Fitness Professional Online Show 009: Interview with Amanda Harris
Welcome to the Fitness Professional Online Radio Show where you get access to fitness industry news, tips and insights from professionals around the world. Visit us at FitnessProfessionalOnline.com and now, your host, Doug Holt.
Doug Holt: Hello and welcome to the next episode of Fitness Professional Online Radio Show. I am you host, Doug Holt. And today, we have a great guest for you. And this interview went a little bit longer than are some of our typical ones. So, I just want to jump right into it. The interview is with Amanda Harris who’s an Exercise Physiologist and Medical Exercise Specialist with over 15 years of experience in the health, fitness and wellness industries as a personal trainer, group instructor, fitness manager and fitness industry educator.
Amanda has presented at Club Industry, IHRSA, Athletic Business Conference and MFA, among others. Her articles have been published in Fitness Business News, Club Industry Magazine, ACSM’s Health Fitness Journal, Norm Cates’ Club Industry Insider and she’s been interviewed for our very own, FitnessProfessionalOnline.com. She is currently the Director of Personal Training and Medical Fitness at ACAC in Midlothian Virginia, where she runs a busy medical fitness practice and serves as the Vice-President of the newly-formed American Society of Fitness Professionals. So, without further adieu, let’s get in to the call with Amanda.
Hi, Amanda. Thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate you taking your time to be with us. So, thanks for being here.
Amanda Harris: My pleasure, Doug.
Doug Holt: Tell us kind of a little bit about your path in the fitness industry and how you got where you are today.
Amanda Harris: Well I guess, I started out teaching aerobics because it was really was aerobics back then when I was in college and wound up, kind of running that aerobics program for my college and the more I got into it and with certification, got interested in the mechanics of exercise and exercise physiology itself, it sort of turned out to be a career for me. I wound up pursuing graduate school in Exercise Physiology. My masters from the University in Virginia in ’96 in Exercise Phys and kind a little bit of a securest route where I might want to work in Cardiac Rehab. Unfortunately, the market was flooded when I got out my graduate degree and I wind up coming back to commercial fitness after a short stint in research because research was interesting, we did cardiac research.
I did cardiac research to the University of Virginia Heart Program but it wasn’t really satisfying because in research, you only see people for a few days of follow up. So, I really wanted to be able to people help people make lifelong changes and at least follow them for a few months better than a few days. So, I wind up on commercial fitness and personal training at actually at ACAC where I am now. And that was good 12 years ago.
And through that, kind of whined up in the first rehab on medical fitness track that was just kind of where I gravitated because I really love problem solving and figuring out ways to make people feel better and just very, very fulfilling and as a field and at that time, I didn’t know of anybody who was doing it. But fast forward, 12 years, and it has become a real sensation. I think, it’s probably the future of our industry to start blend fitness with post rehabilitative techniques and that sort of thing.
But in the middle of all that, I guess, I kind of found myself in management and I just thinking I could build a better mouse track and ACAC promote me in some leadership positions, personal training director, fitness director, and then ultimately, vice-president of fitness and wellness for the whole company. So, we had four clubs that I was overseeing all the fitness and wellness operations in for a while. But I tell you that it was great, it was a fun ride, it was a great climb at the top and then I realized that I wasn’t fitness anymore, you know?
Doug Holt: Yeah.
Amanda Harris: I was managing and running spreadsheets and I was on a road a while and I a lot of fun in there where I was mentoring directors and working with some of the frontline teams which I really enjoyed teaching young trainers in how to be better professionals and I got a kick of out that, but in the same day, when I was no longer touching people, I didn’t have clients, I didn’t have folks that I was really getting all that hands-on fulfilling good stuffs out of, and so, about three years ago, I want to get back in the medical fitness as a practitioner.
And so, I kind of made full-circle and handed off some of my managerial responsibilities and now, I’m just running the Personal Training Department out of one of ACAC’s clubs in the Richmond area. And running medical fitness department there too but more importantly, I see 25-30 people a week in my own practice as a medical fitness out of ACAC and that’s where I get the majority of my life satisfaction and just really fulfillment is in that hands on experience. So, kind of a big circle, you know?
