| Personal Training Post-Pandemic, Redefining a Written Off Industry

Author / Cheyne Zeller

5-7 minutes read

Sometimes, the only way to fix a system is by taking a hard reset. Our current nationwide lockdown has effectively shuttered the doors of commercial gyms everywhere, some permanently. Globo gym trainers and coaches who have been burning the candle at both ends have seen these flames quickly and suddenly blown out. Reflection is a luxury not usually afforded to personal trainers, as any extra time in the middle of the day is allotted to napping or getting our own training in. Considering that the fluorescent lights of a commercial gym are to motivation as a heat lamp is to gas station taquitos, by midday the quality of either one of these options is questionable at best. This pandemic shut down our entire industry; we have been given the same “take out the cartridge and blow the dust off” treatment given to a previous generation’s Nintendo games. While we anxiously wait for the gyms to reopen, a question comes to mind: do you really want to go back to what you were?

Signs of a Toxic Culture

I have been a commercial gym trainer for over 10 years, and in that time I have seen the best and worst of the industry. While the majority of my colleagues have like-minded altruistic intentions when they enter the commercial gym space, their career choice often leads to a compromise of values and purpose (unsurprisingly, feeling like an SAT formatted reference to an old taquito was not the plan). They start their careers with noble aspirations of improving peoples’ lives through education and exercise. I have seen many trainers with the ambition to become body mechanics; experts with the want to coach and assist their clients out of pain and into a healthy lifestyle. Invariably however, these trainers end up running a chop shop, ensuring the client operates just well enough to make it out of the gym, yet still dependent on the trainer for any significant improvement. 

Sales are what we do: we engage in voluntary transactions for services – in this case a client is paying for results. In the commercial gym setting, the gym itself determines these payment tiers and sessions. The packaging of these sessions are arbitrary and detrimental to a trainer’s value, usually being broken into increments of 5’s and 10’s, and then sold as 5, 10, 20, 30 packages, ultimately bearing more resemblance to Monopoly money than exercise adaptations. There is no prudency in planning for clients’ needs, only how much money the gym can make; as a result, the client usually shells out Boardwalk prices for Baltic Avenue results.

Frequency and adherence becomes an issue as the client sees the sessions as a commodity, rather than steps toward their goal. They save the sessions as such, and now the trainer is left with a client who trains twice one week, takes a week off, trains once the next week, etc. The dice-roll quality of the client’s frequency now is directly reflected in the predictability of the outcome of their efforts. When the client does show, their stress shows up with them. On the day of buying the sessions they were on a self-improvement emotional high, but their life outside the gym permeates their every activity. They are not professional athletes, in that their livelihood does not depend on their gym performance, nor should they be trained like them.  

A client’s time with a trainer should enhance their lives, not take away from it. Trainers routinely break down their clients to make the client “feel” like they worked hard. In reality, needlessly tearing them down compounds their stress and can lead to burnout and injury. 

This constant need for trainers to prove themselves by making things harder for the client just for difficulty’s sake may contribute to social media views, but it will not contribute to the client’s goals. The environment of the gym itself makes it even easier to succumb to the temptation of randomness of exercise prescription. Overloading underpaid trainers with a mind-numbing amount of sessions per day, coupled with overselling gym memberships so that every square foot is “maximized” (meaning that every piece of equipment is taken during primetime hours), leaves very little wiggle room for trainers trying to do right by their clients.

The Real Problem

While these obstacles are daunting and need to be addressed, the real issue is the proposed solution. Every commercial gym requires their trainers to be certified. The certifying bodies are varied; there are a few that are widely accepted, but for the most part the entry-level certifications that are advertised on subway billboards eerily resemble get rich quick schemes and should be avoided accordingly. There are even in-house certifications offered by the gym themselves to allow for the company to take the “education” cost out of your paycheck. All of the certifying bodies have their own philosophies on how to achieve results for clients. These philosophies unfortunately become an unbending belief structure that cannot adapt to the challenges presented on a daily basis. This is the crux of the problem; as Chris Rock so aptly said in DOGMA, “You can change an idea, changing a belief is trickier”.  

