How to Become a Personal Trainer
You’re just a short step away from becoming a certified personal trainer.
Want to help other people enjoy the same benefits of fitness that you enjoy every day? If so, becoming a personal trainer could be a fantastic career option for you. Help people realize their potential and watch them improve day by day under your expert guidance.
What is a Personal Trainer
A certified personal trainer is a professional who leads, educates and motivates clients to meet fitness and health goals. Trainers have several roles and duties: They help clients come up with goals; they plan workouts to help meet those goals; they instruct their clients in fitness and good form; they keep clients safe when working out; and they track progress and make changes as needed.
If you’re wondering how to become a personal trainer, it’s important to understand all the steps it takes. Becoming a trainer involves much more than simply being a fitness enthusiast. First, you need the passion for fitness and helping people, but then you need to learn, get certified, find a job, get clients and even run a small business. If you can take all these steps to achieve your career goal, you’ll be rewarded with a meaningful career helping people get fitter and healthier.
Why Become a Personal Trainer?
The first and most important reason to choose this career is because you love fitness. If you are not excited about exercise and being active, you won’t enjoy working as a trainer. Another big reason people choose personal training as a career is because it allows you to work with and help people, guiding them to make big, positive changes in their lives. As a trainer, you’ll have the chance to make a real difference in people’s lives.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand is high for qualified fitness trainers. Job stability is a major benefit in this career, which is growing throughout the country at a rate of 13 percent. This is much faster than average job growth.
The ability to earn a good income is another advantage of getting into training. The median annual salary is $39,820, but the top ten percent of earners in the industry make more than $76,000 per year. There is a lot of room for flexibility as a trainer. You can work in a gym, start your own training business, and choose to work full-time or part-time.
To find a training program and certification options, get started by selecting your state.
Do You Have What it Takes to Succeed as a Personal Trainer?
If you’re interested in becoming a personal trainer, the first step is to take an honest look at yourself. Before beginning any career, make sure you understand what the duties are, what it will really be like on a day-to-day basis and the characteristics and strengths needed to be successful. Personal training is not an ideal career for everyone, even those who are enthusiastic about fitness and health. The most successful personal trainers are:
- Educated and knowledgeable about fitness, health and nutrition
- Professional with their clients
- Educators, who don’t just train clients but teach them about fitness and wellness
- Genuinely interested in their clients, getting to know them so they can help them set and achieve appropriate goals
- Enthusiastic about health and fitness
- Good communicators, able to translate complex exercise science concepts in ways that clients can understand
- Organized and willing to assess, track and record client progress
- Flexible and able to change strategies, workouts, programs and exercises to fit client need
- Practitioners of their own advice
Many of these are skills you can learn and develop, but some are also inherent. For example, if you don’t love fitness and working with people, this may not be the right career choice.
Find and Enroll in a Personal Trainer Education Program
Certain that this is the career for you, the next step is to complete an educational program. There are no laws in any state that require this, but you will go much further in the industry with education and certification. Many employers require it, but even if you choose to start your own business, you’ll be much more competitive if you can show clients you have appropriate credentials.
Many programs for personal training are online. If you prefer face-to-face training, you may be able to find a certificate or two-year degree program at a local university or community college, but online programs are most common.
Choose a school and a program that is accredited by an organization like the National Commission for Certifying Agencies or the Distance Education Accrediting Commission. These credentials ensure you will be getting a good education and that the school delivers what it promises. Some accredited and widely-recognized and respected online schools for personal training include:
- American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
- American Council on Exercise (ACE)
- International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)
- National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
- National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
All of these offer comprehensive programs for personal trainers that lead to certification. They also offer programs for specialty certificates in subjects like nutrition coaching, senior fitness, or strength and conditioning.
Become a Certified Personal Trainer
If you have chosen the right program, you will be prepared to pass a certification exam upon completion. Being a certified personal trainer is not technically required to get into this career, but it is strongly recommended.
Most certifying programs are online and self-paced, so you can take your time studying and learning. Once you have successfully completed it, apply for certification. How to do this will depend on the program, but in most cases you will need to submit an application, schedule a time to take the certifying exam, pay a fee and get a passing score on the exam. There will likely be a time limit, so be aware of how long you have to register and take the exam.
Find a Mentor Trainer
This is not always a necessary step in becoming a personal trainer, but some gyms and other employers do require it. Learning how to become a trainer through a certification program is a good first step, but this career involves hands-on work. In addition to self-study and book learning, learning from a mentor will help you become a better trainer.
