How To Ace Your Internship

2016 showed there roughly 300k “trainers and aerobic instructors “in the U.S. alone, with a projected 30k increase in 10 years. That’s a lot. Needless to say, the market is spread thin thus allows for a better opportunity for someone to pick just about any trainer they want. Which leads me to make this very important statement:

We as trainers should be grateful to have clients. They don’t HAVE to work with you. They can easily decide to work with someone else.

Let that sink in for a minute.

The moment you let up or decide to become less invested in your own professional development is reason number 300,000 and 1 for them to move on.

If you’re reading this and looking to get a great start in the fitness biz, you’re already ahead of the curve. The best way to start your training career is to follow those before you and forge your own path standing on the shoulders of giants.

For me, I was fortunate enough to be thrown in the wolves; crawled through 500 yards of crap and come out on the other side squeaky clean (Shawshank Redemption anyone?). But I didn’t do it alone.

Back in 2007, I heard of guys like Mike Robertson, Mike Boyle, Eric Cressey & Tony Gentilcore (The CSP version). I trained a lot of women so I began learning a lot from women in the field as well as Molly Galbraith and the badass ladies at Girls Gone Strong. I was a sponge that soaked everything I read and watched and I’m glad I did.

One thing I could have benefited from was having an internship. For me, I knew I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t put in the hours training real people. Who knows how better I’d be if I had an internship at a world-class facility like CSP, Defranco’s Gym or Results Fitness.

Sometimes when you’re applying for an internship at different gyms you don’t always know what is expected of you. So I wanted to get some insight from some of the best for all the noobs of what some of the best gyms around are expecting of YOU.


Tony Gentilcore (CORE), Mike Robertson (RTS & I-FAST) and Chad Hobbs (Crossfit Bloomington-Normal & The Bloomington-Normal Athlete Factory) weigh-in.


What Are The Benefits of an Internship?

Tony GentilcoreHow else is one going to figure out if this industry is right for them? I liken an internship to an “ooch,” which is a phrase I learned when I read the book Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath. An ooch is an experiment or a way to test a hypothesis.

– Do I really like working with a wide variety of people?

– Can I see myself training/coaching people on the gym floor as a career and not just a hobby?

– Am I cool with wearing sweatpants or shorts to work everyday?

An internship allows for a brief period of getting one’s toes wet and helps them figure out if this is really something they enjoy doing? I mean, if you accept a job out of the gate and two weeks in you’d rather be jumping into a live volcano that sucks.

Imagine one, five, ten, or an entire adult lifespan of feeling that way towards your job.

An internship, hopefully, will prevent that from happening.


Mike Robertson– “Probably the biggest benefit of an internship is having the ability to take what you’ve learned over the course of your collegiate career and really get mentored in the process of coaching. It’s different when you have to go in and teach somebody. It’s an art and a science to what we do; trying to get people to do what you want whether it’s coaching and cueing of an exercise or what they need to do outside the gym.”


Chad Hobbs– The benefits of an internship are endless given the intern applies themselves and emerges themselves into learning as much as possible (both good and bad) with their time at a facility. Questions are paramount, usually, if an intern is eager to truly learn no question will ever go unanswered.


What do Gyms Expect of the Interns as they start?

TG- When I was at Cressey Sports Performance we tried very hard not to put too much weight into someone’s resume.

A piece of paper doesn’t speak to someone’s work ethic, willingness to learn, openness to new ideas and ways of doing things, ability to follow direction and take constructive criticism, initiative, or whether or not they’re just an uppity jerk who thinks they know it all already.

We gravitated towards people who wanted to learn, showed up on time, and could be a team player.

It’s as simple as that.

I think most gyms are looking for that.


MR- As far as expectations go, it’s basic stuff. We want somebody that wants to be a pro; show up early, dress appropriately, ask great questions which is such a huge portion. Having the curiosity. We want people that are curious and ask questions respectfully.

So on one side, it’s about being professional, to asking great questions and constantly learning more about what it is we’re doing.


CH- This varies. It is up to the gym to lay out their guidelines for the intern to follow. A clear understanding of conduct, punctuality, and standards should be followed.


Where and how do you look for interns; what makes them stand out?

TG- Recommendations help. If another colleague of ours reached out to us and said “so and so is an amazing human being and would make an awesome intern” and then personally vouched for him or her, that would almost be a guarantee we’d take them on as an intern.

Outside of that, at CSP, 95% of the interns were/are taken on via the internship application process.

First and foremost, the first “layer” or “test” is whether or not people can FOLLOW DIRECTIONS.

