Home Blog How to Develop Your Fitness Niche

How to Develop Your Fitness Niche

Written on March 8, 2011 at 4:15 am, by Eric Cressey

Five months ago, I wrote an article called How to Find Your Fitness Niche – and it was one of the more popular posts in my site’s history.  I realized after writing it, though, that I never bothered to talk about how I developed the niche I was in once I discovered it.

If you didn’t read the original installment, definitely check it out now.  However, as a brief background, about 80-85% of our clients at Cressey Performance are baseball players.  This past off-season, we had 44 professional players travel from all over the country to train in snowy Hudson, MA.  So, you could say that my dream “niche” came true. Here are some of the strategies we employed along the way.

1. Don’t go for the big fish right away.

People are always blown away when I tell them that I started out with training high school baseball players, not big leaguers.  That’s the truth, though; a few younger guys got great results, won a state championship, earned D1 scholarships, and – in the case of one – received state player of the year honors.  My phone started ringing off the hook when some of those results were featured in the Boston Globe.

Eventually, the high school clientele grew to include more college guys and, in turn, pro guys.  Once you have a few pro guys and you get results with them, they tell their buddies – and their agents and teams also have more guys to send your way.  Then, all the younger athletes see professional athletes training at our facility and it reaffirms in their mind that Cressey Performance is the place to be.  If a professional baseball player travels all the way across the country to train here, why wouldn’t they be willing to travel ten minutes?  You wind up with a big circle that continuously grows.

What doesn’t work is just shooting for the “red carpet” clients right off the bat.  Don’t expect to just be able to call your local professional sports team or some big time agent and “wow” them with a 15-second elevator pitch to get their best players to train with you.  The truth is that you probably won’t even get a call back.  It’s not my niche, but it works the same with celebrities, TV personalities, politicians, or anyone else who lives their lives knowing that everyone wants a piece of them.  Be patient and fish in the river for a bit before you head out to catch the big fish in open waters.

2. Start locally.

Before you can be a national expert, you have to be a local expert.  Training my local guys got me motivated to research and write more in the baseball realm.  That gave rise to more guys traveling from out of state to train with us.

3. Remember that expertise is perceived differently.

Some perceive expertise as telling them what to do so that all the guesswork is taken out of the equation.  They might think you are annoying or clueless if you try to tell them the “why” behind everything you do.

Others perceive expertise as your ability to justify everything that you do.  They might think you’re incompetent if you tell them to “just trust you” because you “know” the program will work, or if you’re simply at a loss for words when they ask you to explain the “why” behind your training approach.

Some want to see you coach athletes to be confident in your abilities, and others just want to sit down with you and ask questions to verify your competence.  Others might want to see you present at a seminar.  Some want to read your writing, and others want to ask current clients about their experiences with you.

The point is that you have to be versatile and multi-faceted in the way that you present your expertise.  I can rattle off research and tell guys why we’re doing stuff, or I can skip the science mumbo-jumbo and replace it with loud music and attitude.  People are welcome to watch me coach, ask me questions, read my writing (online and the stuff that is framed in the office), view seminars I’ve given, check out flyers in the office, and speak to our clients.  We make “perceiving expertise” easier for them.

4. Good will doesn’t run out – and costs nothing to give.  Cultivate relationships.

At the end of the day, success in your niche isn’t about making up flyers or some other advertising tactic; it’s about overdelivering relative to clients’ expectations and creating genuinely positive relationships with people.  We haven’t spent a penny on advertising since we opened in 2007 – but we’ve made a lot of friends along the way.

5. Remember that impressionable young minds ultimately become opinion leaders.

This is a cool year for us because it’s the first class of guys that we’ve seen all the way through high school.  In other words, some kids I started training when they were in eighth grade are now seniors in high school with college baseball scholarships.  They might not have been big referral sources when they were 14 years old, but as more accomplished 17-18 year-olds to whom underclassmen look up, they are huge opinion leaders who refer us a lot of business.  Likewise, we’ve gotten to know their families well over the years, so the referrals don’t just come from the kids; they also come from the parents.

Tim Collins was the second professional baseball player I ever trained.  He was a free agent signing out of high school in 2007 – and at the time, he was 18 years old, 5-5, 130 pounds soaking wet, and topping out at 82-83mph.  Tim just wrapped up his fourth off-season with us and stands an outstanding chance of making the opening day roster for the Kansas City Royals after putting up some of the best numbers in minor league baseball over the past few years.  He’s now 170 pounds, throws in the mid-90s, and has a ~39-inch vertical jump.

In the fall of 2007, Tim was as much of a longshot in professional baseball as you could have possibly imagined: undersized, underpaid, and undrafted.  Now, he’s on the big league radar screen – and along that journey, he’s generated an enormous amount of publicity for Cressey Performance and referred several of his teammates our way.

6. Research like crazy.

If you are going to be the expert, it’s your job to know everything you possibly can about your niche.  Being smart is never a bad thing; you need to be on the cutting-edge.

7. Adapt.

Whether you are training fat loss clients, pregnant women, senior citizens, or MMA fighters, we are in a dynamic field where things change daily.  New research comes out and better ways of doing things are constantly being discovered.  If you’re going to be the “go-to” expert, it’s not just good enough to learn new things; you have to be able to effectively integrate them in your existing philosophy.  It’s no good learning something if you aren’t going to use it – and let’s face it: change is hard.   Find a way to make it easy.

8. Don’t try to replicate yourself; complement yourself.

The single-worst thing I could have done in developing my baseball niche was hiring someone to be like me.  Conversely, the best thing I can do is surround myself with people who have skill sets that complement mine so that we can together offer a more comprehensive product to our niche.

