An in-depth interview that may help you decide whether you'd like to become a personal trainer.
Olivia Rainville is a professional changemaker. In her early twenties, she changed her own life by losing a hundred pounds, quitting an unrewarding receptionist job and pursuing her newfound passion for personal fitness. Today, as the CEO and Vice President of her own company, RD Fitness, she makes a living changing other people’s lives.
The secret to her success? Like changing your body, Olivia believes that changing your life is all about outlook. “You can run a marathon,” she tells me with a smile. “You just have to think you can, know you can, and commit to it.”
Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? How old are you?
I’m from the Sunshine Coast, a small town about an hour from Vancouver, and I’m 24 years old.
How long have you been a personal trainer?
Two years, now. To the day.
Congratulations! How did you end up becoming a personal trainer?
I’m a former fat kid—as in a hundred pounds heavier. I was about 250 pounds the last time I weighed myself ... probably about 270, actually. I lost a hundred pounds and realized that this was something I was passionate about, something I enjoy. I noticed changes in my life—feeling happier, healthier, friends, stuff like that—and that’s when I realized that I wanted to switch careers and become a personal trainer.
What were you doing for work before you became a personal trainer?
I was working in an office as a corporate assistant—which is not my thing.
Is it pretty common for people to become a personal trainer after leaving another career?
A lot of young people go straight into it; I see a lot of eighteen year olds taking the training program. But they don’t realize that it’s not celebrity and fun-oriented, they don’t realize that you have to do early mornings and late nights. That’s when people train. It doesn’t really come with all the glamour that people put around it.
It’s not celebrity and fun-oriented ... It doesn’t really come with all the glamour that people put around it.
What does a typical day look like for you?
There really is no typical day because I don’t work for a company. I have my own company. But generally:
A Day in the Life of a Personal Trainer
4:30 - 6 AM
Wake up early to get my own workout in. (I have a personal preference to start my day with a workout.)
6 - 9 AM
Morning training sessions.
9 AM - Noon
Train throughout the day, update my Instagram, maybe record a workout.
Noon - 1 PM
Lunch training sessions.
1 - 5 PM
Update my Facebook page, do promo, create workout plans. Or take some time off to have lunch, do groceries.
5 - 9 PM
Evening training sessions.
Is your social media presence very important for your business?
Yes, especially in Vancouver, where the market is so saturated. You have to really find your niche, that extra little something to make you stand out. I do pre and postnatal training, so that’s my specialty.
You have to really find your niche, that extra little something to make you stand out.
How did you end up specializing in pre and postnatal training?
Usually the first thing people say to me about it is, “That’s a strange market to get into.” But I mean, it’s also so necessary. At 24, a lot of my friends started to have babies, and I noticed that it’s a time when people start to really care about not only their own health, but also their baby’s. I also had three or four clients who were talking about having a baby at the time. I thought, “If I can train them through their pregnancies, that will give me another year of work.” In pre and postnatal, you train clients throughout their pregnancy and then through rehabilitation, making sure that they’re not harming themselves or going too fast. I also had a lot of female clients who had been told by their doctors that in order to get pregnant, they should lose weight and get their health in check.
Now, I can help them get there and then also be there throughout their pregnancy. It’s kind of a hook; once they start working out, they start to care about it.
What kind of training is required to do what you do? Did you do a specialized program?
Once you have your personal trainer certification, it’s like being a lawyer or an accountant; you have to constantly keep your credits going, or you can take a specialty course and get another certification. To maintain your credentials, you have to complete a certain amount of credits every two years and make sure that they apply to your specialization. But you can choose from bodybuilding courses, nutrition courses, crossfit courses, yoga courses. I decided to go that route and get another certification: pre and postnatal.
How long does it take to get your initial certification?
There are a lot of different programs out there and there are several certifications you can get. Most people, if they’re doing self-based learning, take about a year. But you can also take an intensive course or a full program. The fastest you could do that is probably about six weeks. That’s the intensive course. I did that one. It was weekends, eight hours a day. After the course, they recommend about a month to study for exams, then take your exams.
Do most people do some kind of intensive training? Or is it more typical to register for a longer training program?
It’s kind of all over the place. The benefit of the intensive is that, if you’re working full-time like I was, you have the option of keeping your job. You can do a full-time diploma that’s twelve weeks, five days a week, but I didn’t have the means to not be working and then be going to school.
How many days do you typically work in a week?
I generally work when my clients need me to. Some days I’ll only do mornings; for example, on weekends I only ever do mornings. As my own boss, I have the option to choose for that. But it also depends on how respectful the client is of my time. I have some clients who will cancel five minutes before a session; at 8 pm on a Friday, that’s really stressful and not cool. But when I have dedicated clients, I will come in at 4 am or stay until 8 pm to train them. They’re dedicated and they’re willing to do it, so why can’t I?
When I have dedicated clients, I will come in at 4 am or stay until 8 pm to train them. They’re dedicated and they’re willing to do it, so why can’t I?
It sounds like you really care about your clients.