Your first job may be at a gym that will set you up with a mentor trainer. You’ll work with this trainer to learn from them and to work directly with clients. Depending on the employer, the duration of this mentor period will vary. You may be able to take on your own clients immediately, but some gyms won’t allow it until you have spent a certain amount of time shadowing a mentor trainer.
Even if you don’t land in a job with a mentorship requirement, finding an experienced trainer to work with is beneficial. You can learn a lot from observing and working with an expert trainer. Reach out to personal trainers in your area or where you hope to work. Many trainers are willing and happy to work with new professionals in the field.
Find a Job as a Certified Personal Trainer
You won’t actually be a personal trainer until you start working as one. Your certifying program may have resources or even a job placement program, so check in to see if they can assist you in landing a position. More than half of personal trainers work in gyms and similar facilities, but this isn’t the only option for employment. Also look for jobs with:
- Spas and resorts
- Cruise ships
- Boutique and specialty fitness studios
- City parks and recreation departments
- Community centers
- Assisted living facilities and retirement communities
- Rehab facilities
- Large corporations with employee wellness programs
Some things you’ll want to have lined up before job searching and interviewing include a professional resume, your transcripts and certification documents, references, and experience working in a fitness setting. If you don’t have any work experience, be prepared to outline your experiences in fitness, including participation in athletics.
Or Start Your Own Personal Training Business
Looking for a job is not your only option when it comes to working as a personal trainer. This is a career that is well suited to entrepreneurship. Consider starting your own small business. There are many options, including training clients in your own home or their homes, setting up a gym or studio, or even renting space and time at a large gym.
Running a business is like a second career on top of working as a trainer, so be prepared for a lot of hard work and long hours. If you are interested in working on your own, consider taking some business classes online or at a local community college. The school where you earned your certification may also offer some business classes directed at starting and running a personal training company.
Work on a Specialty Certification and Continuing Education
Many certification programs require that you continue learning in order to maintain a valid credential. This continuing education is typically done online, and you will be able to choose from a number of courses. Check with your certifying program to determine how many credits you need and how long you have to get them in order to stay certified.
Another great way to keep building your skills and knowledge is to work toward one or more specialty certifications. This will allow you to offer your clients a greater range of programming and gives you the opportunity to earn more or to land different jobs. Some of the options include:
- Exercise therapy
- Senior fitness
- Youth fitness
- Nutrition coaching
- Powerlifting or bodybuilding
- Weight management
- Yoga instruction
- Group fitness
- DNA-based fitness
- Strength and conditioning
- Corrective exercise
- Adaptive fitness for special populations
Market to Get More Clients
Even if you work for a gym, a good personal trainer knows how to market themselves and does so actively in order to attract more clients. This is essential as a small business owner, but it can also help you earn more as an employed trainer. In-demand trainers at gyms are busier and earn more. Take a proactive role instead of simply waiting for clients to come to you.
Marketing for a personal trainer can take many forms. Use several in order to reach more people. For instance, start with a website and a solid online presence. This will establish your authority and make you easier to find. On social media, keep your accounts up to date with relevant information and content for clients and potential clients. Use it as a platform to connect and network with other trainers and fitness influencers to expand your reach.
On a more local level, you can network and market at fitness and health events, at local community centers, in nearby gyms and even in non-fitness local businesses. Get business cards to hand out and be prepared with referrals and references from satisfied customers.
Another great way to market your services is to offer free classes. An occasional freebie will draw in prospective clients, people who are already thinking about hiring a trainer but who haven’t pulled the trigger yet. Use this as a chance to show them what you can do to help them meet goals and as a sales opportunity. Don’t be afraid to push your services and your credentials.
Keep Current Clients Happy
While marketing to get new clients is important, the most efficient way to remain a working personal trainer is to keep your current clients satisfied. This means helping them meet their goals and adapting to their changing needs.
It also means being there for your clients, being available, keeping in touch and reaching out regularly, even when they are not actively in training. Checking in lets clients know you care. When you are working with clients, be a good listener. Learn who your clients are so you can better serve their needs and plan programs that are tailored to them as individuals. These kinds of strategies will keep your clients coming back but will also spread the word that you are a great personal trainer.
Becoming a certified personal trainer doesn’t take long. A certification course should take less than a year, and in some cases just a month or two to complete. But this is only the first step in a long process of actually working as and succeeding as a personal trainer. Take all of these steps seriously and you will find yourself in a rewarding, lucrative career.