• Darren Tebbenham

love fitness | want to make it your CAREER?

How to make your Passion your new Profession & become a personal trainer with confidence: 6 Steps to Success


If you are currently considering changing careers or identifying a first career you can truly get your teeth into, you are in the right place. If you are currently feeling stuck in a job, you just don’t like and want to make your passion for health and fitness, your new profession – you are most definitely in the right place!

Maybe you feel excited to learn more about fitness, nutrition and behavioural psychology and become an expert in the field? Or perhaps you feel a little nervous right now about whether you are fit enough, or whether the industry can pay enough or even whether it is going to be satisfying enough, for you to fully commit?

There is lots more to personal training than just making people sweat. And, I should share with you, lots of people love fitness. But making it your profession where you make good money doing something you love that genuinely transforms people’s lives, is no mean feat.

This article will help by clarifying six important steps to enable you to enjoy life as a successful fitness professional.

Do you see the goal or the barriers?

There are, of course, many barriers. I mean, some people fear starting all over again after enjoying a great deal of success in their current career. Others can feel trapped by the income their current job provides, unsure whether they will be able to afford to do what it is they really want to do with their life. And still others who feel totally confused about what qualifications they require or how much investment will be required to successfully change careers.

Some people feel too old, others not fit enough and some people, of course, never do for a living what they are passionate about. There are others who attempt to change, but only make a half-hearted effort to do so and so under-train and struggle thereafter, eventually returning to their old job.

But then there are others who find a way to be courageously decisive and find the confidence to chase their dreams of making a difference in people’s lives as their own boss, loving what they do as a self-employed, highly sought-after fitness professional for a living. These people rock!

I am passionate about helping people do exactly this. I gave up my own academic career to be able to do this and I love what I do. I love seeing our graduates prosper and I love inspiring others. And I hope you will love inspiring others, too.

In order to help, this guide shares six steps to successful career change to assist you in making fitness, currently your passion, your new profession. I hope you find them useful. The six steps are not designed to try and convince you to buy any particular course but, instead, to help you to make a truly informed decision about your future.

About the Author.

My name is Darren Tebbenham and I am the founder of the European Institute of Fitness. I have been a personal trainer, lived and worked in Australia as a personal trainer and have previously run my own fitness studio and mobile personal training business in Spain. I have also worked at the Hilton in Regent Street, London and, before all of this, was a university lecturer.

Indeed, I was half way through my PhD when I found personal training and changed careers myself. Like you, perhaps, I was initially unsure since a career in academia paid well, my master’s degree had opened many doors for me and I did like elements of the work I was involved in. But, for some time I had thought about the merits of working for myself, away from my desk and I really wanted to do something much more hands-on. And, so I did it. I became a personal trainer in 1999, long before the profession became popular. And, by doing so, it enabled me to be my own boss (which was, and still is, absolutely amazing) doing something for a living that genuinely made me tick, where I woke up every morning excited to do what I did and, more than I realised to begin with, earn great money!

I guess, if you are currently feeling nervous and unsure what to do or whether to change – I really do get it.

When I quit my university career there was no way I wanted to just become an average gym instructor and maybe one day regret it.

Since then, I have opened my own School of Personal Training to help others do the same and currently have graduates in six continents and more than 30 countries around the world. We offer upgrade training for trainers who didn't do their initial training with ourselves, business retreats to help trainers accelerate their business growth, coaching and mentoring options to work with people one-on-one and, of course, a residential school for people to gain their qualifications in the UK and overseas.

I have learned lots about the mistakes I see trainers make, but also the ways in which trainers can be highly effective since we began back in late 2005. Our success rate when success is measured in terms of lasting careers in fitness (not total numbers qualified or number of sites throughout the country) is second to none. And finally, it is the teaching team here at the European Institute of Fitness that I think makes all the difference since everyone is not only incredibly supportive, but also highly experienced having worked in the industry for many years, still owning their own fitness businesses.

