“Corporatization”, Competition Attitude, Fosters Wage Stagnation for Fitness Professionals

The corporate pirates are very crafty at ways to gain profits, even if it comes at the expense of self-employed individuals.  One glaring example is in the fitness profession.

Before 2005, most personal trainers who were nationally certified were independent contractors training at just about any local fitness center that accepted them. One had only to pay a small fee per client to the fitness center, usually about 10% of what the trainer charged the client. All financial transactions were mostly cash between clients, trainers and fitness centers and were done up front at the front desk in order to keep things honest. Usually the fitness center kept a training log of each personal trainer which included the trainer’s fee, and days and times they were in the center training clients.

Starting in 2005, corporate fitness centers – chains and franchises – began popping up and spreading. These corporations were purely profit driven. They determined that by prohibiting  independent contractor personal trainers and requiring all their personal trainers to be employed as staff, they could reap a much larger profit from personal training. The fitness centers took over all the money transactions. They determined what the fees for personal training would be and how much a trainer would be paid hourly for personal training. Most other fitness centers followed suit to stay competitive.

In order to further gain a competitive edge against other area fitness centers and in order to lure more clients for personal training, many large fitness centers have kept their personal training hourly fees stagnant, with little increase since 2005.

As an example, when I began personal training in 1996, I started out charging $40 per hour per client. By 2000 I was charging $80 per hour per client. An average of a $50 fee represents the going rates for most fitness centers in my area today, 21 years later. Some independent studios charge members only $20 – $30 per one hour session per client; unprofessional fee slashing.

Today, staff personal trainers at fitness centers only receive an hourly rate of 30% to 50% of the fee charged to the client. That means personal trainers such as myself, who have been in the professions since 1995 have taken a 50% to 70% decrease in their hourly per client amount to do personal training in a fitness center as a staff trainer. That is wage stagnation/suppression which is the primary cause of the income gap.

The hourly fees charged by independent personal trainers in biz for themselves today hasn’t increased much either since 1996. As an example, a few months ago, the TV culture show out of Boston, “Chronicle”, featured a personal trainer doing strictly in-home training at clients’ homes. She was charging $150 per hour. The show aired this as a “novel” approach for personal training and hinted that the fee was a bit on the high end. Well, back up, again. Nothing novel here. And her rate a bit on the high side? Seventeen years ago I was doing in-home personal training north of Boston and charging $120 per hour. Fees once again, stagnant for the last 17 years.

The professional fee charged to personal training clients by most fitness centers today is insulting to the profession and its professionals. It places a very low value on the professional service because it is basically the same that was charged by an independent contractor personal training in 1996, 21 years ago. Even for owner/partner trainers of a private personal training studio, personal training fees have been very slow to increase, if at all. Some trainers have even resorted to unprofessional fee slashing to approximately $20 per hour per client. Fitness professionals can never maintain, or more properly, can never regain, professional level fees if there are those who hold onto a competition attitude by continuing to keep low-ball (suppressing) their fees.

Also by 2005, the profession of personal training began to see a huge influx of folks getting certified; it was becoming a flooded profession. By 2010 it was even more flooded. And today in some areas, personal trainers are a dime a dozen. This, unto itself lead to many independent trainers and studios low-balling or fee slashing in order to attract clients and get an edge over their “competition”.

True, the profession is extremely flooded; a dime a dozen does describe it. But so are M.D.’s a dime a dozen and P.T.’s, as well…and D.C.’s and C.P.A’s. and M.B.A.’s. Have their fees been stagnated for the last 20 plus years? No. The fee for these professionals have increased right along with the cost of living. But more importantly, most of these professionals have followed an unspoken “rule” of setting professional levels fees and to not engage in fee slashing. A “rule” many fitness centers and professionals should adopt.

Putting things in comparative perspective, while the cost of living has increased some 60%+ since 1995 and the cost of doing business has increased much more, the fees (wages) for fitness trainers has remained stagnant. And it bears repeating; for those of us who began in the profession early, pre 2000, it has actually meant an approximately 50% decrease in what we are paid as a personal trainer today.

Clearly, the corporatization of fitness as well as a competition mentality among its professionals, concomitant with a failure to universally keep professional level fees, has meant fee suppression and stagnation for fitness professionals over the last fifteen years plus, at least.



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