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by Casey McIlvaine

Whether you have just attained your certification and you’re looking for your first position at a gym or you’re more seasoned and looking for a better fit, there are some specific things you can look for to help you explore the possibilities among gym chains. Deciding which one is the right one for you is not an exact science, but here are some of the basics for trainers looking for a home as well as anyone that is looking for a good gym for their fitness needs.

Like every business person, every professional certified personal trainer should have a plan for their career. That can range from the goal of one day becoming an independent personal trainer with your own clients, or moving up the corporate ladder in a large chain.


Deciding to work for a large company or a small one can provide long-term career potential depending on the person and the gym. Only you can decide what best suits your vision and goals. While a large chain may offer long-term security and multiple avenues for promotion, a small club can provide opportunities to learn how to run your own fitness business one day.

The way in which gyms pay their staff can vary from chain to chain as well as from trainer to trainer depending on what they bring to the table. That means it’s important to take into account what you bring in terms of skills, experience and certification (even a client base if you have been an independent trainer for some time) are part of the equation.

Since operating a large commercial gym is expensive, profit margins can be relatively low or moderate, so the percentage split that trainers may get when they bring in new memberships can vary. While some gyms pay their personal trainers an established salary, many will pay at least a portion of the trainer’s salary in session fee commission for the clients that the trainer works with.


Consequently, it’s important to look for a balance between the best split of the session fees between the gym and the trainer versus the highest influx of new members yearly as well as the number of trainers that work at the gym each day. This is where your business training comes in as you have to be able to ask questions regarding the pay structure, average number of sessions per trainer per day and per week as well as the percentage split between gym, trainer and manager.

Keep in mind that you didn’t become a personal trainer to get rich, so the quality of the gym and how they treat their trainers as well as their clients are outsized considerations.

Gyms are service business first and foremost, so the greeter as well as the entire staff must reflect that in their attitude at all times. Whether you are looking for a position or just looking for a gym this is paramount to having a good experience.

It’s important to determine if the gym has full time staff devoted to keeping things clean and sanitary. It’s best to inspect them carefully as you do a walkthrough and keep in mind that one location is not necessarily indicative of the entire chain. Gym staff should be courteous, friendly, attentive, and above all, they should know the names of their regular members. When it comes to member rates, they should be consistent. The equipment can certainly be older, but it must be high quality and well maintained as this says a lot about how they do business.


The most successful gyms have excellent training programs that embody the gym’s commitment to helping their members achieve their fitness goals. A diversity of fitness classes is important, but they should be staffed by people with experience in that particular area. Attendance is important so if they are sparsely attended or overbooked, these are warning signs of a deeper problem.

It’s important to ask about policy enforcement because this also says a lot about the gym’s commitment to its members as well as their interest in being the best that they can be. You should be able to determine if they enforce their policies, but also how they enforce them. Signage is just the first step as staff should be actively engaged in monitoring the use of the equipment as well as the attire of the members without staring or stalking them. If they must intervene, there should be a polite and discrete protocol for engaging members.

The reality is that most of this is common sense as most people inherently know what a good gym looks like. The problem is that it can be easy to be swayed by the need for a position or what a gym has to offer, which can make us lax in following through on a check list of what to expect. For the most part, a personal trainer is looking for the same things that a new member is looking for in a gym chain. By walking in with a firm idea of what you expect and what you need, you can quickly determine the best one for you at any stage of your fitness career or health cycle.


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