10 Lessons in 10 Years…Damn, I’m getting old.

Ever since I began this journey, I’ve always believed I could get to this point. How cool it would be sitting here writing to all of you my “I’m-a-veteran-in-my-field-so-here-are-my-lessons-over-the-years” article.


The hard part was waiting for it to show up.


Once I decided what and who I wanted to be in this world and what I wanted to do, I knew change was imminent. What I didn’t know was exactly what it was going to take and how scary it was going to be.


The stats said that I had an 80% chance that I was going to quit within 5 years into the Personal Training biz. The cards were already stacked against me it seemed: I took my A.C.E.-CPT exam 4 times before finally passing it by 13 points, I had only 10 academic credits of Kinesiology courses under my belt; I was one of a few male minorities in the business in my area and with a University Studies degree in Sociology. 


And now many years later, bestowing the wisdom from all the great and not-so-great decisions I’ve made that got me to this point. Hopefully this inspires you to make mistakes worth making to get you to where you want to be in life.



I learn best when I make mistakes. To me life lessons are the best way to navigate through life. Parent’s tell you not to put your hand over the stove, but let’s be real, sometimes you want to put your hand over the stove anyway to realize how hot it is for yourself. This is what my dad calls, “being hardheaded”.


Ultimately, I take that approach with my clients. I know I can’t keep them from doing what they want, but when they do what they want and it doesn’t go well we can then reflect on the experience and move forward. Being open and real with your own struggles allows you to empathize because you’ve “been there before”.

 Circa 2007: Before I became a trainer, I worked behind the desk. Fun Times.


Don’t worry about appearing to be perfect. Things like injuries and overindulging in food will happen. Life happens. It’s all about how you work through and around it. If you can do that for yourself, you will be better off helping the people around you.


If you’re a crappy trainer, people are going to know about it. If you’re a great trainer, people are going to know about it too. Which one do you think would get more clients? You might think there’s not a lot of room for error. Everyone has the ability to learn and get better if they’re open to it. In my experience, the difference maker is who you are as a person.


You might not get the absolute best results on paper, but if you care enough about your people they’ll eventually want to stick with you for years.


One of the biggest reasons why most trainers don’t make it past the 5 year mark is because they can’t make it work for them financially. Ultimately, their heart isn’t in the right place. I’ll admit this industry is not for the light-hearted. It certainly isn’t for those who are looking to live a lavish life, make a ton of cash and party every weekend.


You absolutely have to put your time, effort and energy into your clients well-being. “They don’t care about what you know until they know how much you care.”  Sure, Personal Trainer is a title and a lot of people can call themselves that if they want.


But to be a COACH is so much more than a certification or academic achievement.


Who didn’t have someone to look up to growing up. We may not realize it, but we have mentors all around us. You might consider a teacher you’ve had in school, a family member, friend or co-worker. No matter what we know, we’ve learned from someone who knows more and have had the experience.


For me, early on it was guys like Mike Robertson, Tony Gentilcore, Eric Cressey, Ben Bruno, Molly Galbraith; listening to The FitCast with Kevin Larrabee, Jonathan Fass and Leigh Peele (yeah, that far back). Even my first boss in the biz, Kristen Nesvacil when I started at the Rec at my alma mater was a huge influence.  


                        With Molly Galbraith after the Train Like A Girl 2 Seminar


                            Private Coaching Seminar with Mike Robertson at IFAST


On top of that, being able to see folks like these up front and speak to them in person was life changing. Having them tell me that I can email them and hold a conversation and ask questions really helped me along the way. I can only hope to contribute to the industry in a positive way like these Superstars.


I’ve went back and forth with this for several years. At first, I believed you had to look the part to be a trainer.  But then I learned that looking the part was only the half of it. So I realized that you have to know your shit more than looking the part. Well…some people are influenced by what they see. If they can’t get past that part, they won’t give a shit if you’re a genius or not. If YOU don’t look like you take care of yourself, why would they think you can help them?


That being said, the phrase “the truth lies somewhere in the middle” applies here. You’re better off knowing your shit AND looking good while doing it. It makes you more marketable that way.


