“When you help a guy lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle, it’s going to improve not just his life, but his kids’, too.”
I am a Personal Trainer at Virgin Active.
After I graduated from high school in Geelong, I went straight to work. I didn’t really have a focus on what I wanted to do, so I just took a job that came my way. I started out in the furniture business, doing things like furniture assembly and spraying. Over a about three years, I changed a few jobs and companies, but in the end realized my heart wasn’t in it.
Next I thought I’d get into cooking. I started with a cookery course at Gordon’s institute in Geelong. From there I applied for a few shift jobs in Surf Coast and Geelong area. I worked as a chef for about 5-6 years, though I never completed the test part of getting a certificate. It was hard to combine studying and working as a chef.
I suppose I was more focused on doing the job right than getting the certificate.
I started out with Aussie cooking, working at a hotel in Surf Coast. Then, being half Chinese, I decided to get closer to my culture and try Asian cooking. I did it for 3 years, working with different Asian chefs. They were a lot harder to deal with than Western ones.
One guy that I worked for had real anger management issues. He’d let you know that you’ve done something wrong by screaming and sending things flying across the kitchen.
Other chefs I worked for were sometimes hard on me, too, especially the Asian ones. Maybe it had to do with me being Asian also; they saw I was trying to connect to the culture and pushed me harder.
The whole time I was chefing, I felt under pressure.
I would always take work home with me, trying to figure out how to cook some recipes better, how to multitask in the kitchen. Look, I think some pressure is good in life, but not when it gets to the point when I’m stressed 100% of the time and can’t sleep. It was time for a change.
I left the kitchen and took a six month time-out to think about what to do next. That’s when all my mates started saying: “Why don’t you get into fitness industry? You’ve always training and then showing us how to do things at the gym.”
Which was true, I’ve always been good at sports. I did gymnastics as a child. My parents tried to push me into it, but as a kid, I wasn’t committed enough to spend all weekends training at that level.
When I was 17, I got interested in boxing and anatomy. From then, fitness and training were a big part of my life: I wanted to be a better version of myself, and I saw my fitness routine as a vital factor to constant improvement.
I never thought of it as a potential career, but with my friends’ encouragement, I decided to give it a go.
It took about 6 months for me to do a certificate IV in fitness. Then I applied for a job at the gym where I trained, because I knew the boss. They were happy to take me on as a gym instructor, which was the entry level position there.
As an instructor, my job was to be present on the gym floor, assisting clients as necessary. Most of the time I spent walking the floor, helping people with advise on their exercises, demonstrating proper equipment use.
If someone new was coming to the gym, I did initial consultations: I found out what their goals were and suggested appropriate training programs, got them started on the right routines.
Being a gym instructor is a good way to start. It teaches you to communicate with people on the floor. I wouldn’t say you have to be the ultimate people person, but you do need to relate to people’s needs.
After about four years, I felt comfortable enough with to progress to a fully fledged Personal Trainer. However my gym didn’t have PTs working for them, so I had to look elsewhere.
The main reason I got out of Geelong though was because I’ve always wanted to come to Melbourne, and this was the perfect chance.
I started applying for jobs in Melbourne and got an interview in Virgin Active. The process took all day and was very intense: first half of the day was a group interview for about 20 people that lasted from 7 AM to lunchtime.
First they told us all about Virgin Active and what it represents, about its founder Richard Branson. They also explained what the job entailed – basically, it was a gym instructor job with PT possibilities.
Then we had to role play. We all got pieces of paper with roles – I got “allergic to milk”, someone else “an alcoholic”, someone was “a mother with a baby”.
According to the story, we were all on a ship that crashed, and could only take a limited number of items to a deserted island. So if someone brought milk, that would be no use to me, being “allergic.” I had to persuade them to take something else instead.
Somehow I talked the mother with a baby out of bringing milk! I suppose the recruiters wanted to see how we could communicate and argue a point. About a half of the group went through to the second half of the interview, and I was one of them.
The second half of the day was more like an actual interview with questions like “What are you good at?”, “Why should we hire you?” Then we had to do mock consultations, talking them through various exercises. They were really trying to test you out, get you to talk and explain your actions.
