I have been supported by and supported the work of the Cleveland East Senior Network–bringing entertainment and joy to seniors in long-term care facilities, while creating connections with others who serve older adults.
I have built my client list to over 30! The youngest are in their 50s and the oldest in their 90s. They are mostly in Ohio, but I train clients remotely in California, New Jersey, Illinois, and even Israel! I am joined in my fitness classes by folks from the Bronx to Vancouver.
I have turned a profit and been able to re-invest in the business and give charitably.
I have been interviewed for newspapers and radio for my expertise in working with older adults.
I have maintained this blog; it now has over 300 followers.
Through it all, I have gotten to know some pretty amazing clients. The relationships are what make it all worthwhile; I have tried to be there for my clients and they have been supportive and flexible–especially when I was out for a few weeks after my kidney donation surgery.
Most importantly, I have watched my clients progress. They have become stronger and more flexible. Goals are being met. Nothing thrills me more than hearing “I went up the stairs and didn’t even get winded,” or “I walked four miles,” or “people tell me that they notice something different.” Everyone has engaged me as their trainer or group fitness instructor for a different reason; I am honored that they have entrusted me to help them reach their fitness goals.
What’s ahead for Year 2? Lots of exciting and new stuff is planned for the coming 12 months…but let me get through the Jewish High Holidays first!
Thanks to everyone (especially my wife who believed I could do this) for making me and At Home Senior Fitness the success that it is!
There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it is not attached to an oncoming freight train. Vaccinations for COVID-19 are proceeding apace, hospitalizations are down, and folks are beginning to sense a return to some kind of normality.
Many months ago when gyms re-opened after the initial shutdowns, I asked in this blog whether folks would really return to gyms. The numbers who came back in the late spring and summer were quite small; as a personal trainer, I was operating at about 40% of where I had been pre-pandemic. Trainers at other facilities with whom I spoke reported similar downturns in gym attendance. But now that there are vaccines and hopefully something approaching herd immunity, what will the future hold for gyms? An article published on http://www.cnbc.com back in July, 2020 shared the results of survey; the findings were that 59% of Americans were not planning to renew their gym memberships after the pandemic. I am sure there is more recent research, but I have not seen it. Anecdotally, most of my clients have stated that it is more convenient, cost-effective, and (perceived to be) safer to pivot to on-line training; they simply do not plan to go back to a gym at all.
Clients at At Home Senior Fitness have begun to ask what my plans will be when things open up more. My business model–which I began to develop when COVID-19 was unknown outside of the scientific community–was always to train folks in their own homes; I would bring the equipment, the expertise, and the fitness plan. The pandemic pushed me toward virtual training and that now accounts for about 95% of my business–both in one-on-one training and in remote group fitness classes. I certainly have no plans to train in a gym any longer; the overhead is so high that I would make a fraction of what I do as a self-employed personal trainer…and I am still able to remain competitive price-wise.
I do think that gyms will come back, but perhaps not to the same levels as before. Those facilities that succeed will be the ones that offer the cleanest, safest environment; even before the pandemic, we know that some gyms, their equipment, and locker rooms were not clean enough. They will also be the ones that are able to respond to what customers are looking for rather than adhering to outdated “take it or leave it” policies.
As for my business, I only see growth ahead. Pandemic or not, many older adults prefer the ease of staying at home. They do not have to worry about driving. Those that have mobility issues do not have to fret about the walk from the parking lot to the fitness center. At-home training means they will not be intimidated by the machinery (we keep it to dumbbells, resistance bands, and body weight exercises) or others in the gym prancing around showing off their physiques. It is the most comfortable setting to be in.
There is a place for gyms. For those who like the social experience and want access to lots of different equipment, there is no substitute. Still, the pandemic has shown many that there are alternatives to the typical gym that have their advantages too.
The main thing is that once the danger of COVID-19 has passed, people need to recommit to their health and fitness. Just because the pandemic ends does not mean that all of the sudden we are healthy. It just means that we have one less obstacle in our way and more choices for how to reach our goals.
Here we are at the last day of 2020. I will not launch into a long essay about how badly this year went for most of us on the planet. Others have stated it over and over again–many more eloquently than I could.
Instead, here are some thoughts on what 2020 meant for me in terms of my fitness career…as well as some thoughts about what 2021 and beyond may bring.
The year started out well for me; I was working as a Personal Trainer at the local JCC and although the money was not great, my client list was really beginning to grow and my schedule was starting to fill out. The future looked rosy.
By mid-March, of course, the cancellations started as a trickle which grew into a torrent. COVID-19 had arrived. By the end of that month, the JCC was closed (and wouldn’t open until June).
Early on in the pandemic, I decided to offer a group fitness class daily (except Shabbat) for whoever wanted to tune in on Facebook Live. I did this as a way to connect with clients, keeping them engaged and moving during what most of us thought would be a brief interruption. No charge. Just work out with me. I watched my FB group grow quickly and enjoyed a steady stream of participants–mostly an older demographic, but that is my sweet spot anyhow. Soon the JCC gave us the green light to train clients on-line one-on-one free of charge; we continued to receive a salary through mid-May, which was laudable. In mid-May we went back to pay-to-play; I did not lose many clients since most had become accustomed to working with me virtually. Even after the gym opened (in a limited way) most of my clients chose to stay on-line due to their (well-founded) fears. Nevertheless, I was still nowhere close to where I had been pre-pandemic. Some clients were gone for good.
