PT Today Q&A’s with business leaders and master trainers – Darren Tebbenham

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Hi and welcome to the next instalment of the PT Today Q&A’s with business leaders and master trainers. This month we are very excited to be working with Darren Tebbenham of the European Institute of Fitness. 

Q1: When did you first get into the Fitness Industry?

Well, I first started training clients around 1996 long before the concept of level 3 PT indeed before REPs even existed. It was during the time I was studying to gain my master’s degree. I remember a client with Prader Willie Syndrome and despite having to research what that even was, the training and care required to help her were not dissimilar to most other clients. 

Indeed, this phenomenon has been present in my whole career. During my time working in cardiac rehabilitation, I also noticed it. Simplicity is nearly always the best approach. Even sometime later when I was working from a GP’s office at a medical centre in Australia, true to form, I seemed to attract clients with varying ailments and conditions but found, at the end of the day, helping them to become more active, eat more healthily and create new habits was just like doing so for most other clients. 

I am always amazed how people try to make things more complicated than they really are. Even with nutrition, people seem paranoid today about who can and who cannot help someone to eat more healthily and yet every trainer, without exception who works with members of the public, should be helping them in this area. It’s an integral part of our role. And if it’s deemed outside of a trainer’s scope of practice then either the scope the practice needs to change, or one needs to not be signing codes of conduct with bodies insisting a trainer cannot guide a client’s eating and drinking behaviours. Any reasonable trainer would do so. This was never a problem until more recently. With skills in knowing how to help clients shape one behaviour towards another, this really shouldn’t be such a big deal. The problem is as an industry we really don’t have our ducks lined up very well, but that’s another story for another day.  

 Q2: At what stage did you decide to open EIF?

I had worked as a Personal Trainer in London at the Hilton in Regret Street and then in Spain where I had my own studio before working at Vision Personal Training in Sydney. I then worked as an accredited exercise physiologist in Perth, even though my background was in psychology really, working with GPs at the medical clinic I mentioned. But then I began teaching again. Following my master’s degree, I had lectured in sport and exercise psychology at Liverpool University and had done so for three years and so found myself increasingly moving back towards my education roots and so began teaching Personal Trainers at the Australian Institute of Fitness before returning to Europe in 2005. 

I had been in Australia for nearly 4 years and returned to Spain, not the UK, to be by the sea. I knew I wanted to create a residential school and offer something different locating myself between Alicante and Valencia. We started advertising in the UK and then boom we ran our first personal training course at the end of 2005. At that time, it was a six-week residential live-in course and the only other courses being offered were by distance learning over two years or over 12 weeks full time combining fitness with massage. 

And so, within a few years, we had grown the business to a £1million a year school and created a reputation for excellence charging more than other providers, priding ourselves on the results of our graduates more than anything else. Indeed, today we have 80% of our students coming to us via direct referral. 

In 2011 we relocated the business to the UK and added two new arms to improve the program further, coaching and business. And today we have schools in the UK, in the Maldives and in the Middle East with students across 6 continents and more than 30 different counties around the world.  

We also offer business retreats, coaching and coach the coach training for already-qualified personal trainers to thrive.  

Q3: What are the main principles that you run EIF under? 

I think the secret to success as a trainer isn’t the piece of paper that says qualified, but how you came by it. That is, it is the person who is the personal trainer that most counts and, therefore, I would describe our schools as personal develop academies that happen to be in fitness i.e. we teach people to be successful as a guiding principle more than anything else. We help our students find their passion and use their time with us to ignite it and leave with a kind of purpose to what they do, not just qualified with a level 3 qualification.


Q4: What do you feel is the best route into the industry?

In my opinion, it is not to tiptoe in. It is to avoid the traditional become a gym instructor (level 2) and then a Personal Trainer (level 3) route because basically, that route doesn’t work very well. A modern-day personal trainer isn’t a gym instructor. The skills, ethos and role of a gym instructor relate to supervising a gym floor, keeping the equipment safe and delivering inductions. Whereas the role of a personal trainer is to motivate, guide and support clients to make lasting changes in their lives. Certainly, I do not believe a personal trainer is a gym instructor with a little bit more as is conveyed by training providers. 

