Personal Trainer School Options
By Crystal Lee
| Last Updated
Fitness training is a fast-growing field that provides the opportunity for fulfilling work, flexible schedules, and other advantages. A personal trainer school near you may offer courses that can help you begin guiding people safely toward their goals for physical conditioning and well-being.
Find a Personal Fitness Trainer School
Education & Training
By attending a fitness trainer school, you can learn important skills for helping people reach their physical goals.
Length of Training
Personal trainer programs typically take anywhere from two to 12 months to complete. If you pursue an undergraduate degree in a related area like exercise science, it can take 24 to 48 months to complete your education.*
Most Common Length of School*
(range in months)
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Certificate and diploma programs can allow you to gain the fundamental knowledge to take certification exams and pursue entry-level personal trainer positions.
Associate and bachelor's degree programs in disciplines like kinesiology, exercise science, or physical education provide a broader scope of training. It's becoming increasingly common for employers to require such a degree, especially if you are interested in working in a rehabilitation facility or taking on another specialized role.
Master's degree programs build on the concepts learned at the bachelor's level. They can help you qualify for leadership roles like fitness director or head athletic trainer.
An O*NET OnLine survey asked fitness trainers and aerobics instructors to indicate the required level of education. Here's how the responses broke down:
- Post-secondary certificate: 36 percent
- Associate degree: 20 percent
- Bachelor's degree: 20 percent
Programs can cover a wide range of subjects, including:
- Anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology
- Client assessment and goal setting
- Program development
- Fitness concepts and exercise principles
- Exercise techniques and form
- Injury management and emergency medical care
- Motivation and communication
- Nutrition and lifestyle modifications
- Business and legal skills
Skills You Can Learn
You can start developing abilities related to:
- Evaluating a client's mobility, balance, strength, endurance, and flexibility
- Setting appropriate goals
- Designing safe workout programs
- Demonstrating proper exercise form and techniques
- Adapting fitness programs for different client characteristics
- Motivating clients to achieve their best
- Communicating with clients in a clear and respectful way
Licensing & Certification
Legally, personal trainers do not need to be licensed or certified. However, most gyms will not hire or admit trainers who do not possess at least one accredited certification. Plus, certification is often required in order to get liability insurance.
Look for a program that is accredited by an agency like the NCCA (National Commission for Certifying Agencies). Such accreditation is a seal of approval given to programs that cover the necessary theoretical and practical components and require students to take comprehensive exams.
Accredited certification programs are available from many different organizations, including:
- American Council on Exercise (ACE)
- American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
- National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
- National Council on Strength & Fitness (NCSF)
- National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
To obtain basic certification, you will need to meet a few requirements. For most programs, you must:
- Be 18 years of age or older
- Hold current CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and AED (automated external defibrillator) certification
- Possess a high school diploma or equivalent
For more advanced certifications, you may need to have at least a bachelor's degree in a related field.
Education & Training FAQs
How much does certification cost?
Each certifying organization has its own fee structure. But based on the fees of eight different organizations (like those referenced above), it generally costs anywhere from $200 to $600 to take a personal trainer certification exam. Some providers offer packages that include the exam fee along with study materials such as textbooks, instructional videos, study guides, and practice tests. Package prices vary widely, from about $250 to $1,500.
Some post-secondary programs include the initial cost of certification in their tuition fees. Plus, if you already work at a health club or are a veteran, you may qualify for discounts on certification fees.
Do I have to renew my certification?
Yes. Most personal training certifications must be renewed every two or three years, depending on the organization. That typically requires completing a certain number of continuing education credits and paying a fee. The continuing education component is in place to ensure that you maintain your commitment to the field through ongoing professional development of your expertise.
- North Hollywood, California
- Personal Fitness Trainer
Personal trainers strive to help people improve their lives through the benefits of an active lifestyle. This field offers flexibility, variety, and good growth potential.
12.8% growth from 2018 to 2028
Median Hourly Wage
Average Yearly Openings
Length of Training
Most Common Length
Athletics and performance, nutrition and lifestyle, disease management and recovery, special populations
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- U.S. Department of Education
Salaried personal trainers are not the norm. Rather, many work on an hourly or commission-driven basis. Also, many are self-employed. So your income will likely be based, at least partially, on your ability to generate business.
