If you're going to be a personal trainer, there's no better place to work that Gold's Gym in Venice, California. It gets called "The Mecca of Bodybuilding," and has spent 24 years there as a trainer.
I was 27 years old when I entered the Mecca in its heyday. It was 1993, right in the middle of what I maintain a golden era for the gym and the sport of bodybuilding. I've been a few and training in my belt, but nobody was interested in seeing them.
In a place that has lasted for generations, and that thrives on the quest for eternal youth, how do you survive the test of time? Here are my lessons-and you do not have to be in Gold's Venice to use them.
: Stay Away from Center Stage
To train in Gold's and to work in Gold's are two very different things. A little like a stage performance, there were a few main characters under the spotlight each and every day. You knew them when you saw them. They were the tourists who traveled to and from the world to go home with a story to tell. They're what give Gold's its "wow" factor.
And often, these characters changed with the season. Every year I see a few characters get out of Gold's, or a coach or two get kicked out, often for good reason. The Mecca is not the place to make friends,
That's all, if you're in there for an hour or so. If you're a trainer, or just someone with truly elite training goals, your day is far longer. If you're going to play a lead role, it's going to be exhausting and you're probably going to tread on some toes. The secret to longevity is to stay in the shadows and do your work. Watch the stories unfold without getting dragged into them.
Of course, for some people it's impossible to stay out of the spotlight. Gold's Venice is brimming with celebrities, and yet it's the only place I know where the famous really can go about their workouts without being overly bothered. You may be training next to 50 Cent, The Rock, Arnold, or Shawn Rhoden, but they are pretty much blend into the crowd. If they can, we all should.
The Lesson for You: Every gym has its own occasional whirlwind of drama going on and if you're just passing through it can be fun for a few minutes , But if you plan on staying awhile, know when to step back and watch from a distance. No matter what: Do. Work.
Lesson 2: Look for Opportunities, and Grasp Them
We all ended up in Gold's because of our love of lifting weights, first and foremost. And they are rubbing shoulders with plenty of the best and most famous lifters in the world.
They may look a little intimidating, but generally they are the least muscle heads you will ever meet.
The opposite is true, too. At Gold's, if you think you're big, there's someone bigger. If you think you're strong, there's someone stronger.
I've been to Gold's barely a year when Robby Robinson suggested we train together. I was 27, and what a legend both for what he had achieved, and what he was still achieving. That year, 1994, he won the Masters Mr. Olympia, and I was ready to be part of his preparation. It's that sort of experience you can only get at Gold's Venice.
Robby was a very quiet guy, but that did not mean he had nothing to teach me. It just meant I needed to pay close attention to learn it! I've picked up so many valuable training tips in that year or so of training.
The following year, I got a lesson in strength. I started training with Billy "Thunder" Smith, a longtime bodybuilder who had recently finished a three-year run on "American Gladiators." Now, there were quite a few 300-pound men in Gold's in the 90s-this was the dawn of the age of Dorian and the "mass monsters," after Billy and his buddy Jim Quinn moved the gym to a standstill.
Billy for two years, there was one thing I knew: I did not know how to do it (at least some of the time), or strip all the weights off and put them back on every set for every workout. So, whenever I could, I stepped up to the plate.
Guess what? I had more muscle in those two years than I had in the 12 years of lifting that came before.
The Lesson for You: To really excel, do not train with someone who makes you look good. Train with someone who gives you a few sleepless nights, an anxious drive to the gym, and someone you're in awe of. It's better to look up at your training partner than to look straight at you.
Lesson 3: Blatantly Copy, But Give Credit
When I first arrived at the Mecca, I had been trained for over 12 years and was already at IFBB pro. But I was still baffled by some of the equipment in the gym.
Going from a 2,000-square-foot gym in the North of England to a 30,000-square-foot gym in SoCal of it all, I had to put my pride aside and copy the heck out of the people who knew what they were doing. Seriously, I had no problem watching other people's work and trying out their techniques for myself.
There were two people I hounded, especially in my younger years: Charles Glass and Jerry Brainum. And why would not I? Charles is known as "The Godfather of Bodybuilding," and Jerry is "The Muscle Guru," and both nicknames are well earned. Even 20-plus years ago, these guys knew it all, and had seen it all.
