Matthew Scarfo


Self-doubt, Imposter Syndrome, and Stubbornness Will Sabotage Your Success. This is Your Perfect Strategy to Overcome The Pitfalls That All New FitPros Face When Entering The Fitness Industry.

Tell me if this sounds familiar

You did it; you finally passed the exam! Your career starts NOW. After months of studying your ass off, endless memorizations, notetaking, flashcards, and Google searches, you can finally breathe easy knowing that you’ve arrived – you’re now a credentialled Fitness Professional. By now, you’ve told everyone you know, framed and proudly hung your shiny new certification, and spent more time than you’re willing to admit just staring at it, smiling the biggest smile, and patting yourself on the back for a hard job well done. You can breathe easy now, confident that the hard part is over. Celebratory social media posts abound, you’ve wasted no time informing the world that you’re finally – FINALLY – open for business and taking on clients.

Then – nothing. It’s almost as if all the hard work you’ve done to get to this point was for nought.

Trust me. You’re not alone. I’ve been there, and so have countless thousands of your contemporaries.

I’m going to share with you a quick story to prove that you’re not alone. Then I’m going to give you an ideal strategy to erase any self-doubt you have, fortify your confidence, and nurture your passion for becoming a preeminent Fitness Professional within your area of expertise.

You Can Be Anything or Everything

It’s impossible to forget my excitement after I earned my first certification back in the summer of 1999. After an entire year of studying my ass off and failing my first attempt, I finally passed my ACE- CPT. Like you, I remember feeling like I finally had the key that unlocked the door for the rest of my life. I couldn’t wait to wedge my foot in that door, pry it open, and introduce myself as the most ambitious, eager, and hardest-working trainer ever to join the ranks. I pictured countless people shoving their way to the front of the line just for the chance to train with me. My career was going to explode.

Being a FitPro was my destiny, and my destiny manifest. Except there was none of that. Waiting for me on the other side was a make-or-break hustle surrounded by people who barely paid me any mind. I anticipated that earning my CPT would prove that I earned my spot, was good enough and deserved equal consideration among my peers.

The joke was on me. It seemed that this piece of paper meant more to me than anyone else (except, of course, for my Mom). Even though I earned the title of Certified Personal Trainer, I still wasn’t everything a personal trainer could be – I couldn’t have been. I was too new. I realized, instead, that I was anything that a personal trainer could be – a huge difference. Like every freshman FitPro, I missed the job experience that would bridge these two constructs for me. My frustration fueled my impatience, but I persevered as I took my lumps and learned my lessons. Eventually, each lump and lesson became the wood I needed to build a ladder and ascend from ambiguity to professional prominence.

You Can Be Anything or Everything

Each of us will have a ladder to climb. Though each one will be unique, we build our own from the same universal truths. Let me share a few of these truths with you and help you begin building yours.

The Market Tells All

Picture a flea market. Tables, tents, and kiosks are stacked right on top of each other, each one selling different types of merchandise. Crowded and cramped, thousands of shoppers move through the busy avenues, scanning the different wares offered for sale. You have a table at the busiest intersection, patiently observing the traffic in and around your tent.

Let’s talk about a few of the things you notice and what they mean.

  • Observation #1 -Nobody has stopped in all day, despite many people looking in as they walk past our tables.
    • Conclusion – The items that you showcasing isn’t resonating with the people at the flea market.
    • Remedy – Change your lead offerings to better appeal to your ideal customer profile (ICP).
  • Observation #2 -Customers that match your ideal customer profile (ICP) have been shopping your store all day, walking the aisles, checking prices, and asking questions, but still no sales.
    • Conclusion – There is not enough apparent value in what you’re selling at the price you’re asking. As far as the customer is concerned, you’re asking too much for too little.
    • Remedy – Better represent the value of what you’re selling, or lower your prices to match your customers’ value perception.
  • Observation #3 -An unexpected customer class has been shopping in your store all day. They’ve been asking question after question and bought more than any other group.
    • Conclusion -The people buying are a different group than the people you’re trying to sell to.
    • Remedy – Redefine your ideal customer profile, showcase the types of items they purchased, and sell more of those things to more of those people.
  • Observation #4 -Your window signs attract customers, but they walk through your store and quickly leave without making a purchase.
    • Conclusion – The messaging that you’re using to attract customers is misleading.
    • Remedy -Refine the messaging to correlate with your customer’s expectations or change your offerings to match your messaging.