Doug Holt: A good story is, right?
Amanda Harris: Yeah, can be.
Doug Holt: It sounds a lot like Michael. I don’t know if you read about Michael Gerber’s book, The E-Myth. It sounds like a very similar path of someone’s builds in as he describes as a technician but all of a sudden, you find yourself bookkeeping and administrative work more than doing what you actually loved and coming full circle the reason you got into the industry and the passion you have behind it.
Amanda Harris: Exactly.
Doug Holt: It sounds like you found your way back.
Amanda Harris: Yes.
Doug Holt: That’s fantastic.
Doug Holt: That’s fantastic. Well, being not only in the trenches, but also kind of an overseer, so to speak, where do you see medical fitness going in our industry?
Amanda Harris: I just feel like it’s a huge part of the future of fitness. I mean, we will always have the market for the folks who are probably like you and me. We would exercise in a closet on a treadmill if we had to. We don’t need a lot of fancy clubs or fancy gadgets to tell us how to exercise. We’re going to do it no matter what. So, there’s always going to be that market for the folks who are fit that want to get more fit, right, the boot camps and all of that.
But, I think the medical fitness market is just going to explode. I mean, it already had begun to explode. The baby boomers are flooding that market right now and I think a lot of fitness professionals are finding themselves really unprepared to meet the needs of those folks and so I can only see that market being an expanding one. I mean, it keeps me terribly busy.
And I’ve told a few people, especially new trainers that have come on into our organization, while some of the mainstream folks that are running boot camps have really struggled through the summer months because their clients are going on vacation constantly. I mean, I’ve had steady business because really and truly there is such a big demand for that medical fitness for the health of all these different little [06:55] business, everything from arthritis to post joint replacement. There are just so many people that have those needs and they can keep you busy year round. It’s no longer a seasonal luxury item. So, I can’t help but think that it’s going to continue to take a real front role in the fitness industry going forward.
Doug Holt: I couldn’t agree with you more, and you touched on it, these people need to do this rather than just want to do it.
Amanda Harris: Yes.
Doug Holt: It’s not a matter of just looking to go [07:23]
Amanda Harris: And they are highly motivated.
Doug Holt: Yes.
Amanda Harris: Yes, and they are highly motivated to do it, you know. They don’t want to miss.
Doug Holt: Absolutely. And this has been a debate in the industry. I’ve worked for a certification company back in 2000 and this was a question that people were doing it, kind of a grey area. But insurance companies, do you see them stepping into more of a role of accepting a personal trainer’s responsibility into that pre-impost rehab environment?
Amanda Harris: You know, I’m not really sure. I think the pre-impost rehab could go a couple of different ways. I will tell you after speaking to some physician friends and physical therapists that I have no desire to take reinsurance reimbursements. I mean, if you talk to any of these providers, they will tell you that reimbursement itself is paltry at best and I think especially with some of the new health care legislations it’s only getting worse and the physicians are finding themselves having to take more and more patients on and they’re running themselves ragged.
They’re not able to have the quality of life they once were able to have. I think they sometimes get sort of blown out of proportion with extravagant lifestyles that really right now a lot of physicians are being pushed to the brink of exhaustion just because they have to, to try to pay their malpractice insurance, their student loan, in fact all of that, they wind up working at 50, 60 hours a week just trying to make ends meet, whereas it used to be they could have like a little bit more of a normal life.
But I think, to answer your question about whether insurance will start to reimburse fitness professionals, aside from whether or not we want them to, I think that in large part, we’re going to always be categorized as a preventative measure and I had this one conversation recently with a physician that I thought this was just a really brilliant perspective, in his question to the audience, because he was doing a presentation and there was somebody in the audience that said, why wouldn’t an insurance company reimburse for fitness services if it’s preventative medicine. And his answer was, “Well, do you really expect your auto insurance company to pay for your oil changes and your tyre rotations?”
