My Time in a Commercial Gym Influences the Way I Run My Facility Today

Note from PDToday's guest post comes from my buddy, Mike Connelly. Mike is the owner of Rebell Strength & Conditioning, located in Chicago. He's got an extremely grounded approach to building a team, a community, and a profitable gym in general. Enjoy! 


It wasn’t until I opened my own training facility that I gained a proper respect for the years I spent in a corporate gym setting.  While I was in the trenches of the big box world I had a hard time seeing the positives for one simple reason; I didn’t know what I didn’t know.  I wasn’t aware that no matter where you go in the professional training world there will be a quota waiting for you.  I didn’t realize that training the clients was the easy part and that getting them in the door was where the real work was happening.  I had a sense of entitlement to more than I really deserved and that drove me to go out and find it for myself.  A great deal of what I implement in my daily business practices stem from the very things I complained about as a young, corporate trainer.  Now, I am very grateful that someone took the time to instill these values into me. 

Here are five rules I employed in a corporate setting that absolutely carry over to running my own business:

1. Be disciplined & consistent  

My first manager used to turn applicants away if they were even 30 seconds late for an appointment. To him, if being on time wasn’t part of who you were, you had no place in this industry.  I agree.  We have to be reliable, and our performance has to be like clockwork.  It’s one way we build trust with our clients and break down barriers in order to build productive relationships.  A consistent experience will create long-term clients, while inconsistencies and unreliability will burn through your book of business if you’re even able to build one. 

2. Work as a team and be on the same page 

Our training team averaged 13 or so trainers at any one point of the year.  The turnover was a little better than average by my guess.  Here’s why; we didn’t see each other as competition.  New trainers were welcomed into our little community very warmly.  We worked with each other on our weak points and bolstered up our strong points.  If someone was hurting for business, we worked together to help them out.  This all created synergy, and when that happens, the limits to what you can do disappear quickly and so do the negative vibes.  It also kept the powers-that-be at bay.  Nobody is going to interfere when business is good, and you are taking care of business.  This is a lot easier to do when everyone is working together toward one goal.

3. Build relationships with everyone   

One thing my team was exceedingly good at was creating a positive environment that everyone wanted to be a part of.  Our welcome didn’t stop at our clients; we were friendly with everybody.  Everyone knew who we were, and we knew everybody’s name. A big barrier in the gym setting is misconceptions.  Walking up to someone with a smile and greeting them by name on a consistent basis clears things up quick. Spend time building relationships that are centered on making people happy and the business will grow organically!  

4. Put a smile on everyone’s face, including yours

The people we work with deal with different stressors throughout their day.  They have bosses giving them deadlines, kids’ schedules to keep up with, and countless other adult things that nobody wants to think about.  Let’s do our best to not add more to that list than we have to.  Sure, we add physical stress to their day, but try to keep it light otherwise.  My goal was always to make everyone I ran into throughout the day laugh or smile.  Sometimes you succeed and sometimes you get crickets, but if you’re trying that will not go unnoticed, and it will be greatly appreciated.  

5. Do whatever it takes to better yourself & your work environment    

Nothing is perfect, including the job description you were given when you applied.  If you can get past the idea of “that’s not my job” and focus more on accomplishing a common goal, then your business, as well as the business as a whole, is going to reap the benefits.  Is the training room dirty?  Grab a mop and a bucket and go to town.  Garbage on the main floor?  Pick it up.  Someone’s client needs scheduling and their trainer is unavailable?  Grab a pen and dive into that scheduling book.  Your daily habits should revolve less around a job description and more around mission accomplishment.  People who write job descriptions are fallible, but that doesn’t lessen your responsibility for bettering yourself and your work environment.  

I understand that there are a lot of frustrations when working in this kind of environment, but if we focus less on those frustrations and more on how we can make a positive impact, then things turn out pretty nicely for everyone involved.  Look at it this way, you are getting paid to prepare yourself for bigger things!  I promise you that if you pay attention and work at it, the payoff will be big someday.   Just don’t be in a rush to get to that day. 

In the Strength Faction we are working hard to build a sound support system for trainers in this environment.  Luckily, we have a robust network of coaches with varying experiences to add to brilliant conversations about this subject.  Things are developing quickly! 

If you are in a rut or would like to work toward improving both yourself and your work environment, feel free to contact me at and I’d be happy to help.  If you would like to learn more about the Strength Faction visit