I share my background only to assure you this is not a theory-based article with ideals and arbitrary steps to take, but one based not only on my own career change, but those of the 3000 personal trainers I have helped change, too.

So, if you’re sick of making money for someone else. If you currently “live” your life at the weekends and just can’t see yourself doing what you are currently doing forever, or now is simply the right time for you to seriously consider this, I hope by the end you feel inspired and suitably informed to make a sound decision about your future.


Decide what you really want.

As simple as this sounds, people usually don’t start off with this kind of thinking. Instead, they start off by seeking what is on offer. This is a very different process. As a trainer, you will likely want to be self-employed and, at some point, running your own successful fitness business. Getting clear about this outcome right from the start is important. This section helps you explore what you might want from a new career in fitness.

The idea of getting clear first applies to your future clients, too. They must avoid jumping into the next diet program or gym membership deal or even training with a personal trainer without first getting clear about what it is they really want. This is simple goal-orientated behaviour, but you know most people don’t know what they really want.

Successful people in all walks of life, first get crystal clear about their intended outcomes. The late and great Dr Stephen Covey talks about this in his bestselling book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit one, he teaches, is “to start with an end in mind”. The reason for this is that the journey to becoming highly successful takes a great deal of effort. Whether this relates to you and your desire to become a great trainer or your clients to finally figure out why they keep falling short and overcome what seems to hold them back - fuelling this journey by making sure it’s the one you truly want to take, is key. It focuses your mind, directs attention and makes the journey incredibly exciting.

Let me ask you, when you close your eyes and imagine your ideal life, what are you doing? I get it’s not what you are currently doing. But just how amazing could a career in fitness be? Let me outline a few avenues our graduates have pursued to try and help a little.

We have people offering –

Fitness retreats, online transformation programs, group fitness challenges, lifestyle coaching-orientated businesses; we have people opening their own boutique PT studios, running larger fitness studios and even gyms. Some have specialised to create a niche for themselves such as corporate females, dads, couples, new mums, bridal fitness, accelerated fat loss, athletic performance, event-specialist training….

There are plenty of avenues to pursue.

Here’s a few examples -

Now don’t get me wrong, I am NOT saying you need to know exactly who you want to work with right now. This is part of the process of defining a business model and creating a robust business plan – an essential aspect of any retraining program. What is important is that you know within yourself what you are aspiring to and whether it is a future where you are running something special that connects with you and leaves you feeling fulfilled, or just working in a traditional club environment as an ordinary PT? These are two very different career directions. The former requires far more training and guidance than the latter.

The question is critical – what do YOU really want?


Be aware but NOT limited by the pitfalls.

There are many pitfalls. But this mustn’t put you off. Become aware of them, know how to avoid or manage them and move on. It is true many qualified personal trainers struggle. But, please don’t worry – plenty are highly successful. Knowing the difference is the key! This section will explore the 4 main reasons many trainers struggle and what to do about it.

No 1. The first pitfall I want to share with you is that of low self-confidence.

It is a tough ask to retrain and then command a high price and assure clients of great results without years and years of experience, but this you MUST do.

Clients will only buy from confident trainers. They have enough issues themselves and often fear fitness and so they look to you for some certainty. Now, they also need to feel you care and understand their situation. This is empathy. If you can demonstrate how much you care and understand as well as be 100% confident in your ability to help them, you will attract clients.

So, where does such confidence come from? It comes from your training. It comes from experience. And it comes from good mentoring in the first place.

If you want to be successful, find a way to not only qualify but develop real confidence in your new profession. Look to complete training that isn’t just designed to qualify the masses but exists to empower a few to achieve great things. Look for opportunity to build confidence, not just competence well before you even meet your first paying client.

No 2. Another critical pitfall is trying to sell personal training by the hour and, therefore, operating to be competitive versus effective in ensuring clients achieve great results.