The market knows best, and sometimes, this is such a hard pill to swallow. Like it or not, the market – not our competitors –  sets our prices. It’s the market that decides what music we play, what equipment we need, what packages we offer, how we answer the phone, and so many other things. Take this one step further, and we realize that it never matters what the competition does. It matters not what packages they offer or what software they use insofar as it’s incidental to what’s agreeable with your market. The market will tell you everything you need to know about everything you need to know. The better you know your market, the better you’ll know your business. Not the other way around.

Unapologetically You

When starting our new career, our top priority is to build a solid client base and do it as fast as possible. We’ll say yes to anyone. It doesn’t matter if they want to lose weight, strength train, are pregnant, just had a hip replacement or training for an Iron Man – we’ll do it, and we’ll try like hell to serve them the best we can. Inevitably, some clients will stay, and some clients will go. Our renewal rate slips, and we have a fraction of the clients we started with a month ago. Sound familiar?

When it happens (and it does happen), we come down harder on ourselves than we probably should.

As I mentioned above, this is the market at work. It tells us the type of client that we fit best. But, in the absence of this insight, we often begin down a treacherous path of self-doubt and insecurity. Every great business person deals with Imposter Syndrome. It’s real. It’s unforgiving. And, it’s normal.

Your most potent weapon for combating this feeling of inadequacy is accepting that we cannot be all things to all people. We naturally “click” with some people and not with others. We will have a certain clientele who “clicks” with us – yet another example of how the market provides critical insights that help us specify our ideal client profile and provide us with unbiased guidance that helps refine our messaging.

Furthermore, it’s equally important to remind ourselves that we are professionals; people hire us. Never forget that it was you that studied your ass off, it is you who continues to improve your professional skills and seek to gain a deeper understanding, and it is you who has made it your life’s work to serve those who would benefit from your skillset. The sooner you can establish who you’re not well suited to help, the sooner you can find the very people you are best suited for.

Time is Honey

I saved my favourite for last. It applies to all FitPros, whether new, novice, or veteran. It is the single most important thing we can ever do to grow our business. It’s free. It has an unbelievably high conversion rate and ROI, and I owe the vast majority of my professional success to this very principle. This will permit you to qualify your prospective clientele before you find yourself in a situation that you’d rather avoid. There is no better way to build and nurture long-term, high-value relationships than establishing a flawless practice of what I’m about to tell you. So simple, so natural, and so effective. Yet, it’s a largely underappreciated practice that is the cause of many passionate debates in some FitPro circles. Here it is, are you ready for it?

I’ll assume that you’re familiar with the adage proclaiming that you’ll attract more flies with honey than with vinegar. In this case, your time is the honey. And the more time that you selflessly give, the more clients you’ll attract.

Answer every question, every time, without holding anything back.

It seems simple enough though some FitPros are overly protective of their time and feel they should get paid to answer questions as if answering questions is what pays the bills. I submit to you that information is not proprietary, should not carry a cost, and gives you the chance to engage on a meaningful level with someone who is appealing to you for guidance. In the modern age, information is ubiquitous, free-flowing, and readily available to absolutely everyone.

Telling a potential client that you won’t answer their questions because “this is how I make my living” isn’t just offensive. It’s downright disingenuous if not a total lie. If information were all that we needed, then we’d all be millionaires with perfect bodies and a 140 IQ. So, it’s not that. What it takes is trust, confidence, experience, structure, and safe and effective programming – that is what people buy, and that’s what we get paid to do. Refraining from answering questions to the best of your ability is the fastest way to alienate yourself from the people who would otherwise trust you to manage their fitness.

