Diverse vs. Niche

It’s been nearly 18 months since I wrote “Training the Many, Training the Few”


I thought it would cool to re-visit the topic to see how things have since changed for me.

Since the publication of that post I have moved into a private personal training practice where I have total control of which clients I work with. I pre-qualify clients and will refer to other trainers if I feel their needs/goals are outside of my abilities or if I feel we will not be a good fit.

As a commercial gym trainer I had small degree of power to refuse a client (and did on several occasions) but those decisions came with consequences beyond immediate financial gain. Over 50% of my commercial gym clients were either over the age of 55 years old, or had functional movement issues or medical conditions that required a higher degree of attention to detail. This was disproportionately higher than any other trainer on staff and on a number for number for basis was higher than any three put together. I am thankful for the experience provided and the challenges helped develop me as trainer. It was also a driving factor in my decision to enter private practice.

My current clientele:
Two Amateur Mixed Martial Artists, both male. One weighs 140lbs the other just over 200lbs. Both are highly athletic and have decades of training experience. The 140lb fighter is capable of a 400lb dead lift and runs the 100m dash in -10 seconds.

One 60 y.o male, former shoulder post-rehab client that now trains in power lifting. His 1 repetition max weights in the Squat, Deadlift, Press and Bench Press all fall into the masters’ class advanced/elite level of strength standards. Two years ago this man couldn’t move his arm above his own head.

One 60 y.o female general fitness client. Client has lost more that 20lbs and principally trains using suspension systems, bodyweight calisthenics, kettlebell and mobility training.

One 30 y.o female weight loss client. We achieved her target dress size before deadline and are working toward dropping another dress size. To date she has lost roughly 1 dress size every 30 days and her performance markers in cardiovascular endurance, speed and strength have all improved greatly.

One 25 y.o female aesthetics client. New client with physique goals for her upcoming wedding.

One 22 y.o female performance client. New client will be training for the fire fighting academy physical requirements.

I also have several clients that I am providing consultation service but not actively training.

I maintain a decent degree of variety given my relatively small number of clients. Any plans of client expansion will maintain a similar distribution unless I decide to narrow my training focus.

A few things I learned over the last 18 months…

1. Training challenging clients is not for everyone, nor should it be. Training a challenging client and getting that person to achieve positive outcomes is far different than taking an otherwise healthy person and making them better.

I refuse to believe that “anybody can train them” (Quote from another trainer, who ironically didn’t’ have many older clients.)

2. In a commercial gym where clients are assigned there is the distinct chance that clients of a similar type will be assigned if you show ability in handling them. This has its advantages if this is what you wish to specialize in, have the training for and are passionate about. This also has its disadvantages as training numerous challenging clients in a day, all with unique needs and programming can cause professional burnout over time.

3. In private practice one can specify their niche. While this may seem to a poor business decision it does specify and define what you are, what you do and what separates you from the pack. It is my opinion that having 2-3 things you are exceptional in is better than being passable in numerous areas. In my case I have three distinct areas where I feel I perform exceptionally. I am able to modify those three areas to train a wide-range of client needs.

4. Having a closet full (ok two closets full) of books, including a number still unread is a good thing. For the independent trainer I advise balancing your technical reading with the business skills/personal development reading.

5. I stick to my original opinion that some trainers are very limited. I am not referring to trainers that focus on a single method (I.E. Only power lifting, only bodybuilding, only Yoga etc) but rather the trainers that limit themselves only to what they know,that which agrees with their line of thinking or are capable of getting results only within a narrow client type. A power lifter, an Oly lifter and a Strongman lifter all lift heavy things. Perfectly cool and all have value. It’s when one says the others are crap and that their method is the ONLY method to achieving a goal where I take issue.

Even more limited is the trainer that knows (or sort of knows) what they know and doesn’t see a reason to learn anything more than that.

6. For new trainers I suggest the following:

For the first two years absorb, absorb, absorb. The CPT test gave you the basics to do your job, now go learn how to apply the lessons.

Read daily, find influences and mentors and stand on the shoulders of giants.

Over the course of 1-2 years your interests may change but you will discover your passion within your passion.

Don’t let someone else define you.


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