As the latest addition to Team 3D Muscle Journey to come on board in late 2015, I’m still a relatively new kid on the bodybuilding coaching block.
While I can confidently say that I already had a lot of coaching experience under my belt from my years as a competitive gymnastics instructor and as a personal trainer, I still had some blind spots in terms of what it takes to do this whole thing online.
And beyond that internet stuff, the sport of bodybuilding brings about new and different challenges that are not so obvious to those who are coming from a personal training or performance-based sport background — even if you do have a phenomenal grasp on the numbers and basic prescriptions of physique sport.
In an attempt to help those who are in my newbie shoes from a couple of years ago, here are some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the trenches myself, or from the other coaches I’ve had the pleasure of working with.
Coaches do not just coach
Unless you are lucky enough to enter a well-established team of online bodybuilding coaches, you will quickly find that there are A LOT of administrative systems you’ll need to set up. Marketing is required for people to know you exist in the world. Once they know you are alive, you have to prove to them that you know what you are talking about. Once they want to hire you, what information do you need from them? How will you bill them? What do you or don’t you guarantee when they sign up? Do you need a contract or waiver?
I could probably think of 100 more tiny tactical decision that need to be addressed, but the bottom line is you gotta figure this stuff out to stay legal. It also needs to be repeatable so that it’s efficient and allows you the time to actually do the coaching you want to do.
People take what you give them
If you are not careful with your availability and expectations up front, you can quickly over-expose yourself to clients. Time and attention are what your athletes pay for and expect. But if they each individually get too much of it, they become reliant on you and your quick response time. While this may seem like great service, you’re actually doing quite the opposite.
First off, you are robbing your client of the opportunity to learn about themselves and how they operate as an athlete. Secondly, if you spread your attention too thin by being overly available, the quality of your coaching and decision-making is likely to drop over time, especially if you have a growing roster of clients. Assign reasonable and maintainable communication channels, and stick to them as much as possible.
Niche down ruthlessly
Be picky about your clientele early on. If you want to specialize, do it. Nothing is worse than saying “I’m a fitness coach who is here to help everyone do everything while working towards any goal they choose.” Even if you do have the skills for that, nobody will seek that. It’s very rare that a serious physique athlete wants to be coached by someone who is well-known for boot camp slim-downs and Pilates poses and strongman lifts and sprinting drills.
Just because you have a kinesiology degree does not mean you are ready to coach everyone who has physical fitness goals. Understand that if you want to be a bodybuilding coach, you need to work with bodybuilders. This can be really scary, it is not to be taken lightly, but it really is the only specific practice that will get you where you want to be.
This is a common mistake I see with some of the athletes I work with who are trying to start coaching businesses of their own. I was lucky enough to come into 3DMJ where the niche and reputation was already well-established, but many others just spread their net too wide to attract the kind of clients they truly want.
Also a 3DMJ bonus for me, it was much less scary for me to take the plunge into contest prep coaching knowing I had four of the industry’s best around at all times to support me. How can you recreate this for yourself? Are there other coaches you can team up with or who can give you mentor-support? Are there athletes who are willing to do test-runs with you to build up your confidence and experience?
Record-keeping is paramount
Make notes on all the coaching calls you make and the outcomes that followed. If something went surprisingly well or surprisingly not-so-well, record that somewhere. Not just for yourself, but for that specific athlete. If you can keep an abundance of numeric and qualitative data in an easily accessible and centralized location, you will know what did or didn’t work for athlete x from their last prep before starting their next.
You will come to know how stressful their life is, how they respond to certain foods, what triggers lapses in self-control, how hard you can push them, etc. You might remember this now, but when your coaching practice grows it may be difficult to recall this information about each athlete you work with over time.
Keep your day job
This might sound counterintuitive, but it’s a matter of practicality. Personally, I did not do this, but I was also in a place where I was willing to be financially and logistically uncomfortable for a long time until it worked out. I would not recommend this for most people. In the past 5 years as an online content provider and business owner, I have seen quite a few people sacrifice everything, only to blow through their savings and end up back in day jobs less than a year later.
Nothing is wrong with your current situation, it’s simply a stepping stone. You have the opportunity to gradually make this switch into coaching during your non-scheduled work hours. While I don’t like to use the word “regret”, I can honestly say this would have been a much smarter route for me to take than the long and arduous road I threw myself into. There is no shame in having patience to ensure a secure lifestyle. It doesn’t mean you “want it less”, it just means you are being strategic about your choices.
This is not their only prep, settle in for the long haul
At 3DMJ, we pride ourselves on the long-standing relationships we have with our athletes. Some of the men I coach with have had athletes appear and re-appear on their roster for over 5 years and counting. So, while you may often see “12-week transformation packages” or “one price fits all contest prep bundles”, I would have to say this sends a terrible message about the longevity of your company.
If you are a truly qualified natural bodybuilding coach with an evidence-based approach, you are likely aware that any single contest prep typically takes somewhere in the range of 4 to 18 months, depending on whether they have a solid base of muscle, what division they want to compete in, and how much body fat must be lost to get stage-lean. And when that prep is complete, 3DMJ sees it as our job to help every athlete exit the season with a proper recovery phase and transition into the off-season.
Creating short-term plans and pricing schemes sends a message that your services are a short-term fix, and that the stage is a short-term goal. This is not how the human body works, and it’s not how any real sports work. We are developing athletic careers, and we create our business as such.
Sure, feel free to charge your clients in monthly increments or quarterly installments, but I would caution against promising that your job will be complete by some certain date or within some pre-determined timeframe. This stuff takes time, and it can also be very unpredictable. If you make the investment on your end, your athletes will likely make it on theirs. And what’s even more rewarding, is that they will come back the next time they prep for more.
Think about how great it would be to have recurring business, rather than having to search for a whole new batch of customers year after year. More coaching, more money, and less stress about marketing and having to start new relationships from scratch. And more important than any of that, you’ll be able to service the same athlete much better the second time around than the first, because you know how they tick and they know your process. It’s truly a win/win for all.
A Final Word
In closing, it’s important that I leave this article with a reminder that this is simply an opinion piece. I have tried a lot, I have seen a lot, but that doesn’t mean that my ideas are what is best for you, your business, or your goals.
With that in mind, as any of the 3DMJ coaches will tell you, we wholeheartedly believe in experimentation. You can try-on a certain coaching model, keep what you love, throw away the rest, and keep moving forward. While you could never figure everything out perfectly, remember that you can always improve and pivot until you are more comfortable than you used to be, which is a great way to build anything.
I hope these tips are useful for those of you who are about to embark on your own bodybuilding coach’s journey, and that this served as a useful examination for any established professionals out there already.
If you have any other tidbits or tactics to offer, please feel free to add them in the comments