springfield College. He has stepped into many roles within the fitness and wellness industry as a personal trainer, group exercise instructor, clinical program lead, public speaker and Medical Fitness Association conference presenter.