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How to Become a Fitness Trainer in California

Not only is California home to six of the top 15 fittest cities in the country according to Men’s Fitness, ten of the country’s latest fitness trends including Spinning, Piloxing and U-Jam also originated in the state.

As a personal trainer in California, you’ll have the opportunity to work with a wide variety of the state’s fitness fanatics and outdoor enthusiasts, from cross country skiers to rock climbers and avid backpackers. As a trained and educated personal trainer, many of these athletes will look to you for help in improving strength, flexibility and stamina as they prepare for their next weekend excursion.

If you’re into fitness and performance nutrition, California hosts the likes of fitness guru Robb Wolf, a California State Powerlifting Champion, recently named one of the “100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness” by Greatist.com. The author of a blog, podcast and several books, Wolf just might be the top Paleo diet and workout expert of the day. If you have a similar passion for fitness and love seeing gym-goers achieve results, a career in personal training could very well be the start of your own workout movement.

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In addition, California’s personal trainers make very competitive salaries when compared to most other states. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, company-employed personal trainers made an average of $47,790 per year in 2012. This figure does not include self-employed trainers or studio owners, who make a whole lot more!

Becoming a Personal Trainer in California

Due to its thriving gym and fitness culture, employers in California are increasingly seeking the most qualified personal trainers to serve their clientele. These high expectations make education and national certification more imperative than optional.

Education and Formal Training

With a degree in exercise science, sports medicine or a related field, you’ll gain specialized knowledge in nutrition, fitness and coaching that sets you apart in the eyes of future employers. Education programs also offer unparalleled opportunities to gain pre-employment experience. Whether by teaching a student-led group fitness class or shadowing a personal trainer, your degree program will help you build an impressive personal training resume.

Students pursuing careers in personal training typically enroll in degree programs with one of the following majors:

Two-year associate’s degree in:

  • Fitness and Health
  • Exercise Science

Four-year bachelor’s degree in:

  • Kinesiology
    • Including courses in Leading Group Fitness Activities, Psycho/Social Aspects of Physical Activity and Managing Kinesiology Programs
  • Exercise Physiology
    • Including courses in Exercise Testing and Prescription, Sports Epidemiology and Nutrition and Physical Fitness

  • Exercise Science
    • Including courses in Applied Biomechanics, Statistics in Human Movement Science and Cardiopulmonary Aspects of Health-Related Exercise Programs
  • Physical Education or Coaching
  • Nutrition
  • Biology or Human Physiology
  • Sports Medicine

Core courses in any of these degree programs will typically cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Strength and conditioning
  • Theories of exercise
  • Analysis of health and fitness
  • Human anatomy
  • Weight management
  • Nutrition for sports and fitness
  • Biomechanics

In these courses you’ll learned evidence-based approaches to health and wellness that you can use to competently assess client needs and create effective, personalized workout plans. With this broad knowledge base, you’ll be an ideal fit at a range of fitness facilities whether they cater to California’s younger crowd or its senior citizens.

These programs also provide indispensable interpersonal and communication skills that would set you apart from other personal training job candidates. Employers need trainers who not only understand fitness fundamentals, but who are also able to communicate them clearly to novice clients. As a graduate of a program in one of the above named majors, you’ll have the opportunity to hone your communication skills in guided training experiences, making you a truly desirable candidate.

Personal Training Certification

Nearly all employers require their personal trainers hold one or more national certifications, so you’ll want to be certified through a national agency after you complete your degree program. Some of these certifications will actually require you complete your degree before taking the exam, and most also require CPR certification.

The following are ten major personal training certification agencies accepted by employers in California:

  • National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (NSCA-CSCS)
    • Requires a 4-year degree

  • National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT)
    • Must have at least two years of fitness experience
  • National Endurance and Sports Trainers Association (NESTA)
  • International Fitness Professionals Association (IFPA)
  • The Cooper Institute
  • The American Council on Exercise (ACE)
  • The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
  • The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
  • National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT)
  • American Fitness Professionals and Associates (AFPA)

If you have a passion for a particular area of fitness, you might also want to pursue additional certification in that area. For example, if you plan to teach swimming or water aerobics, you’ll likely need to have a lifeguarding or water safety certification. You might also decide to coach a sport or lead fitness classes on a part-time basis to gain additional experience while in school.

The following are examples of some additional certifications that you might consider available through the certifying organizations named above:

  • Sports Fitness Certification
  • Certified Pilates Fitness Instructor
  • Aquatic Fitness Professional
  • Flexibility Coach
  • Certified Health Fitness Specialist
    • Requires a 4-year degree

Starting your Career as a Personal Trainer in California

If you’re wondering just what employers in the field are looking for, job postings from top fitness clubs will offer great insight. Although your own career will be unique in many ways, these March 2015 postings illustrate what a future job could entail:

  • Renaissance Fitness requires that candidates hold national certification and prefers those with experience in Exercise Physiology, Exercise Science, Physical Education, Sports Medicine, Nutrition or related disciplines. As a member of their team, you’ll be expected to design customized, safe workout programs for clients in one-on-one sessions and monitor their progress.
  • Equinox in Glendale and Pasadena requires prospective trainers to hold national certification and prefers those with previous fitness experience. Their personal trainers enjoy an earning potential of up to $100,000 and more than 160 hours of paid education with the potential to become a Master Instructor or in-club Manager.
  • Beach Fitness/CrossFit in Seal Beach require trainers at their club to have previous personal training experience or a degree in a fitness-related field. You’ll also need to be certified, and able to comfortably guide clients individually and in small groups.

You’ll also want to look into the classes a particular studio offers as you consider future employment, as they often look for personal trainers with specialized certification in areas that best suit the needs of their clientele. Whether you decide to jump onboard a California original like SurfSet or get certified in classics like Yoga or Pilates, you’ll want to make sure your skill set matches the focus at the studio where you’d like to work.

The following rotation of classes at California Family Fitness in Sacramento provides a great example of what classes you might be called on to teach:

  • Zumba: the popular dance workout choreographed to Latin music
  • Step: participants step up and down to boost heart rate and tone muscles
  • Dance Step: a step workout paired to music with dance moves for added fun
  • Step Interval: a step workout combined with interval training to tone muscles
  • Cardio Dance: a classic cardio class that incorporates the latest dance moves to boost heart rate and increase endurance
  • Turbo Kick: a blend of cardio intervals and strength/endurance training
  • 20/20/20: a workout sampler featuring 20 minutes of floor aerobics, 20 minutes of step and 20 minutes of strength training

As an educated and certified personal trainer, you’ll have the competence and expertise to lead clients in group workouts like these, in addition to providing one-on-one consultations and workout design.

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