Can you think of a better way to build rapport and demonstrate your knowledge than to engage in honest and meaningful conversations with those who feel they would benefit from your expertise?

We, as Fitness Professionals, make our livings by changing people’s lives. We change lives by giving our clients the tools they need to make health and fitness a positive (and permanent) part of their lives. I’ve always given my best information away for free. Whatever you want to know, ask me, and I’ll tell you. It’s the best way to demonstrate relevant knowledge, experience, and a nurturing personality. I strongly suggest you provide as much value as often as you can because I can promise you this – if you’re not willing to answer questions, then your potential clients will find someone who will.

There are plenty of Fitness Professionals out there, just like me, who are happy to answer questions for free, and to the best of my ability. That’s why my phone never stops ringing, and each time it does – that’s an opportunity to call. Opportunity rarely calls twice, especially if you hung up on it the first time.

Good luck. Thank you. And, may fortune favour you in all that you do.

Congratulations again, and welcome to the industry.

Matthew Scarfo

Photos By: Lauren Scarfo

Tap water is usually about 55F as it comes out of the spigot. Add three bags of ice to 100 gallons of fresh tap water and after about ten minutes the water settles around 42F. This, I learned in the ten minutes that preceded my first ice bath.

After just a few seconds of sitting in the ice bath up to my chin in 42F water, I fell in and out of love with the cold countless times. The first few seconds felt like minutes. Time dilated, and in the lifetime that seemed to pass in between my heart’s deafening drumbeats, countless and senseless thoughts flooded my mind in a chaotic and cathartic tidal wave of emotions.

Then, suddenly… nothing.

Silence. Except for the sound of my whistling breath funnelling through my pursed lips, and eventually–finally–the bottom of my breathing space. I was back in my body, back in the moment, and back in control–if only for a moment. Like a baby fighting falling asleep; my mind would find rest as easily as it lost it to a resistant convulsion. The peace again. Swinging between chaos and rest, waves of weakness would overcome my best effort to ignore the frigid cold just as waves of warmth would appear from nowhere to wash the cold away. I’ve come to learn that this is to be expected, and I’ve come to love this push and pull the most.

After just a few seconds of sitting in the ice bath up to my chin in 42F water, I fell in and out of love with the cold countless times

Arguably, ice bathing and cold-water immersion can have any number of physiological benefits and I’m happy to be advantaged by every one of them. For me, ice bathing has become about self-control and self-mastery. It’s the head game that brought me here and it’s the head game that keeps me here. A metaphor for life–external stress and conflict ignored and reframed by a mind under duress. It’s taught me to find peace in the chaos, silence in the noise, and a center of gravity from which, after fighting a thousand battles I can quietly return to as the victor of a hundred wars but was fortunate to lose only his mind.

Ice bathing has always been a battle with and within me. And in keeping and fighting this battle within, I claim each victory as my own. Each ice bath is a battle. Each battle, is a victory. And, every victory silenced the tumult and turmoil. If only for a moment.

Say what you want about elevation masks; we can go back and forth about the impacts of high-altitude training on blood counts, endurance, and respiratory efficiency. Whether you think it’s a gimmick and doesn’t have any utility or you find its novelty interesting, one thing is certain: The human-machine adapts to repetitive stresses.

Bones strengthen, muscles economize for repeated tensions and contractions, and just like the result of any repeated practice the body aims to make the hard things easy over time and with a minimal investment of resources. Similarly, when we increase the resistances associated with breathing then our muscule-respiratory system is compelled to adapt in kind.

The last few runs, I’ve done while wearing one has been tough, I’ve got it cranked up and it feels like I’m breathing through a coffee stirrer. There are at least a dozen reasons why I wear it, and at the top of the list is the fact that my training focus has recently shifted to prioritizing my ability to breathe and manage in low oxygen environments.