And for that matter, it seems every level 2 and level 3 course seems to assume the most important aspect of becoming a fitness professional is anatomy and physiology and hence programs are loaded with this stuff. And I don’t get it. Someone somewhere thinks the most important element of transforming the health and wellbeing of the nation lies in a trainer’s awareness of the origin and insertion of the adductor magnus. 

So, my take is avoiding what the masses seem to do and be different and stand out.  And adopt the stance of making an investment in your future self just like you would say to your clients. Pay peanuts, get monkeys as they say. Maybe this is the problem by the way. Most people look for the easiest and cheapest courses. Then get worked up when their potential clients do exactly the same driving the costs of their personal training down and down. I think decide first that you want to be the best trainer you can be and then work out how to accomplish that rather than thinking how to get qualified as cheaply and easily as possible and then thinking things through.  

Q5: What’s the best advice you can give to a newly qualified fitness professional?

Stop going to webinars and following anyone and everyone else on social media. Stop spending so much time and worry about marketing and scalability and start thinking more about what you actually do and how it serves others. Spend more time improving your skills as a trainer and as a coach and less time as a marketer and getting others to “like” you. Seriously, the world’s gone mad. Hours and hours are spent taking photos of what trainers eat and how they work out, building followers on so many different social media platforms, doing lives all the time, creating posts and blogs and stories and bots, it’s never-ending. 

It’s this simple. Being amazing at marketing will not create success on its own. Being incredible at marketing and OK at changing people’s lives will not lead to success. But being amazing, like incredible at changing people’s lives and OK at marketing will! 

So, my advice would be to spend less time on social media and more time thinking about how to add value to their existing programs and how to better serve their current clients. To trust in the fact this as a served business all around the world for hundreds of years and that this ridiculous period in history where “training” people just gets in the way of “marketing” work has to stop. 

And, by the way, if one is to upskill to do so not in areas the trainer finds interesting but in areas necessary to better enable their clients to thrive. The number one thing clients struggle with is following through on their good intentions. Their weakest muscle is their mind. And so, kettlebell courses and TRX programs and strength training courses and level 4 certificates won’t help there will they. Learning to better “coach” clients to own their own shit and do something about it is the key. 

Q6: Do you offer any after training care for your new students?

Yes, but we shouldn’t have to offer much. I best explain that one. So, my idea of a personal trainer first. A personal trainer should coach their clients to make themselves redundant i.e. so that their clients don’t depend on them. They should motivate and inspire, coach, educate and empower clients to take back control and live their life their way, only better. Once they are done, then the ongoing support should be just that, ongoing support. This would be no good would it, giving a client a 6-week training program to get the result they dream of but only giving them the basics to start, upselling them into another 4-week program to sort out their nutrition and then a 5-week program to learn how to create new habits around fitness. You would package what clients actually needed and give it to them so that they got the result they wanted as well as how to continue on their own. 

Same for us. Yes, we offer 2 years ongoing business help, closed Facebook group, ability to phone in and get help and webinars just for our graduates. And we offer paid business coaching and business retreats for when they are ready to grow their business. And we offer coaching courses to advance their ability to coach clients to see through their good intentions. But our effort whilst training them in the first place, indeed the whole ethos of EIF as I said is that the certificate itself is not the focus. Anyone can get a piece of paper saying qualified. Our focus is to develop every students’ confidence through the clinic we offer with members of the public and the effort we make to ensure everything is as practical as it possibly can be and then competence to leave us and be able to be a success straight away. And it works. 

Q7: What are your top 3 qualities for success in the fitness industry?

Find your why and lead with it. Be a coach, not a marketeer. And, of course, true to our ethos, be more – grow You Ltd. 

Q8: How have you seen the industry change in the last 4 years?

Awarding bodies getting rich, training providers flooding the industry and standards going downhill across the board. Money makes the world go around and spoils most things when money leads all decisions. And that is what has happened. 

Q9: Do you recommend attending shows?

I recommend protecting yourself from the noise of today’s work and considering what shows to go to and what people to follow and who to read very carefully. Read 3 good books 3 times rather than 9 different books and remembering nothing for example. So yes, but go with focus and clarity why you are going and what you want to accomplish by going. I have personally most enjoyed and benefits from FIBO in Germany as it is huge and best educators in the world are always there, IDEA and IHSRA in California and if you can make the trip Filex in Sydney. 

Q10: What are the best CPD’s courses that a fitness professional should look to study?