Well, you do build a relationship with them. You’re working three or four times a week with them. Seeing the results, it’s nice to see your work right in front of you all the time.
How do you keep on top of such a crazy schedule? How do you juggle all of these different clients at the same time?
That’s actually another really hard part, keeping on top of people’s lives. You have to ask how their dog is, or how their daughter is. Especially because it’s pre and postnatal, I have to remember all their kids’ names. It’s not just the 50 minutes you spend with them in the gym. I mean, my three year old nephew can make you sweat. But my three year old nephew is not going to help you with your goal. You have to make it worth it.
What’s the hardest thing about your job?
Either the hours or relating to people. Because you really have to have interpersonal skills and be able to read your clients. Some clients just want to work out, but some almost want a friend. With being obese often comes a lot of psychological issues, and if you’re seeing a trainer, you’re more than likely unhappy about your body. So there are some sensitive topics. You need to make sure you’re not pushing any buttons the wrong way.
You really have to have interpersonal skills and be able to read your clients. Some clients just want to work out, but some almost want a friend.
And what’s the best thing about your job?
The people as well. I’ve met some really cool people, and some of my clients have really interesting jobs or lives. But also seeing results. When a client sends me a photo of themselves before and after they achieved their fitness goal, when they feel like they can wear that bikini on vacation—that’s always really reassuring and it’s really nice. That’s the highlight.
What’s the social culture like? As a self-employed trainer, who do you interact with on a daily basis?
I have a business partner, and we have very different niches. Because bodybuilding is just not something I’m interested in, we’ll kind of just trade off clients. I’ve trained some of his clients when they become pregnant, and I’ve given him my male clients when they become stronger. So we talk to each other and to other trainers a lot. We try to have meetings every week—or every other week, depending on how busy it is. We even train together, because he’s a bodybuilder and I race obstacle courses or run marathons in my free time. So it’s really good to train together. I’m really weak in his workouts, but if we go for a run, he’s way behind me.
Is it a supportive community?
It is slightly more male dominant, and there still is some stigma there, unfortunately. I do have some clients who underestimate me because I’m a girl. I would say that’s probably the worst part of the work culture.
But overall it’s quite friendly, although it depends what kind of a facility you work in. I’m self- employed, so I choose who I work with and where. If you’re at a bodybuilding gym, you’re going to get those people who are really hardcore and into that niche; if you’re at a crossfit gym, you’re going to get different cliches. You have to pick what suits you and your training style.
What makes you good at your job?
My personal experience. Once, a client told me, “Oh, it’s not fair. You don’t understand!” And I said, “Hold on, let me pull up a photo.” I can relate to my clients, and that really does help. No, my metabolism is not fast, and, no, I was not born with great genetics. I understand that that cake really does stare at you from the fridge at two in the morning. It’s not a myth, it really does happen.
Also, continued education and surrounding myself with people who do it. Most of my friends are trainers as well, so a lot of our conversations are about things we tried with clients. I get a lot of different perspectives and I try to go to different gyms. I go to a crossfit gym sometimes, even though it’s not my thing, just to see if there’s something I can steal from that experience.
Why is that kind of sustained education so important?
People with personal trainers generally don’t like exercise, so you have to keep it different, keep it interesting. No client is going to like the trainer who makes them run on a treadmill. You don’t need a personal trainer for that.
How would you describe your work life balance?
When I started my own business, it was all work. But now if I want to take a day off, I can. It’s just a matter of organization and arranging your clients. In the beginning stages, you’re hungry and you want to see clients whenever you are available. But once you’re more established, you have the opportunity to say no.
Who succeeds in your career?
Innovative people succeed. It’s trendy. Fitness is a trendy thing. Lululemon headbands, yoga, Zumba, whatever it is at that time—you do have to keep up with it. If you don’t, you will struggle. Clients will say, “Oh, I saw Khloe Kardashian do this thing.” I had four female clients ask me about the “Khlo Khlo lunge.” You do have to keep up with it, but also understand the fundamentals behind it and why it became this viral thing.
Fitness is a trendy thing. Lululemon headbands, yoga, Zumba, whatever it is at that time—you do have to keep up with it. If you don’t, you will struggle.
Who else struggles?
People with poor interpersonal skills. I’ve seen some trainers who stick to old bodybuilding techniques—which, you know, is old school and it works. But if that’s not what a client is looking for, you need to have those interpersonal skills to read that and look at the client and think, “They’re not enjoying this. How can I change that to make this experience better?”
Also, people who are not ambitious—especially if you’re on your own. But even if you’re working with a gym, you have to find your own clients. The only advantage is there are so many people at your disposal.
What kind of advice would you give to someone who was entering the field?
Let your passion come through. That’s when people relate. All my clients say, “Wow, you actually care.” Of course I do! I would never train with somebody who doesn’t care. I mean, I have, and I didn’t enjoy it. I used to have a trainer who was on their cell all the time, and I felt like they didn’t care about me. I check up on my clients all the time. One of my clients is travelling right now and so of course I message her; I have to check up. You need to know what’s going on with their health. If you don’t, you’re going to struggle.
