Fitness Business Coaches [The Truth]

Here’s a common point of debate in the Fitness Business Guru Industrial Complex:

Do fitness business coaches need to be running their own training gym?

(Longer one today… get a cup o’ joe to sip on…)

One side of the issue says: 

“Yes. If you’re not (currently) running a gym, you don’t really know what’s working now. If you don’t have a gym, at best, you’re talking about things that worked when you had a gym, and at worst, you’re blowing hot air about theory. Furthermore, if you’re so good at the business of fitness, why can’t you figure out how to run/ keep your gym going with a team to do most of the work anyway?”

The other side of the issue says:

“No. Star players in a given sport are not necessarily great coaches. You need to know how to coach. Besides, principles are principles. And if all you do all day long is coach training gym owners, you’ll know as much — if not more — than a part time business coach who’s also busy running their own training gym. In fact, if you’re really great at coaching gym owners, you should be all in on it and give it (and them) your full attention and energy.”

Let’s first start by saying an uncomfortable truth:

Once you understand the basics of marketing and sales, it’s arguably easier to make a living coaching training gym owners than by actually owning and running a training gym.

Between the minimal overhead expense and complexity, to the higher average monthly revenue of business coaching versus fitness coaching, this is the perverse reality. 

Over the past five years, we’ve seen the rise of an endless sea of Fitness Business Gurus speaking to brick and mortar training gyms and micro gyms. A handful of these coaching companies have reached multiple seven and even eight figures in a blisteringly fast amount of time. Furthermore, the sheer volume of Gurus in the game has exploded. 

So what’s going on here?

Here’s a theory…

Many training gym owners with a profitable (or in some cases, unprofitable) gym discover they can make another $5-10k in (almost all-margin) monthly revenue by hanging up their shingle as a Fitness Business Coach. In smaller markets, this can mean a massive percentage increase to their take home income. In many cases, achieving a comparable increase in take home income would be nearly impossible in their training gym. 

Many of these same gym owners begin to do the math and realize (not incorrectly) that they can skip all the headaches of running their brick and mortar and just double down on their business coaching offerings. This means they can spend more time at home with family, skip the early mornings and late evenings at the gym, travel more, and live anywhere they want. So they “sell” their business; this is generally a fancy way of saying they liquidated their equipment costs and got out of their lease in exchange for some cash from an employee or a client who will take the joint over.

In some markets, the owner is able to keep their gym but step out of the day-to-day by finding a proxy. They can pay a general manager and/or a head fitness coach to take over most of the operations in exchange for a higher salary and/or profit share. After all, the owner has a growing side hustle, which lets them be more generous with paying out work in the training gym.

Let’s be clear… no judgement over here. All of this makes sense.

Any successful training gym owner will find themselves as interested in business as in fitness, if not more. They develop a genuine passion. It’s only natural for them to want to share what’s working and help other owners, AND to explore ways to spice up their work life and make more income. It’s nearly analogous to the path they took as a trainer-turned-owner excited by the opportunity to be paid to share their passion for fitness.

Furthermore, many owners will not want to run a single training gym forever. They will get bored. They will crave new challenges and the opportunity to make more income. Based on their skill sets, lifestyle preferences, and location, being a business coach is a much easier way to go than multiple facilities, franchising, or licensing. And as per above, there are many lifestyle benefits when compared to actively operating a modest-sized training gym.

Once again, I’m not poo-pooing any of this. I’m just pointing out where the incentives are.

So what’s the deal here? 

Do you need to own and/or run a training gym to be credible as a fitness business coach?

Let me first say… I run a successful training gym and also do business coaching. The same is true for BFU coaches Michael Keeler (my business partner in both businesses), Pete Dupuis, and Ben Pickard. 

And I do think there’s a unique value in talking to people that know what you’re going through in real time. Particularly during COVID, training gym owning business coaches had a unique and visceral shared experience with their clients.

But do I think you have to currently own a training gym to be successful? 

Does it require having your own facility as proof of your acumen and to use a petri dish to test out strategy?

No. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. 

Yes, there are many unqualified people that couldn’t hack it as owners who became coaches. But there are also super legit people who know what they’re talking about and no longer care to own a gym themselves.

And just because someone is currently running a gym doesn’t mean they’re instantly credible. It doesn’t prove their gym is very profitable. Or that their success isn’t a function of being in a less competitive market.

However, it IS appropriate to acknowledge the incentives. When deciding if someone’s formal paid or informal unpaid coaching is credible, their current status (and previous history) as a gym owner is certainly worth factoring in.

Because you do want to keep an eye out for the less-than-qualified coaches who “sell” their gym to bravely pursue their personal legend of blahblahblah because if I can help training gym owners, I can multiply my impact by helping them serve their clients better and then I can achieve my mission to PERSONALLY SAVE THE WORLD here go ahead, drop into my Clickfunnels and get on a sales call and sign up for my mastermind but warning this isn’t for everyone action takers ONLY.

Ok ok… I’m poking fun!

Listen, I personally love owning a gym AND being a business coach. Yes, I think it gives some valuable real time perspective. But I see advantages to both and I think people should do what they want with their life.

A final point about assessing credibility…

For the last year, I’ve listened to most episodes of almost every fitness business podcast. 

(It’s really not that hard to do. When you scrub out the one frillion podcasts for online personal trainers, there are only about 25-30 that focus on brick and mortar facilities, including boutique studios, health clubs, and the international market. And most of them post pretty erratically.)

With this level of exposure, it becomes very who actually knows what they’re talking about, and who just kind of regurgitates business book bromides. 

I know I’m repeating myself, but let me say it again: podcasts remain one of the absolute best resources for brick and mortar business owners. You’ll get actionable strategies, understand what’s happening in the business of fitness right now, learn about sectors of the industry outside training gym land, AND determine which thought leader types are most credible.

Love ya like a Negroni,


PS Want to check out a training-gym focused podcast with legit guests and actionable strategies?

Oh you saucy minx! I’ve got one for you right here in my back pocket…

Check out the Business for Unicorns podcast HERE.