And I thought “Wow that’s a really good perspective,” and I think that he is absolutely dead one there, if we’re really thinking fitness as preventative or even as maintenance for health and maintenance. You don’t expect your auto insurance to pay for the preventative and maintenance of your car. You expect your auto insurance to helping you out when it’s broken. And I think if we look at insurance that way, like insurance is meant to pay for what is broken. Then it kind of gives you a little bit different perspective. But will they ultimately start to cover our services? It’s possible. I just don’t know that we really want them to.
Doug Holt: Yeah. I couldn’t agree with you more. I own a facility, we have a sports medicine doctor here and he is always trying to swish the cash only patients because it is such a hassle for him to deal with this.
Amanda Harris: Yeah it’s really hard.
Doug Holt: Really hard. A lot of the listeners, based on the feedback we got via email and our hotline, are usually in the industry 5 or less years. So you’re having a lot of experience that kind of been-there-done-that. Can you give us a clue or not so much a walkthrough of a typical day if there is one of what your day looks like, and what are you doing during the day.
Amanda Harris: Well let’s see. It could be a pretty busy day. So usually I get in just in time to kind of pull my necks together for my first several clients. I usually jump in into full borne, a lot of people will check emails first but I’ll be honest I need to have my mind on my clients first things. I tend to look at email like only on a lunch break and I’ll also look at it after I get home at night at home. And unfortunately, my poor husband, he also asks me why I have to get back on the computer. But it’s literally because I don’t want to get stuck on the vortex of email during the day. So I really spent most of my day with my clients.
I come in and I will see my first several clients I try to schedule mini breaks in between so I can get a breather or go grab some water or food. But I’ll probably see clients right up until lunch time, I might get pulled into a meeting around lunch time that is sort of a management type meeting. Staying in that meeting for an hour or an hour and a half and then I see afternoon clients. And, generally, I pack up my bags and I go home and I do my programming at night and I do my email at night. So in between, I guess you could say is when a lot of my team comes to me for their concerns or problems.
Fortunately, I’ve tried and in-still a lot of independence in them and I think that’s something that ACAC’s organization is good about empowering their frontline. So really, there is not a whole lot of them coming to me for problems; they have created solutions that they can usually use on their own so there is some team time in there but it’s kind of scattered. Most of my day is spent with my clients or in a meeting or two. So that’s about it.
Doug Holt: Okay. It’s like you guys put an emphasis, at least your position on not only teamwork but also leadership. Is that right?
Amanda Harris: Yes, absolutely.
Doug Holt: Okay. It’s kind of a buzzword in a lot of the big conferences or even the books that were coming out in business. In general, it’s all about leadership and it’s kind of changed. It seems to me about leadership rather than of a more dictatorship standpoint and more of you know “Why are we doing this?” Explaining and, I guess a little bit of compassionate now. Do you find that that works for you now and your team and your staff?
Amanda Harris: I do. I kind of see myself as more of a facilitator for my team. So when I meet with them, I meet with the trainers every other week. And then we have two departments that overlap that’s fitness and personal training and it’s basically made up of the same staff. Then my counterpart, the fitness director, meets with them every other week and I meet with them the same time the next week. But generally in our meeting, what I’m trying to do it to act as a facilitator.
So if there is anything that’s coming from the corporate or there is anything that they have to bring to the forefront. Something that they are concerned about, whether it’s growing a small group training or a program that they have been working, somebody has been working on and just hitting a wall; or whether how I stay busy during the summer, or whatever the topic is that’s sort of hot that week, I really try to get a group discussion going.
And all the thoughts in the room are brewing, instead of me just standing there as a talking head and trying to tell them about what I think. And because quite frankly, all of us are smarter than the rest; I think they appreciate that because what I really want them to get out of it is that they are really responsible for growing their business. I don’t need to stand behind them and chase them or prod them to grow their businesses. I want them to generate ideas and solutions; figure out how they get new clients and talk to each other about how to get new clients. You know, increase your programming, and increase your creativity or whatever it is they are looking for. So in terms of leadership, I tend to be a very facilitative leaders and less of a dictator leader.
Doug Holt: And is that something you always kind of had or kind of intuitive for you? Or it’s something you’ve developed overtime?