Personal training sounds more like a personal relationship than a professional service.
Honestly, it is! I try to see real clients—people who want to make a change in their lives. At my company, we don’t sell sessions, we sell goals. When people ask, “Can I get abs in ten sessions?” I respond, “Well, it kind of depends on your body, what you’re doing outside of these training sessions. But ultimately it’s up to you, so we need to make sure that you’re ready for this.”
You always have to make sure that you know your clients. It’s very much like a relationship; if not, people feel neglected. A personal trainer is helping you, so there has to be that trust. I’m dealing with people’s bodies—people who have diabetes or bad knees or osteoporosis, stuff like that. A lot of people have that fear of going to the gym and not knowing what to do. So you need to build that trust, to make sure that you can hold their hand through it. You need to love people for this job.
A lot of people have that fear of going to the gym and not knowing what to do. So you need to build that trust, to make sure that you can hold their hand through it. You need to love people for this job.
How do you find clients?
Almost all of my clients come through word of mouth. I have clients I’ve been seeing since day one—so for two years. They stay, they brag to their friends, their friends go, “Oh, I want that.” Because I’m self-employed, I pick and choose my clients to an extent. Once a girl asked to lose 40 pounds before her vacation in two months. Not only was that an unhealthy goal, it was also unattainable. I didn’t want my name to be associated with something like that—she could be disappointed and tell her friends that it was my fault. So I just referred her to another trainer.
What kind of career trajectory can you expect as a personal trainer?
Trainers usually don’t last very long in the market because they get exhausted—unless there is a real passion for it, that is. Not only are you training clients, you also have to maintain a certain fitness level yourself. I’ve seen trainers who have their clients do things that they can’t even do themselves. I think you need to be able to keep up. I’m not going to teach someone a pull up if I can’t do a pull up! It’s just not right.
It sounds so physically demanding. How much do you exercise?
That’s a common misconception. You’re not exercising all day. A lot of the time it’s showing people, watching them do it, counting their reps. You’re on your feet all day and you’re active, but you’re not always sweating.
I train four to six times a week depending on when I can squeeze in a good workout. I value the quality of my workouts over quantity.
What do people do when they leave personal training?
I’m not sure exactly where they go next. A lot of people are coming from different educational backgrounds, so they can always fall back on that. Some end up in managerial roles; they open gyms and become managers. So still in the field, but not training.
Are there a lot of opportunities to move around in your career?
It depends what route you take. Like, for example, Jillian Michaels; she started out as a trainer, and now she has her own show. You can really take it whichever way you want, depending on how ambitious you are. Some people are just happy being a trainer; they love what they’re doing and that’s great. Other people want to try different things, they want to be a face, a coach on The Biggest Loser, whatever it is they see themselves doing.
What do people in the business do as they get older? I don’t see a lot of middle aged personal trainers around.
It does happen; I know maybe two trainers who are in their fifties. But that’s also because it’s a newer career. Even in the 90s, it was still a very prestigious thing to have a trainer, a status symbol—it wasn’t about health. It’s a new and developing career, which makes it interesting, but also kind of scary. We don’t really know where it’s going to go yet.
Do you have a professional mentor you can talk to?
Just talking to any trainer, asking for help—I do it all the time. I still talk to my first trainer; I’ll refer clients to her, and she’ll refer clients to me. I never had a trainer while losing weight, but after I decided to become one, I thought I should get a trainer to see what I like, what I don’t like. That’s how I found out that I hate the trainer who’s always on their cell phone, I hate the trainer who yells at me and puts me down. But some people, they love that and it works for them. You have to find out what kind of trainer you want to be.
I hate the trainer who’s always on their cell phone, the trainer who yells at me and puts me down. But some people, they love that and it works for them. You have to find out what kind of trainer you want to be.
What would you say is the biggest misconception about your job?
The glamour. People really think that you walk around in spandex all day, smiling and nodding at people. It’s not that. I wish it was!
What do you wish you would have known before going into personal training?
I really didn’t think that it would be so male dominated. That was just surprising, rather than a negative thing; I just take it as a challenge.
Also, I wish someone would have told me about the hours. You can’t roll into 6am boot camp with a coffee, half asleep. You have to be the happiest, most energetic person in that room—you need to be present. And it does take away your weekend life. People train on weekends, so if you want to go out on the weekends, you’re not going to be a trainer. Or you’re not going to be a very good one.
It does take away your weekend life... If you want to go out on the weekends, you’re not going to be a trainer. Or you’re not going to be a very good one.
How do you deal with it? With all those early morning starts?
My friends always ask me, “How do you do it?” And I tell them, “I am genuinely happy at five in the morning. I’m excited to see my client who has lost ten pounds, who is going on vacation—who has achieved that milestone, whatever that is.”
You definitely need a passion for it, something that fuels you to get up at five in the morning. There’s no other way.
You definitely need a passion for it, something that fuels you to get up at five in the morning. There’s no other way.