Directions toward a career in fitness – part 2

2009 November 14
by Alan Aragon

A little background

Picking up from part 1, it’s time to move on to nutrition. This gets a little complicated, so stick with me. In addition to being a trainer, I was also the club’s nutritionist. I eventually dropped my role as a trainer within the club (voluntarily), but continued to see outside training clients. SportsMed, a subsidiary of the Sports Club Company, contained a team of dietitians of which I was a part. I was stationed in their sister franchise, the Spectrum Club. Among the five nutritionists, I was the only one  who wasn’t a registered dietitian (RD). However, the fact that I had a master’s degree in nutrition pretty much kept the dietitians from glaring at me.

On a related tangent, here’s an amusing story. Our director did a company-wide survey of what term, registered dietitian or nutritionist, should be placed on the business cards. The vast majority of people surveyed said they’d know more immediately what a nutritionist was than what an RD was. The dietitians were indignant at having to bear the “nutritionist” moniker on their cards, but it was also a sweet moment of vindication for my lack of the RD credential. More on that in the final installment, let’s look at the pros & cons of the job.

Nutritional counseling: health club employment pros & cons

Similar to being a club-employed trainer, the massive membership and built-in traffic of the gym made it easy to get business. The sales staff forwarded all new members to me, as did the trainers, so there really was no struggle to capture clients. Since there was only one nutritionist per club, I didn’t have to sweat any competition. Perhaps the biggest benefit was that I got to realize my strength in counseling and teaching. I was much more content sitting on my butt at a desk talking about nutrition rather than handing off dumbells, switching plates, and counting reps. Not to mention, none of my nutritional clients have audibly farted while straining to tell me the truth.

Again, this is a different strokes thing. Some people go into training because they’re sick to death of their desk jobs. For that kind of escape, training is great; I just had opposite interests. The rest of the benefits were the same as training – free membership, overall job predictability and convenience. I have to say that in retrospect, the benefit of starting my nutritional counseling career as an employee allowed me gain my footing and make my newbie mistakes while the company shouldered the risk.

What bugged me most about this job, funny enough, were the same things as training: dress code and pay. By now it should be pretty clear that I hate anything remotely close to a uniform. The nutrition staff was required to dress in business casual. Ugh. Our pay was approximately $20 per half-hour session. Not too bad, but then again, not too good – especially for someone who was going to support a family. After spending some time watching the company keep about 50% of what my clients paid, I decided I’d be better off keeping all of it, and absorbing the risk of being on my own. Since I knew that I could do this with training, it was time to leave and navigate my own ship with nutritional counseling.

Nutritional counseling: self-employment pros & cons

The pros, just like self-employed training, were full conceptual and operational control of the pricing, policies, and protocols. Once again, I was immediately able to charge triple the 20 bucks I made per session I made as an employee. This is about the same per-session pay rate as I made training independently, except now my sessions are 30 minutes of yapping instead 60 minutes of busting ass. Another advantage to being on my own was the prestige associated with having my own private practice. So far so good, now for the cons.

The single biggest expense facing independent practitioners is the rent for office space. A tiny office in my neck of Southern California can run you as little as $400-500 a month, whereas a little more comfy setting will cost about $700-800. I had my sights set on a large office in a health club with built-in traffic. In a cool twist of fate, I was able to secure a space in the club I was formerly employed at. They wanted $1200 a month…ouch. I took the general manager out to lunch, gave her some puppydog eyes, and negotiated my rent down to $800.

The club eventually switched management and brought in the Apex nutrition system, which was software that generated plans with the Apex supplements baked into the diets. It pissed me off that the trainers were being forced to act as nutritionists despite my presence in the club, so I approached the new manager and negotiated my $800 monthly rent down to $400. To my benefit, the Apex launch floundered and was canceled due to a lack of interest, but my rent stayed at the re-negotiated low.

My current practice

I have since been invited to move my practice into an upscale personal training facility. When I say upscale, I really mean that. A good portion of my clientele are professional athletes, successful actors, and CEOs of huge multinational corporations. The facility (Elite Fitness Plus) is owned by a friend of mine who I’ve been trying to work together with for years, and have finally gotten the chance to, and feel really blessed to be in such a great spot.

The downside? My commute one-way is 30-45 minutes. Yeah, I know some of you drive double and triple that, but one of my pet peeves, along with dress codes, is having an insipid date with traffic as part of my workday. Being self-employed puts me in control of my schedule, so a simple solution to minimizing the time and expense commuting was to cut my office days to two longer days per week instead of five regular days [UPDATE: I now work 1 day a week at the office, the rest of the time from home]. The 10-second trip from my bedroom to my desktop computer is one of the things I love about online consulting, which  comprises a significant portion of my practice [UPDATE: I now work 100% from home and am no longer taking on new clients due to being overbooked].

Next up…

In the final installment, I’ll discuss the remaining aspects of my career: continuing education lecturing, corporate wellness consulting, and writing books, magazine articles, and my research review. If anyone’s still at a loss of ideas for building a fitness career after reading this series, I’ll be at a loss for words (ain’t gonna happen).   [see part 3]

Microsoft Word - AARR wide banner 1.doc

18 Responses
  1. November 14, 2009

    Enjoying this series a lot, Alan. Seems that you and I have traveled the same road.