Amanda Harris: I think that it’s been developed over time. I can’t say that it was always there but I would say it was always what I wanted because it’s certainly is how I enjoy being led. And I was fortunate to have a really terrific mentor in the company very, very early on. He was a very similar type of leader who would give you general directions and leave it largely on how you got there and I’ve tried to prove that in my own leadership style.
And then over the years I’ve had numerous courses and facilitations as well and experience facilitating groups. It’s fairly facilitative and I’m less of a talking head. I really try getting people asking questions and generate some discussions. So I guess, it’s kind of been a style that I have developed in years. It’s kind of been what I’ve been led by myself.
Doug Holt: That’s great Amanda. That’s perfect. There is so much about that I think everybody; I get questions over here around the world. Trainers are still trying to figure out leadership styles and I have been working on it myself for the past decade and it’s kind of been a bit of a continual process. But it sounds like you have a good handle on it.
Amanda Harris: I’ll try.
Doug Holt: It sounds like you do.
Amanda Harris: Alright.
Doug Holt: Now do you guys use technology and everything else? In our last show we talked about social media and marketing on the internet. Is that something that you and your team are directly involved in or is that something done in a different department or are you guys doing it all right now?
Amanda Harris: Well my marketing team have been actually charging up our Facebook page. ACAC has a Facebook page, and for the marketing department is actually in charge of it. We include personal training in it quite a bit from time to time like tips, fitness tips which is more of a challenge rather than it should be. But the way, I see it it’s marketing for a trainer and like find a trainer to volunteer to do the trick but you know, they do use social media in ACAC quite a bit.
And the way I have personally use it is that I have a suspension training group that I do every week, a TRX group and when I first started the group I was in the Esquerre Fitness Group/EMAX. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Bob Esquerre, a few years as I was in his group as one of the presenters and mentors there and he gave me some really good advice which was to start meet-up groups for my TRX group. And so I created that and that has been a really nice way to market the TRX session itself and then also to really keep participation high because the participants friends will see them RSVP-ing to the session and they want to go.
And that’s actually been nice; it’s made it a lot easier for me to manage as a practitioner. And it’s also made, like keep marketing for ACAC to draw people to that actual people. So that’s kind of a neat idea and that’s the way I view social media it’s through a meet-up group.
Doug Holt: And that is great. For those listeners that is not familiar with Meetup.com right? That’s what you are utilizing?
Amanda Harris: Yeah.
Doug Holt: For people who have not done that before, you want to give them a one minute tutorial, or the cost? I’ve used it before myself but how do you use it?
Amanda Harris: Well yeah. I think you pay like $75. It might be twice a year now I’m trying to remember. They just send me a note saying they’ve disabled my account. I just had it checked off of my middle checklist but kind of done automatically unless you tell them not to. I think they give you a warning if they are going to charge your account or if you want to dissolve this. It’s pretty simplistic in such a way that they have various templates and that sort of thing and you can import pictures to the site.
And mine is pretty simple, in the beginning I’ve tried to keep on by putting pictures on every other week and it was a little bit too much for me. To be honest, my participants came to mine and used it as an RSVP site. There were occasionally putting comments like ‘I had a great session and how hard their butt got kicked. And the one thing that I offered that was not really medical fitness; it was kind of fun but yeah. It was pretty user friendly and it has tutorial on the site so you can get into and build a site rather get a guy to build it in a 24-hour period. So it’s pretty simple as I can do.
Doug Holt: I know what you feel because I’ve done it to and I know how it feels right away. That’s a fantastic tip and I have a ton of more questions to ask you but we’re kind of running out of time here. Thank you again for being with us and I’d love to talk to you and having you back at a later show. But before we go, a lot of trainers are 5 years or younger in the industry are most of them in the newer end. Are there kind of some keys to success that you can pass on or tips from somebody that has been on the trenches but also not only that, you’re also the person that has rise to the top. What advice could you give for somebody that’s just starting out or who has been in the industry for 2 to 3 years?
