When I started working in fitness, my youthful enthusiasm was quashed by a crushing insecurity. This little voice kept telling me: “Maybe I’m not fit enough to be a trainer.” Thankfully I found 6 strategies for overcoming this common anxiety and building a successful career.
When I began my career as a fitness coach, I was bursting with enthusiasm.
I had known since middle school — when I went from overweight and sedentary to dedicated gym-goer so I could (barely) make the volleyball team — that fitness, weight lifting, and movement made me not just stronger, but also happier and more confident.
I couldn’t wait to help others access those feelings too.
I wanted to inspire clients to thrive in their lives, to save the whole world from the health problems they were facing.
But as soon as I started my first job, as a personal trainer at a big gym, a question started to gnaw at me…
Am I fit enough to be a trainer?
I’d spent my college years training for marathons, teaching group fitness, lifting weights, and studying hard to earn an exercise science degree.
I had a relatable personal story, passion, and excitement, plus the drive that would be necessary to really help clients to change their lives.
I had what seemed like all the qualifications to be a great coach. But it seemed like “all” the trainers I worked with had fitter, better bodies than me.
That must be why they’re getting lots of clients, I remember thinking.
Suddenly, I was full of insecurity and self-doubt.
What if I’m just not fit enough to be a trainer? I asked myself.
Of course, I’m not alone.
It might be surprising that a fitness coach would wonder if she’s “fit enough” — but I know from working with hundreds of clients over the years that “Am I fit enough?” is a universal question.
New moms feel pressure to “get the body back”.
Professionals of all ages and backgrounds think they need to look like they spend all day at the gym (even though they might actually spend it behind a desk).
Why are we all so obsessed with the idea of being “fit enough”?
We’ve long linked body image to our self-worth.
But this anxiety might now be more common than ever.
Image-heavy social media sites don’t help.
Eight in 10 of you reading this spend a significant amount of time on Facebook.
At least 30 percent of us use Instagram and Pinterest… but the proportion is probably much higher among people who are into fitness and nutrition.
Research shows that time spent on social media often makes us feel worse about ourselves, especially if we’re comparing ourselves to others who seem “better”.
Mired in this “fit enough” anxiety, and fueled by photographs and Facebook comparisons, we wonder…
Would anyone ever hire me as a coach?
I considered my physical state.
- I didn’t look super fit.
- I did not have a 6-pack (okay not even close).
- I couldn’t do a single pull-up.
- I was not a bodybuilder.
- My hips, legs and butt seemed “too big”.
- My hair wasn’t coiffed for a fitness mag cover.
Then I scrutinized my behavior.
- Did I eat too many cookies? (But… I like cookies!)
- Did I not work out enough?
- Did I do the “right” workouts?
- Was it okay to sometimes eat French fries instead of salad?
- How many cups of coffee is too many?
And on social media…
- I didn’t photo-essay every workout.
- I never tweeted random nutrition facts (back then, I wasn’t even sure if I knew any nutrition facts).
- There were no videos of me squatting 200 lbs (because I can’t squat 200 lbs).
- I wasn’t half (or even remotely) naked on Instagram.
- I didn’t provide intricate, colorful collages of my weekly food prep in cute Tupperware (all veggies and chicken breasts #fitspiration #gymlife).
- Literally zero turmeric smoothies.
Clearly, I was not a candidate for a successful career in fitness.
What is actually important and relevant to your goals?
Trying to spur a reality check, I looked at a few job descriptions for trainers and coaches to see what they asked for.
In these descriptions, I found things like:
- Teach people how to exercise properly and safely.
- Coach people so they feel confident, capable, and satisfied with their workout or nutrition program.
- Help people stay motivated to reach their own health and fitness goals.
- Create a welcoming and fun environment.
- Help people set personalized goals and track their progress.
- Develop programs that match clients’ needs.
All action words. All practices and skills. All things I could do, focused on helping others.
Not words about how I was, or how I looked. Nothing about six-pack abs or cookie quotas or good hair.
When I stopped thinking about my non-washboard core for a minute, I realized that I was steadily gaining clients — and the clients were sticking around.
To be a good coach, I had to focus on doing better, rather than being better.
The job qualifications listed above are a very specialized skill set.
I needed to drop the fit-enough navel gazing and get to work practicing my coaching methods.
What did people actually want in a coach?
Encouraged by a client roster and a nascent feeling of fulfillment, I stopped to think about what I might be doing right.
Setting aside preconceived ideas about “fitness”, what might my clients really be looking for?
Clients wanted human connection.
I practiced empathy and compassion. I shared a little of my own stories and struggles to help them understand they weren’t alone.
Just like my clients, I sometimes have a hard time fitting in my workouts. I like dessert. Sometimes I’m just too tired.
I shared my experiences with my clients (while still staying focused on theirs, of course), and worked to develop deeper and more meaningful relationships.
As I shared my real life, they shared theirs. In fact, we were very similar and could help each other stay accountable and motivated.
We talked about the weekend’s food choices, how we were managing work and life stress, and how much sleep we were getting.
I felt motivated as their coach, and I saw their results (and their moods during sessions) improve tremendously.
Clients wanted accountability and community.
It takes time and practice to give clients the attention they need and deserve.
I focused on each person as a unique individual, but also worked with them in group settings so they knew they weren’t alone.
No issue or struggle was too small, and everybody mattered.
We celebrated big and small victories.
These elements seemed crucial to the process of positive behavior change.
Several clients even said they were happy I didn’t have abs of steel.
They trusted me just the way I was, because we were in this together.
Finally, I stopped barking up the wrong tree.
