Home Blog How to Find Your Fitness Niche

How to Find Your Fitness Niche

Written on November 4, 2010 at 7:09 am, by Eric Cressey

As a lot of you probably know, I’m pretty much known as a “baseball training guy” – and rightfully so, as about 80-85% of our athletes at Cressey Performance are baseball players.

Most people are surprised to find that I really never played baseball at a high level.  While I was super active in it growing up (my mother jokes that I actually taught myself to read with baseball cards), I actually had to give baseball up at the end of eighth grade so that I could focus on tennis, my “stronger” spring sport.  And, to take it a step further, when high school ended, I went off to college in 1999 fully expecting to become an accountant.  Seriously.

Around that same time, though, I had some health problems – and my shoulder was already a wreck from tennis.  Those factors “beckoned” me to a healthy lifestyle – and that’s when I made the decision to transfer to an exercise science program and focus on my new passion as a career.  I did a double major in exercise science and sports/fitness management, and took part in internships in everything from personal training to cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation.

When I headed off to graduate school in 2003, I anticipated going in to the research world.  About a month after I arrived on campus at UCONN, though, I caught the strength and conditioning bug and was hooked – for life.  Interestingly, though, in those first few years, I really didn’t work with baseball much at all.

It wasn’t until I got out in to the “real world” that I just happened to start working with a few high school baseball players when I first moved to Boston.  They were great kids, and I had a lot of fun training them – and they got great results that drew a lot of attention to the work I did with them.  I was already a big baseball fan, and given my history of shoulder problems, I really enjoyed learning everything I possibly could about arm care – so it was a great fit.

The rest, as they say, is history.  We now have 44 professional baseball players from all over the country here to train with us at Cressey Performance because they believe our expertise, environment, systems, and passion give them the best opportunity on the planet to be successful in their baseball careers. I have guys who swear by my resistance training, medicine ball, mobility, soft tissue, movement training, and throwing programs even though I never even played a single game of high school – let alone collegiate or professional – baseball.  I’ve found my niche – but as you can tell, I never forced it.

What do you think I would have said if you had asked me in 1999 what my ten-year plan was?  I would have told you that I’d be filing tax returns in early April, not following all our athletes on opening day around the country.

And, if you had asked me in 2004 what my five-year plan was, I’d have told you that it was to become a great muscle physiology research.  I probably would have commented on how cool it was that the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years – but wouldn’t have had the foresight to note that I’d someday go on to train two guys from that roster who have 2004 world championship rings.

My point is that you can’t force a fitness niche; you have to discover and then develop it.  A lot of stars had to line up the right way for me to get to where I am with working with a baseball population, but as Thomas Jefferson once said, “I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.”

Getting sick forced me to learn how to better take care of my body – and that led me to the fitness industry and strength and conditioning.

Having shoulder pain motivated me to learn more about shoulder health.

Being a “non-baseball guy” growing up forced me to do a lot more listening than talking with our athletes early-on, as I had to learn their culture.  It also put me in a position to never accept stupid training principles (like distance running for pitchers) simply because they were “tradition” – because crappy training was never a “tradition” that I’d learned.

If I’d purposely gotten sick, whacked myself in the shoulder with a sledgehammer, and then read every book on baseball tradition that I could, do you think I’d be where I am today?  If you answered “yes,” put down the glue you’re sniffing and start reading this again from the top.

Every business consultant in the fitness industry raves about how important it is nowadays to get a niche.  Train middle-aged female fat loss clients only.  Or, maybe it’s 9-12 year-old kids.  My buddy Eric Chessen even works exclusively with fitness for kids in the autism spectrum. I agree completely with these consultants’ advice – but your appropriate niche won’t magically appear unless you experience a lot of different settings and find the right fit for you, then follow up on it by educating yourself as much as possible by reading/watching everything you can, expanding your network of colleagues, and finding solutions to problems others haven’t been able to solve.

If you are going to do something exclusively, you better be:

a) passionate about it

b) good at it

c) sure that it alone can financially support you

d) excited about the possibility of becoming an expert and contributing to the existing body of knowledge in that realm

e) willing to potentially pass up on opportunities in other realms

To be very candid, I just don’t think that having specific 5- and 10-year plans is necessarily a good idea.  Sure, it’s okay if we are talking about financial planning, marriage, etc. – but when it comes to professional goals, there are just too many factors that can change things on a dime and turn you in a new direction.  I love what I do now, but couldn’t tell you for the life of me where I’ll be in 5-10 years – and I happen to think that I have a pretty good grasp on where I’m going, as compared to the rest of the fitness industry.  If I was just leaving college today, I’d definitely be taking it one day at a time!

How about you?  What’s your niche – and how did you discover and develop it?

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  • You have no idea how this just helped refocus and take a couple of steps back. There\’ve been some events that have transpired that forced me to do this, but now I can see why things have happended the way they did.

    Not knowing much about you, I just assumed that you were a former baseball player. Your story was very inspirational and I appreciate your transparency and honesty.