Adding external resistance for those muscles to work against not only increases the effectiveness of such a practice but will enable you to positively change your physiology as it relates to any physical performance, athletic or otherwise.

Pulling air against the elevation mask takes its toll after a while. When the diaphragm pulls with an increase in force, the tensions stress the joints between the ribs just as a bench press stresses the architecture around the shoulder. By increasing the resistance that my respiratory muscles need to work against, I improve their ability to work and increase the economy of their efforts. I do this by exclusively nose-breathing at all times, and at all costs, regardless of whether I’m wearing the mask or not.

To do this it’s necessary to protect each breath with a certain tension in my core. The harder it is for me to breathe during exercise, the greater the involvement of my entire core.

Simply focusing on breathing at all costs regardless of the stress, the load, and the intensity does infinitely more for core strength and athletic performance, and endurance training than any amount of crunches, situps and leg raises ever could. Traditional core exercises are simply an impractical practice with little, if any, real-world relevance. On the other hand, it’s impossible to understate the value of practicing to guard your core to enable proper breathing at a restful pace. Adding external resistance for those muscles to work against not only increases the effectiveness of such a practice but will enable you to positively change your physiology as it relates to any physical performance, athletic or otherwise.

Focus on true functional fitness and attend to the physiology of the human machine. The complex will become simple, the hard becomes easy, and the impossible becomes probable.

Prioritize a Breath-First philosophy.

I remember when I started my career 22 years ago that it puzzled me why so many fitness enthusiasts felt the need to wear wrist wraps and straps and squat belts just to feed the ego. Back then, I knew that it did more harm than good, and with each passing day, I appreciate that fact even more as my understanding of this Human-machine deepens and continues to evolve.

Bracing any structure of the body is deleterious to functional performance. In the absence of a medical necessity, I don’t think there is a single exception to that rule.

The moment that we needlessly brace a joint in our body is the very moment we bankrupt its ability. It becomes anesthetized and deprived of achieving its maximum potential, limiting the functional abilities of all the systems that depend on it. Once braced, the signals from the environment are disordered and confused, just as are the signals that it, in turn, sends back to the brain. Imagine cueing a squat from over a telephone inside of a packed elevator – not only can’t you hear what the other person is saying, but the reception is so spotty that they can only hear a portion of every third word you speak.

Needlessly bracing structures of our body will inevitably disadvantage them as a result. Mechanically, the rich get richer while the poor become languid, destitute, and defective. Many people that are in the habit of wearing a back brace to deadlift or squat feel as though, without it, their back isn’t strong enough to lift the weight otherwise. That’s 100% correct.

The braced joints and the presumed protected structures suffer from needless charity. They’re weakening, becoming ever more incapable. Developing the muscles that are incapable of performing without a brace in a practical, contextual way is superior to bracing them from the outside.

I find it interesting that we’ll use a half-inch thick cowhide to keep our lower back from blowing out because our core isn’t strong enough to support the movement, then add two sets of thirty crunches and a handful on knee raises at the end of our workout to “train” our core. Shitcan the ego and the belt and let the core develop strength and function in the context of the movement. Sure, grip strength sucks and is often the weakest link in a deadlift but wouldn’t you want to work on that instead of pander to it?

When do we draw the line and say that we can’t perform an exercise because we’re not strong enough to do it without using a belt, straps, and suit of armour? Certainly, some competition rules allow for these things, but whatever we feel needs to be braced is functionally insufficient to perform an exercise if not for bracing. Functional training without support increases our abilities when support is justified, and arbitrarily relying on support is encouraging weakness.

Instead of pandering to the weak links in our Human machine, we need to contextualize them. We allow our abilities to erode rep after rep and force the entire body to adapt in unintended ways. Inhibiting a muscle’s performance will alter the entire lexicon of human movement in unforeseen and sometimes unpredictable ways. This causes local and global imbalances that we cannot mediate by including a few forearm curls and cable crunches in our routine.

Allowing our movement systems to adapt in the manner and context they were designed has no equivalent.