By Eric Joly
If you work in the sports industry, chances are you started with a passion for training, either on your own or through your background as an athlete. Whatever the case, turning a passion into a business requires different knowledge and a solid plan of action. Whether you’re a strength coach, a personal trainer, or a gym owner, if you’re in the training business, it’s because you have more than just the passion for it. And it is possible for you to make a living—a profitable living.
I spent my early years as a strength coach trying to define myself and to get any client I could to make a few bucks. It was a rough time, and building a clientele was a difficult process. Opening a gym was always in my mind, and I had a clear image of what my facility would look like. Unfortunately, the financial means to get there always seemed impossible to achieve.
I’ve now been in the business for over 20 years. I went from a personal trainer to strength coach to owner of a high-performance training center. As the last 20 years certainly defined who I am today, it surely also defined how I think about making my training business a profitable one. While I spent my early years dreaming about a gigantic premium facility built a certain way, I quickly realized that optimizing square footage had to be my number one priority.
Since operating costs set the foundation for profits, an entrepreneur must clearly define which type of clientele their business will serve, how to serve them, how many you can serve, and most importantly, how to retain them.
How to Evaluate Equipment Before Deciding to Buy
If I had to start all over, I would certainly do things differently. But since I’m now a business owner looking for profit, I must do things differently. Instead of dreaming of a bigger facility, I’m looking for ways to make more out of my actual square footage without compromising efficiency and quality. In other words, I want to add more equipment and services without compromising what works well already.
As a sports performance facility owner, here are the ten qualities I look for in a piece of equipment before I make a purchase.
- Who will it serve, and what does it do?
- Do the end results transfer to client goals?
- Can it serve multiple types of clientele?
- Does the equipment do what it claims?
- How much space does it require?
- Is it versatile?
- Will clients benefit from it over a long period of time?
- Is it durable?
- Does it require maintenance?
- How much does it cost?
You may be surprised to see cost listed at the end. The reason is simple. If I give positive answers to all the other questions on the list, the equipment has the potential to generate recurring revenue. Whether we can afford it or not is another question, but knowing a tool can generate recurring revenues also means we can build a business model around it. When you multiply your money-generating tools and optimize them according to how many clients can use them, you will start generating good profits from the tools.Knowing a tool can generate recurring revenues means we can build a business model around it. Click To Tweet
Keep in mind that the business model of a sports performance facility is very different than a personal training studio or a large surface gym. Nonetheless, optimizing square footage must remain a priority.
In an athletic training-type facility, there are tools essential for making a profit. I mentioned earlier that if I had to do it all over, I would start with a different approach. Here’s what I would do first: based on the ten qualities listed above, I would only pick five tools to start my facility and build from there.
Below are my top five pieces of equipment that are essential to start a facility and generate results for my clients. And yes, profits come from our ability to provide results with the tools we use.
First on my list is a squat rack. The “cage” is a strength tool that’s evolved extensively over the years. Since working the large muscle groups remains the most efficient way to improve performance and burn calories, it’s a must-have.
Although originally squat racks served a single purpose (developing lower body strength), the newer designs have responded to market demands by becoming much more versatile. Because they now have the capacity to develop both upper body and functional strength and offer multiple models of grip attachments, the cage allows us to target and assess some very specific areas of development. With both athletes and general population clientele, especially beginners, simple gains in strength can produce great results.
What I like the most about these strength gains are the corresponding increases in speed we see with young athletes. If your market is like mine, young athletes will be a major component of your business, and often their parents hesitate when it comes to strength training. With that in mind, I really enjoy flipping the conversation to explain their child will become faster with muscle development. With sports performance, to move quickly you need to be able to produce ground force—and that requires power.
When you’re starting out, the truth is that any rack will do as long as it’s solid. I’ve used different brands, and all get the basic job done. Having been fortunate to play around on different units, however, I can say that my favorite is the rack manufactured by Pendulum Strength. The quick release features and great handles help make for smoother sessions and results.
Dumbbells with Rack
I don’t think the dumbbell needs much of a sales pitch. As old as the cast iron, the bell remains to this day one of the most versatile tools for strength, function, and power. Selectorized (adjustable) ones are good for small facilities. If you refer back to my criteria list, dumbbells make sense in every way and are a must for a new facility. Only your imagination limits their use. Dumbbells are valuable when introducing young athletes to proper squatting form via the goblet squat while allowing experienced athletes to train their smaller stabilizing muscles doing auxiliary lifts.
Although it’s difficult to go wrong when it comes to this tool, remember that upgrades like rubber coating and solid pieces will save you trouble down the line. If you have a choice, avoid dumbbells with rubber grips as they tendto show wear and tear faster than any other component. Iron Grip offers a great product and is widely available.
Speed Development with a Motor-Less Treadmill
As speed is a main focus in a performance facility, we must ask ourselves how we’ll develop this quality and how we’ll measure it. We all know that top speed is very different than acceleration and that capacity to process information can greatly affect speed and power output. As coaches, we must ask ourselves not only how we’ll improve the different aspects of speed, but also how we’re going to measure it.
