Personal Trainer Career

Anyone who has hit the gym lately knows that personal training is big business. In fact, according to the New York Times, personal training is one of the fastest growing occupational fields, thanks in large part to the industry’s expanding client demographic. In other words, it’s not just bodybuilders and gym fanatics who are seeking out the services of a personal trainer. Personal training is now a popular pursuit for the young and old; men and women; and even retirees.

Thanks to popular television shows highlighting the benefits of personal training and celebrity personal trainers like Bob Harper, Gunnar Peterson, Bob Greene, and Jillian Michaels, you’ve probably envisioned what it would be like to transform your passion for fitness into a successful career. But what does it really take to become a personal trainer?

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A generic job description of a personal trainer would likely be a health and fitness professional who provides exercise instruction through personal, often one-on-one, training sessions. However, the job of a personal trainer is much more extensive than that.

Here’s what you’ll want to know …

A Day in the Life of a Personal Trainer

You will lead your clients through comprehensive sessions, from warming up on the treadmill, to working out with kettle bells, to circuit training with free weights, to cooling down to avoid injury. The programs you lead will always consist of the three, main exercise modalities (aerobics, resistance training and flexibility training), but the specific exercises and pace will always depend on the goals and capabilities of your clients.

Whether you work as an employee on payroll, as an independent contractor, or open up a boutique studio of your own, your interaction with clients will always involve personalized attention to the unique needs of each client and a high-energy approach to keeping them motivated.

Part educator, part motivator, part drill instructor, personal trainers are essentially personalized fitness coaches for the clients they serve. This means your daily job duties as a personal trainer will likely include:

Assessing the needs of your clients: One of the first things you will do when working with new clients is assess their capabilities, specific needs and their personal fitness goals. Initial assessments involve weighing in, recording body measurements, conducting strength and endurance tests, and discussing health background and fitness goals.

  • Is your client’s goal to lose weight, improve cardiovascular health, or build muscle?
  • Are they preparing for an upcoming event, such as a wedding or even a 5K?
  • Do they have physical limitations or health issues that must be considered?

The more time you take getting to know your clients and assessing their needs, the better you’ll be able to help them achieve their goals.

Developing short- and long-term fitness goals: Your work will include setting both short- and long-term goals with your clients. Short-term goals should be measurable; i.e., losing a specific number of pounds or increasing the amount of weight they can lift. Long-term goals, on the other hand, means ultimately achieving what your clients set out to accomplish; i.e., achieving a specific weight, lowering their cholesterol level, or improving their overall health.

Being aware of your clients’ specific goals will be important in motivating your clients and encouraging them to continue working toward their final objective.

Designing and implementing a personal training plan: You must be able to design and implement a personalized training plan that will help your clients achieve their goals. The plan you create should align with your client’s abilities and strengths, and should include a variety of different routines so as to avoid monotony and keep them interested.

Many personal trainers mix up exercises, combining running, strength training, and aerobic exercise, for example. Others add sports-related or real-world workouts to be done outside of the gym. With the proper credentials you can even help develop nutritional plans that coincide with your clients’ personal training programs.

Actively working alongside your clients during the process: Much of your time as a personal trainer will be spent working alongside and observing your clients as they learn and master the training plan you have developed for them. You will be there at all times to ensure they are performing exercises correctly, to monitor their progress, and to encourage them to push through the pain.

Frequently assessing your clients’ progress: As you work with your clients throughout their program, you will likely make changes to their plan, taking into account their ability to safely complete the exercises and their increased strength and endurance.

Other job duties you can expect to complete as a personal trainer include:

  • Maintaining client paperwork, including documenting fitness goals and daily/weekly training plans
  • Attending periodic training and employee meetings
  • Tracking client training sessions and collecting payments
  • Communicating client program progress with directors or supervisors
  • Scheduling and confirming personal training appointments


Personal Trainers Work in Diverse Settings

Your career as a personal trainer gives you the option of working in any number of settings

  • Health clubs
  • Recreational centers
  • Gyms
  • Boutique studios
  • Country clubs
  • Spas and resorts
  • Hospitals
  • Universities
  • Yoga and Pilates studios
  • Clients’ homes
  • Gyms within corporate campuses

A number of factors contribute to the steady and continual increase in the number of personal trainer jobs that are being created. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), these reasons include:

  • Business and insurance companies continue to recognize the benefits of employee health and fitness programs. Personal trainers are often integral contributors to corporate and employee wellness programs, and many larger corporations now have onsite fitness facilities where personal trainers can offer their services.
  • An aging baby boomer population has spurred the demand for personal trainers who are adept at training those with physical limitations.
  • Exercise to battle childhood obesity has increased the demand for personal trainers who are able to provide safe and effective fitness routines for children and young adults.

Health Club Employment

ACE reports that the majority of personal trainers begin their careers by working for a health club or fitness facility. Doing so often allows new personal trainers to learn about the business of personal training by working alongside directors and managers. Career advancement often means achieving leadership positions as head trainer, manager, or director.

ACE also reports that hiring and promotion standards for health club personal trainers are often based upon appropriate certification, formal education (an associate or bachelor degree), and existing experience. According to ACE, personal trainers with an exercise-science related degree can expect to earn about 15 percent more than their counterparts without a post-secondary education.