Trainers then become so scarcity-minded that they take any client, claiming they can perform services outside of their scope of practice at bargain basement prices. Every trainer who tries to fit this square peg of a strategy into the round hole of the problem will experience frustration, burnout, and eventually, apathy. This is how the stereotype of the schmedium teeshirt-clad, fake-tanned trainer on his phone while spotting, yelling out “all you!” is born. The trainers that look most physically fit to the general public usually have the most sales. Without any trainers with science-based education in the gym to compare: the trainer that looks the part must know what they’re doing, right? In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. 

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Changing the Culture Through Empowering Performance

So what does a trainer do? Leave the industry like so many before them? Or do they choose to seek out a way to overcome? If a philosophy locks you into a prison of procedure, a methodology is the key to set you free. A methodology is a scaffolding from which to build, not an unmoving structure in and of itself. A methodology relies on scientific principles to guide the training methods, not to pigeonhole them. Empowering your clients’ performance is a direct result of the trainer empowering their own performance. By making themselves more effective, trainers can ensure their clients’ results follow suit.

In 2018 I sought out a solution to the obstacles surrounding me in the commercial gym.  It was then that I found Power Athlete and began the process to become a Block One Coach. The Power Athlete Methodology is based on developing and fostering athleticism. Athleticism, as defined by Power Athlete CEO John Welbourn, is “The ability to seamlessly and effortlessly combine primal movement patterns through space to accomplish a known or novel task.”

While the majority of my Block One classmates were physical therapists, small gym owners and strength and conditioning coaches, I felt the Power Athlete Methodology spoke directly to my circumstances. Instead of coaching “required movements” as previous certifications had prescribed, I began to teach foundational MOVEMENT. Armed with the perspective of the Methodology, I was now able to tackle those challenges head-on, instead of being the victim of commercial gym circumstances.  Almost every client’s goal can be directly enhanced by improving their ability to move through space. For those clients who require more specialized programming to address limiting factors, the Block One Coach community allows for a network of highly effective professionals who support you and address your clients’ needs. This shows your clients that you have their best interests in mind, and demonstrates to them that there is an entire team of professionals who they can rely on.

John Welbourn often likes to say that everyone has at least one 8-Mile moment; that all-or-nothing opportunity you seize that drastically changes your life. As much as I wish that my decision to become a Power Athlete Block One Coach was as dramatic as that, it was closer to the opening scene of Jerry Maguire. I had seen what the industry had become, and knew that I wanted something more.  The Power Athlete Methodology became the mission statement I used to elevate my profession. As I look around at all the dissatisfied personal trainers out there stuck in the same predicament as I was, I ask in my best Tom Cruise impersonation, “Who’s coming with me?”.


PODCAST: PA Radio Episode 364 w/ Dr. Cara Miller
BLOG: Certs, Seminars, and Letters Oh My! by Adam Campbell
BLOG: Dedicate to Filling Your Holes by Don Ricci
EDU: Power Athlete Methodology

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Cheyne Zeller

Starting his training career assisting in the Biomechanics lab at San Francisco State, Cheyne’s focus on movement, posture, and position have been the foundation of his coaching. His clientele ranges from injury rehabilitation patients to professional athletes, and he has been able to consistently tailor strength and conditioning programs toward specialized needs. As a personal trainer in commercial gyms from California to New York, his hands-on experience gives a unique perspective as to what will and what won’t work in the real world. Since graduating the Block One Coach curriculum in June 2018, Cheyne has utilized the Power Athlete Methodology for developing and fostering athleticism in his clients. Cheyne credits the Block One Coach curriculum for the improvement he has seen in his clients’ body composition, strength, endurance, fitness and overall aesthetics.


  1. DD on July 16, 2020 at 6:38 pm

    Great read, wonderful references, solid peek behind the curtain of your Block One journey that will pay dividends for your clients goals. Super proud to be in your network sir!

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