You’ve always felt at home in a well-equipped gym, and a day rarely goes by that you don’t workout. Exercise fanatic, gym rat, fitness freak — you’ve heard all the names, and you wear them with pride. But becoming a personal trainer takes more than just a great physique and a love of exercise.
Becoming part of the thriving personal fitness industry means joining a workforce of nearly 270,000 trainers dedicated to inspiring and motivating their clients to strive for their full potential. Whether helping physically active clients get the most out of their time in the gym, or introducing retirees to their first gym experience, working as a personal trainer means being a motivational coach, fitness mentor and teacher, as well as a personal confidant to your clients.
Health clubs, gyms, recreation centers, specialty studios, resorts and hospitals all look for trainers that are knowledgeable of exercise and the science of body movement, and that also have the people skills to give clients the kind of empowering and inspirational training experience that makes them dig deep to achieve their personal fitness goals.
If you want to become a personal trainer, you will need to make sure your resume is just as impressive as your six-minute mile and your six-pack abs. Here’s what you need to do to impress potential employers and build a loyal client base:
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Step 1. Earn a Degree in a Related Subject
Degrees in areas related to personal training are designed to prepare you for all aspects of the job, from how to design and implement an exercise routine tailored to the unique needs of each client, to how to effectively communicate and motivate a diverse group of people. Earning an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in a relevant area of study will:
- Help you develop analytical, critical thinking, communication and interpersonal skills
- Provide you with technical skills and a foundation of knowledge in exercise science
- Allow you to think creatively and apply logic and analysis to meet the needs of your clients
- Provide you with the competence to implement exercise and nutrition strategies
- Allow you to apply scientific principles in designing and assessing fitness programs
Some of the most popular majors for personal trainers include:
- Exercise science
- Personal training
- Sports medicine
- Fitness and health management
- Physical education
- Exercise physiology
A comprehensive course of study in a degree program specific to these majors will result in gaining applied knowledge and skills in:
- Exercise physiology
- Functional anatomy
- Health and fitness
- Body composition assessment
- Exercise prescriptions for weight management, muscular fitness, flexibility, etc.
- Exercise and obesity
- Exercise for children/older adults/women
- Anatomical design and function
- Effective exercise selection
- Lower/upper body exercises
- Program planning
Applying what you have learned in your degree program will position you for success, while helping to ensure the safety of your clients as they work to reach their personal fitness goals.
Step 2. Become Certified
Personal training is an industry-regulated profession that uses professional certification to serves as the mark of professionalism, knowledge and your personal commitment to the field.
The professional credential(s) you choose to earn will be based on a number of factors that are unique to you and your career goals. These factors include your level of education and experience, as well as your knowledge of specialized focus areas, which can include everything from strength training to medical exercise. Some programs expect you to hold an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in a relevant area of study just to meet their basic certification requirements.
In all cases, the certification you choose should be recognized by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).
Achieving professional certification generally consists of online study and passing a related examination. Some certifying bodies offer online classes, while others require you to purchase learning materials, such as textbooks, DVDs, and self-study guides. Some programs consist of both classroom study and hands-on training.
It is common to achieve more than one certification in personal training, depending on your specific career goals and the different areas of specialization you’d like to focus on.
The top certifying bodies with proper accreditation include:
- American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
- American Council on Exercise (ACE)
- American Fitness Professional and Associates (AFPA)
- National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
- National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF)
- National Strength and Conditioning Association
- National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT)
Step 3. Get Started in your New Career
As an independent personal trainer, you are only as successful as your client list. Since many employers hire personal trainers as independent contractors, there’s a good chance you will be responsible for drumming up business. Many personal trainers get their businesses off the ground by offering free consultations, attending seminars and trade shows, and offering free training sessions to new clients.
Many personal trainers find that marketing themselves is easier once they focus their career on a specific niche of personal training. For example, you may choose to specialize your personal training business on aerobic training, weight training, or boot camp-style workouts, or you may focus your career on working with seniors, women, or even children.
If you land a job at a health club or gym, the facility will likely book appointments for you. Even under these circumstances, building rapport is still very important since most clients will work with you on an ongoing basis to ensure the continuity of their personalized exercise program. If they love you so much that they refer their friends and family, you’ll not only develop a great reputation in the eyes of your employer, you could get paid commission for bringing in new memberships.