Personal Trainer Career Information
Being fit and strong is vital to overall health. This is a commonly known fact. However, thanks to an epidemic of sedentary living (which increases the risk for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression, and other lifestyle-related illnesses) physical fitness is becoming more important than ever. There is also a growing recognition that remaining active in later years can help postpone and even diminish the effects of aging, from dementia to osteoporosis. Plus, the medical community continues to use physical training to help clients recover from injuries and manage illnesses.
Because of these factors, the personal training industry is experiencing substantial growth. Fitness training is also becoming a profession that requires more specialized expertise and knowledge.
A personal trainer is a fitness professional who helps clients achieve increased fitness and health. They can assist clients in reaching a number of physical fitness goals, ranging from weight loss to cardiovascular strength to muscle gain.
Their responsibilities generally include assessing fitness levels, working with clients to create realistic goals, developing programs, monitoring progress, and providing support, guidance, and accountability. These services are typically offered in settings such as health clubs, recreation centers, gyms, corporate wellness centers, yoga studios, resorts, cruise ships, and clients' homes. Personal trainers with specialized skills can also work in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and long-term care facilities.
They often work one-on-one with clients, but they can also take on group fitness classes, boot camps, and semi-private training sessions. In fact, there is a trend toward group-based fitness activities, especially within health club facilities.
What Does the Job Entail?
A personal trainer works with a wide range of individuals who want to reach various health and fitness-related goals.
As a trainer, you can expect that your clients will include those who:
- Want to lose weight or gain muscle
- Need to learn proper form 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
- Have a specific athletic goal in mind
When you take on a new client, the first step you will need to carry out is a full assessment of his or her individual fitness level. This will typically include assessing:
- Attitudes and behaviors
- Balance, stability, and mobility
- Medical history and risk factors
- Cardiorespiratory fitness
- Muscular strength and endurance
- Body composition (e.g., waist-to-hip ratio, body mass index [BMI], etc.)
- Heart rate and blood pressure
You may also ask clients to fill out a self-assessment form, such as the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q). Plus, you can discuss any challenges that your client might be facing, such as physical limitations, poor lifestyle choices, or stress. At this point, you can also have them sign a legal waiver of liability. And, if necessary, you may need to refer your client to an appropriate health care provider.
Once you have completed a comprehensive assessment, the next step is to work with your client to set appropriate and realistic goals and timelines. Then, you need to develop a workout plan to help your client reach his or her individual goals. You can follow a variety of procedures for goal setting, but a popular one that is endorsed by many organizations is the SMART method, which focuses on setting specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely goals.
A health and fitness plan can consist of various types of exercise, including aerobic (cardio), resistance (strength), and flexibility training. As part of the plan, you can utilize a broad range of equipment, including free weights, resistance tubes, exercise balls, weighted belts, balance boards, medicine balls, kettle bells, and more. You can also employ treadmills, elliptical trainers, stationary bikes, and other gym equipment.
Additionally, you can prescribe particular diets for your clients to follow in order to help them reach their goals and maximize the returns on their effort. For example, a client with high blood pressure might be advised to reduce cholesterol intake; a client who is overweight would benefit from lowering his calorie consumption; and a client who wants to build muscle may be counseled in increasing protein in her diet. Further to this, you can provide education related to making other lifestyle modifications, such as quitting smoking or taking steps to minimize stress.
When implementing a fitness plan, you will likely model the proper form for each exercise and provide instruction related to the duration and intensity of the exercise. A big part of being a personal trainer involves supervising clients throughout each step of their workouts while providing feedback and motivation to keep them on track. You can also teach the correct pre- and post-workout stretches in order to avoid unnecessary injury.
Whether you meet with particular clients on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, you can also expect to follow up with them regularly to monitor how well they are meeting their goals. That can mean sending emails to see if they are adhering to the plan outside of scheduled appointments or meeting with them to give feedback on their progress.