Ground work is always necessary, but for increased development and quantification, I turn to the motor-less treadmill. I avoid motorized treadmills because I don’t want my athletes only to develop their ability to pick up their legs quickly. Curve treadmills are great when I want my long distance athletes to do tempo, recovery, and endurance runs.
For athletes to make a difference on the field or court, however, I look for explosiveness and acceleration. I chose the HiTrainer because it’s non-motorized and puts the athlete in the drive phase, engaging the core, strengthening the posterior chain, and developing speed. It’s on my priority list because it’s an intelligent, self-propelled treadmill that only requires the space of a regular tread.
The HiTrainer’s measuring capabilities are unmatched in the market, and the versatility allows users to measure a 100m-sprint or push a sled for as long as they can stand it—all in the space of a closet. HiTrainer caters both to the most advanced athlete as well as the young beginner. Knowing you can keep an athlete progressing for years to come based on reliable data also means you can keep the client for the long run.
Our mission is to develop better athletes, and the HiTrainer is a great coaching aid in teaching how to accelerate on the field and how to improve that acceleration. If strength is the foundation of sports performance, speed will take an athlete to the next level. High-level competition is defined by tenths of a second, so we must be able to measure the different components of speed accurately. Top speed, acceleration, speed to deploy peak power, and cognitive speed are all very different, and we must be able to assess them in real time and during a max effort.
I also use the HiTrainer for rehab and return to play protocols. Its force sensors measure a lower limb’s left-right balance in real time as an athlete runs. This one function allows me to cater to a clientele with entirely different needs and can highlight whether an athlete has recovered from an injury.
Increasingly, in sports performance and team facilities and unquestionably on social media, we see coaches invest in wearable measurement tools with varying price points and utility. Wearables are big and on trend as people are looking for ever finer edges over their competition. At a certain point, however, the information available becomes too much and doesn’t help with my decision-making as a coach. Especially in the context of the often lean start-up business, I’ve had to make decisions about whether a tool brought value to the athletes and me. If we don’t measure it, we can’t manage it, but too much data tends to lose meaning.
With that in mind, my athletes all train with Push. I work mostly with power sport athletes who play hockey and football, and a velocity-based approach ensures that we’re getting done what we need to accomplish in the weight room. Anyone can exhaust an athlete—making them better is another matter. Just like I don’t waste time conditioning an athlete for sport-specific demands by working with a HiTrainer, we don’t waste reps.With power sport athletes, velocity-based measurements ensure we're accomplishing what we need to. Click To Tweet
When our goal is power and we factor in velocity, we can stay away from pure strength development, and I don’t have to watch every rep or guestimate speed. This is important for many reasons, including the demands of the sport my athletes are preparing for. At a certain point, an athlete will be strong enough, but an athlete will never manage to be too powerful.
Foam Plyo Boxes
We mainly use plyo boxes for jumping to develop power and because my athletes enjoy them and find them motivating. Although I do incorporate other uses, my athletes certainly love to jump. Before we get into the specifics, first a note on the boxes themselves—invest in the best ones and you’ll only cry once. While the stackable pyramid boxes save space and are certainly durable, they will be the reason your athletes sign up to be skin donors, as will wooden boxes. Fatigue, inattention, and accidents will inevitably lead your athletes to rip open their shins, and possibly worse.
Purchasing foam boxes eliminates a very real worry for your athletes and allows them to push harder and farther than they otherwise would. The flip side is that some foam boxes can deteriorate quickly and may not stand up to wear like a wooden box or metal pyramid, so make sure you get quality. While I certainly have a few brands I don’t recommend, I will say that I’m currently using PowerSystems Plyo Boxes and that, with two years of heavy use, they still look and perform exactly as they should.
So what do I use boxes for? They’re good for working power and body coordination. And depth jumping and jumping for height are some of my most programmed options. It’s also important to make sure athletes are fresh and don’t tax their CNS heavily before their jumps.
Apart from that, I use the boxes to do single leg squats instead of the usual pistol squats on the ground. These are excellent exercises for strengthening the knee joints, and the ability to execute them consecutively and with proper form reduces the risk of ligament injuries. This is especially important when I’m working with my female soccer players, who have a greater risk of ACL tears. For the same reason, I also focus on proper shock absorption and change of direction exercises.
Looking at these five tools, I hope you see that the common thread is my original decision criteria. Most of the tools are also focused on the ability to create a solid baseline for our athletes, which leads to a foundation for development. Measure, measure, and measure. Strength is quantifiable, and so is speed in all its different aspects. To retain a client, we must provide them a roadmap with well-established stepping stones. The combination of these five tools allows for that.
Of course there are other great tools out there. But whether you’re a trainer, coach, or facility owner and just getting started, I encourage you to consider these five tools. They can bootstrap a simple facility that produces great athlete results while optimizing space and profit.