REAL WORLD PT: Chris Dounis, Self-employed PT, NSW
A snapshot of how today’s personal trainers are working, living and shaping their careers
Chris Dounis Exercise Physiology, cdexercisephysiology.com
How long have you been a PT?
I’ve been a PT for 5 years and an exercise physiologist for 7 years.
Are you full time or part time?
Why did you become a trainer?
I fell in love with training at a young age, so I probably decided to become a trainer when I was about 10 years old! I’ve only ever worked in the health and fitness industry. I studied nutrition when I left high school and proceeded to study exercise science at university. Still wanting to learn more about the effects of exercise on the body, I then did a Masters in Clinical Exercise Physiology, while also doing volunteer work. After graduating, I started my business. I’m absolutely fascinated by the human body and always have been. The ability to positively impact so many people’s lives drives me to always become a better practitioner.
Do you specialise?
Given my clinical background, I specialise in special conditions more than many PTs do. I worked in various hospitals and rehabilitation settings prior to starting my own business, so I like to think that I’m able to help anyone that reaches out for help. I’ve also trained in powerlifting and bodybuilding for many years, so I believe I’m quite versatile.
Do you have a signature style of training?
Not particularly – it’s just based on an understanding of my client’s needs and desires. In my clients’ initial consultations I ask about their exercise history and whether there’s something in their training past that they enjoyed, and will attempt to incorporate it into our training. I firmly believe that training should be fun, and if clients enjoy our time together they’ll keep coming back – and ultimately achieve better results, which makes them happy, and so the cycle continues. Exercise should never be seen as a chore.
How many hours do you train clients for each week?
Between 60 and 70 hours.
How many hours do you spend working on your business?
I try to put in at least 5 hours per week, but this is not as many as I would like, because on top of the 80-90 sessions that I complete each week, I also try to train myself 5 times per week and maintain my continuing education. A new trainer should set aside time for this every day.
What hours do you work?
I work from 5am until 8pm.
What do you do in any downtime?
I don’t have any! I fill the middle of my day conducting 6 or 7 specialised home visit exercise sessions with elderly clients aged from 85 to 100. I’m qualified to do these as an Accredited Exercise Physiologist with Exercise and Sports Science Australia.
How much do you charge?
It varies, depending on the number of sessions a client wishes to complete each week, as well as any additional online coaching and program development requirements.
How many clients do you have?
How long, on average do your clients stay with you?
I have many clients that have been with me for 5 years – since day one of my business. The average is probably a couple of years. I tend to set long term goals with my clients and develop a very deep rapport with them. If they trust me and buy in to what we are trying to achieve, not only will they keep up their own training, they will keep up our training as well. I decided early on that I did not want to have a high turnover of clientele and it has thankfully worked very well for me.
How do you get new clients?
Almost all of my clients are through word of mouth and referrals from current clients, however I do get approached by members of the gym as well.
Do you vet/question clients before you agree to train them?
Yes. This is critical.
Do you ever turn clients away or refer them to other PTs?
Not unless I believe that another trainer in the gym specialises in the client’s needs more than I do.
What do you believe differentiates you from other trainers?
My extra qualifications at Bachelor and Masters levels have attracted clients. However I’ve spent a lot of time understanding the role of psychology and behaviour change in influencing the direction that a client takes with their life and habits. We are as much counsellors as trainers and there have been many times when a client has turned up to train and we’ve only talked. I’m OK with this because I’m trying to help my clients live better lives, and there’s more to that than the physical benefits of exercise. It’s critical to appreciate the psychological aspects of exercise and companionship if we are to enact long lasting behaviour change.
What do you do in terms of your ongoing education?
I’m always doing something! Currently I’m undertaking two distance courses in nutrition and exercise behavioural psychology. I usually attend a weekend workshop or two throughout the year as well. The information in our industry changes so quickly that if you aren’t continually re-educating yourself you will be left behind.
What is the best thing about being a PT?
The chance to give someone their life back. I’ve had some very broken people come to me and to be able to see them succeed in life, by first thinking about themselves more positively through exercise and fitness, is extremely rewarding.
And the hardest?
The length of your day and the fact that you have to be as enthusiastic at your first session at 5am as you do with your last at 7:30pm. When you are running on 4 or 5 hours sleep it can get difficult!
What’s the biggest misconception about working in fitness?
That it’s all fun and games. This is a very challenging job that has to be taken very seriously. We may be coming to work in our trainers, but we are no longer simply gym instructors. Clients need more than to be instructed on how to squat with the proper mechanics or perform a bench press safely. The amount of time spent almost counselling clients is not appreciated outside of the industry.
Where would you like your career to take you?
I’m developing an online health management and coaching business that will incorporate more direct nutrition and psychological management than I currently offer. I’ve reached a ceiling with the number of physical sessions I can deliver, and the only way for me to reach more people is to take my business online.
What is your fitness philosophy?
That something is better than nothing. I’ve never been one to criticise anyone in the gym because they’re sitting on an exercise bike reading a magazine, for example. At least they came to the gym – the easier option would have been to sit at home and not move at all. Members and clients who exercise at lower intensities are not wasting their time. I am more than happy to prescribe new clients nothing more than moderate pace walking as their exercise on the days between their sessions with me. People simply need to get used to moving their bodies again.
What advice would you give to someone starting out as a PT?
Be prepared to have this job encompass your entire life. Your days of working 9 til 5 will be gone forever and for people moving from a corporate career into fitness this can be very challenging. Be prepared to work hard in the early days for little direct financial compensation. You have to do this to build your business. Take the psychological aspect of the job seriously and try to connect with your clients on an emotional level. Be professional and have all of your systems – especially financial – in place. And always remember that you have the best job in the world. I mean that sincerely – I wouldn’t do anything else.