Working as a full-time employee of a fitness center or gym may allow you to receive benefits in addition to your salary. The ACE salary survey revealed that those personal trainers who worked for an employer received the following benefits in addition to their salary:

  • Healthcare: 41 percent
  • Dental care: 31 percent
  • Paid vacation: 64 percent
  • Paid sick leave: 52 percent
  • Life insurance: 40 percent
  • Maternity leave: 31 percent
  • 401K: 17 percent
  • Disability insurance: 35 percent

Private Studio Employment

Working as a personal trainer in a private studio and offering dedicated personal training services often means enjoying more professional opportunities. Specifically, because you will likely work as an independent contractor in these settings, they may be the ideal setting for building your own business.

Although private studios will likely require you to pay rent and carry your own liability insurance, they may also provide you with training and guidance as you grow as a fitness expert and entrepreneur.

Independent Personal Trainers

Offering personalized training services outside of a club setting represents an emerging market for certified personal trainers. As an independent personal trainer, you may provide services in your clients’ home, in the park, or even in their workplace. This type of specialty personal training may allow you to charge a higher rate for the services you provide.

Personal Trainers are Teachers and Motivators

You already know that as a personal trainer your job will be to guide and teach your clients. But what you may not realize is that your job may be just as much about being a motivator as it is about being a teacher.

As a personal trainer, you will help your clients adhere to a routine, develop and maintain a positive outlook on exercise and fitness, and help them improve their self-confidence and self-motivation. You will accomplish this by assessing your clients and building a personal training program that best fits their needs, desires, and interests. You will also find ways to make exercise more enjoyable, and you will review their short-term progress as a way to keep them motivated and feeling good about their decision to use your services.

Your ability to select activities that your clients enjoy and your ability to choose exercises that will keep them challenged and on track to achieving their fitness goals are vital to your success in this profession. This means that a career in personal training requires you to possess a vast knowledge of exercise, exercise equipment, and techniques that you will utilize to ensure your clients’ workouts are enjoyable, appealing, and effective.

Your positive attitude and upbeat personality will make your clients want to continue to use your services. It will also encourage them to tell their friends about you, adding referrals that will help to build your personal training business.

Personal Trainers are Often Specialists

A great way to make a name for yourself and get noticed in the industry is by specializing your personal training services.

You may focus your personal training business on a specific population, such as:

  • Women (prenatal/post-natal exercise)
  • Seniors
  • Children
  • Athletes
  • Dancers

You may also focus your personal training business on a fitness specialty, such as:

  • Rehabilitative training
  • Circuit training
  • Water exercise
  • High-intensity training
  • Cycling
  • Boot camp training
  • Sports conditioning

You can even specialize in a particular discipline or training modality such as kickboxing, Pilates or yoga

Your area of specialization will likely be in line with your personal interests. Also, to market yourself as a specialist you will likely need to take courses specific to your niche and even earn specialty certification.

For example, the American Fitness Professional and Associates (AFPA) offers specialty certification in a number of areas, including: functional training, post-rehab training, senior fitness, and strength and conditioning, among others.

Preparing for a Career in Personal Training

Becoming a personal trainer and enjoying a lifelong career in this profession requires not only a love of exercise and good health, but also a solid background in the science and fitness of exercise. This ensures that the services you provide your clients are safe and effective.

Personal training is not a state or federally regulated profession, with the exception of Washington D.C., which will soon begin registering personal trainers. This means the education and training you receive is completely up to you. However, to earn credibility in the profession and a solid reputation with your clients, you will need to possess a solid resume, which typically results from the completion of a degree program and/or professional certification.

Degree Programs for Personal Trainer Jobs

Many personal trainers choose to complete a post-secondary degree in a related area of study, such as exercise science, physical education, or exercise physiology. An associate or bachelor degree is a solid first step to achieving a comprehensive education that will drive your career and ensure you are entering the profession with a base of knowledge that will serve your clients well.

There are also degrees that offer a concentration or focus in personal training. For example, a number of exercise science degrees now offer a specialty concentration in personal training, thereby allowing you to further focus your post-secondary education.

Coursework in this type of program includes studying topics related to exercise and fitness, as well as topics related to business:

  • Kinesiology
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Nutrition
  • Interpersonal relations
  • Business ethics and law
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Professional and career development

Professional Certification for Personal Trainer Jobs

In addition, professional certification is commonplace in this industry, with many national associations offering professional certification through a combination of study and examination. Some of the higher profile organizations that offer certification for personal trainers include:

  • American Fitness Professional and Associates (AFPA)
  • American Council on Exercise (ACE)
  • National Strength and Conditioning Association
  • American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
  • National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
  • National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF)

In addition to serving as a mark of distinction and commitment to your profession, professional certification will provide you with advanced knowledge in a number of areas of exercise and fitness. For example, a typical certification program covers areas such as:

  • Functional anatomy
  • Exercise physiology
  • Nutrition
  • Weight management
  • Screening, evaluating, and professional practice
  • Physical activity and health promotion
  • Considerations for special populations

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