– Do they send in all the requested material by the end date?

– Do they send in all the requested material period?

– Can they write well? When you have dozens if not hundreds of applicants, first impressions matter. If you misspell someone’s name, write in the wrong facility on your application, can’t differentiate between you’re/your, and/or it’s readily apparent there was zero effort put into the cover letter, then it doesn’t matter if you graduated Magna Cum Laude, have every certification under the sun or read Supertraining to orphaned kittens on a weekly basis, you’re likely not going to be considered.

As far as what makes interns standout?

The ability to make connections with people. Knowing the x’s and o’s of program design and how to break down deadlift technique are splendid skills to have. However, the ability to connect to people, talk, and develop relationships is often what separates the masses.


MR- As far as finding them, the biggest thing is to find them through the internet. We have a fairly decent presence, but reaching out to local colleges; can you be on site. It comes back to meet the expectations. If they can’t they’ll probably stand out in a negative way.


CH– Interns apply through their universities most of the time. Resumes are great but I look for the in-person interview as the standard if someone will be joining us. They have to be personable without that you are not fit to coach at this facility.


What should interns do to get the most out of their internship?

TG – Show up, smile, ask questions, train with the staff, fail, fail again, be open.


MR- I would say to strive to constantly not only meet but exceed expectations. It’s not enough to just show up. Ask questions about things that aren’t clear to you. You need to constantly be a sponge; constantly taking notes after every session as to what you saw that day, which drives the next round of questions. Constantly evaluating yourself as a coach, as a practitioner to see what’s working. The failures are what drives us. Going through those with either your mentor or on your own is what makes us better as coaches.


CH- Ask Questions


How did you develop the process at your facility and has it changed?

TG- Well, in terms of CSP all I can speak to are to the years I was there (2007-2015). We kinda winged it to be honest. Our first intern was Brian St. Pierre (of Precision Nutrition fame), who just kinda showed up one day to say hi and it turned into him interning for us.

He was then eventually hired.

As our notoriety grew, so did the interest in people wanting to intern with us and learn.

When I left we had more or less three intern classes per year (four months) that entailed a pretty detailed onboarding process (rules, expectations, etc), weekly staff meeting, and consistent one-on-one “check-ins” with staff to discuss strengths/weaknesses/favorite He-Man characters.

I believe now there’s an even more extensive curriculum – exercise library required reading the material, in addition to weekly in-services, interpretive dance-offs, etc.

I think the establishments that do internships well are constantly evolving the process…tweaking this, changing that, it’s never a set thing and there’s a consistent pattern of honing the systems involved. And while I was kidding, I think interpretive dance-offs should become a staple…;o)


MR- When it started, it was just Bill and I. You used to just come in and chat with us. Now, we’re not the only people here so we have a way for you to come and speak to our interns and bring up topics for you to talk about and then teach us those topics you bring up. The changes are constant. We have a document of things you need to go through which spans across 16 pages now that came out of necessity. For instance, we had a kid who swore he didn’t smell after he worked out and didn’t shower. We said ‘no, you need to go home and shower before you get back on the floor.’  

We had another kid that would show up at start time and would proceed to go into the bathroom and comb his hair for 30 minutes. So all these things are now expectations that we weren’t clear enough on. We have documented these expectations so that way we have a clear understanding and therefore making our business consistent and smooth, and I feel like that is what has helped us evolve over the years.


CH- It is in the process of changing. We need a comprehensive online “packet” to feed to the interns that cover all expectations, standards and coaching ed. This is a current project.  

What’s great about interviewing these pros I have a profound respect for, is seeing the similarities in their answers. Here are the key takeaways from the write up:

  • Be a professional- this is about showing up on time [read: early], dressing appropriately and not coming to work smelling like a wet dog.
  • Be coachable- are you the type of person that can follow directions well? Great gyms have their brand and own way of doing things. You as an intern are going to be an extension of their gym. Learning how they do things and following their direction is a really great way to solidify your spot on their roster.
  • Always ask questions- gym owners love an inquisitive mind. If you can show that you care about what’s going on around you by asking questions and taking notes, you’ll stand out amongst the group of others trying to get a job.
  • Immerse yourself in the process of learning- learning is indeed a process: Learn under a mentor. Go home and read. Come back with what you learned. Discuss. Repeat


If you’re new to the game, go straight to the top and learn from the best. We are standing on the shoulders of giants. The more you know, the better you become to help serve your clients and give them the results they need and deserve. Best of luck. Go get em, rookie.