There are tons of trainers/coaches everywhere. In my town, there are over 100 licensed Personal Trainers. So, how else do you separate yourself from the pack?…


A quote from Jon Goodman that I live and die by. I realized in this industry I have the autonomy to be creative and let my personality flourish. After all, people don’t buy personal training sessions, they invest their time in the person coaching them. It behoved me to learn not just from other coaches on how to help people…but learn from the people I coach. Talking to them about what their goals are; their fears going into training, their struggles. Learning what makes them tick. That’s when you get really start to separate yourself. Putting together programs is a big part of it. That’s the easy part. The hard part that I want to see trainers pay more attention to, is to put more of an effort into understanding their clients better mentally and emotionally.

Not everyone enjoys being yelled at, yet some do. Not everyone enjoys doing heavy squats and deadlifts, yet some look forward to it. Simply creating an open and trusting space for folks to talk about things and get if off their chest will make all the difference. From that point, they’ll be talking about how awesome you are to their friends and family at the dinner table.


Continuing education is vital to staying alive in a forever growing industry. Fitness/Training as we know it today has only been around for 60+ years. With technology improving, so have methods to improve medicine and helping people live longer. Being on the cutting edge of fitness is not only smart…it’s the responsible thing to do.


                                                Me and The G.O.A.T.: Ed Coan

You don’t have to implement everything you learn right away. It’s easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater when you’ve had your mind blown when Ed Coan says your deadlifts look good, and then proceed to make everyone deadlift the way you do come Monday morning. Exercises are like tools in a tool box. Simply, use a movement to address a problem when it’s appropriate. You don’t need to scrap the whole program. Especially when it works and your clients enjoy the workouts (..of course they won’t tell you that while they’re doing it. They’re too busy cursing at you in their heads…or out loud :).




One-on-one at one point seemed like it was going out the door. Many of the top influencers in the industry were calling for the death of Personal Training and praising small group/semi-private training.


Is group training cost-effective for the client? Yes.

Is it time efficient for the coach? Yes.

Is it potentially more fun for both the client AND coach? It definitely can be.


Though, like exercises, there’s a time and a place for everything. Personally, I  thoroughly enjoy one-on-one private training. I love the person-to-person connection and have a better experience understanding on an individual level. More importantly, there’s just something about having a coach personalize EVERYTHING for you. From your program to your overall training experience. I can proudly say that I still stay connected with many of my TWD (Train With Donovan) clients. Mostly because I’ve invested the time and energy to each person that is invaluable.


In addition, schedules are more flexible. Typically in group, you have the accountability of maintaining a standing time. If people don’t show, they’re S.O.L. Which is a nice feature on it’s own. For me, I find more and more people WANTING individualized training. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s because that’s the energy I put out or what. But if Personal Training died, it’s been revived.


This can be damaging. Maybe even a little dangerous. It’s real easy to buy into a supplement that is well marketed. That being said, it may not be what you’re looking for. It may not even be the same supplement as advertised as far as results are concerned. There’s a famous scene in the documentary “Bigger, Faster, Stronger” where Chris Bell (the director) creates his own supplement with the help of a few people by putting sugar in capsules. Slap a label on a bottle. Boom. Instant supplements.


This isn’t to scare you from taking supplements. If anything, it should drive you to DO YOUR RESEARCH!! I utilize the website Examine.com. A “fully independent…education company that looks at the research-nothing more, nothing less.” Pretty sweet right?


So, do you absolutely HAAAAVE to take a supplement before you offer it to your client? Absolutely not. In fact, it’s a bit overboard. The point is to have the mindset of educating yourself to better serve the people you’re working with. Even if you don’t have the answers, you should definitely have the resources to find them.


Earlier I’ve talked about some of the obstacles that life has to offer. I’ll be lying to you if my job wasn’t in the top 3 things I care about. That isn’t uncommon. Lot’s of people would say their job is in the top 5 of most important things in their lives. For me, it’s more than what’s “important”. I facking love it.


When you believe in yourself you believe anything is POSSIBLE. You’ll want to learn more. You’ll fall in love with the process; when you get past a milestone or significant event, you’ll want to go back to work and get better. The idea of waking up everyday and getting better and euphoric. It’s the mindset that makes you great; before any action you take or words you speak. Everything starts with your thought process.


I leave you with this: Always be kind to yourself and to others. Strive for excellence in everything you do. Often what we think and say to ourselves is the deciding factor. You don’t do things to suck at it intentionally, right? So say to yourself what you CAN do and what you WILL do. It makes all the difference. And when you decide to help people reach their goals, they’ll benefit from it and you’ll have a lot more fun doing it too.


Here’s to the next 10 years.