6 Truths Great Health and Exercise Professionals Live By

Six Truths Great Health and Exercise Professionals Live By

by Dr. Erin Nitschke

Every professional has what they would call a “secret sauce” to their success. Of course, it is different for each individual and each profession but there are common great truths most certified and experienced health and exercise professionals would identify as the key ingredients to long-term success in the industry.

Aside from the obvious such as a degree, background, education, and/or accredited certification in an area of the industry, health and exercise professionals need to be mindful of the secret six when laying the foundational bricks of their careers.

  1. Commitment to Education. Becoming certified is not the ending point; it is a starting point. The health and exercise industry is under constant evolution. What applied 20 years ago is mute in today’s contemporary practices. New philosophies emerge, new research findings are published, and more sophisticated understandings of training tools and modalities develop. To be successful in this space, certified professionals must create a continuing education plan and commit to following it through. A solid plan begins with the question of “what do I most want to learn?” or “what strengths do I need to hone to accomplish X?” I see some professionals wait until “it’s that time” to renew their certification or enter their continuing education credits and suddenly, it’s a race to beat a clock. This results in poorly absorbed information and minimally applied knowledge. Depending on your certification cycle (often it is every two years), identify two or three topics you would most like to explore and seek out learning opportunities.
  2. Respecting the Scope. As we work with our clients, we nurture a relationship with them. We learn about their lives, their work, their families, their worries, and their successes. As a result, clients feel compelled to confide in us or ask us questions that may be outside of our scope of practice to address (such as mental health counseling/psychological treatment, diagnosis of an injury, specific nutritional or dietary supplement recommendations, etc.). We must grow comfortable in our ability to effectively communicate with our clients what our scope is and what it means for the work we commit to. To address this, I like to include a “what you can expect in working with me” summary that is part of my client welcome packets. In this document, I summarize what to expect with each service: personal training, health coaching, and nutrition coaching. I also include a list of FAQs for future and potential clients to examine and revisit as I receive and add more common questions. You will face times when your scope of practice is challenged; be ready to address what is outside of your abilities to offer.
  3. Always Networking. Networking is a powerful tool, and it is something that needs consistent attention and massaging. Chances are, you already have a professional network if you were part of a study group, cohort, or undergraduate class of professionals. Or, you may have even attended a conference or watched a webinar. Each individual you come in contact with has the potential to become a part of your network. As you grow your career, it is important to plant seeds with other professionals — not so much so that you can “get something out of them” but to invest in them and develop a reciprocal relationship in which you engage with each other’s work and content. I follow this rule each time I attend a conference, watch a webinar, or take a class: The Conference Rule of Connection. This is not an industry rule or something all professionals do, but it is something that has served me well. After the class, conference, or webinar, I email the presenter or follow their social media handles and reach out to them with a personal note saying, “thank you for contributing to the industry and my knowledge.” It is my way of showing appreciation to another professional who is brave enough to put themselves out there and share their expertise. Most of the time, I get a response back thanking me for my interest and time. It feels good to lift other professionals up. It is how we elevate ourselves and our industry.
  4. Embrace Mistakes. Success is never a straight, smooth path. Part of the path includes errors in judgement and silly mistakes. The successful professional is one who acknowledges their mistake, apologizes for the oversight, and commits to learning from the error. We are human and mistakes are part of the process but being doomed to repeat them is not. Embrace the errors you make. No one gets stronger by skipping the struggle.
  5. Commitment to Teaching or Mentorship. A formal mentorship program is missing from the health and exercise industry and, I believe, it is one reason we lose certified members of the community of professionals we have worked so hard to develop. As a professional, you can commit to doing your part to mentor new professionals by sharing your knowledge openly and authentically, by providing guidance, being a safe space to ask questions, and invest in the future of the profession.
  6. Authenticity is what our clients need — it’s what turns the initial exchange from transactional to relational. It becomes about the process and not the result. Showing up as your authentic self, hot mess, struggle bus, or otherwise, allows our clients and colleagues to see us as human; as an individual they can relate to; as someone who understands the hard work and dedication it takes to make a lifestyle change (and sustain that change). Be your authentic self, use humor, laugh, smile, and cry if you need to. The most successful professionals are those who never lose themselves on their way to that success.

These “secret six” are lessons I learned along my almost 20-year journey as a certified health and exercise professional. They are lessons I now teach my college students and share with my industry colleagues alike. What secrets have you learned about a successful career journey?

Originally published in issue 47, June 2022 SCW Spotlite.

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Erin Dollison Nitschke

Erin Dollison Nitschke

Passionate college educator, writer, and health and fitness professional. I am an NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Fitness Nutrition Specialist, ACE Health Coach, & Pn1.