Wouldn’t do it that way at all. I would ask myself what gaps currently exist in my skills and/or knowledge that further training and courses will fill? Then seek the best way to fill them. Worry second about whether CPD or not. I find most CPD courses are poor. Picking up points is not the right game to be playing. And many of the best courses are not CPD courses but programs that will develop a trainer into a great coach for example. 

Q11: What are your predictions for 2019 in terms of new fitness trends?

Usually stuff, technology, small group PT and online. But here’s the thing. Trends are just trends. One should build their practice and business on principles, not trends. Sure, good technology can help you better manage and even automate aspects of your business. Going online can help you to reach out and help more people and I would say offer you the space to be a better coach, not just trainer. But going online and using technology to automate to make more money to sit on a beach earning whilst you drink Pinacoladas is not the way. 

Q12: What is your main bug-bare with the fitness industry?

Gurus trying to make poor trainers rich by selling marketing hacks and tricks and whatever else and trainers falling for the emotional promises of riches and freedom. And I think training providers in general. Aside from ourselves, obviously, but then I don’t consider ourselves as a training provider I think they’re playing the wrong game too. I think the UK has something like 20,000 new PTs a year graduating and yet, I don’t know, 20 making it. It’s getting a bit like weight watchers and no office meant to weight watchers but get a million women mainly on a program, sure you’ll produce a handful or success stories but the masses fail terribly. Quality over quantity would be my message.

Q13: Do you offer any other training around business management or development?

Yes we offer 

Q14: What’s the number one key to success for any new business owner?

Making money in a way that serves your drive to make the impact you want to make and create the lifestyle you wish to live. 

Q15: How important is social media?

Too much so. Social media is social and not great for getting clients. It can help contribute to a community and even help with establishing authority but not for creating a professional marketing system – that must be paid with by money, not time. People say social media is like a café or a bar using the analogy that you wouldn’t go into a café and scream hi everybody I’m here, who wants to buy personal training or whatever.  Or the other one is dating stating you wouldn’t ask someone to marry you on the first date. My issue isn’t this though. It is that before social media I wouldn’t dream of going from café to café building relationships with all and sundry to create know like and trust to then create friendships and eventually tell people what I do and whether they would like to buy from me. I mean I actually was a trainer before Zuckerberg even thought about dominating the world and I don’t do this. For every 30 hours working I would be delivering my training and managing clients for 25 hours of them and marketing myself for a maximum of 5. And those 5 were not drinking coffee in cafes trying to meet people. This is social media today. Unfocused random acts to build a list or get likes. I think 5 hours back in the day where 3 hours were being spent on thinking about what message I had for what result people would get and 2 hours implementing the plan is where I was at. Let me share a proper example. I ran a small studio in Spain and played golf myself. I thought and decided to focus on developing my business by serving golfers in that area of Spain. So the 3 hrs was creating an advert for the local paper and flyers for the golf clubs and articles for the local paper (Costa Blanca News) if could get editorial space. The 2 hrs were spent visiting the clubs etc. 

My point I didn’t advertise and befriend golfers at the clubs first and go from club to club putting up snippets of information on notice boards creating mini groups to meet and share ideas or ask anyone to like me, I just advertised and delivered a couple of talks and it worked. 

Q16: Do you favour any one type of social media over another?

To advertise Facebook ads still no 1. 

Q17: How could our readers better market themselves and their businesses?

A cleverer, clearer message. Less trying to cover all bases and more focusing on one way and making it work. 

Q18: What do you predict for the future of the fitness industry?

More providers coming in (perhaps McDonald’s) to qualify people as level 3 trainers, Tesco and other big brands watering down quality and ultimately spoiling if it hasn’t been spoiled already the term personal trainer. The future I think will be two types of trainer – the true coach who works to genuinely change people’s loves and the trainer who will be a level 3 pt and work in a club or online but mainly with fit clients offering cheap ways to get fitter. 

Q19: What’s the last bit of advice you would like to give our readers?

Take one day out of you, schedule each fortnight for 3 months (6 days in total) and during this time exclusively work ON your business not in it. This means no social media, no email and managing your schedule and informing people who need to know for these days every other week you are not available and in this time re-invent yourself. Ensure you have one or two products and one or two ways to market yourself well. 

Q20: Was there anything else that you wanted to add?

Just that this magazine is a breath of fresh air and I hope it helps trainers and that whatever contribution I can make serves its readers. 

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