A year ago I was working about 10 hour training days between the two gyms so I could pay my bills and student loans. One of these locations was Ft Eustis, a local military base. I had about 8–10 clients at this location at the time, one of which had been with me for about 2 years.

​She was the spouse of an active duty military doctor and Colonel in the Army. She mentioned to me periodically that my services might be great for her husband as now that he was in his mid 50’s he needed to work a little harder to pass his Physical Fitness Tests.

She mentioned his morning routine of about 50 push ups and sit ups, daily 3 mile run with the enlisted active duty members, and eating routine. I thought to myself “man this guy might be in better shape than me!”. When he eventually came in for a consultation I instantly felt like I was in the presence of a warrior, he was the epitome of a stoic, exuberayting confidence and awareness.

​We sat down to chat about his health history, quickly checking off the boxes on a PAR Q as I skimmed through the questions. I mean c’mon the man was highly active AND a medical doctor! He was the perfect client. That’s what I thought while he was still upright and conscious.

I took him through my warm up on the stationary bike with 30 seconds fast and 30 seconds slow for roughly 3 minutes. Then, I took him through a series of active mobility exercises to warm up the muscles and joints for resistance training. Nothing to see here folks, just your traditional warm up brought to you by ACSM protocol.

Time for circuit #1. I put him through a Tabata HIIT circuit of 4 exercises done at of course 20 seconds work followed by 10 seconds rest. We repeated this circuit twice and by the end he hand’t even broken a sweat. By now he was bored, he was itching for a challenge and he was beginning to think this was all a waste of time. I stepped the exercise selection up a bit and by the end of the second circuit I asked what his Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) was. He replied 2 out of 10… 2 out of 10?! The man could have probably done this stuff with a blindfold on without any further direction from me.

His RPE stayed constant throughout the next 45 minutes of his workout. He did eventually break a sweat but he still passed the talk test even while he was doing his 3 minute cool down on the stationary bike at the end of his HIIT workout. After he finished, I then asked one more time “So you’re telling me that you never got above a 2/10 throughout this entire workout?!”. To that he replied, “ok maybe 4/10”. I was amazed, most of my clients would have been crawling out of the gym after that workout and most likely not rebooking another session with me after that kind of torture.As we walked to the front door of the gym we sat down in the foyer to discuss scheduling, he asked me if I was available to tomorrow (which was Friday) which I wasn’t so he then asked if Saturdays would work (the gym was closed on Saturdays). He was already asking for more! We eventually figured out a routine for the following week so we stood up so I could go train my next client and he could head home after a hard days work. The moment he stood up, his knees began wobbling. His hands went out to his sides. His eyes rolled back into his head. He fell like a sack of potatoes.

Completely unconscious…

I caught the back of his head just before it hit the brick wall behind the bench we were sitting on. The moment he hit the bench he was out…he was snoring like he had been asleep for hours. I instantly checked his vitals and even though I knew he was breathing I still wanted to make sure he was in a controlled state. I felt as if I had just been kicked in the chest, my career was over so soon!Putting all worries in the back of my mind, I told the front desk to call 911 as my First Responder training kicked in. Once the paramedics arrived I grabbed my phone to call his wife informing her of what just happened and asking her if there was anything I should know about his health that may have caused this. At this point my heart rate was probably higher than his ever got throughout the entire workout according to his feedback. Her response put me at ease instantly. She was a therapist after all.

She said calmly “oh no, did it happen again?” informing me that her husband had a benign pituitary gland tumor which caused him to pass out when his pituitary gland became too active. She let out a gentle laugh saying “Ethan calm down its not your fault, he doesn’t like to talk about it. You know how these Military men operate”. In other words, they don’t speak about weakness. This man had seen combat, he wasn’t going to let a little tumor stop him from working out.

By now he was conscious and upset that I notified his wife about this ordeal. He wanted to keep on moving with his day. She requested I put him on the phone so she could convince him to go in the ambulance to a nearby hospital. Yes you read that right, he didn’t want medical treatment. He wanted to drive home on his own like nothing had just happened.

I canceled the rest of my clients once I found out which hospital he was heading to so I could visit with him to make sure he was ok and learn more about what had just happened. During this two hour hospital visit we were able to connect, share stories that made us who we are, and laugh off the entire situation. I made sure to pay attention to everything the doctor had to say so I could learn first hand about the specifics of this uncommon condition. After my visit with him in the hospital I began to reflect on the 3 most important takeaways from this ordeal so that I could ensure that it would never happen again.