Those several months at the beginning of the pandemic were a time of professional growth. I honed my skills as a group fitness instructor, did some on-line continuing education (go TRX!), and broadened my knowledge of how to train on-line and be a better communicator. I returned to the gym feeling like a “real” trainer, on a par with my colleagues, as opposed to the new kid on the block. I had confidence in myself and my ability to make a positive difference with my clients.
Through it all, I had been thinking about branching out on my own. I had been actively looking at other job opportunities since the summer of 2019, but nothing promising appeared. I had set a 2-year mark for working at the JCC so that I would have a chunk of solid experience before setting my own course. By spring of 2020, I was in full planning stage. In June, I formed At Home Senior Fitness, LLC, with the State of Ohio and contacted SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) to get some mentoring and participate in a weekly webinar on starting a business. My mentors were excellent (Thanks Bob & Carlos!) and were very encouraging. They gave me the confidence to take the scary step of actually taking those first steps toward independence.
My goal was to be open for business by the High Holidays (September of 2020), but before then I required surgery on my bicep. That was not enjoyable, but since so many of my clients were virtual, it did not really set me back much. In mid-August, the website went live, the ads went in the Cleveland Jewish News and word spread via Facebook. My client list started small (2!), and now I am well into double-digits. I am training clients in Ohio, Connecticut, South Carolina, Florida, New York, British Columbia, and Israel. That’s right: I’m global!
2020 was a tough year. The pandemic. The economic fallout. The politics. The social separation. The silver lining was that this year allowed me to take an important step in my career.
What does 2021 look like? I’m still working on building my client portfolio and filling in my schedule, but I have far exceeded the projections that my mentors and I had set. I also know that a time will come when the pandemic will be under control (I pray) and that folks will want to go back to the gym. This will affect some of my clients and my business, but because of the demographic that I chiefly serve (55+) I am confident that many will stick with me or (if they are local) convert to in-person one-on-one training. I know that the world changes quickly so I will not be satisfied with a static business/marketing plan. I look forward to staying ahead of the curve and continuing to do what I set out to do: help older adults live more independently by improving their strength, balance, and mobility.
Here’s to a happy, prosperous, fit and HEALTHY 2021!!!
I remember having just graduated from the Seminary and heading off to my first pulpit in St. Louis. I had been through six years of Rabbinical School, served as a student rabbi, and completed an internship, but I was still totally anxious about making the transition.
Once I arrived, I jumped right into the work, but I did not really feel like a rabbi. It was similar to the feeling that many parents have after their first child is born; I felt like I was playing at being a parent, but it did not seem real. The same was true in the rabbinic realm; others saw me as a rabbi, but in my mind I was still the college kid drinking beer on the weekends or the seminary student making the most out of my time in New York or Jerusalem. I may have been playing the part with a new title before my name, but I felt like an imposter.
It was not until a couple of years into it when I was called upon to perform a funeral for a young medical student whose death was accidental and unexpected, that my view of myself shifted. The senior rabbi was out of the country; the family and congregation looked to me for guidance and support. They did not know about my own insecurities; they saw me as the stable presence, helping them through a terrible tragedy. It was that experience and others that convinced me that I was, in fact, a rabbi…and a good one at that.
Tomorrow will be my last day working at the Mandel JCC in Cleveland. I was hired as a Personal Trainer in August of 2018 having gotten my certification just a few months earlier. It was all very exciting and scary as well. It took a little while for me to acquire my first few clients and build my confidence. Bit by bit, I got more clients and members even began to ask for me. It is funny that no matter how insecure I might have felt about my role, others seemed not have picked up on it at all. It some point, I reached the point where I realized that I was a Personal Trainer…and a good one at that.
Leaving the JCC is a bittersweet occasion. It is time for me to move on and focus on my own business, At Home Senior Fitness, LLC. I am excited about the future (and a little nervous too!). I will miss my clients, some of whom I have been training for the majority of my tenure at Mandel JCC. I will miss my fellow trainers as well; they were so helpful as I was making my way into a new industry.
I know that I have a lot to learn as a trainer. I am slowly working on my next certification: Post-Rehab Specialist. I can always hone my techniques with exercises. I have to get up to speed on running my own business (so far, so good!), and make decisions about marketing, technology, and investing in the right ways. Starting this new phase in my career is not without its apprehension, but I go into it knowing that I can do this. I got this.
To paraphrase Stuart Smalley, “I’m good enough, and I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!” Here’s to stepping into the future! And here’s to all of us who have ever taken a risk, felt like an imposter, and found our authentic selves somewhere along the way!
I am thrilled to announce the opening of my new venture: At Home Senior Fitness, LLC.
At Home Senior Fitness offers at-home and on-line personal training and fitness guidance for older adults. Individual sessions and the overall fitness plan are personalized and focus on maintaining and increasing strength, mobility and balance. All workouts are conducted in a safe setting under the direction of Certified Personal Trainer, Functional Aging Specialist and Rabbi, me! AHSF is not a one-size-fits-all service, but rather meets clients where they are in terms of fitness, motivation, equipment available–and in their own homes within Cleveland’s east side suburbs or virtually. AHSF is the fitness solution for older adults seeking convenience, safety, excellent customer service, and results.
I look forward to working with you and receiving referrals you might have.