Throughout this article we'll cover everything from the day-to-day of a personal trainer, how to become a personal trainer, and top certifications offered for trainers.
How to Become a Personal Trainer
A personal trainer is someone who has built their career around helping clients reach their fitness goals. This job includes leading clients through a range of exercises depending on their individual goals, and the results they are hoping to see. Personal trainers make an average of $17 an hour, with the career predicted to see growth over the next few years. Potential growth in this field has been credited to baby boomers wanting to stay fit, and parents putting their children in fitness programs to supplement a lack of physical education in schools. Personal trainers have predicted having high job satisfaction, and in a survey from CareerExplorer, the job scored 3.5 out of 5 stars for happiness.
With the fitness field expected to grow, this has left many people wondering how to become a personal trainer themselves. In a career where people can strive as their own boss, people are also wondering how they can become an independent personal trainer. Being able to work independently allows people to have more freedom over the hours they work, the clients they choose, and their work-life balance. There is more than one path to becoming a personal trainer, and more than one career path you could choose to go down.
What Does A Personal Trainer Do?
It is a common misconception that a personal trainer spends their entire day working out. If you are looking to become a personal trainer then keep in mind the career is mainly about motivating and supporting others. It would be difficult to provide feedback to clients if the trainer is working out alongside them. In fact, if you become a personal trainer then you will have to set aside your own time for your fitness regime.
As a personal trainer, you can work with clients in group settings, or in one-on-one sessions. The focus of these training sessions will be what your client wants. While each individual will have their own goals and their own reasons behind seeking out a personal trainer, there are several common goals that instructors start with. These include improving endurance, strength, physical health, or flexibility. If you want to become a personal trainer then you should be aware of the job responsibilities before you start your journey.
Common personal trainer responsibilities include;
- Evaluating a client’s health and fitness levels.
- Creating customized workouts for each client based on their goals and capabilities.
- Monitor the progress of clients and keep them on track.
- Thoroughly explain each workout to clients, and have alternatives available in case they are needed.
- Stay up-to-date on new exercises and trends in the fitness industry.
- Be able to perform CPR and first aid on clients.
- If you are an instructor for a gym, be prepared to promote the gym and any fitness packages it offers.
- Make sure clients are aware of the best safety and hygiene practices.
- Be able to build a trusting and positive relationship with clients.
- Be able to advise clients on their nutritional and lifestyle habits.
Tacking your client’s health, creating custom programs, monitoring progress, describing workouts, selling packages, and tracking nutrition/lifestyle habits can all be executed through training on WeStrive.
Top Prerequisites to Become a Personal Trainer
If you want to know how to become an independent personal trainer, you first need to be aware of what the job requires. While you will need to complete a specific course to become a certified personal trainer, there are also a number of prerequisites.
Basic prerequisites to becoming a personal trainer include;
- A high school diploma.
- Previous knowledge of fitness and basic exercise routines.
- The ability to lead clients through workouts
- Personable, friendly, and motivating attitude.
- First aid and CPR certification.
- Previous experience in a fitness setting.
The minimum requirement to be a certified personal trainer is to complete and pass a credible program. While it is not required that personal trainers have a college degree, many who are working today have an Associates or Bachelors degree. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, some fitness institutions have begun to give priority to personal trainers that also have a Bachelor’s degree with a fitness or health focus. Many personal trainers today also have degrees that allow them to teach physical education in schools. However, many of these places will allow applicants to substitute a Bachelor's requirement with professional training and certification.
When a gym or other fitness institution hires a personal trainer they will typically be partnered with an experienced trainer. This allows the new trainer to see how the gym operates, and what will be expected of them.
If you become an independent personal trainer, many of the requirements that come with working for an institution won’t apply to you. As an independent trainer, you will be acting as your own small business, and there are additional requirements to be aware of.
Additional prerequisites to becoming an independent personal trainer include;
- Basic knowledge of how to run a business.
- Ability to register your business with your state government.
- Clientele or community support.
- Ability to get and keep liability insurance.
- A business website, or online presence. (Get a free website through WeStrive)
Even if you already have professional certification as a trainer, you need to register your business and purchase insurance before seeing any clients. In addition, it can be helpful to have a pool of potential clients who can hire you once your business is up and running. Having the support of your community will also help with word-of-mouth promotion. Creating a website for your business, or leveraging any online presence you already have, can also go a long way in attracting clients.
In addition to any necessary prerequisites, you will also have to make sure you pass the required courses and receive proper certification.
How to Get a Degree to Become a Personal Trainer
When it comes to receiving certification to become a personal trainer, there are a number of professional associations you can use. These associations typically provide support and study materials in addition to the courses and exams. There is no shortage of these programs, but going through a reliable organization will ensure you get the most out of your courses. Even if you already have an Associates or Bachelors in a fitness-related field, you will still need to go through proper certification in order to work as a personal trainer.
