Side-Hustle Gyms: Three Essential Lessons (and Resources)

A sticky note on a stack of money reads "side gig income."

I’ve owned a gym since 2011, but I’ve had a “day job” the entire time.

Here’s what I’ve learned—the hard way—about gyms as side hustles.

A head shot of writer Mike Warkentin and the column name "Pressing It Out."

1. You’ll Run out of Energy if You Go Big

Back in 2011, when we opened our gym, I was full of energy. I considered the business a backup plan to my day job, but it was also a passion project.

In a huge city, only a few functional fitness gyms existed, and I was certain more were needed. So we leased a 6,000-square-foot facility and launched with a full schedule of classes (and about 15 members).

I remember getting up in the dark and rushing to the gym to coach a very small morning class, then running to work all day at the other job, then running back to the gym to coach from 5 to 9 p.m.

The days were very long, but I survived on excitement and passion. Then I ran out of both.

By 2017, I wanted out. The gym was losing money, I was exhausted, and I felt like I was always being pulled in two directions.

Lesson: No matter how excited you are about opening a gym, you cannot work 12-hour days forever. Trust me. I thought I could do it, and I lasted about six years. Then I hit a wall.

Avoid my mistake: Follow Chris Cooper’s plan to start your side hustle small so you don’t burn out.

2. You Must Develop Staff to Grow

Like so many others, I had the “only I can do it properly” mentality.

So I did everything—including dozens of jobs I was bad at, didn’t have time for or simply hated.

My lowest point: Getting up at 5 a.m. to mount a vacuum on the roof to suck wasps out of a nest hidden behind a crack in the cinder blocks.

I always said “I want to own a gym, not run it,” but I never took any steps to delegate tasks so I could be the CEO of a thriving business that helped people.

I had created an unprofitable business and filled far too many positions personally. The business ate up all my spare time, sometimes with jobs I despised, and didn’t pay me a dime.

Eventually, I started to get very cranky, and I had only myself to blame.

Lesson: If you ever want to grow your side hustle from a very small coaching practice to a larger enterprise, you must learn to delegate.

Avoid my mistake: Follow Chris Cooper’s plan to offload tasks.

3. You’re Going to Have to Make a Choice

At some point, you’ll be faced with a decision: Go all in on the gym; maintain your side hustle at a manageable size and keep your day job (this is A-OK); or sell or shut down the enterprise and commit to the day job.

When I hit my limit, I chose the last option: I contacted Two-Brain to help me get the gym ready to sell so I could focus on a day job I enjoyed. Instead of selling, I ended up stepping out of the business, and my wife took over.

The business has evolved into something she loves: a PT, small-group and nutrition-coaching service that can be run with an owner-operator serving a limited number of high-value clients. I went all in on a day job I love, and I’m happy just to focus on that.

You’re going to have to choose a path with your side hustle, too. There’s nothing wrong with coaching a few people on the side forever if that makes you happy and generates some income. You can also decide “this isn’t for me” and walk away before you’re broke and angry.

But if you determine that your side hustle should be your main gig, make the transition properly.

Lesson: Don’t let passion or exhaustion make your decisions for you. Review hard data, choose your path carefully and move along it with purpose.

Avoid my mistake: Follow Chris Cooper’s plan to make your side hustle your sole focus.

Help Is Available

Whatever path you choose, know this: You don’t have to guess.

Fitness entrepreneurship used to be a black hole of experiments, desperate moves and bad advice. Now, Two-Brain has models that help passionate people create strong, stable fitness businesses.

The three links above will give you a basic plan that will save you a lot of misery as you figure out which direction you want to go.

And if you decide that it’s time to go all in and turn a small side hustle into a thriving fitness business, Two-Brain can tell you exactly how to do that: Book a call here.


One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.