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Personal Training Career? Mountainside Fitness Owner Tom Hatten Offers Advice

Personal training career interest you? Tom Hatten might be able to clear up any questions you have.

Tom is the owner and CEO of Mountainside Fitness, one of the largest fitness clubs in Arizona. We sat down to speak with Tom about several aspects of the personal training career path, as well as owning a fitness club and what club owners are looking for in their employees.

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Hello Tom! Thanks, for joining me today to discuss your career and how companies like Mountainside Fitness can impact fitness and personal training graduating students. 

Q: How did you get your start in the fitness industry? 

A: I started in the fitness industry when I was 22 years old. I gained a desire to own my own fitness center and specifically my own business because I like this kind of work.  It’s been a long, interesting journey to get to this place today. It’s been awesome.

Q: Tell me a little bit about that journey. What are some highlights along the road? 

A: I started with $2,000, so I didn’t have a lot of money, but that was enough to get the doors open. That was so exhilarating. It was like hitting a home run baseball. A very incredible feeling. I think the ability to open up my second location to learn how to manage two places at the same time was also key. Then also the ability to grow as I started building clubs and getting into construction and buying real estate.

Q: What did you learn when you were opening up clubs? Any key learning points? Growing pains?

A:  What I learned early on is how much I didn’t know. I think early in my career I would make up for what I didn’t know with energy and effort. I think if you’re able to combine knowledge and experience with energy and drive, it really sets you ahead compared to where I began just doing it purely out of  gut instinct.

Q:  So what got you interested in fitness? 

A: I grew up in a very fitness-oriented family. We’re all athletes. I have two older sisters and we all played sports. My middle sister Shelly was a group fitness instructor back in the late eighties and early nineties and got me involved when I was playing baseball. I discovered I really enjoyed it and thought it might be an interesting business. I started going and working out more often and learning more about fitness center operations. I also love being healthy in general and living a lifestyle that was centered on fitness.

Q: What was your favorite thing that you learned when you were going through that phase? Any barriers?

A: Each person sets their own limits, their own barriers. I learned to set goals for myself both mentally and physically, either in fitness or running the company, and was able to overcome barriers and expand my horizons and my abilities. I always like to encourage others, including the students at Bryan University, that if you truly want to do this, you can figure out a way to do it and don’t let anything – any fears or self-created barriers – get in your way. 

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Q: What do you love most about your career currently?

A: I love the flexibility of where we are as a company and the ability to be progressive in the industry. I think that’s something that we’ve always centered ourselves on is how can we progress every day. How can we keep evolving and becoming better? I think that’s probably the biggest excitement in the industry today and what excites me in my job is that it’s ever-changing and progressive.

Q: So progressive in terms of growing franchises? In terms of growing clubs? In terms of building out programs for people to come to the club?

A: In the early part of my career, I was really interested in growing locations. But what I learned midway through my career was about making sure that we maximize the growth inside the four walls of each location. How we progress our customers, our employees and the fitness industry. I think that’s really carried true through where we are today. I always look as if you’re not evolving and progressing, you’re dying.

Q: Share some of the non-cognitive skills you look for in hiring a Bryan Graduate?

A: Certainly an important one is that they need to be outgoing. The ability to communicate and certainly in this day and age, ability to listen and their personality. If they can communicate, listen, they’re friendly, they’re outgoing, they’re going to make it here at Mountainside. 

Q: What types of personality traits do you look for?  

A:  One important trait that comes to mind is to be patient. It’s not all going to come quickly. My first job in fitness was actually working at a YMCA where I would take the elderly around a circuit for half hour and then exercise them on a bike. That led to other opportunities in fitness, which ultimately led me to where I am today.  I could have never guessed that I would’ve ended up here. I think in this day and age there are so many different ways to get into fitness. Be patient with your path – learn, gain experience, and absorb all the things you can, and you’ll be successful.

Q: What would you tell a soon-to-be graduate looking for that first job to get them over the finish line? 

A: Stick with it! And just because you might not start off in the exact job you want in the fitness industry – again, be patient. If you think about it – we’re really in the “people industry.” Get to know people, network with others in the industry and this will open up opportunities based upon whatever capacity that’s right for you at that time. I think that’s just normal human nature to get down on yourself if things aren’t going the direction you’d like, but if you take a moment and look back, you’ll see how far you’ve come. And always remember why you got started and what you believe in – these will help you persist. Sometimes it’s going to be a little rocky. Go back to that core belief that gets you really excited about fitness – don’t forget it. You’re going to need it. You’re going to need to count on that energy that you had in the beginning to get you through difficult times. Keep your mind open. Don’t be set on just exactly what you think it should be. Be open to what it could be. 

Q: What are the distinguishing characteristics of a personal trainer in your mind? 

A: I think for me, the number one thing is to listen. I think trainers make mistakes because they learn all of this information about fitness – which is amazing. On the other hand, they want to explain it all to everybody and they sometimes fail to listen to the client’s needs. And even though most clients have many of the same goals in mind, they each have unique differences and challenges from individual to individual. Being able to hear them and then apply your knowledge to fill their needs is really a great gift to them. If you’re successful in doing that, you will be as busy as you want to be.

Q: How important is it to have a degree in fitness or to have a certification in fitness? 

A: Well, I think it depends on what part of it the industry you’re going into. I think if it’s a personal training area, you absolutely need to have certification.  You have to have something that says you understand the human anatomy and credibility for what you’re doing. As a health club employer, if I see an applicant that has a certification and a degree, I know this person is qualified. All of those things also certainly help when you perform one-on-one personal training. If you want to get into the fitness industry in sales or management, that’s a little bit different. You’ll need to acquire these skills through education and/or through a career path experience – certainly for management. This requires learning business management and finance, and then how these apply to fitness. 

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Tom went on to talk about the industry shortage when it comes to personal training. He indicated that this is an excellent time for anyone pursuing an education in fitness and personal training to enter the job market. Tom indicated that the quality education and eagerness to learn and succeed with a growth mindset are reasons why Mountainside Fitness would love to be a “feeder” for new Bryan University graduates. He indicated the industry is currently experiencing a shortage in terms of demand for personal training in his clubs, a shortage he thinks Bryan University graduates could help fill.

If you are not a student, but are thinking of a career in personal training and fitness, what are you waiting for? Contact us and set up a time to speak with one of our admissions representatives. Or, check out program options at Bryan University:

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