Being “fit enough” might matter if you want to become the next Fit Mom … but it doesn’t matter much if you simply want to be a good mother to your kids.
Being “fit enough” might matter if you are going to be on the cover of Outside magazine…but it doesn’t matter much if you want to go on a hike with your family.
Being “fit enough” might matter if you want to be a fitness or nutrition celebrity … but it’s not as important for being a skilled fitness or nutrition professional.
One thing is about how you look.
The other thing is about what you do for yourself and for others.
Don’t mistake looks for skills.
Becoming a good coach is about learning, practicing, and mastering a skill set.
Being a good coach is not a look, a size, or a shape.
For whatever reason, most of us are inclined to compare ourselves to others (social media just amplifies that tendency).
And when we feel there’s a big gap between ourselves and the “ideal”, we often feel demotivated and discouraged.
In this scenario, faced with the “ideal”, being “better” feels so far away… often completely unattainable.
The danger is that we just give up on our goals altogether — all for some stupid reason, like “I didn’t post a smoothie video and therefore I can’t have a coaching career.”
Focus on where you want to go, and what you want to do… rather than what you think you’re not.
Spinning your wheels, worrying about stuff that doesn’t matter, is a huge waste of talent, skills, and potential, no matter who you are, how you look, or what you do for a living.
Take action. Practice. Do the right coaching things, over and over and over.
Here’s what to do next.
Struggling with “Am I fit enough?”
Here are six questions to help you change that mindset.
1. How much time am I spending on social media?
Look honestly at how much time, energy, and attention you are giving social media.
Every time you see a picture of someone who seems to have it all together, who can squat a house, or has “perfect” kids (yeah, right), it has an impact on you.
Set a social media boundary, especially before bed. Those images can sneak into your sleep, your dreams, and how you feel when you wake up.
Also, ask yourself:
How do I feel after I am done looking at social media?
Motivated? Energized? Inspired? Good about myself?
Or do I feel bad about my taco salad because the Internet ate a kale salad? Am I focusing on the girl deadlifting 300 lbs and forgetting that I just PR’d my deadlift today?
Do I find myself feeling “not enough” because of the alternate reality of the Internet?
2. Who are legitimately useful role models, and why?
Who helps me learn?
Who helps me solve problems?
Who can teach me about what I actually want to achieve?
Who is doing what I want to be doing and can I learn from them?
Are there masterminds or programs that will enhance my learning and give me the opportunity to work with role models?
There’s a difference between comparison (in other words, seeing how I stack up against someone else, and finding myself “not good enough”) and aspiration (in other words, looking at someone who’s doing something well, and figuring out how to move towards that in my own life).
With aspiration, I can set aside my own feelings of worth or inadequacy, and simply treat it as an engineering problem:
If I wanted to get to this outcome, how might I do that?
3. What do my wisest and most trusted advisers think?
When I asked my dad if I was fit enough, he rolled his eyes. To him, this question made no sense.
Of course I was fit enough. He’d seen me work to develop my skills for years.
Early in my career, when I expressed insecurity (“What if I’m not fit enough to train bodybuilders??”) to a trusted mentor, he said, “The right clients will find you.”
Once I realized I couldn’t help everyone — but I could help the right people in huge, important ways — I felt more confident and at ease.
We can get so wrapped up in our heads, our own expectations, and our own comparisons to others that we often can’t see what we are doing well.
We might need a less-invested observer (such as a coach) to give us a realistic perspective, and “calibrate” our own perceptions correctly.
4. What are my feelings and thoughts trying to tell me?
Noticing and naming my feelings and thoughts helps me identify the stories and scripts in my mind.
A “negative” thought like I’ll never effortlessly bang out pull-ups like that other woman tells me I’m craving more strength — whether physical, mental, or emotional.
For a long time, my story was My hips are too big. I can never pull myself up over the bar.
Then I realized I could write a new story, like My arms are strong and can get stronger. If I set a goal and work towards it, I can make progress.
Our thoughts and feelings give us useful information, and guide our actions.
Notice what your mind is telling you, and ask yourself if that’s a helpful story.
5. What am I proud of?
We have not trained ourselves to think about what we are good at, but rather to focus on all our weaknesses and areas where we are not enough.
So try another way of thinking:
Take out a piece of paper and write down 3 to 5 things you’re proud of.
Anything — big or small.
Practice this every day.
You will be amazed at how this changes your perspective after about a week.
This exercise has even more power if you share your “proud lists” with friends and family.
6. Where can I genuinely and legitimately improve, and why?
In order to move past the feelings of “fit enough” (or anything “enough”), it helps to take the time to discover the areas where improving would actually help you.
Taking on the project of change and learning with an open, curious growth mindset can actually make you feel more confident, happier, and optimistic.
Could you try practicing and improving…
- Your coaching business skills?
- Your coaching communication and conversation skills?
- Your skills for working with “tough clients”?
- Your nutrition expertise, such as when to adjust carb intake, whether nutrient timing is a thing?
- Your planning and prep skills and rituals, which you can then teach to clients?
- Your understanding of research studies and what the research says about habit-based coaching?
- Each potential improvement should have a reason to be there.
- Any potential improvement should truly make you better from the inside, rather than trying to meet expectations that you imagine others have set for you.
If you’re not sure how you can get to where you want to go, consider coaching.
A coach can give you the objective, honest, kind yet direct feedback that you need to feel “good enough” but still (healthily and sanely) want to be “a little bit better”.
If you’re a coach, or you want to be…
Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that’s personalized for their unique body, preferences, and circumstances—is both an art and a science.
If you’d like to learn more about both, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification.