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I’ve worked alongside trainers who, when the moment they completed their exercise-related degree was the moment they stopped investing any effort in continuing education. They decided they knew enough and didn’t think that there was a need for continuing education for fitness professionals—and it showed in their eventual career struggles, lack of skills evolution, and disengagement in the field to the point they instead poured time into multilevel marketing schemes in the false hope of retiring by age 35.
For the majority of us who’ve invested in making others better, resting on our laurels isn’t an option.
But…do you need an advanced degree (or even a degree) in exercise science, nutrition, or related fields to have a successful career in fitness? The short answer is no.
The long answer is also no, though such a degree can open valuable doors and set you up for success. Look no further than Dr Mike Israetel, PhD in Sports Physiology and co-founder of Renaissance Periodization. Mike may also be one of the most well-educated people in nutrition, yet holds no formal degrees in nutrition or dietetics. Contrast this with Mike’s partner Nick Shaw, the CEO of RP, highly knowledgeable and successful in his own right who holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sports Management.
For many coaches, pursuing a degree or adding an advanced degree in fitness or nutrition is time and cost prohibitive. Thankfully we have a rich array of free, low cost, and high value moderate cost options available to allow coaches to grow and thrive. Continuing education for fitness professionals should be a bedrock of any successful career.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the best resources for continuing education for fitness professionals.
Most coaches don’t start with the disposable income to pile on seminars and certifications. Fortunately most information exists free on the internet. Early in my career I read the library of strength and conditioning, nutrition, and muscle building articles on T-Nation, Muscle and Fitness, Bodybuilding.com, and Precision Nutrition. I poured over the websites of their regular writers for more articles, like Tony Gentilcore, Ben Bruno, Christian Thibaudeau, Lee Boyce, and Krista Scott-Dixon. Their examples inspired me to start writing.
Early in my career I found Dr. Layne Norton and binged his early YouTube videos on nutrition and found his old podcast Physique Science Radio with cohost Sohee Lee. This led to Jeff Nippard’s podcasts, Danny Lennon’s Sigma Nutrition Radio, Kevin Larrabee’s FitCast, and later Luka Hocevar’s Vigor Life Podcast. Sigma and Vigor are still going strong to this day and I’ve even appeared as a guest on Vigor. Jordan Syatt and Mike Vacanti’s How to Become a Personal Trainer, is a must listen for aspiring coaches. I loved podcasts so much I founded one with a friend over six years ago and it carries on today as The Lift Free and Diet Hard Podcast.
While much of YouTube is sensational “info-tainment”—long on entertainment and short on education (think CT Fletcher, Rich Piana (RIP), and BroScience/Dom Mazzetti)—many credible evidence-based fitness professionals have a strong foothold on YouTube. Luka Hocevar, Jeff Nippard, Renaissance Periodization, and many other fitness professionals and brands have grown successful channels, driving substantial business their way.
YouTube is also a goldmine for the business and media skills many coaches neglect. A deep dive into Alex and Leila Hormozi’s podcasts and YouTube might alone be a more surgical business education than a four-year degree (speaking from experience with my Bachelor of Commerce).
This should also get every fitness professional thinking about creating their own long-form content, whether writing articles, hosting a podcast, or filming YouTube. This can open incredible doors to brand development and a foundation for social media growth. Writing for my own website led to numerous published writing opportunities, evidenced here.
Not everything is free and people don’t always value free things. Just ask any trainer who’s offered free programs to friends. Adherence rates are mediocre at best. It helps to have a little skin in the game.
Buying books—yes, books—is one of your best investments. Less expensive than most formal course, books, however, require the investment of time. Audiobooks, like podcasts, will turn your daily commute and cooking time into an ongoing university style education. I reserve my limited physical reading time for textbooks and other resources I can’t consume on audio, or for content creation like writing, recording, or presentations. This leaves audiobooks as my main outlet for averaging around 80 books a year (work up to listening on faster speeds). Books advance your education in sales, business, marketing, communication, coaching, philosophy, public speaking, writing, productivity, nutrition, and a wide array of other valuable skills for a successful career.
Some of my top recommendations for any fitness professional include:
(There’s many more educational books out there. Please shoot me a message on Instagram and I’ll personally recommend books to suit your current needs.@andrewcoatesfitness.
As your business grows and you have more disposable income, it’s wise to invest back into your skills and career growth. There’s a strong argument that investment in skills that increase your earning potential is a better investment than the stock market. This isn’t advice against regularly putting away savings for your retirement, but accelerating your income growth puts you on a faster road to financial freedom down the road.
Carefully selecting courses, seminars, and certifications can be a valuable and surgical way to attain critical knowledge.
Many trainers begin by added deeper nutrition knowledge to broaden the depth of service they offer for clients. Some trainers want to feel confident and qualified to discuss general nutrition with clients while others wish to add formal nutrition coaching to their offering. Some of the most popular and reputable nutrition courses include Precision Nutrition Level 1 and Martin MacDonald’s Mac-Nutrition Uni.
Chasing certifications for the sake of pulling up more credentials is a fool’s errand and poor use of your time and money, but carefully chosen certifications can provide important skills to distinguish you as a caring, confident, and skilled coach.
Some the best certifications I’ve personally taken include:
A certification is wise when it’s the most efficient road to acquiring important skills.
One of the most uniquely high leverage ways to thrive in the industry is to attend seminars and industry conferences. While you can gain knowledge and skill, perhaps even more fulfilling is the opportunity to connect with industry leaders and like-minded peers on the same journey you are.
Some of the most valuable opportunities in my career have come from meeting and supporting other coaches in my travels. I’ve made a point of flying out from the frozen north of Edmonton Canada at least a few times a year to surround myself with new and old industry friends.
Also on the near horizon, The Real Coaches Summit in Las Vegas, where I’m returning to support my friend the host Aram Grigorian and spend time with many industry friends.
These events changed my life by connecting me with like-minded peers who’ve become lifelong friends, while also getting quality time with industry leaders. I spent six years working in a commercial gym under their rigid systems. Being surrounded by different coaches with different business structures helped shed restrictive thinking and grow in ways I didn’t understand where possible. Some of those connections led to great podcast guests, invitations to appear on podcastrs, invitations to write for big publications, and public speaking opportunities.
Coaches can also hire mentors to accelerate their development. Mentorship programs are more prevalent than ever with many being outrageously expensive and not always delivering on value. A great mentor can warp you ahead on important business and career choices and systems, while a bad one can drain your coffers and leave you discouraged. Take your time to find the right mentor or program that aligns with your values and offers the specific skills you need. You’re paying a premium price to bypass a lot of time consuming and potentially inefficient self exploration.
One lifetime can barely scratch the surface of all the things we could possibly know about health, muscle building, fat loss, human psychology, and all the other important career skills we believe we need. Then consider the complex depth of coaching in various niches like training and nutrition in sports, combat sports, military and paramilitary organizations, special forces, bodybuilding, powerlifting, olympic weightlifting, CrossFit, and more.
The smartest PhD’s are still learning. New research emerges and old beliefs are challenged and refined or discarded with new information. All the while even the most trusted evidence based academics and coaches don’t agree with each other on 100% of all details. If we wait to have all the answers before we begin helping people, we would never start. Experience is also one of the best teachers.
You can study with every waking hour and be useless to help others without practical experience. Experience takes time and opportunity. The opportunity cost of gaining experience may be earning lower hourly rates in the short term. The goal is gain as much experience as possible as quickly as possible so you out yourself in a position to earn a greater livelihood and have more resources for life and to invest back into your education.
Great coaches never stop learning.