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How to Become a Certified Personal Trainer


Personal training wunderkind Jonathan Goodman has amassed an enviable career whose breadth and influence belies his age. After having earned his personal trainer certification at age 18, Goodman launched the highly regarded Personal Trainer Development Center a few years later. Gaining deep knowledge and going your own way are two primary themes of Goodman's philosophy and interview here.

Can you recall the moment that you decided to peruse personal training as a formal carrier?

It was the first year of university. I was 17 years old, and our university at the time offered two free gym training sessions, to all of the students. I had been working out for 4 years at that point and still weighed 105 pounds, so I figured I should probably take them up on it, because obviously I wasn't doing something right. I had one free session with a woman and it just clicked. After the first session, I remember sitting on the floor and thinking, "I can do this." Two weeks later, I started looking into personal training courses and found that I could take them once I turned 18. I became certified about two weeks after my 18th birthday, after that one session.

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Do you feel like you always had that, even in your childhood and during your teenage years, where you gravitated towards sports, towards using your body? Was there something more serious and something very special about that for you?

I always loved sports, but I was always terrible at them. I was a smaller guy, so I got beat up quite a bit and I was never particularly good at team sports. For some reason, exercise and working out [were] always great, things that I could do by myself. I always loved the idea of bettering one's self for the purpose of bettering one's self, not for the sake of competition.

Are there any fallacies in personal training, at least in the public sphere, that you have to dispel because of what the media says, or due to hype that’s untrue?

I think that probably the biggest misconception is that personal training is more of a life style job than it is an actual fitness job. It all boils down to the view that a trainer’s job is to actually teach you how to work out, which it’s not. A trainer’s job is you to get you to enjoy movement, to get you to enjoy exercise, to make it a part of your life. Personal training is not a performance industry, it’s a service industry. Our job is to figure out what a client actually needs and to give it to them. That might not mean the standard recommendation of 3 sets of 10 reps. I might need to figure out a way to get to two 30 minute workouts into a client's week because they have such a busy life, and that’s going to make them feel good.

How did you devleop the ingenuous idea to found the Personal Trainer Development Center?

It started on a complete whim. I had been training and I had been managing and training trainers for a number of years. I was asked time and time again whether a resource existed that actually teaches trainers essentially what I was teaching them. I would tell them, for example, that squats don't matter [toward a fitness routine]. Who cares about the squat? How do you teach it? How do you get your client interested about it, how do you get your client excited to come back and do it the next day? I don't care what kind of squat you teach. After I said that a couple of times, I thought to myself, "Why do no resources like this exist? Why am I going to psychology and psychiatry books and forming my own views as to how to teach these exercises? Why has nobody published anything?"

I decided that it would be really, really easy to write a book about it. That was my first mistake. It was unbelievably difficult. But I actually just released it this morning, after a two-and-a-half year journey. I started a little website to promote the book, and that's where the PTDC built up. [Soon afterward,] people who I had idolized two months earlier were calling me asking to be involved.

I was able to network through the contacs that I had locally. And I just kept networking to people who are doing more and more cool things. All of them were people whose materials I had read or bought earlier. And nine of them said yes, wanted to be involved.

I started doing a lot of research into what other people were doing in the fitness industry and how I could position myself. Again, it became clear to me very, very quickly that most of the content on the internet is just flat out boring. That's why it's not useful. Not that it's not high quality. It's really boring. So, I decided to make it into a blog as opposed to an actual website with articles. And that was when the website really started to take off, when I started studying people who were mastering the art of what I call "infotainment." 50% entertainment, 40% information, is the kind of the mix that we [aim for].

The Internet has been tough because balancing marketing on the Internet and quality material and content is incredibly difficult to do. And if you sway too much to the marketing side you get put in the batch with the marketers whose material is quite frankly of low quality for the most part. But if you sway too much to the other side, nobody cares, nobody listens to you. And the marketers also wield a lot of power in terms of their networks. So what's difficult, I mean for anyone starting a blog… The first thing I will tell them is to build a network first and foremost because you know the attractiveness of the website, that matters a lot less than a lot of people think. Go to network and give people a reason to care about your content is the main thing I've learned.

Does the PTDC offer anything that you wish you'd had in your own education for becoming a personal trainer?

Every single article that I publish on the PTDC that I write or someone else [is based on something] that I wish I had when I was developing as a trainer. I'm trying to figure out what every trainer struggles with, what questions every single trainer had when they were starting out and provide an answer to it.

I just interviewed a lot of people and figured out what they struggled with. And I was surprised at times. What most people struggle with is not the actual job. You probably know this because your position has probably changed… what most people struggle with is not the actual job, it's not thinking that they want to do the job, it's that proactive step to actually approaching somebody and saying, "I need to apply for this interview," or, "This is where I'm fine for the interview, this where I'm going to set my feet for some time." That step is what stops a lot of people. So that was a large part of the focus of the book.

Could you outline a typical day that you might experience on the job as a person trainer?