According to the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, the median hourly wage for exercise trainers and group fitness instructors is $19.42. That equates to an annual salary of $40,390 for full-time work.
The top earners make $36.25 or more per hour. Full-time work at that rate would generate $75,400 or more per year.
Median Hourly Wage Comparison
Job Openings & Outlook
Between 2018 and 2028, employment of fitness trainers and aerobics instructors is expected to grow by 12.8 percent, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projections.
An average of 67,600 jobs in that category should become available each year over that same time frame. Here's how they break down:
- Newly created jobs: 4,600
- Openings due to people retiring: 22,600
- Openings resulting from people moving into other occupations: 40,400
- The satisfaction of helping others succeed: It can be immensely gratifying to see your clients become fitter, stronger, healthier, or more confident.
- Lots of flexibility: Many trainers are independent contractors who are free to set their own availability, policies, and areas of specialization.
- Endless variety: Trainers get to consider each client's unique abilities and goals, develop customized plans, and continually refine the plans as circumstances change. So every day presents an interesting challenge.
What a Personal Trainer Does
Personal trainers help clients achieve increased fitness and health. They can assist clients in reaching a number of physical fitness goals, from weight loss to cardiovascular endurance to muscle gain.
Typical tasks include:
- Assessing clients' fitness levels
- Creating realistic goals
- Developing programs that incorporate various types of exercise, such as cardio, strength, and flexibility training
- Teaching pre- and post-workout stretches to help clients avoid injury
- Supervising clients during exercises to ensure they are using proper techniques
- Monitoring clients' progress
- Providing information about nutrition or lifestyle issues
- Administering first aid if necessary
- Updating client records
Personal trainers can be found in settings like:
- Health clubs
- Recreation centers
- Corporate wellness centers
- Yoga studios
- Hotels and resorts
- Cruise ships
- Rehabilitation centers
- Retirement complexes
- Clients' homes
Some trainers conduct training sessions in their own homes or even online.
About 11 percent of fitness trainers and instructors are self-employed.
Personal trainers can pursue certifications in a huge range of niche areas. The list below, while not comprehensive, describes some of the major categories and the specific specialties offered in each.
Athletics and performance: Pursue one or more specialties that help sports competitors get better results, such as strength and conditioning, indoor group cycling, mixed martial arts conditioning, or golf fitness.
Nutrition and lifestyle: Help your clients make healthy eating and lifestyle choices by pursuing a specialty like sports or fitness nutrition, behavior change, weight management, or wellness coaching.
Disease management and recovery: Design programs for people dealing with injuries or chronic conditions. These clinical specialties include areas like orthopedic exercise, cancer exercise, and post-rehabilitation exercise.
Special populations: Customize fitness routines for the unique needs of groups like seniors, children, or pregnant or post-natal women.
For what reasons do people seek out the services of a personal trainer?
Personal trainers often work with people who:
- Want to lose weight or gain muscle
- Need to learn proper form in order to avoid injury
- Are interested in working out but don't know where to start
- Have a disability or are facing an illness
- Have reached a plateau while training on their own
- Want to minimize the risks of age-related illnesses and injuries
- Are interested in pre- and post-natal fitness
Do personal trainers only work one-on-one with clients?
Trainers can work with groups as well as individual clients. By becoming a group fitness leader, you could plan and choreograph fitness classes, run intensive boot camps, and lead semi-private training sessions. Many trainers specialize in this particular area, but many also take on these tasks in addition to personal training sessions.
What kind of equipment do I need to get started?
That depends on where you plan to do your training. If you will be based in a gym or fitness facility, you probably won't need to buy very much. But if you plan to see clients in their homes or yours, you will likely need to collect basic gear like:
- Floor mats
- Free weights
- Jump ropes
- Resistance bands
- Exercise balls
- Balance boards
- Weighted belts
* Length of training information is based on a combination of information from the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the U.S. Department of Education, and a wide sampling of relevant programs from about 30 individual school websites. They are a mix of public, private non-profit, and private for-profit institutions.