Becoming a Personal Trainer in California

Have you ever considered becoming a certified personal trainer in California? These professionals work one-on-one or in group settings to help people reach their fitness and weight goals. Certified personal trainers create and provide exercise programs to meet the unique needs of each client. They regularly conduct client assessments to determine fitness goals, progress and satisfaction.

This job requires excellent customer service, communication and listening skills. Many certified personal trainers begin their careers as group exercise instructors. Some are self-employed, and others are employed by gyms and corporations. Personal trainers may advance to positions such as a head trainer or even open their own gyms.

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While fitness trainers in California may be generally be involved leading group fitness activities such as zumba, spin, yoga, cardio dance, step or water aerobics, personal trainers work closely with individuals or small groups and are guided by their specific requirements.

Certification and Education

The National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) works with the National Board of Fitness Examiners (NBFE) to offer two different personal trainer certification programs: the Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) and the Certified Fitness Trainer (CFT). Each has its own eligibility requirements. This includes a high school diploma or equivalent, a completed application and a non-refundable processing fee.

Certified Personal Trainer (CPT)

The Certified Personal Trainer program is designed for entry-level personal trainers. To be eligible to take the exam, applicants must have at least six months of exercise experience. The certification exam measures the knowledge and abilities that fitness professionals use to design, implement and oversee safe and effective workouts.

Certified Fitness Trainer (CFT)

The Certified Fitness Trainer program is designed for a personal fitness trainer who wants to further his or her career by taking the certification exam. To be eligible to take the exam, applicants must hold a current CPT or be certified through another approved personal training certification program. The certification exam measures the knowledge and abilities that fitness professionals use to deliver safe and effective programs for their clients.

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Requirements to Become a Personal Trainer in California

To become a certified personal trainer in California, you must:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have a high school diploma or equivalent
  • Hold adult CPR/AED Certification, including practical hands-on skills
  • Become certified by a respected fitness organization

The best way to get started is by studying in an associate’s degree program in fitness, kinesiology, exercise science, sports medicine or physical education. These programs will provide the skills necessary for certification. After that, you’ll take an exam administered by a certification agency. If you pass, you can begin work as a certified personal trainer. However, many personal trainers begin their careers working and training alongside an certified trainer with previous personal training experience.

Study Options for Personal Trainers in California

Associate degree programs for fitness instructors are all over California. Here are just a few of many options for students pursuing careers:

  • Los Angeles Trade Technical College. Students earn an Associate of Arts for Transfer (AA-T) in Kinesiology. The program lasts 60 units and includes aquatic exercise, body conditioning and weight training.
  • Los Angeles City College. While earning their AA-T in Kinesiology at this school, students learn teaching techniques, coaching, exercise physiology, group and personal training, sports and fitness biomechanics, sports nutrition and more. Students must demonstrate an overall GPA of 2.0 or higher to graduate.
  • Skyline College. Located in San Bruno, just south of San Francisco, Skyline College also offers an AA-T degree in Kinesiology. Courses include wrestling, self-defense, body conditioning, strength training and a variety of sports.
  • Cypress College. Located in Cypress, CA, this school offers its students an AA-T degree with a concentration in Workforce Fitness & Wellness. Courses include health assessment, sports conditioning, nutrition for fitness and teaching cardiovascular exercise.

If earning an associate’s degree is not right for you, consider studying something related in a community college personal training program. Although you won’t earn a degree, you will learn the skills necessary to pass your certification exam and become a certified personal trainer in California.

In addition, consider joining one of the many clubs or organizations throughout California that promote physical fitness, such as:

  • American College of Sports Medicine, San Diego Chapter
  • International Health Racquet and Sportsclub Association
  • International Fitness Professionals Association, Los Angeles Chapter

If you decide not to go back to school but instead begin training clients out of your home, you must first obtain a business license.

Starting Out as a Personal Trainer

It takes time to become successful as a personal trainer. Most start out with part-time work and moderate pay, since they may not have the experience necessary to charge more. Keep in mind that everything you learn about exercise — from basic training styles and techniques to specialized training for particular sports — can be used to better your clients’ workouts and health-related exercise programs.

A good background a candidate to become personal fitness trainer might include sports medicine, an exercise science degree, or any course of study that includes exercise physiology, nutrition

Instructors who work in fitness centers may also need to take special classes so they are familiar with the gym equipment and protocols. Also, many gyms require instructors to take CPR/AED courses.

Newly certified trainers must pass the National Council for Strength and Fitness (NCSF) exam to become a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT).

Personal Trainer Certification in California

Do I need to be certified to become a personal trainer in California?

Personal training certification isn’t a requirement in California, but it will greatly increase your job prospects. Most employers prefer to hire professional trainers with certification from a well-known national agency. Certification is offered by many organizations and all require, at minimum, a written test. Look for certification organizations accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).

Some of the top personal trainer certifications include the American Council on Exercise (ACE), National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) and National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

There is also a certified fitness trainer program provided by the California Bridge Academy. This high school-plus-training program takes about three years to complete and includes internships and courses in anatomy, physiology, nutrition and child development.

