As a coach of 12 years and counting at Madlab School of Fitness, this is my number one message for the gym owner:

Selling fitness and then having coaches administer this fitness isn’t what will keep coaches or clients at your facility for the long term. 

Treating the coach like the product—and creating a coach compensation model that allows them to earn a professional wage and pursue a real career in the industry—is what will allow your coaches, your clients, and ultimately your business to be successful long-term. 

This is my story:

In the early days, I thought the best approach to picking up a new client was to sell them on the greatest workout and training plan they’d ever come across.

During an introductory day with a prospective client, I would explain how functional movements, systematic variation, and varying degrees of intensity would help them improve the ten general skills and ultimately allow them to achieve fitness levels they didn’t know they were capable of.

Today, While I still talk about functional movements and the importance of becoming stronger and gaining range of motion in our joints, these aren’t the first words out of my mouth.

The first words out of my mouth are: We are a coaching service. 

If you’re wanting a place to train to do your own thing in the corner, that’s cool, but then we’re not the place for you. We’re all about connecting each client to a personal coach to help them navigate their health and fitness long term to provide them with what they need to reach their goals. 

Three things I have learned in 12 years of coaching:

1. The clients who last the longest are the ones who come to the gym because of me.

Maybe that sounds arrogant, but three-quarters of my clients have been at the gym for 5-12 years, an eternity in the gym industry, where 70 percent of clients last less than a year. 

You could also argue that community, not the workouts, keeps people around, as well, and it does. But that still pales in comparison to having a coach check in on you. I cannot even count the number of times I have texted or called a client I haven’t seen in a couple of weeks to bring them back in for a one-on-one to get them going again. Often that’s all it takes to get the person back into a routine, instead of continuing to fall off the wagon before putting their membership on hold until they get their shit together. 

…Of course, hearing clients of eight years flat out tell me I’m the reason they’re still coming also proves that point. 

2. Having my own personal clients are the reason I’m still coaching

If my job was primarily to administer hard workouts to a group of clients I hardly know—like yoga, Orange Theory or spin instructors—I most definitely would not still be coaching after 12 years. 

But working closely with clients and developing real relationships with them, where I understand their struggles, their goals and what’s going on in their lives outside the gym, is beyond rewarding. 

It’s truly not just about the workout. Sometimes sessions are spent talking, even crying, more than working out, and sometimes that’s the most valuable thing they need that day. Other times, it is about watching them deadlift 200 pounds for the first time or get their first pull-up and knowing I played a role in that development. 

3. We all need different things; we all need a coach

In the early days, our programming was more generic, and the idea was that everyone—from the elite athlete to the 70-year older woman- needed the same thing. 

Sure, we all need to move, and we all need to be strong and flexible etc... Still, when it comes to a training program in practice, all hell breaks loose without devoting some serious time to educating your clients about their body, their abilities, and what is appropriate for them and why. 

And again, this is up to the coach. A personal training session shouldn’t be about counting sets and reps; it should be about educating your client about why they’re doing what they’re doing, so they can become more and more autonomous. This doesn’t mean they don’t still need you, as the education doesn’t need to end the moment their training IQ, so to speak, reaches a certain level. 

In light of all this, I couldn’t be happier to be working in a model that treats me and pays me like a professional coach, as opposed to a group class instructor making $25 an hour, whose job it is to be enthusiastic and make sure the class starts on time, ends on time and that nobody is moving too egregious. 

I am the product, not the workout of the day. 

- Emily Beers

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