From one fitness coach to another: You do not want to be paid by the hour.

By: Emily Beers

When you were 22, the thought of making $30 an hour to hang out in a gym all day and coach sounded pretty good. Almost too good to be true. Good money doing something you love.

Three years later, by the time you’re 25, you find yourself slaving away working close to 40 on-floor coaching hours each week to just make enough to get by. As for your own fitness, you have let that slide because the last thing you want to do is workout after spending 10 hours at the gym.

Sound familiar?

From a conceptual level, there are so many reasons paying coaches by the hour doesn’t work for the business, the coach or the client. For starters, from a business standpoint, it doesn’t incentivize the coach to bring in new clients, nor does it encourage the coach to help retain clients. Instead, the coach becomes someone who clocks in, clocks out and the clients know it. They can feel it. And the longer a coach sticks around, the less engaged he becomes. In other words, the business will never deliver as excellent of a product to its clients as it can if coaches are getting paid by the hour.

Incentives aside, today I just want to consider the financials of two systems for the coach, and how to earn a professional wage in each system:

The term professional wage is somewhat subjective. In a city like Vancouver, where I live, I honestly think you need to be making $100,000 a year before tax to be able to take vacations here and there, raise a family, buy a home etc.; however, we’re a particularly expensive city, so let’s call the goal $70,000 a year. From talking to dozens of coaches, it seems most coaches would be stoked to make $70,000 a year—certainly more than most are making today.

By the hour VS percentage of revenue


If you’re getting paid by the hour as a coach, the road to $70,000 looks something like this:

• You earn $20 to $30 an hour per class or personal training session you coach.

• At $30 an hour, this means you need to work 45 hours a week, 52 weeks a year to earn $70,200. If you take a week or two off for vacation, you generally don’t get paid, so with two weeks off, you’re down to $67,500.

• At $25 an hour, the number would be 55 hours a week coaching to earn $71,500 (working 52 weeks and not taking a single day off).

• Working 45 to 55 on-floor hours a week might be do-able for two years, but it’s certainly not a pretty life and would put anyone on the fast track to burning out. This is why so many coaches end up being part-time coaches who coach 10 to 20 hours a week and have a second job.

In short, in the dollars per hour system, you’ll never have a long-term professional career in the fitness industry. The best you can do is a part-time job.

Percentage of Revenue (Madlab Model)

The road to $70,000 + in the percentage of revenue system looks like this…

Actually, first some background information to understand the system a little better:

You start by earning 20% of the revenue you generate, and eventually can earn as much as 50%. Currently, I get paid 40% of the revenue generated from a client who the gym gives to me and 50% of the revenue from a referral or a client I bring in myself. Meanwhile, any specialty programs I run—be it a mobility clinic, a rowing seminar, a nutrition class or a teen camp—I get 60% of the revenue it generates.

Coaching my prized pupil Thea

Note: Succeeding in this system isn’t immediate. It’s hard work and takes two to three years to build your book of clients, but once you get there you can earn a professional wage without killing yourself working 40 on-floor hours. But you need to be willing to work your ass off for two to three years until you have about 50 of your own clients. (It took me two-and-a-half years to acquire 50 clients). 50 is the sweet spot for earning a professional wage, but it can go up from there. At MadLab School of Fitness in Vancouver, our top coach had 75 clients in 2017 and took home $105,000. Now he has 85 and is on track for an even bigger year in 2018.

Ok, now how it works (this is simplified, but it makes the concept easy to understand)

  • If 50 clients pay an average of $240 per month (that’s about where our average is, as everyone does a combination of group classes and personal training. This combination of group classes and personal training together is another key to this system, but that’s the topic for another day).
  • In my case, I earn around 50% of that revenue.
  • 50 percent of $240 is an average of $120 per client per month.
  • $120 x 50 = $,6000 per month take home
  • • $6,000 a month = $72,000 annual salary.

Now let’s look at hours worked:

  • Our coaches split the group classes, so we each coach 6 to 7 group classes per week.
  • As I mentioned, our clients do a combination of group classes (they can attend any group class they want) and personal training with their coach. Some meet me once a week, others once a month, others once every 6 weeks and others still once a quarter. This depends on their needs and wants and budget.
  • On average, my clients do about 10 personal training sessions each year.
  • 50 clients x 10 personal training sessions means I coach 500 personal training hours a year, which works out to 9.6 hours a week.
  • On top of this, I coach another 6 to 8 hours a week training new personal training clients through fundamentals and/or any specialty program I’m running at the time.

The breakdown:

6 hours a week: group classes

• 9-10 hours a week: personal training my current clients

• 6-8 hours: new clients and specialty programs

This means, I’m coaching anywhere from 21 to 24 hours a week to earn $72,000 a year.

Still think working for $30 an hour seems like a good long term plan?

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