What training prepared me for is to work really long days. I will work morning to night but I'll enjoy it. [On] Mondays and Wednesdays, I will train the whole day. I don’t really do much for the website on those days. I'm training generally from 9 in the morning till 9:30 night; that’s when I train the majority of my clients. The rest of the week, I wake up around 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning and make breakfast. I'll read over a few things in the morning over breakfast.morning or do breakfast and…

Probably my biggest struggle early on was [that] personal training is very much a job where everything is set in stone. There’s a client, you prepare for the client, you train the client, and you do your paperwork, the client's over. On the internet, though, there’s an endless amount of things to do. Literally: I could not sleep for the next ten years and still had stuff to do.

The balance of the organization of all of the jobs has been really, really difficult to figure out. What I’ll do when I go to bed every single night: I’ll write myself a list, the article that needs to be written, formatted, edited, other projects that were taken on and organized into seminars, interviews, talks. Whatever I’m doing coming up, I’ll make myself a list and be crossing off the list the whole day. I'm careful to give myself a break for lunch. That has been the number one challenge, the number one obstacle, organizing my time.

What was the educational or the academic avenue that lead you to your current standing and personal training community?

I dropped three personal training certifications that I have, except for [my standing as a] strength conditioning specialist. I did study kinesiology at university which has led a lot to my creditability. Even though the degree doesn’t actually convert with anything I’m doing right now, it’s given me the ability to read and understand research, as well as the ability to speak and interact with a lot of influential fitness coaches.

Students interested in personal training specifically should figure out the personal trainer [that inspires them], and try to build connections with them. Read their blogs, buy their material, send them emails. It’s amazing how easy these people are to reach out to. Contact them as an actually interested observer as opposed to someone who just wants to promote their product. It can be valuable for somebody who's trying to come into training environment. I think that's almost more important because it's practical advice from somebody who's done it as opposed to textbook advice where it's hard to figure out how to actually apply it.

You mention that you were a Kinesiology major. How did you make that choice of major if now that you feel it doesn't exactly have as much relevance to what you do now? And what classes in that in that discipline, if there are any classes in that discipline that you feel are actually relevant to what you're doing right now?

I went into it originally because my focus was going to be medicine. Specifically, muscle physiology. The physiological process of it always fascinated me: How do the lungs get stronger? How do the muscles get stronger? How does somebody, anybody do this? It doesn't matter what background anybody comes from, what advantages they have. Every single person can get stronger physically and mentally. I wanted to go into masters of PH.D in that. Even up until 3 years ago, I was actually still thinking about possibly pursuing that.

How can you establish the kind of credibility and trustworthiness in your abilities that you have, away from that route of certification, a masters degree, pursuing your own personally developed education away from the classroom?

I don’t know if you are 100% right in saying that I’ve achieved the credibility that I could have achieved with the Masters/ Phd. I think that type of credibility is very different. There’s definitely an academic community within the strength and conditioning world. I’m not involved in them. That’s where the research people are debating back and forth high level theories and high level strengthening and biomechanics, all those different theories.  I don’t think that I will ever be involved in that.

How can our students who are passionate about fitness, who are passionate about training right now, find similarly exciting and meaningful endeavors?

Stop paying attention to all of the noise. I never paid attention to how other information providers were doing it. I found out who they were, but I just followed what felt right, and I think that’s what a lot of young trainers are missing. They’re constantly rehashing other people’s materials when they’re trying to create a name for themselves, instead of saying “You know what? This is what I do, and it works.”

Follow your gut. If I didn't feel right about the gym that I worked at or the gym I interviewed at, even though they might offer a little bit of money, I wouldn't work there. It's the blind leading the blind. I shut off every bit of noise and decide to follow my own path as much as I possibly can.

What personality traits to you think would hinder someone's progress as a personal trainer?

I think not being able to plan for the long term. What good is a gym that's gonna give better opportunities for education and mentoring but they pay $5 less and hour? It actually might be a better option. And the same goes on the internet, if 50 to 100 people to like your facebook page. It takes time to build up and to build respect. It also takes years and years and years to build a positive reputation, but it takes seconds to break it.

Integrity is probably the number one aspect. It's the same as anything else: do unto others as you would want them to do unto you. Remember the Gandhi quote: Be the change that you want to see in the world.

If there's something that you don't want to happen, don't do it. Do you like getting spam in your mailbox? I don't, so why are you spamming others? Do you like it when people say to you, "Thank you! I really liked the job that you did, I really appreciated it, specifically because of this..."?

The number one mistake when looking for a job is that a lot of trainers feel like they are owed something when they work. Personal training allows the trainer to build up very high-paying work at a very young age. For some reason, [even new] trainers can charge $80 to $100 an hour. When other jobs [can earn you upwards of] $150 to $200 an hour by the time you are 21? In what other job is that possible? Because of that, they almost get spoiled by it.

Do you have any piece of advice and any warning to a student who’s contemplating personal training fitness as a career?

Follow what feels right. If you like training a certain way, if you like working a certain way than that should be how you train other people and to constantly worry about finding the next best thing is going to make you a bad trainer, because you are never going to become an expert in anything.

Be very, very, very careful about where you are getting your information from. Personal training is unregulated, fitness sells on emotion. Which makes it very, very easy for marketers to sell poor quality materials and there’s no overlaying body that says whether it is good or not. So be very very very careful in where you get information from. Especially if it’s making claims it’s the next best thing, because it probably isn’t.

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