How to Stand Out During an Internship in the Fitness Industry

If you’re a college student with aspirations to make it in the fitness industry, or an exercise enthusiast who is passionate about switching fields and entering the strength and conditioning world, this article is essential for your future success.

If you think you’ll be able to thrive by taking a weekend course or by knowing twelve different variations of bicep curls, you’re wrong — even though I see nothing wrong with hitting your biceps twelve different ways.

You need to first understand that the fitness industry can be weird, because unlike most other fields, employees get into the industry because exercise is their favorite hobby. You’ll never hear your accountant say crunching numbers was their favorite thing to do, so now they’re a CPA. When you take that into consideration, along with the industry’s lack of licensing and quality control, you must appreciate the value in separating yourself from the ten other trainers and coaches down the street.

One of the best things you can do to separate yourself, other than getting more Instagram followers (sarcasm), is to get yourself into a high-quality internship.

Between January 2012 and December 2013 I had worked over 1,000 hours at three different facilities without any monetary compensation. You’ll notice I didn’t say “without any compensation.” The amount of clients I was exposed to coach, the intellectual conversations I was able to have, and networks I was able to build were invaluable.

And now, with more and more smart and educated coaches entering the industry, it’s going to take more than just getting accepted into an internship program to have a successful career. You must stand out!

Below are some quick tips that will help you stand out during your internship in the fitness industry.

1. Understand the Type of Internship You’re Getting Into

Not all internships in the fitness industry are structured the same way. Don’t enter an internship solely based on what your preconceived notion of what your day to day will be. Do your research. Talk with former interns and ask questions in your interview to make sure you’ll be getting what you want out of your internship experience. I knew that I wanted internships that gave me a lot of exposure to coaching clients, so I was strategic in where I applied and was able to spend the majority of my internship hours on the floor, coaching clients. On the other hand, I have friends and colleagues who have been disappointed because they didn’t know they were getting into a more learn-by-listening or observational-based internship. It’s important that you become informed on what you want and what your potential employers offer. 

2. Be the First One There and the Last One to Leave

This is not a healthy mentality for career longevity, but early on (when you’re an intern) it’s important to show that you are willing to put in the hours to better not only yourself, but the business where you’re interning. An internship is really a long job interview, and on top of demonstrating that you value your internship and your self-improvement getting there early and staying late will likely give you added opportunities to talk with current staff members. Just like top-of-the-mind awareness is important when marketing, it’s equally important as an intern.

3. You’re There to Help the Business, Not Yourself

In the days of wanting to become social media famous and itching for the dopamine kick you get from seeing a red icon on your phone screen, you need to appreciate that you were selected out of large pool of applicants and that you’re there to help the business, not yourself, succeed. Instead of worrying about how many times you can get tagged in a post or put on Instagram, focus on how you can make the day-to-day operations smoother for your internship director or how you can make the clients’ experiences better while in the gym.

4. Build Relationships and Rapport with Clients

Believe it or not, your internship director or the business owner likely doesn’t value how much you know as much as you think. What is valued more is your ability to fit into their system and interact with their clients on a daily basis. If you’re an introvert, you’re going to have to learn to “turn it on” — walk around with a smile, say “hello,” ask people how their day was, and coach them effectively. It can be that simple.

5. Learn Their Systems Ahead of Time

Learning a business’ systems as much as you can ahead of time is key for standing out Week One of your internship. High-quality internships will typically supply you with some type of webinar service and reading materials before you step through the door. Read them all, and talk with past interns to find out what else you can do to learn the system of your future internship. As an example, before the first day of my internship at Cressey Sports Performance, I had extensively studied their exercise library, trained with Show and Go for four months and used its nutrition manual, watched Optimal Shoulder Performance, read the Art of the Deload and The Ultimate Off-Season, observed at their facility for a day, and read every article on Eric Cressey and Tony Gentilcore’s blogs.  

6. Be a ‘Yes Man’

Sometimes you may be asked to do more work than you thought during an internship. This probably won’t mean coaching more hours either. Learn to say yes to most things asked of you. During my two strength and conditioning internships, I spent time mopping floors, painting walls, re-organizing equipment, and picking up/dropping people off at the airport. Being a “yes man” will allow you to make others people’s lives easier and show that you have a strong work ethic.

Renovating Space for Conca Sport & Fitness' second facility

Renovating Space for Conca Sport & Fitness' second facility

7. Train with the Staff

Deadlifts at CSP. Some of the best training sessions I ever had. 

Deadlifts at CSP. Some of the best training sessions I ever had. 

Most internships in the fitness industry allow time for you to train with current staff members. Although this time is often not mandatory, it’s wise to take advantage of it. Again, top-of-the-mind awareness is important, but some of the most fun and educational experiences I had during my internships were training with Greg Robins at Cressey Sports Performance and with Jon Maneen at Conca Sport and Fitness. Training around smart and strong lifters will not only make you a stronger, better lifter yourself, but it will make you a better coach.

In Summary

Securing a highly sought-after internship is a big stepping stone toward achieving success in the fitness industry. This is likely because you are able to gain behind-the-scenes exposure to how successful systems work and operate on a day-to-day basis. But securing the internship alone doesn’t mean you’ll be successful or even employable. You must STAND OUT. Please use the above tips to help guide you through a successful internship, and if you feel like I left anything out that played a big role during your internship experience, feel free to drop a comment on Facebook.

Thanks to Conca Sport and Fitness, Cressey Sports Performance, and 360 Neuromuscular Therapy for providing quality internship programs every year.