The Background…
A Fitness Club General Manager is responsible for the holistic operations of a fitness center, gym or athletic club. The position demands both managerial prowess and a passion for fitness. Because, if you don’t have the desire to inspire health and wellness, you won’t get the emotional reward of the day-to-day work. Your local gym may seem self-operational. People come in, scan a membership pass, hop on a treadmill, shower and leave, all without speaking to anyone. But any medium-to-large scale fitness club requires coordination among a cast of employees who sell memberships, maintain equipment, clean work out areas and stock locker rooms. The General Manager is responsible for operational management, sales, staffing and reporting to ownership. Wearing this many hats require a diverse skill set and the ability to leverage and develop other employees at the club.

As the gym’s leader of operations, a GM ensures the facility is well maintained and clean throughout the day and again after closing. Exercise machines need maintenance and repair, and a good manager keeps them functioning to maximize people’s positive experiences. Having well negotiated maintenance contracts and solid day-to-day processes requires a person with organizational and interpersonal skills. And, without a strong knack for sales and marketing, a gym’s nice, new equipment will go unused and, in the long term, operational costs will be unsustainable. Membership growth is the lifeblood of a fitness center. It allows for reinvestment in new exercise programs and fitness equipment that, in turn, bring in more people. Someone not comfortable with face-to-face sales won’t have much long term success. A small sales staff will support recruiting new members as well as selling existing members on personal training services. But the manager must motivate the team with commission-based pay and aggressively targeted sales numbers. The head of a gym also becomes the de facto leader of Human Resources. If the location you run is part of a network of gyms, there may be a centralized HR center but you will interview everyone from sales associates and fitness instructors to the janitorial staff. Unless you buy and run your own private fitness club – a rarity with the likes of Gold’s, XSport and Peak franchises on the rise – you will also be responsible for reporting up to ownership. Management in any business must understand financial basics. Knowing how to interpret sales growth numbers and financial statements is essential. A well rounded General Manager must articulate this information up to a higher level of management and use it to tell success stories or, when the numbers are poor, explain a plan of action to “right the ship”.

A gym’s General Manager combines the role of a fitness fanatic with that of a management professional. An exercise-aholic that has no interest in management should consider something more along the lines of an Athletic Trainer. But, for those with the desire to lead a business and make the world a healthier place, this may be the role for you. It allows you to showcase your business talent and utilize your knowledge of healthy living to influence others in a positive way.

The Path…
There are multiple ways to enter a career in fitness club management. You can gain entry with a college degree and some basic experience or purely through hard work in a gym and the passion for management. A degree in Sports Management is a route some take to break into the field. This degree is most relevant if you have the desire to work in sports management but aren’t yet certain of which area. You’ll be educated on the business side of sports including its financial structure, marketing and ethics. The North American Society for Sport Management has a consolidated list of colleges and universities offering sports management degrees. A more targeted option is a Health and Fitness Management degree which focuses on the science of fitness and fundamental knowledge of business practices. This type of education offers a plate of courses that best match what you need to know to achieve success. A relevant degree coupled with some practical experience working in gyms will qualify you to interview for a position and start running a fitness club.

If college isn’t part of your life plan, there is still a way to excel in the field. An entry level position within a club is a good starting point. The younger you hire into one, the better. Become a jack-of-all-trades, learning all areas of the business. Study physical fitness and work your way into a personal trainer position. Practice your sales skills and become a top seller. And spend time with the equipment repairman to learn the ins-and-outs of how to repair and maintain the treadmills, ellipticals and weight lifting machines. You’ll soon have the right experiences to move up into an assistant manager and, eventually, a general manager position. Whether you have the interest to pursue a college degree or the need to step right into the workplace, there is a path to becoming a fitness club leader.

The Money …
CareerBliss quotes the average Fitness Club Manager salary at $40,000. To supplement a base salary, annual bonuses are often used to promote the sales aspect of the job. Fitness centers are only successful if membership rates increase; the high level of churn makes it a challenging task for all managers. While a core group of fitness enthusiasts will come month-after-month, fringe members are less reliable often canceling memberships by the middle of each year. Financially successful club managers will earn bonuses by luring the fringe group back more consistently.

As with most careers, higher salaries will be offered to those with more experience. Job hopping is a way to build up your resume and grow your paycheck. Larger markets like New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles will offer more opportunities and bigger paydays. Club owners will often reward successful managers by moving them to a struggling club and giving them a raise to revitalize it. For a person who loves the fitness industry and enjoys business, the role of Fitness Club General Manager will both wet your whistle and pay your bills.

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