Treat every client like they’re your first. The moment you start overlooking steps or skipping the basics is the day your service begins to lose value in the eyes of the consumer. You want to be all ears during the first few session because if this client has taken the time to come to you its because they have a significant pain point that they want you to help them fix. For this reason, taking the time to hear them out and listen to the emotional struggle they go through each day will be the single most important thing you can do during this time frame. The more you understand their pain, the easier it will be in figuring out how to do it.​

Everyday you step into that gym you should treat it like its your first day on the job. Complacency is the enemy of progress. Always. Be. Learning.

Your objective for the first session is to build a relationship and add value. Not to send them out in an ambulance. ​

You want to build their confidence through the 75% rule. This signifies that you want your client to achieve 75% of the challenges you put them through in your workout so they feel accomplished but not overwhelmed. This study showed that when people achieve 75% of what they are asked to do they don’t feel bored or overwhelmed so they want more.

Look, our clients may expect us to know as much about their medical conditions as their doctors but of course, we don’t. If this client would have told me about this condition I would have been completely upfront and asked “how is that affected by exercise?” because things like this can happen. ​Be honest that you need to do research on unfamiliar medical conditions to ensure that you know how they are effected by exercise. Your client will appreciate the honesty and they will know they came to the right place when they hear that you took the initiative to spend your free time learning more about how you can help them. Make them feel safe and special, everyone enjoys being cared about!

As personal trainers were often asked to do a lot more than what is required on our job descriptions. However, the thing that separates the average personal trainers from the outliers are how they spend their time. If you want to become one of the best you need to set aside an hour a day for learning. Whether that is learning more about how to help your clients, learning about new exercise study findings, or becoming a better business owner. You need to do it in order to make progress in your career. A little bit each day goes a long way, a lot of trainers try to do too much too fast and they burn out.There’s a statistic floating around in the industry that about 80% of trainers burn out by the third year, I’m sure the accuracy of that stat can be debated but the point is; this career is physically and mentally demanding and if you want to make a career out it you will need to find ways to become 1% better everyday.​If you wake up at 6am and go to bed at 9pm everyday you have a full 15 hours to do everything you need to do.Training clients (8 hours) Commuting and Eating (2 hours) Work out (1 hour) Time with loved ones (2 hours)

Total time left to get 1% Better = 3 Hours

Learn for 1 hour. Let’s say that you read 30 pages every hour (I’m sure you guys read more than half a page per minute). 200 pages is the length of the average non fiction book, thats a book every 6–7 days. Just by reading for 1/15 of your day you can read up to 4 books a month!Some of us aren’t great readers and thats perfectly fine! There are tons of ways to learn these days just by heading to Youtube or listening to Podcasts. You can listen to at least 1–2 episodes in your hour time slot which will still give you plenty of valuable information to level up in your career field.

Teach for 1 hour. What’s the use of all of this knowledge you’ve gathered if you bottle it all up?! This can be through video if you’re great in front of a camera but for most people this will be in the form of writing. Of course by write I mean type. Experts say for SEO purposes you want to keep your blog articles at least 1000 words. According to Quora, this takes about 20 minutes if you write 50 words per minute.

Let’s say you’re new to writing blog articles or facebook posts so it takes you 40 minutes to do so. You still have an extra 20 minutes to edit and revise this content to make sure it really speaks to the reader. This can be a huge factor in getting your name out into the world and ranking for relevant search terms on google, bing, and yahoo. Learn. Teach. Publish. Get Seen. Get Paid.

It’s really that simple. But it all begins with being a relentless learner. ​“A life long student is the happiest soul of them all”So by now you still have one hour left in your day for any miscellaneous errands that may come up. Life happens and I don’t expect you to have every hour of everyday booked up, you’re human and you need breaks. Spend this time wisely by doing something you enjoy that is unrelated to your career. Variation is the key to stimuli so doing an activity that gets you out of your comfort zone can be very beneficial to keeping your mind fresh and energized. Block out your time wisely to command your day, and ultimately, your career. Ethan Halfhide

Owner of

Author of ‘The First Five’

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