// Prevent PT burnout with effective time management

by Andrew Verdon

If you are anythin g like most personal trainers, you will probably have weeks when you feel tired, flat and uninspired and question whether personal training has a future for you. Most of us experience these feelings, better known as burnout. The key is to recognise burnout and adopt pro-active strategies to overcome it and prevent it in the future.

Like athletes, many personal trainers undertake large physical workloads and experience considerable psychological stresses over time. The long-term effects of such stress on athletes has been researched extensively and appropriate recovery and management strategies identified, but few reports have examined the effects of these stresses on trainers. The limited research that does exist focuses almost exclusively on the causes and identification of burnout with little or no consideration given to overuse and overtraining problems that trainers also experience.

Moreover, these reports provide no recommendations for how trainers can maintain their multidimensional roles with minimum risk to their physical and psychological wellbeing. Ironically, the basic recovery strategies that trainers teach to their clients are the same ones that they should use for themselves.

Trainers are time poor

As trainers we have three major roles; delivering training sessions, managing a business and a private family life.

One of the major causes of excessive stress for trainers is being ‘time poor’. We lack sufficient time to undertake the massive number of tasks required to fulfill our primary roles. Balancing commitments to all these roles requires exceptional planning and management skills. The best way to minimise the impact of excessive stress is to plan ahead and identity all commitments including appropriate recovery strategies for every day.

Time management simplified

A simple approach to weekly planning and time management is to use a burnout diagnostic chart to list and identify major tasks, demands and commitments (see below) that are then plotted onto a weekly planning template to represent different activities. Workloads may vary daily but each type of activity will result in a specific type of fatigue (even sitting down at a computer for 30 minutes or more can produce muscular, neural and visual fatigue). Recognising this will help you identify some recovery strategies to minimise that specific fatigue. This process takes about 5 to 10 minutes a week and helps to anticipate potentially stressful times. If you expect them and plan recovery practices around these periods, you often find that they don’t turn out to be quite as stressful as you had imagined.

The ‘typical’ trainer

Obviously all trainers are different, but many years of working with, and observing, fitness professionals have enabled me to create a profile of a ‘typical’ trainer. By filling in the burnout diagnostic chart on the previous page and taking your own personal circumstances into consideration, it is highly likely that this profile, and chart depicting a typical week for a full time trainer, will seem all too familiar.

  • full time trainer, self employed
  • late 20s with 2 to 3 years experience
  • renting apartment with partner
  • 25 to 30 sessions per week, one-on-one indoor and outdoor
  • 3 group sessions per week outdoor
  • instructs 1 spin class per week
  • tired after work
  • low in energy and sleeps in afternoon and at end of week
  • often naps on couch in day and evening
  • exhausted on saturday night, has no energy
  • holidays 2 x per year, in January and mid year
  • weights workout 3 x per week
  • runs 2 x per week
  • minimal stretching or injury prevention work
  • minimal reading (Sunday paper some weeks)
  • sore shoulder and knee some weeks - no treatment sought
  • massage 2 to 3 times per year

Finding a balance

So, now that we have identified ourselves as candidates for burnout, we need to learn how to integrate our busy, multi-faceted role into our lives without physically and mentally exhausting ourselves. The key is to plan ahead, monitor your fatigue and rate of recovery, and develop a simple daily recovery routine. The following simple checklist identifies daily, weekly and annual recovery strategies for busy trainers.

Training is an extremely physically and psychologically demanding profession. Many excellent trainers quit as a result of excessive commitments that leave them time poor and suffering burnout. To avoid the same fate, apply the same training principles to yourself that you use with your clients; it will help you to enjoy your career and last the distance.


Tables and content modified from: Surviving full-time Coaching. Sports Coach. 27(2): 11-13. Calder, A. 2004


Andrew Verdon, BC om DipExSc PostGradDipAppSc
Andrew owns a successful personal training studio in Sydney. He combines a business background in accounting/law with more than nine years hands on experience in the fitness industry. He was the strength and conditioning coach for the 2004 Athens Olympics sailing team and is a service provider for the Australian Institute of Sport and NSWIS athletes.