Simply, if you wish to thrive not just survive as a serious fitness professional you must understand personal training is NOT your product. Personal training is a commodity. How it fixes your prospective clients’ problems is your product.

If you try and sell personal training by the hour, you will constantly be lowing your prices to the lowest common denominator amongst your competitors. Since many trainers are young, living with parents and quite prepared to offer a low price per hour, it is absolutely essential that you set your stall out right from the very start.

Figure out what people struggle with. Things this is not. It is not having someone to shout at them and it is not having someone to tell them what to eat. And it is not having the “perfect” program or the “best-looking” trainer by their side.

So, what is it? For the vast majority of people, and more on this later in this article, it is accountability. People need a simple but effective program to follow. They need some dietary guidance and they need this personalised to their particular situation, ability and preferences. But mostly, they need help to be more accountable; to see through what it is they say they want once and for all. Your role as a motivation and accountability coach should not be underestimated.

To be straight with you. Fit people today can access just about everything they need to get even fitter without your help. They have access to YouTube and Instagram and can Google what they need in an instant. But what they can’t Google and doesn’t come with Facebook, Instagram or YouTube is inner motivation to change, accountability and genuine personal support to ensure this time is the last time they will struggle with their weight, health or fitness!

To avoid this pitfall, you will need to stand out as a “problem solver” offering a solution not a package of personal training sessions, which leads me into pitfall number three.

No 3. The third pitfall is really common and is about a mindset of fitting in, being ordinary and playing safe. Reality check. It has never been easier to get qualified and start a business. Qualifications have never been cheaper, easier to pass, or more flexible to complete and, therefore, many thousands “get qualified” every year. With 2 billion Facebook users and an array of digital technology to market yourself easily and cheaply, it has never been easier start a business either. However, because of all the above it has never been more difficult to get people to listen. People today live in a very noisy world. There are many trainers and options for people to get fit.

Your job is to stand out, not fit it. To distinguish yourself not hide yourself in the masses. But this takes courage and hence step one - first decide you want to be the best and act in accordance with this intention. Trust me on this one, notice what the masses are doing and move quickly in the opposite direction!

No 4. Finally, the fourth pitfall is believing in a module-by-module approach to establishing yourself as the go-to fitness professional in your area. What I mean by this is to warn against starting by getting a gym instructor award. Then beginning working in a gym, cleaning equipment and doing inductions, to then later add a personal trainer module, offer introductory discounted PT and assume one day you will be able to charge what you’re worth and love your job.

This approach just doesn’t work. And it doesn’t work for a few reasons.

Firstly, the role of gym instructor and that of personal trainer / personal fitness coach are not that similar and certainly not progressive just as learning Swedish massage isn’t a progression towards being a physiotherapist.

An instructor, for example, maintains a safe and clean gym environment and teaches members how to use the equipment properly. A trainer or coach keeps clients accountable, guiding them in nutrition and supporting them to make better lifestyle choices. It is old-school thinking to think of personal training as a natural progression from gym instructor!

Secondly, it is a hard convince if you previously were wiping sweat of the treadmill and greasing the leg press to then argue you can transform a person’s life and charge a good fee to do so.

Your “message” of being an authority and expert to achieve this is just unconvincing. People who take this route nearly always end up trading their time for money i.e. offering one-on-one training at discounted rates in order to be a cheaper option for clients. And this is no way to go!

Finally, the more you charge, the better clients’ results. Seriously, this is true. When a client pays more, YOU commit more and both parties feel more accountable. When a client pays more THEY are more committed, too. And this is why you should package your service properly from the start!

I am not saying be expensive for the sake of being expensive. I am saying, to make the biggest difference in people’s lives, you need both parties to be optimally committed.

The way you package and price what you do is important. And the pitfall I am sharing now is that most trainers just don’t do this well. But, I know you will and so will avoid this potential pitfall. One last thing. It is difficult to start off poorly and recover. You are much better getting this right from the start.


Know how to make money as an independent or self-employed trainer.