If you work as an employee of a gym or health club, your job might require you to perform other tasks in addition to conducting personal training sessions. These can include signing up new clients, giving facility orientations, supervising areas of the gym, inspecting fitness equipment, and providing in-house seminars. Working in a smaller gym can also entail minding the front desk, answering phones, and more.
As a personal trainer, you could 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.
Outside of a fitness setting, you will need to spend time on administrative tasks, such as updating client records. This can include revising fitness plans for new or updated goals, overtraining, plateaus, or injuries. If you are planning to operate your own personal training business, you should also budget time for marketing efforts, bookkeeping and invoicing, and other tasks associated with running a small business.
Can You Tell Me How to Get Into the Field?
If you are interested in a fitness-training career, then learning how to become a personal trainer is an essential first step. Technically, there are no legal requirements for working in the personal training profession. However, industry employers typically expect certification along with practical experience and/or formal education before they will hire you. Plus, clients tend to look for certified professionals since it's important that they can trust your expertise.
Most gyms will not hire or admit trainers who do not possess at least one accredited certification credential. Additionally, accredited certification is often a requirement of many insurers who provide liability insurance. This means that attempting to pursue a career in this field without certification from a reputable organization can severely limit any potential opportunities for employment.
An education related to health and fitness can provide a leg up in the industry. A vocational school, college, or university program can cover the required subjects and give you the opportunity to gain valuable practical skills. Most programs are designed to teach the material needed to take various industry certification examinations, but they often provide additional instruction in complementary topics.
A program 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
Short-term certificate and diploma programs can allow you to gain the fundamental knowledge to take certification examinations and pursue entry-level personal trainer positions. However, it is becoming increasingly common for industry employers to require an associate's degree or bachelor's degree in exercise science, kinesiology, or physical education, especially if you are interested in working in a rehabilitation facility or taking on another specialized role.
If your career goals involve becoming a fitness director, then going on to complete a master's degree program could be a good choice.
Once you become a personal trainer, you can choose from a few different options for employment. You may wish to pursue a position within a fitness facility, such as a gym, corporate wellness center, rehabilitation facility, or community center. Additionally, you could venture down the entrepreneurial route, which means taking on your own clients and working in a variety of settings.
In order to land clients, you will need to be ready to provide the following information:
- References from past clients and/or employers
- Proof of certification
- Your personal training philosophy
How Do I Get Certified?
In order 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) and (AED) certification
- Possess a high school diploma or GED equivalent
- Have fitness experience (which can include playing sports, adhering to a fitness program, and/or obtaining related education)
If you want to gain a more advanced certification, you may need to possess a post-secondary education (such as an undergraduate degree) in a related field. Some certifications are also available for those who possess a graduate degree in a relevant discipline.
On top of initial certification, you will need to keep your certification current. That means renewing on an annual or biannual basis, which typically requires proof of recognized continuing education credits. The continuing education component is in place to ensure that you maintain your commitment to the field through ongoing professional development of your skills and knowledge.
What is the Best Personal Trainer Certification?
You should be looking for a program that is accredited by an accrediting agency such as the NCCA (National Commission for Certifying Agencies). Accreditation is a seal of approval given to programs that cover the necessary theoretical and practical components and which require students to take comprehensive examinations.
The most-recognized accredited fitness trainer certifications include those from the following organizations:
- American Council on Education (ACE)
- American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
- National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
- National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
Depending on your specific goals, these organizations also offer certifications in niche areas, which can prepare you to focus on training clients with cancer, cognitive disabilities, compromised cardiovascular health, and other issues. You can also opt for certification that can prepare you to work in rehabilitative settings. Plus, there are clinical certifications that can be acquired if you decide to pursue a master's degree or higher.
In addition to obtaining a valuable credential, many of these organizations provide certified members with a variety of benefits, such as discounted equipment, insurance, and trade publication subscriptions. You can also be listed in their online and print directories of personal training professionals. Further to this, many organizations hold networking and continuing education events that include lectures, demonstrations, trade shows, and more.
How Much Does Certification Cost?
The typical certification cost generally lands around the $100 to $600 mark depending on the specific program. However, what this fee covers can vary greatly. Some certification programs will provide study materials (such as textbooks, DVDs, audio or video downloads, practice tests, access to online resources, and study guides) in the sticker price whereas others will not.