  • Great Article Eric. I could not agree with you more. I believe that we all are born with a purpose and when we discover it is when life really begins. I started training young athletes that played football in 2005 and it was because I was coaching my son’s pop warner team. I learned that it fit because I ws a former player and had a tremendous passion. I have been training and learning from guys like you ever since. Thanks.

    Jimmy

  • Great Article Eric. I could not agree with you more. I believe that we all are born with a purpose and when we discover it is when life really begins. I started training young athletes that played football in 2005 and it was because I was coaching my son\’s pop warner team. I learned that it fit because I ws a former player and had a tremendous passion. I have been training and learning from guys like you ever since. Thanks.

    Jimmy

  • .

    When it does not feel like work and you are getting paid for it. You found your niche.

    Rick Kaselj of http://ExercisesForInjuries.com

    .

  • Danny Matos

    Awesome information. It’s very refreshing when you see someone of your caliber say things take time. Patience is an overall thing everyday people lack. Combined with ambition, it can sometimes reak havok on your personal goals because we always tend to compare ourselves and our progress with that of another successful person. We’re always told to find a niche, and I couldn’t agree more with taking it day by day. I’ve tried a handful of times to force a niche for myself, and it never works. Like in your experience, some of the best trainers are made when they choose to find out more about their own injuries and physical limitations. Its easy to want success before you’re even able to make it happen. Learn, learn and learn some more, and the opportunity will present itself in one way or another.

  • Rob

    Eric this is one the best articles I have ever read! I made a decision to leave the IT field after 10 years but during that time I did some personal training on the side and always wanted to do this full-time. Toward the end there were a series of consistent layoffs and I finally said if I keep waiting for everything to line up it will never happen so after getting laid off for the last time I took the leap and although it has had its ups and downs I am happier then I ever been in my life!

  • Jordan

    Eric,
    This post hit home with me more than any other I can think of. I am currently a college freshman majoring in Exercise Science. Having interned at Kettlebell gyms, PT clinics, Biomechanic settings, Strength/Conditioning settings, and dabbled in fat loss, each time I started something new I became fully engrossed in it and pictured that as my lifes calling. Thank you for putting everything into perspective! Definitely going to work on taking things as they come, and learning as much as possible about everything. Thanks for everything Eric.
    -Jordan

  • Eric,
    You’re absolutely right about not being rigid in planning. Darwin even noted that organisms that are adaptable will be the ones that survive. It’s important to prepare but then be open.

  • Outstanding article. As someone who is trying to get into the industry myself, this is extremely helpful. I have the people skills, but need the knowledge to make a difference in folks health. Thanks for the direction.

    Steve

  • Outstanding article! As someone who is trying to get into the industry myself, this is extremely helpful. I have the people skills, but need the knowledge to make a difference in folks health. Thanks for the direction.

    Steve

  • Sam Leahey

    Solid advice, Eric. I hope many young people read this and realize the sport of their greatest affinity as a player may not turn out to be their affinity as a coach. Coming from a different sport can give one a fresh perspective and outlook, as you yourself experienced with baseball. All in all, I totally agree and see the paradigm as building a “general” education foundation as much as possible before pouring that passion into something specific. Preach on brother!

    All the best,
    Sam

  • Paul Berube

    I completely agree. This is a great perspective to share with people nervous about the choices they are making with choosing schools, their major, minor, first job, internships, even career changes.
    Looking forward to hearing other people\’s success in finding their niche

  • Nancy McDaniel

    Eric,

    I specialize in fitness in older adults, some opportunities have come along like setting up a table at Bridal Show, or teaching a fitness class for young moms at a preschool. While they sound like fun, I decided to stick with my niche and keep my focus. It is good advice for all trainers.
    Nancy

  • Darren

    Thank you Eric.

  • This is great, dude. It spoke right to me, having never expected even a year ago that I’d be working with Precision Nutrition.

    And as I sit here in Toronto’s International Airport, waiting on my flight to Brisbane, Australia, I can only imagine what the next year will bring.

    Keep ’em comin’, dude. Congrats again on the wedding.

  • Being a chiropractor and A.R.T. doctor, I get to work with a lot of chronic pain patients and those who are fearful to being exercising again. So rehabilitation and fitness for the elderly or injured found me. Thank you EC.

  • This has been a fantastic read and great timing, thank you. I am a competitive powerlifter and former soccer player. I had previously worked with the senior local ice hockey team. At the start of the summer I started working with their under 16s team, which was great. I had always thought about maybe going into teaching PE, but didn’t want to as most of the kids at school have little interest.

    Working with kids who wanted to be there and become better at their sport was quite exhilarating as I would have loved to have this when I played soccer. I have since taken on the teams’ under 14s too.

    I am going to Brian Grasso’s IYCA certification and take it from there. Maybe one day i’ll be one of the top youth development coaches in the country and dare I say, world.

