By Liam Coultman

If you feel comfortable and confident, your gym or fitness space can feel like a second home, full of friends and like-minded people. If that isn’t the case though, it can be a very different story. There’s nothing worse than having to regularly go and spend extended time in a place where you feel like you don’t belong.

While it’s bad enough for members, it’s even worse for trainers, as your livelihood depends on you going back, regardless of how you feel.

With gyms all around the world currently being reopened and adjusting to the “new normal” the old challenges we face as trainers have not gone away and may even be harder to address during these testing times.

Rest assured, you aren’t the first to feel this way, in fact, it’s very common amongst fit pros to suffer from self-doubt.

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a condition where the brain convinces an individual to doubt their own skills and abilities. A study by The Journal of Behavioural Science estimated that 70% of people experience feeling like an imposter at some point during their lives with both men and women affected.

Expert Dr. Valerie Young states afflicted people generally believe they are inadequate and are only in their current position due to good fortune or luck. They are left feeling like frauds and often live in constant fear that they will be exposed as such.

Examples of Imposter Syndrome in the fitness industry

Like many psychological problems, people suffering from them can often be unaware that they exist.

That’s particularly true for conditions such as this, where an individual may be so convinced, they are indeed inadequate, that the idea there might be another explanation for how they are feeling seems completely absurd.

There are two very common examples in the fitness industry that are red flags for imposter syndrome:

  • Do I Know Enough?

Possibly the most common manifestation, convincing yourself you simply aren’t skilled enough.

“Everything I do is easy or common knowledge.”

“The other trainers all know more than me.”

“Why would someone pay me for what they could do themselves?”

If you’ve found yourself thinking any of the above, or similar, you may well find you are indeed suffering from imposter syndrome. Convincing yourself that despite being picked out and paid for your services, you don’t deserve to be.

  • Am I Fit Enough?

It can admittedly be hard on anyone to walk into a busy gym and not feel a little self-conscious if there are bigger, stronger, fitter people around you, especially if you are getting paid to be the one teaching.

There’s a big difference though between feeling a little self-conscious and convincing yourself you are unworthy.

If you can’t shake the feeling that your qualifications, experience, and wealth of knowledge aren’t worthy, purely because there are people in better shape around you, there’s a very real chance imposter syndrome is to blame.

How Imposter Syndrome may affect your relationship with your clients

In an industry such as ours, confidence is key, both for retaining current clients, as well as securing new ones.

The service we provide doesn’t come cheap and people therefore expect a quality experience for their money. They don’t want someone timidly asking them to do things, they want clear, concise, confident instructions. They aren’t just paying for information remember, they are paying you to push them to levels they wouldn’t be able to go to on their own.

Similarly, when approaching prospective new clients, you must convey that they couldn’t possibly achieve the same results you will give them on their own. They need to believe that there’s no better way to spend their money than on your services.

It’s also worth noting that even when you are getting clients, self-doubt will potentially cause you to undersell yourself. People are always looking for a bargain and knocking you down will be much easier if you don’t believe your service is worth what you are charging in the first place.

At the end of the day, if you have any self-doubt in this business, you are setting yourself up for failure. Imposter syndrome will absolutely cripple your career prospects, more so than in most other professions. If anything I have said so far is hitting close to home, don’t panic, there are some simple steps you can take to help you overcome this.

Tips to address and overcome imposter syndrome

While there unfortunately isn’t a way to make imposter syndrome magically disappear, there are steps you can take to combat it.

  • Recognize and admit the issue: This is by far the biggest step to take. Allowing yourself to see that the problem is in your head is already half the fight to overcome it.
  • Talk about the issue: They say a problem shared is a problem halved and that is never truer than right here. Talk to friends, family, colleagues – frankly anyone you trust. The easiest way to prove to yourself that you know more than you think is by getting a chance to spread your mental muscles in a safe environment, to people who you know will build you up.
  • Turn Negatives Into Positives: Fitness instructor Patrick from com offered this advice: When you think a colleague knows more than you, see it as an opportunity to learn, instead of bemoaning not already knowing it. When you see someone in better shape than you, have a chat and see if you can pick up some tips. If someone asks a question you don’t know the answer to, go and find out for the next time you see them. Every interaction in life is an opportunity. Learn to make them work in your favor.
  • Realize No One Knows Everything: Don’t be so hard on yourself. We all have to learn as we go along, so don’t punish yourself for not knowing everything that you are asked. I’ve been in this industry over a decade and just last week had to research an exercise I’d never heard of for an article I was writing. We’re all in the same boat, some of us are just at slightly different places in it.

For more ideas on how to mitigate the negative effects associated with imposter syndrome, check out this article by the Harvard Business Review.

Final thoughts

Imposter syndrome is a very real thing and it will eat away at you if you let it. While it may seem tough, you absolutely can overcome it and come out the other side even stronger.

Hopefully, the tips I have given you in this article will go some way to helping you overcome imposter syndrome or just help squash any self-doubt you may be feeling.

If you only take one thing away from here though, please let it be to talk to someone. Making that first step of admitting your problem to someone is absolutely huge, it could even be a defining moment in your life.

We all have our demons and you’ll be surprised what other people have been through, and how much their experiences can help you. So, make sure you go and take that first step. Keep doing your best and know that that is good enough.

About Liam Coultman

Liam Coultman is a speed and strength conditioning coach and founder of The Speed Project. He holds a Poliquin Performance Specialist Certification and a BSc in Sports and Exercise Science. He also writes for various sports and fitness publications.