You should also keep in mind that you will need to pay a renewal fee on an annual or biannual basis to keep your certification valid.
If you plan to enroll in a post-secondary program, then the initial cost of certification may be included in your tuition. Additionally, if you already work at a health club or possess veteran status, you may qualify for discounts on certification fees.
Again, it's best to check with individual certifying organizations since each has its own fee structure.
How Long Does Training Take?
Here are some things that you might need to take into account:
- The length of the post-secondary program you choose (if you go that route)
- The amount of experience needed to qualify for certification (if your program doesn't contain an internship)
- The time needed to find a job or land clients
Cheap and easy "certification-in-a-day" programs can allow you to simply pay a fee and receive certification, but those credentials aren't likely to help you land a job or impress clients. Plus, they won't ensure that you're capable of doing the work of a personal trainer.
Realistically, completing a post-secondary education can take anywhere from a couple of months to a few years. However, many individuals tend to work in a gym-type setting during that time, giving them the opportunity to gain experience in the field and build relationships with potential employers and clients.
Additionally, while you may graduate ready to take on clients, building a business takes time. Therefore, you may want to consider that working as a part-time trainer—until you've secured a good amount of clients—is often a reality of this career choice.
How Much Can I Make?
To help you understand the following salary statistics, here are some factors that can affect earning potential:
- Education level
- Industry experience
- Specialized skills and/or training
- Geographic location
According to U.S. estimates (May 2016): *
- The mean hourly wage was $20.57, which works out to approximately $42,780 annually.
- The highest-paid 10 percent of personal trainers earned more than $35.09 per hour ($72,980 or more per year).
The average income for personal trainers varies greatly from state to state. For example, the top-paying states and regions in 2016 included New York, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and California, where the annual mean wage ranged from $50,260 to $61,660.
To fully comprehend the earning potential, it's important to realize that the pay model for this profession varies within the industry. Salaried 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.
Is the Job Outlook Favorable?
According to national estimates, employment opportunities for personal trainers are expected to increase by 8.4 percent from 2014 to 2024. This rise is greater than the projected average growth for all occupations and could result in a surge of approximately 23,400 new jobs for the fitness training profession.**
A number of factors are anticipated to contribute to this growth, including:
- A large population of older adults who are expected to obtain health services to prevent age-related injuries and diseases
- An increasing amount of businesses that are predicted to offer health and wellness benefits to their employees, including fitness incentives and on-site facilities
- A variety of initiatives that will target societal issues such as obesity and sedentary lifestyles
- A growing interest in specialized areas of training, such as yoga and Pilates
Additionally, those who possess accredited industry certification and/or a post-secondary education are considered to have greater potential for employment.
What are the Job's Benefits?
Although you may have other reasons for pursuing a career in this field, here are some of the most notable benefits of being a personal trainer:
- Flexibility—You could have the chance to enjoy a flexible schedule because you can generally set the hours that you are available.
- Job satisfaction—If you are passionate about fitness and want to spend your days sharing that passion with others, then this could be a fulfilling career choice for you.
- Physical activity—Since the job often requires demonstrating exercises and setting the pace for various activities, spending your days being active is often a welcome perk.
- Social interaction—You could work closely with a number of clients, within a number of different settings. If you are a people person, this can be a great bonus.
- Rewarding moments—Helping clients reach their goals can be rewarding. Not only can achieving fitness goals be good for their health, but also their confidence and happiness.
* Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last accessed on September 13, 2017.
** Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, website last accessed on February 25, 2016.
Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), website last accessed on March 20, 2014.
American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), website last accessed on April 16, 2015.
American Council on Exercise (ACE), website last accessed on March 20, 2014.
International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA), website last accessed on March 20, 2014.
National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), website last accessed on March 20, 2014.
National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT), website last accessed on March 20, 2014.
National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), website last accessed on March 20, 2014.
The Occupational Information Network (O*NET), website last accessed on November 30, 2016.