The American Council on Exercise – ACE  is a non-profit organization that awards certification to trainers who complete an exam and have significant previous fitness experience. Founded in 1969, it was one of the first organizations to provide personal trainer certification. Areas of study for ACE certification include fitness testing, program design, nutrition and weight management, weight training and business.

ACE  also offers continuing education courses for professionals who want to stay up-to-date on the latest fitness trends.

The National Academy of Sports Medicine – NASM is another non-profit organization that provides personal training certification in California through written exams followed by practical application. Topics covered in this course include anatomy, physiology, kinesiology and nutrition.

The International Sports Sciences Association-ISSA  offers certification in personal training and sports conditioning. Its areas of study cover fitness assessment and program design guidelines. A year of supervised experience is mandatory before taking the sports trainers association exam.

In addition to these organizations, trainers must take CPR/AED courses to be certified as a personal trainer.

Use the search box at the top of this page to find online personal training certification progams. At the bottom of the page you’ll find a list of training schools where you can find formal training in exercise science, athletic training programs and kinesiology.

Career Opportunities as a Personal Trainer in California

The job outlook for California fitness and aerobics instructors (which include personal trainers) is very positive. The Projections Managing Partnership expects employment for these professionals to increase by 10.4 percent by 2026.

They’re also paid higher in California than they are on average nationwide, with California fitness and aerobics instructors earning a median income of $23.43 per hour in 2018. Those holding a personal trainer certificate enjoy salaries on the higher end of the spectrum in this category.

Some organizations are seeing huge increases in numbers of people seeking out their certifications. NSCA-CPT has increased by 70 percent; ACE Personal Trainer’s 30 percent; NASM – CPT has increased by 50 percent; NCCA-CPT by 38 percent!

California Personal Trainer Salary & Job Growth Trends

• California professionals are much better compensated than their national counterparts, this is true in all parts of the country. While nationwide they make an average hourly wage of $21.70, in California they earn an average of $32.00 an hour.

• California will have 147 percent more job openings in 2018 than it did in 2014.

• Although California is home to both San Francisco and Silicon Valley (Silicon Valley in particular has a wealth of tech companies), the largest number of job openings will be for fitness pros in Los Angeles. So if you want to find regular work, this may be the best option for you.

• The highest growth areas for personal trainer jobs are expected to be in the tech, health care and insurance industries.

The average salary for this profession in L.A. is $53,270 – that’s lower than the state’s median annual income of $59,846! However, it’s worth noting that these statistics only include the most competitive metro areas in California.

The average salary for a fitness instructor in San Francisco is $69,275. The median salary of these professionals is about the same as the median annual income for the state.

In San Diego, personal trainers enjoy a median salary of $56,942 per year.

Where To Work in California

Where there are large populations, there tend to be more certified fitness professionals. According to the BLS, the highest number of California fitness and aerobics instructors were employed in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego in 2018. The BLS doesn’t provide salary data for personal fitness trainers alone, but the statistics show that the highest-paid fitness trainers and aerobics instructors that year were in the Oxnard area, earning a median income of $27.85 per hour.

When it comes to career advancement, there are some other cities in California besides Los Angeles where the personal fitness trainer can make themselves more marketable. For example, opportunities may exist for those looking to work as fitness trainers at corporate wellness centers like Club One Fitness (are you seeing a pattern here? Work with tech companies or health care organizations!)

In addition to working with tech companies and health care organizations, other competitive California-based fitness jobs include becoming a fitness instructor at resorts, spas and cruise lines.

Where to Work in Los Angeles?

Los Angeles is home to some of the most competitive health care organizations in the country, including Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The largest employers in L.A. are UCLA, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and California State University at Los Angeles.

Where to Work in San Francisco?

San Francisco is home to some of the leading health care organizations in the country, including UCSF Medical Center and California Pacific Medical Center. Here are the top employers of in San Francisco:

University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) – 804 employees Kaiser Permanente – 652 employees Sutter Health – 269 employees California Pacific Medical Center – 241 employees San Francisco State University – 185 employees

Where to Work in Sacramento?

Sacramento, California is the state’s capital and a large metro area. The largest employers of in Sacramento are UC Davis Health System, Shriners Hospitals for Children – Northern California and Sutter Health.

According to the BLS, the average salary for fitness instructors in Sacramento is $62,680.

Where to Work in San Diego?

San Diego is home to some of the largest health care organizations in California, including UCSD Medical Center and Scripps Health. These are the top employers of personal fitness trainers in San Diego:

Scripps Health – 330 employees University of California at San Diego (UCSD) – 195 employees Sharp HealthCare – 175 employees Kaiser Permanente – 100 employees UC San Diego Medical Center – 93 employees.

Where to Work in Pasedena?

These are the top employers of trainers in Pasedena: UCLA – 490 employees Cedars-Sinai Medical Center – 130 employees California State University at Los Angeles. Look for large companies with fitness facilities.

How to start your own personal training business in California

If you’re not interested in working for someone else, you might want to consider starting your own business. This guide provides everything you need to know about getting started and join the many self-employed trainers who enjoy professional independence.

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