Become a Personal Trainer

Becoming a personal trainer can be your career choice if you love fitness and helping others achieve their goals. As a fitness enthusiast, you’ve probably already done unofficial personal training over the years. There are more steps to take to get certified as a personal trainer, find employment, or set up your independent business. Learn more about this career to decide if it is the right one for you.

The Pros and Cons of Personal Training

From the outside, personal training looks like a satisfying career. You get to help people in a field you love, it’s flexible, and you have lots of options for where you can work. There are some great things about personal training, but it’s important to look at every angle before taking the plunge.


Some of the best things about personal training are:

  • Working one on one: If you’re good with people, personal training gives you a chance to delve into each client’s situation, get to know them, and then use your knowledge and creativity to create workouts that fit them.
  • Rewarding: There’s nothing better than that moment when a client can finally see and feel the difference in her body.
  • Flexibility: In many cases, you can set your schedule for which hours and days you work. You may even be able to set your fees if you work for yourself.
  • Variety: Personal training can often be a jumping-off point for other things like being a fitness instructor, a health writer, or going further in your education.


Be prepared for these challenges:

  • It’s tough to make a living: Personal trainers can make anywhere from $15 per hour to more than $100 per hour, depending on where you live and work. But you may work limited hours per week, which reduces the total income.
  • Uncertain income: Cancellations happen all the time in personal training. One day you may have a full schedule and the next, no one to work with—which means you’re not getting paid.
  • The flip side of a flexible schedule: Clients may need to cancel or reschedule without much notice. And most will want to train either before work or after, so your busy hours will often be very early or late at night.
  • Having to sell your services: Most people don’t get in the business because they love selling, but that is a part of your job, especially if you work at a commercial gym.
  • Risk of burnout: Personal training takes a lot of energy, both physically and mentally. It’s easy to get burned out, especially if you’re training all the time.

Characteristics of a Good Personal Trainer

Personal trainers need to have a multitude of skills. Just some of the characteristics that will help you include being:1

  • Analytical
  • Patient
  • Nurturing
  • Persistent
  • Organized
  • An effective motivator
  • A good listener

You should enjoy working with different kinds of people and be a self-motivator.

You don’t have to look like a bodybuilder to be a fitness trainer, but you should lead a healthy lifestyle to be a good role model for your clients.

All of those are helpful, but it’s also helpful to know what it’s like to train clients day in and day out. That’s something you can learn when you get certified, but the experience is always the best teacher. Training may seem like a breeze, but it’s tougher than you may realize.

You’ll work with clients who:

  • Have injuries or other conditions2
  • Blame you if they don’t reach their fitness or weight loss goals
  • Cancel with little or no notice
  • Are afraid to push too hard or, on the other hand, want to push harder than they should
  • Are not compliant with the workouts you give them
  • Have never exercised and need good cueing for even the most basic of exercises
  • Show up with workout shoes or other necessary gear
  • Have all kinds of excuses for why they can’t or don’t exercise

Each person is different, and you need to be able to determine how hard you can push that client, what that client needs, and what they want. You also have to be very flexible and be ready to change on a dime if a workout isn’t going well.

1. Getting Certified as a Personal Trainer

If you’ve decided personal training is for you, your first step is to get certified. The most important factor is whether the certifying organization has been accredited. Certifying organizations have their certification procedures and protocols accredited by an independent third party, such as the NCCA. If there a specific employer you want to work for, find out what certifications they require or recognize.

Research these questions at the websites for certifying organizations:

  1. Is it a national/international certification? Is it universally recognized?
  2. What are the prerequisites for the exam? Most require, at a minimum, a high school diploma, a CPR certification, and that you’re at least 18 years of age.
  3. Does the exam require attendance at a workshop or seminar, and where are these offered? Is a home study program?
  4. Can the exam be taken online, or must you attend an on-site examination? If on-site, where and when are the exams offered?
  5. How much does it cost? The costs vary from about $300 to more than $1000, and may not include the study materials and workshops.
  6. What are the continuing education requirements to renew the certificate? Completing a certain number of continuing education hours is a requirement of most certifications and will be an extra expense to consider.

You can find a comparison tool at Personal Training Certification School Comparison.

Certifying Organizations

While there are others, these are some of the well-known certification organizations and their accreditations:

  • ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine)2
    • Accredited by NCCA
  • ACE (American Council on Exercise)
    • Accredited by NCCA
  • AFPA (American Fitness Professionals and Associates)
    • Not accredited
  • IFPA (International Fitness Professionals Association)
    • Accredited by NCCA
  • ISSA (International Sports & Sciences Association)
    • Accredited by DEAC.
  • NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine)
    • Accredited by NCCA
  • NCSA (National Strength and Conditioning Association)
    • Accredited by NCCA
  • NCSF (National Council on Strength and Fitness)
    • Accredited by NCCA
  • NFPT (National Federation of Professional Trainers)
    • Accredited by NCCA

3. Finding a Personal Trainer Job

One of the great things about personal training is that there are a variety of places you can work, not just at a health club.3 You may be an employee of a business or work as an independent contractor for them. You may also train clients as your own business. If you’re just starting out, you might want to work for a larger club to get experience while not having to worry about running your own business.

  • Commercial Gyms: Working at a popular gym is a great way to get experience and many of those clubs, such as XSport, 24 Hour Fitness, Gold’s Gym, and Planet Fitness, often hire new trainers all the time. The drawback can be lower pay, working on commission, lots of selling, and having to work long hours doing new member orientations to get new clients.
  • Personal Training Studios: Studios focus almost entirely on personal training and small group training. Because they’re so specialized, they may require more experience or education, but they will also typically pay more.
  • Local Community Centers: Check with your local community centers or park district to find out about local clubs that hire personal trainers. Almost all fitness clubs have personal training available, which may be a great place to start.
  • Hospitals or Wellness Centers: Many hospitals employ personal trainers to help patients recover from illnesses and conditions. These places may require a higher degree or a specialty for working with clients who may have health challenges.
  • Cruise Ships: Many cruises now offer personal training for guests. Cruise Ship Job Finders allows you to search for a variety of cruise lines for different jobs.
  • Spas/Resorts: All-inclusive resorts sometimes hire personal trainers or fitness instructors to teach exercise classes. Cool Works and are websites that provide job listings for parks, resorts, and spas.
  • Corporate Fitness: You can work for a company that offers corporate wellness packages for businesses wishing to improve their employees’ health.
  • In-Home Training. You can train clients in their homes. Another option is to set up a training studio in your home, as long as you meet the zoning and business requirements for your location.
  • Working for Yourself: Once you have gained experience and business acumen, you may set up your own studio.

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