With that in mind, at CP, we have a pitching coordinator, nutrition director, massage therapist, and chiropractor on hand.  My business partner handles all the billing, scheduling, and other office tasks.  We have a cafeteria in the building to help out with nutrition needs.  All these people do their thing so that I can leverage my abilities, which allows us to best serve our niche.

9. Don’t force it.

This one will be brief: you have to enjoy what you’re doing in order to be good at it.

I don’t care what sounds profitable or what your spouse or buddies tell you you’d be good at; it has to appeal to you on a level far more important than financial gain.

10. Success is about what you’re doing right, not what others are doing wrong.

Because we’re so focused on our niche, I have never really paid any attention to what surrounding training facilities are doing simply because I don’t view them as competition.  However, that doesn’t mean that I’m not asked about them all the time – almost as if people are trying to bait me into talking poorly about industry colleagues.  My policy is strict and straightforward: stay positive and never speak poorly of your competition.

I will gladly talk about what I feel we do well and how this distinguishes us from the industry “norm,” but it’s not my place to comment on what others are doing.  Speaking poorly about others only makes you look jealous and petty.  And, frankly, this time and effort is much better spent looking in the mirror to determine how you can make your own offerings better.

Closing Thoughts

Surely, these are just a few of the many factors involved in turning a fitness niche from a dream into a reality.  And, I’m sure we can all learn from one another.  In the comments section, I’d love to hear what your fitness niche is and what strategies you’ve employed to get to where you are.

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15 Responses to “How to Develop Your Fitness Niche”

  1. Steve B Says:

    Eric, loved the first article this was a great follow up. I’m looking at getting certified as a trainer soon and after learning the ropes/putting my time in going after the golf and tennis population here in Raleigh, NC. Specifically tennis, since I love the sport so much. Can’t wait to get out there and work with players – thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Lisa Says:

    Eric as always a great post. You were right that you need to love what you do; as your clients will be able to tell your heart is not in it. The passion that is put forth to train your clients is what will help set you apart from others.

  3. Dean Somerset Says:

    Great post Eric. My niche is injury post-rehabilitation. I began as an injured athlete spending a lot of time getting worked on myself, and then started to shadow my clients physios and chiropractors to see what they were seeing and what assessments they used. From there, I began learning all I could about the injuries my clients had to be able to help them more, and then started getting referrals from other physios, chiros and MDs.

  4. Clement Says:

    Hey Eric, I know that I love fitness coaching and I’ve been interning at my local gym for a couple of months, already. I absolutely love it when my clients pick up the proper techniques and set new PRs and I’m absolutely addicted to the iron.

    But how do I know whether I’m ready to let what I love become what I do for a living? I’m sure you know many people who love training and kicking butt in the gym but who wouldn’t like it if their passion became their career and they got too immersed in it.

  5. Lazar Radkov` Says:

    Great post Eric. And it couldn’t be more true. Having done some of the things you write about wrong, I finally came the same conclusions you did. Keep up the good work!

  6. Cricket Coaching Says:

    Hey Eric. Great article man! My niche is cricket which in a way is similar to baseball as there is quite a bit of throwing involved. The stuff you are doing here with the site is great. I appreciate your work.

    I hope one day I can visit CP to see first hand what
    happens there!

  7. Cassandra Forsythe Says:

    Awesome article Eric! Thanks for showing us how it’s done 🙂

  8. Eric Wise Says:

    Eric, thanks for being a great resource for me as an up and coming facility owner. I stepped out and opened my facility in 2009. I actually trained at MBSC back in 2003, while playing arena football. I worked there for a little in between. Coach Boyle and you are my standards and how I am trying to build my business. We are coming up on our 3rd summer and things are going great. You helped give perspective on how it is to grow a business. Keep up the great work, and I hope to visit CP some time. Please keep it coming with you real world insight to building a business!

  9. Tim Haft Says:

    Thanks Eric. This is really great advice that I wish I had followed when I started Punk Rope in 2004. Fortunately, it’s never too late to turn things around. Love your philosophy and straightforwardness.

  10. Mat Herold Says:


    Great article. Can you please tell me how tall Tim Collins is now and how much he front squats? I would be very interested to know. Thank you.

  11. Sam Says:

    One things I’ve noticed is all the “big timers” end up with a niche. Just seems to be how it works out. Great blog post, Eric.

    All the best,

  12. Ian Willows Says:

    Eric, just read your post about developing your niche. I couldn\’t agree with you more with what we have experienced at our facility. We have been open for 2 years and have amateur and grass roots level clubs/athletes training at V2. We do have some pro rugby players and other elite athletes but it seems we are starting to get some interest from the slightly bigger fish (no great whites as yet). Don\’t get me wrong to think we just train athletes as we have a high percentage of general public here too. Not sure we have found a definitive niche as the facilities in the UK, and especially in our area, are like rocking horse sh*t and are few and far between. So we are covering a lot of aspects as you must.
    I will keep you posted on our future development. Regards, Ian.
    Ps I only found out recently and i\’m still coming to terms with the fact you open at midday….just bloody jealous!

  13. Emil Verbovski Says:

    Erick, every time you amaze me with the versatility of your personal and professional trades. The depth and width of your knowledge, your work ethics, the passion for helping, when asked, the ease and conviction of expressing your ideas are factors putting you at the far front of our industry. Keep sharing!

  14. Andrew Says:

    WoW. It’s post like these that really justify my respect for you, along with other posts that are backed by facts and experience. I have made a new goal to train at your gym before I graduate college, if you allow it 🙂

  15. Abdonda Says:

    Good post about some ways on might develop a fitness niche. I think a lot of people start out by starting locally.

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