In the 90s there were at least 10-12 people getting ready for the Olympics-including me on a couple of occasions. But whoever they were and where they were, Charles Glass seemed to train all of them! Over the decades I have Charles whenever I could learn about his training principles and contest prep techniques. Would not you?
Jerry's experience and research with regard to nutrition and training spans over 40 years, he has written for every publication you can name, and is a straight shooter who has no tolerance for "bro science." I'm a morning person and preferred to train at 4 or 5 a.m., but Jerry was a night owl and could only be found in Gold's at 10 p.m. or later. If there was something I was studying or not sure about, I would go back to Gold's at night just to track him down. Then
Both Charles and Jerry tolerated me at first, and soon enough, we became dear friends.
The Lesson for You: If you have a Charles or a jerry in your gym, you can save yourself a lot of time by (politely) bugging the hell out of them. Seeking the advice of others does not reduce your value as a trainer or competitor in any way. I would actually argue the opposite! It's to your credit.
Lesson 4: Find Your Niche
In Los Angeles, it seems like everyone is an actor, a realtor, or a trainer.
When I arrived at Gold's, everyone was a bodybuilder. Half the guys walked around north of 300 pounds and were already on every cover of the fitness magazines. So being a professional in the sport is not going to do much good.
First, I devoted myself to learning about nutrition. Back in the days before apps and online nutrition programs, clients were more reliant on their trainers and very few trainers could handle anything beyond a basic bodybuilding diet. In a gym like Gold's, the best marketing you could do was through the transformation of your clients. My clients changed, and people noticed that.
No, your clients do not have to get onstage. But when they get stronger and leaner, or when their posture improves, it is a reflection of your work. People notice that.
The second thing that served me well: Once I retired from competition in 1996, I decided I would not be "stage ready" twice a year and would simply focus on maintaining an attainable year-round physique.
Of course I wondered if it would affect my business, and it did: Almost instantaneously, my workload doubled! I had thought my work hinged on being a competitor, but it was exactly the opposite. My clients could not care for a hoot if I stepped onstage! My weight no longer fluctuated 20 pounds, and I built a reputation as the trainer who was in shape all year. It's this year-round consistency that people admired more than my bi-annual striated ass.
I can not tell you how many times over the years I've been approached by strangers in the gym who have told me they have been visiting Gold's for years, and I always look the same.
The Lesson for You: What you take for granted, people pay attention to. I was a trainer. In hindsight, that was not a bad thing.
Lesson 5: It's Not a Job, It's Your Career!
It's great to not have a job to do
You can have more than any other trainer in your gym, but if you do not shower, turn up late, take a staff call, or cancel last minute on your client, you will not last long.
The Lesson for You: This may sound like it just applies to trainers, but it can be applied to any job. If you carry Tupperware and eat on your client's dime, you are diminishing their value. If you answer a call when you're doing a set, the same is true. If your CPA has had lunch or taking calls during your appointment, it would be insulting.
No matter how big or small your job, treat it with the same professionalism. Do this, and you want to get out.
Lesson 6: Do not Let Fame Blind You
Gold's had-and-still has no shortage of celebrities. It's tempting to focus on it. Honestly, if you're a trainer in Los Angeles and you're not a celebrity, it's probably a strategic move on your part because they're literally everywhere!
It's always great to have a baby with you (or today, your website or Instagram feed). They can increase their visibility, and their names sometimes bring more short-term value than any continuing education credits you've done.
However, having trained quite a few celebrities over my 24 years at Gold's, I can say that there are some big downsides. They leave town at a time and have erratic schedules that you have to work with. In this time, you will have. If you're training for a movie, then you'll have a huge amount of time to do it.
probably turned away-or just not noticed-plenty of potential "bread and butter" clients. Sure, you can usually charge a high-profile client for the inconvenience they pose, but the ultimate math often does not make sense.
The Lesson for You: Your gym may not have "celebrities" per se, but wherever you are a trainer-or wherever you work-there will always be those big fish you want to hook. They can undoubtedly create a buzz about your work, but be sure to balance your portfolio with your regular day-to-day rock stars.
No matter your calling, think in broad terms, not just big terms. That's what you can do to build a career in the mecca of bodybuilding, out of your garage, or any point in between.