    Thank you,
    Harry

  • Thanks EC, I’m still a newbie in this industry after dropping out 4 years into an Engineering degree.

    The past 12 months have been great, I’ve trained a lot of different clients. It was great to read this as I keep trying to force a niche on myself.

    How do you know when to push that field that may be your niche?

  • Thanks EC, I’m still a newbie in this industry after dropping out 4 years into an Engineering degree.

    The past 12 months have been great, I\’ve trained a lot of different clients. It was great to read this as I keep trying to force a niche on myself.

    How do you know when to push that field that may be your niche?

  • Ray McCarthy

    Eric,

    Great Advice!

    Ray McCarthy

  • I had a great “job” when I decided to return to the world of entrepreneurship. No regrets except I wish I’d done it sooner.

    Great post, Eric.

  • very good stuff i have alwas thought that you need to live the niche because if you never been there you can help out

  • Great post Eric and spot on. Who knew that 10 years ago I would have just taken a simple cardio kickboxing class, end up teaching some of those classes a year later for the guy in charge, then completely taking over the program 2 years later, becoming a CSCS, training clients one on one, then moving into a bootcamp style goup class, and then turning it into an online program? I would have never thought that careerwise that would have occured over 10 years. Like you said, you just need to go with the flow, take advantage of opportunities that come across your path, don’t be afraid to think outside the box, don’t force anything, and just see where it takes you. Just seems to be the way life works.

  • Vin

    Hey Eric, great article. After several years of following your work, I never knew (or maybe forgot) that you played tennis. I also didn\’t know you wanted to be a researcher. Maybe that explains why you frequently back up what you say with references (which I think is great).

    As much as I enjoy learning about how to train to improve performance, I\’m even more interested in optimal health (which is something I think many athletes overlook). It took chronic fatigue syndrome for me to figure this out. My only regret is that I didn\’t figure it out sooner. You\’re fortunate to have started on a career path that your passionate about so early.

  • Darshan Weerasinghe

    Hey Eric

    this is such a groundbreaking article! Every fitness professional can relate to this in some way. When I was about to embark on my career my passion was to train guys just wishing to get bigger and stronger but this just wasn\’t financially viable. Now here in South Asia where cricket is a big sport I train cricket players and can say my niche found me. Please keep up the good stuff

  • Thanks Eric
    it\\\’s great to read how you developed your niche, sometimes we tend to become experts at nothing if we diversify too much. I\\\’ve been caught between what I love Corrective exercise and what I do Sports Therapy, and looking for the road signs to point me in the right direction.

    I did my first fitness qualification back in 1989 whilst still working in engineering, dreaming of a new life. I had to wait until 2004 to pursue my new career path as a Sports Therapist . I moved to Australia from the UK to follow my dream and damn it\\\’s been a tough few years. I do a lot of bodywork which I love but it plays hell on your hands and a lot of people don\\\’t value what we do, even though the results are fantastic. I finally got a job with potential this year working in a sports med model, but I miss the thrill of training sometimes. It is hard to see people doing things I want to do, it is hard to let go, embrace change the ego convinces us we can do better than the next man, wrong.

    I\\\’m starting My masters in Exercise Rehab in March 2011 finally sick of being diffuse, targeting my future and direction building my niche as I go. Fear has a way of transfixing us, we become so frightened of change we just freeze and life drifts by.

    Thanks for the reminder to pay attention to what we want and pursue it with passion and direction without fear.

  • Eric,

    I loved your points in this article. I want to say thanks to you and your staff at Cressey Performance. By sharing your ideas on this blog you’ve made an impact on my (young) career in the strength and conditioning industry. It is a testament to your attitude and work ethic, and you expressed it clearly in this article. I know there are a lot of others who don’t comment who also view you as a mentor in one fashion or another.

    All the best,

    Blake

  • Thanks for the great post Eric!

    I actually have a similar story to yours as far as training goes but I am not anywhere near your level yet. One of my friends is a local pitching coach and started sending local baseball players my way, especially pitchers. However, my own baseball career ended after my freshman year in High school when I decided to pursue Tennis. I was trying to learn a better way of putting programs together for these pitchers when I decided to contact some successful college strength coaches to see if any would share their insight. One strength coach got back to me and gave me some really helpful information. He directed me to your website, and that opened up a new world to me. Thanks for all the great content, and keep it up in the future. I am a much better strength coach because of it!

    Thanks,
    Mike

  • Hi Eric,

    Thanks for the great article.

    I agree with you that you have to be passionate about the niche and the audience you’re serving.

    You’ll burn out soon if you’re not passionate about what you do even through that niche makes more money.

    Some business consultants keep changing their minds and promoting different hot trends or niches every few years.

    If we follow their marketing, not our heart, then we’re always behind the curve.

    Thanks.

    Carey

  • Amazing. It’s like you read my mind and answered all of my questions.

  • Brendan

    Hey Eric, as a father, high school teacher and coach, I say “Amen!” to this post. Well stated, sir.


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