To be honest, I felt like I didn’t do well that day: however a week later they called and told me I got the job.
I had a couple weeks to pack up and move to Melbourne! Finding an affordable place wasn’t easy, and took a bit longer than that: so the first couple of weeks I had to commute from Geelong. That was pretty intense, as work started at 5.30am.
When you first start at Virgin Active, you are a gym instructor. As a gym instructor, you walk the floor, give classes, show the people around, help people to exercise – like in my previous job. However, while you are doing that, you are also trying to book clients for further personal training sessions.
All new instructors are given 30-36 hours per week. Then you lose an hour with every passing week.
As you get fewer hours, you need to start acquiring your own clients. I might say that for every hour I lose as a gym instructor, I gain an hour in personal trainings. When you have no hours left as a gym instructor, you become a full-time PT.
You can do as many or as few hours as you want. You basically get to the point where you run your own business, choosing your own hours and workdays. It’s very flexible.
The gym helps you get clients by assigning you to do classes, or the Kickstarts – the three free personal training sessions new clients get on joining the gym. If the people like how I teach a class, or enjoy their free sessions, that’s my opportunity to book them for further sessions.
I think I’m lucky to work where I do – it’s a pretty fair system and a great team. I’ve heard there are gyms out there where competition for clients is vicious amongst the trainers, people steal each others clients, things get pretty political. Here we all work together, there’s a great comradeship.
I’ve been here 10 months now, and loving it. It’s exactly what I pictured and wanted for myself when I decided to get into the industry.
I enjoy working with my clients, and the opportunity to tailor these really individual training plans for each one that get them the results they want.
Some people I work with on daily basis, some come in 3-4 times a week, others once or twice. Gradually, I’m building up my client base. It’s important to keep it up, because for every client that you lose, you lose a chunk of your hours as well. Some people stay with you for years, others a few weeks.
Certainly growing and maintaining your client base is the main stress. Yes, you have to sell yourself, but you must be genuine.
If you overdo it, go for the hard sell, people can feel it and they are put off. So I try not to focus on the sale, and try to take a more consultative approach. So the people who really want to train, be fitter, stronger and healthier, they trust me to care and do the right thing by them, rather than just sell them more sessions.
I like to do a lot of bodyweight training, I know the benefits of that through my gymnastics background. Street training and powerlifting are great also. I have a good mix of men and women clients, from lots of different backgrounds.
I like to train someone who is a clean slate and has never used a gym before. Sometimes guys come in with 3-4 years of gym experience and they just ask for a program they can do by themselves. Then you see them doing something like bench press and their technique is not right.
You have to tell people gently that they have been doing it wrong this whole time, and not only they won’t get results, they can actually injure themselves.
That can be hard. People don’t want to hear they’ve been doing something wrong. Someone who is inexperienced is much easier, they listen to you, you don’t have to convince them.
Some people come in to improve their general health, some have diseases from unhealthy lifestyle. Someone wants to run a marathon. I had a lady who was about 60 and wanted to go through the Kokoda trail. You’ve got to change people in different ways, not just offer a standard approach.
There are some challenges, like people not wanting to listen or being rude. One of the hardest challenges is putting in the hours and trying to find a balance between work and rest. Another challenge for me is to realize it a bit sooner when people don’t really want to stay on board and train.
Looking back, I wish I would have gone into this area a lot quicker, maybe done more sports or studies having to do with the sports and fitness industry.
Also, I think having prior sales skills would have been very helpful. A lot of people in this industry are good salesmen and average trainers. While there are some great trainers out there struggling because they haven’t the sales skills. You need to balance it out – keep up your professional skills and knowledge, but also be confident enough to sell yourself. I was naturally not a salesperson and it took me some time to learn; but now it’s a part of my job and I find I’m much better at it.
I finally feel like I’ve found myself. I love going to work.
You are driven to get results, change someone’s life for the better. When you help a guy lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle, it’s going to improve not just his life, but his kids’, too. When you help a 60-year old lady get through Kokoda trail, it’s something she wanted to do her whole life. All these things make you feel good about yourself. It’s rewarding.
I think that if you can find something that makes you feel rewarded, it’s a job worth doing, regardless of the money.