Amanda Harris: The best piece of advice I can give them is never stop learning and take that on yourself. What I see a lot in the club business is trainers who come to a club situation where they’re hired by club; whether it’s ACAC or another club because I’ve seen it a lot when I always travelled as a presenter as well – and they wait, wait and wait for that club to supply them with education and they will take whatever the club spoon feeds them or — worse, they didn’t want to miss their weekend or something or they don’t want to miss a client to go to a workshop and so they ignore the educational opportunity or they look at you know, a $400 conference and they say, it’s $400 that I just don’t have and if the club’s not paying for it, I’m not going to go and I would absolutely say that is suicidal.
If you really want to be successful in the industry, you have to take responsibility for your education and you’re going to have to pay for it yourself. You’re going to have to pony up and every once in a while, if the club picks up part or all of the tuition for a course or a conference, or something like that; that’s awesome but look at it as a bonus and don’t look at it as the only way you’re going to get educated because if you let education pass you by and you think you can get along on a primary cert; you are dead wrong. You’re going to be passed on if you’re standing still.
So Doug, if I could encourage anybody out there that’s new to the industry to do one thing; it’s get educated and keep getting. Don’t think you know it all because you don’t; I don’t. You know, if you can just never stop learning, you can actually be much more successful than if you decide, ok well now I’m done.
Doug Holt: Sure. I couldn’t agree with that more – and would you say it’s true that as soon as you figure that you think you know it all, that’s when you’re really in trouble? And the more you know, the more you don’t?
Amanda Harris: Yeah, you’re absolutely definitely in trouble. My husband has this wonderful saying that I love. He says there’s a big difference between having 10 years experience and repeating your first year ten times – and that’s what I think a lot of – you know, club trainers don’t get is they will take a primary cert and when it comes to renew that cert, they either take the workshop for that cert over again which used to make me crazy when I see that. Or they’ll just retake the cert and what are you really learning when you do that? You know, you’re just settling for the lowest common denominator. So yeah, I think if you think you know it all, you’re in for a big surprise.
Doug Holt: Absolutely. Continue that education, I love it Amanda. Well, hey I don’t want to take anymore of your time; I don’t want your husband to get mad at me anymore than he might already be.
Amanda Harris: No, he’s not.
Doug Holt: Please thank him for all of us that are getting – you’ve given us so much information, I love to have you back at a later time. You’re just a wealth of information, experience and so thank you again for being with us today.
Amanda Harris: And thank you, Doug. I enjoyed it.
Doug Holt: Is there any part or is there anything missing or anything else? – That we’re unable to – I mean there’s a lot of stuff that I wanted to cover but – is there anything that you want to add before we leave?
Amanda Harris: Well, can I do a little gratitude in this plug for the American society of fitness professionals?
Doug Holt: Absolutely.
Amanda Harris: Am I allowed to do that? Ok. Well it’s a non-profit and if any of your listeners are interested in raising the quality of the fitness industry, which it kind of goes back to my plug for education as well, then please go on asfptoday.org and — you sign up for membership. It’s terribly inexpensive; I think it’s maybe $30 a year right now. You could be one of the new members, and we need numbers right now. We need numbers to really define our profession because we’re just sort of scattered out there right now as fitness professionals and some people think we’re a bunch of muscle heads that throw iron around and others actually think we have some professionalism tuition.
I think we’re hoping that we can all bond together and show the world that we are professionals; we’re not just a bunch of muscle heads. So if your listeners are open and interested in being a part of our organization, we would love to have them. So it’s asfptoday.org.
Doug Holt: That’s great. I’ll put a link in the show notes and on the website for them to go directly to that. Thank you, Amanda. And everybody out there, if you’re listening make sure you go check that out and they can find you. We have an article at the interview that you did on education which got a great response on Fitness Professional Online – and you’re all over the place. It seems like everywhere I look, I see your name as a presenter or as an authority. So thank you for all you do and please keep us updated on everything that’s going on.
Amanda Harris: Alright. Thanks Doug, I will.
Doug Holt: I want to thank you for being with us today on Fitness Professional Online Radio Show and again thank you to Amanda Harris. I really appreciate her being on there. It’s people like her that are raising the bar for the fitness industry. Please take this time to go ahead and rate us in iTunes, it that’s where you’re hearing us. We appreciate those reviews. Also when you get the chance, please sign up for the FitnessProfessionalOnline.com newsletter.
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