Before you begin your program, you should be CPR certified and know what kind of fitness specialty you would like to have. While you don’t have to define a specialty, it can be a great way to help you qualify for various job opportunities. The growth of the fitness industry in recent years has opened the door for a range of paths that personal trainers can choose to take. Advancements in technology have even paved the way for trainers to instruct clients or lead groups from their own homes. The introduction of virtual training sessions has only let the career continue to boom.
If you are looking to find a training specialization, there are several to choose from.
A few specializations include;
- Health coaching.
- Body building.
- Youth fitness.
- Senior fitness.
- Weight loss coaching.
Choosing to pursue a fitness specialization may affect which program you can take, the courses you go through, and how long it takes to get your certification.
Top Certification Programs and How to Get Certification as a Personal Trainer
When you decide to become an independent personal trainer you should make sure to attend a reputable program. Many of them will provide a mix of classroom and distance learning, internship opportunities, and career support after graduation.
There are plenty of programs you can attend, but five of them stand out as top-rated training programs. View our article here to view a full breakdown of these certifications.
International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)
The International Sports Sciences Association is the best personal training program for those that want distance learning. The ISSA offers several different fitness and health programs, including an Associate’s degree in Exercise Science. Courses for all programs are self-paced, allowing students to learn on their own time. ISSA is great for students that need a flexible learning schedule, and don’t want to sacrifice quality education. The final exam for the Personal Trainer program is free for students, and it can be retaken for no charge.
The National Council on Strength & Fitness (NCSF)
The National Council on Strength & Fitness is another remote learning option that offers certification courses in hundreds of colleges around the country. Programs can be taken from anywhere through the NCSF online platform, and testing is offered at over 1000 sites in 83 countries. Students from around the world can become personal trainers through NCSF thanks to the high standards the association has. After graduation, students can receive help with job placement through NCSF partnerships.
Fitness Mentors – Personal Training and Online Personal Training Certifications
Fitness Mentors aim to prepare personal trainers for a new fitness and health landscape. All programs and testing is done completely online. Programs are designed to prepare independent personal trainers for various kinds of training sessions, including private and online sessions. If you want to pursue a few specializations along with your personal training courses, you can choose Fitness Mentors’ Ultimate Online Training Bundle. This is the best option for new-aged personal trainers, as it includes certification as an online trainer, group fitness instructor, health coach, and nutrition coach. Students take the CPT, which has the highest pass rate of any trainer exam in the fitness industry, once their courses are completed.
American Council on Exercise (ACE)
If you want a more straightforward path toward becoming a personal trainer then the American Council on Exercise has one of the best options. Programs at ACE are focused on teaching trainers how to get their clients moving, on whatever level works for their clients. Over 53,000 people have graduated from the American Council on Exercise, and it boasts over a million training sessions around the world. In order to pass their ACE program, students must take an in-person exam.
National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
The National Academy of Sports Medicine has been around for more than thirty years and offers one of the oldest personal training programs around. They have one of the most popular programs and awarded more than 190,000 certificates in the past decade. The NASM uses the latest scientific research from the health and fitness fields as a foundation for the courses they teach. Courses are both self-guided and instructor-guided and are offered virtually.
Length of Degree and Courses to Take
The length of time it takes to get your personal trainer degree, and the kind of courses you take will depend on your exact program. Programs will vary from one association to the next, and many of them allow for self-paced studying. This means you can complete your degree on your own terms and may end up graduating sooner or later than your peers. If you want to receive your bachelor's first it could take four years or longer while getting your Associate's often takes up to two years.
Many of the top personal training certification programs can be completed in a year or less, and some can be finished in as little as twelve weeks. On average, most online courses offered today take between three and six months to finish. Once you’ve taken all your courses you will have to take a final exam in order to receive your certificate.
Most online programs allow students to take their exams completely online, and some even offer free options for retaking it. Other programs will require students to attend an in-person test at one of their testing centers.
Personal Trainer Average Income
If you are looking to become an independent personal trainer then you should be aware of the average income, and projected career growth. As of 2020, the average income for personal trainers was around $40,000 a year. Jobs for fitness instructors is expected to grow 15% by 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average annual income for a virtual personal trainer is slighter higher at $49,645. When you become a personal trainer, your income will depend on if your work as an independent trainer, or work for a gym.
Becoming an independent personal trainer can open the door to a larger salary, depending on how many clients you can take on. The growth of virtual training sessions has only allowed the industry to grow even more and is expected to increase how much personal trainers can make.
Are you new to personal training? Read these articles to get started on growing your business:
- How to price your online training
- How To Attract Clients as a Personal Trainer
- How to write a memorable and professional fitness bio
About the Author:
Cory is a huge fan of fitness - and an even bigger fan of helping you with your fitness. He's started on his journey with WeStrive back in 2015 and has been building it ever since.