  2. Mike L. permalink
    November 15, 2009


    Have you found that online consulting clients have been as successful at those who meet with you in person? Online training and nutrition counseling is one avenue I might like to explore in the future, but I’m curious if clients are able to adhere to a program without the threat of the caliper…

    Thanks! Great blog, by the way!


  3. November 15, 2009

    Nice to hear your experience. Good work on this series.


  4. November 15, 2009

    Steven – That’s a trip. Memory lane is kinda nice to visit, huh?

    Mike – Unequivocally, yes. Online clients are highly motivated and compliant. My in-person clients get communication with me once a week, whereas I have my online clients report to me every weekday. I interact with my online clients on most weekdays. This keeps the accountability and communication strong, which is great for results.

    Roland – with all the questions I get about how to go about a fitness career, I’ll finally be able to just drop a link. Glad you like the material, hope all is well with you. I’m sure we’ll talk soon.

  5. Mike L. permalink
    November 15, 2009

    Thanks, broski. Between the AARR, book, blog, family, and daily client check-ins, I hope you’re making some time to sleep!

    Glad to hear the online consultations work well. Despite a handful of limitations, I can certainly see the appeal.


  6. November 15, 2009

    Thank you for sharing your experiences, Alan. It’s interesting to see how everyone has a story to tell and yours is a fascinating one for me to read. I can’t wait to read about your AARR – I’d like to do the same soon.
    Cassandra Forsythe

  7. November 16, 2009


    Congratulations on your new site! I’ll be checking in regularly for your famous cutting-edge updates!


  8. November 16, 2009

    Cool, thanks guys.

  9. Michael Miller permalink
    November 16, 2009


    I’m enjoying the blog posts very much. I’m thankful that its not as incredibly boring and difficult to read as the AARR.

    Byt the way, I LOLed @ “Not to mention, none of my nutritional clients have audibly farted while straining to tell me the truth.”

  10. November 16, 2009

    Hah, thanks Mike.

    Thanks for stopping in.

    You obviously have supervised some serious squatting sessions 🙂

    PS – I hope you can make it to the next Summit.

  11. Chris Nunz permalink
    November 17, 2009

    Hey Alan, nice series!

    I’ve spoken to you a lot on the forums and this information is hugely relevant to me.

    Only one problem – I want to be a Nutritionist but I gradutated in May 2008 with a BS in Business. I’ve been working in the “business world” for a year now and hate it. I’ve been ACE certified since 2005 but only trained until ’07 and want to get back into the Fitness Industry.

    I see you were a Master of Nutrition when you started – which I know helped you. What do you recommend for me? Can I take graduate classes in Nutrition? Is it worth the money? Or is money better spent on Nutritional and Fitness Certications?

    I’m just trying to gauge how well I can do without having gone to school for it – but this is something I really want to do and I’m still young at 23 years old.

  12. November 17, 2009


    I just posted the final installment of this series, it should give you enough tools to make the right decision. Read it through, and chew on the possibilities a while. If you still have questions, let me know.

  13. Warfuel permalink
    June 10, 2012

    What ismyour opinion of Gary Taubes ideas on obesity? Is what he is saying true or false in your opinion? Here is a basic outline of what I understand him to be saying in his book “Good Calories, Bad Calories” concerning obesity:
    How you store energy can determine your energy intake and expenditure, it is not always the other way around.  It could be either way, and in both cases the first law of thermodynamics holds true, however, what is cause in one case is effect in the other. The point is that hormonal regulation of caloric intake needs to be a factor. Obesity is a disorder of the hormonal regulation of fat accumulation, for the obese the mechanism which adjusts appetite to caloric input is disturbed.The obese overeat and don’t exercise because their fat is growing from high levels of insulin and this causes constant hunger along with a low energy level. In the case of obesity, just as with other high hormonal states such as puberty or pregnancy, the body is growing and this drives one to establish a positive caloric balance (when your growing whether it be muscle, bone, or fat; this can only occur through hormonal increases). Overeating and sedentariness then become a result and not a cause of obesity.  

    I have two other questions concerning obesity:
    Is obesity a genetic abnormality?  Just as if you have the gene for alcoholism it will only express if you consume alcohol, if you have the gene for obesity will it express only if you ingest excess calories?
    Thank you for your time and help.

  14. September 2, 2013

    I think genetic play an important role in obesity but wrong diet also cause the fatness of the human body.. Cardio exercise is beneficial for health especially for losing weight.

  15. September 9, 2013

    “Not to mention, none of my nutritional clients have audibly farted while straining to tell me the truth.”

    This is what I look forward to as a personal trainer haha.

  16. April 5, 2016

    I am enjoying this series of articles – well done Alan. The online consulting business model is a great way to go and is a very profitable way of running a business. Over the years I have had some experience doing online life coaching and the beauty is, once you get up and running, the world is your oyster. You are no longer reliant on local client growth for your business expansion.

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