There is a growing trend toward attaining a healthy lifestyle that includes a regular program of fitness training along with proper nutrition. Personal trainers have the knowledge and expertise necessary to motivate clients and help them stick to a regimented workout plan to enhance overall wellness. If you are considering becoming a personal trainer, ask yourself if you have the required qualities of being highly dedicated, driven, and focused. If you have passed that first test, let’s move on the next level and explore your potential for a career as a personal trainer.

What Does a Personal Trainer Do?

A personal trainer will examine and assess the level of individual fitness and work directly with their clients to develop a plan to help them reach their targeted goals. Additional duties include close observation to continually monitor the progress of their clients while motivating them with feedback, guidance, and support. Personal trainers can have their own business or work within health clubs, fitness centers, country clubs, or even within large corporations that have their own facilities.

Clients seek out personal trainers for a variety of fitness goals. Some individuals may want to include a workout program in conjunction with a diet to lose weight. Others may be interested in bodybuilding to enhance muscle tone. Strength endurance is another area where athletes may want the support and positive motivation provided by personal trainers. The job includes evaluating a client’s overall health history to ascertain any problem areas and or limitations that may result in injury during workouts.

Do You Have the Key Qualities of a Personal Trainer?

Key characteristics of a great personal trainer include a having a level of motivation that is similar passing boot camp—but with more compassion and patience. Before you can teach others to be fit and stay fit, you must have attained that goal yourself. Other essential characteristic traits that are necessary to be a successful personal trainer include the ability to lead a fitness program, whether it is a one-on-one session or a group program. You must have the ability to motivate and lead others. Management skills are also necessary to enforce rules for maintaining safety when using equipment to avoid injury.

Your personality must be customer-service oriented to such a level that you can inspire your clients to stick to a program and not give up. You must be able to generate positive reinforcement and support toward providing motivation. Personal trainers must also be able to create individual training programs to meet the unique needs of each client based on their current fitness levels and targeted goals. If you still are unsure whether to pursue a career as a personal trainer, then it is time to create a personal inventory list and ponder your accomplishments, motivations, and future career aspirations.

Reflect Upon Your Goals and Do Some Research

It is always wise to thoroughly research any plan before making a major investment of time and money. Ask yourself if a career as a personal trainer is the right choice for you. If you have maintained a high level of fitness all your life in conjunction with a healthy diet and regularly workout and exercise, you are already half way there. If you have a membership with your local health club and visit there on a regular basis that is even better. Bodybuilding or marathon enthusiasts that constantly strive for high levels of fitness are on the right path.

You need to look at your overall history when deciding if you want to pursue a training program, choose an area of specialization and then become certified. What are the reasons you want to become a personal trainer? Do you have experience motivating and leading others, while keeping them focused on long-term goals? If fitness is an important aspect of your life and the idea of helping others reach that same goal infuses you with inner inspiration, then you are making a good career decision to become a professional personal trainer.

Select an Area of Specialization to Pursue

There are many areas in which a personal trainer can offer specialized fitness programs. One option is to focus on one or two specializations depending on your interests and goals. There are some drawbacks to narrowing your area of expertise to just one category. The disadvantage of going this route is that when you own the business the amount of generated clientele may be limited by your choice. In other words, your income may suffer do to a lack of sufficient customers, plus you have to pay for your own insurance coverage. On the plus side, a solo business puts you in control with the potential for unlimited earnings.

If you are employed as a personal trainer for a large health club or onsite fitness center, you will more likely be working with a wide range of individuals and lead a variety of different fitness programs. A position within such a setting will also likely include a full plate of employee benefits such as health and dental insurance, disability coverage, vacation and sick days, plus a pension or retirement fund. These are definite pluses to going the route of working for someone else. Depending on your interests and goals, some examples of specialization include the following categories:

  • Endurance training
  • Resistance training
  • Senior fitness
  • Youth fitness
  • Women’s fitness
  • Men’s fitness
  • Conditioning
  • Weight loss
  • Fitness and nutrition
  • Group fitness training
  • Performance training

Enroll in a Program and Start Your Studies

Available programs to become a personal trainer can include pursuing a certificate or degree at your local college, university or vocational school. You can complete 1- year diploma and certificate programs at career training institutes and vocational schools. Many community colleges offer 2-year associate degree programs with a focus on fitness training as a major. A bachelor’s degree program is yet one more option to consider depending on your long-term career goals. A 4-year program may give you an edge if you want to pursue opportunities to advance to higher level positions.

Before you enroll in a training program, carefully examine your career aspirations. This includes envisioning the type of position and work you see yourself doing 5 to 10 years from now. Required credentials that employees will be looking for will depend on the type of organization that is hiring. If the open job is a specialized position beyond that of the training provided with a basic diploma or certificate, prerequisites may include coursework at more advanced levels in the areas of kinesiology as well as physical education and exercise science.

Depending on where you live, there are several ways you can track down a solid program to help you prepare for your career as a personal trainer. Recent high school graduates that knew long ago that a career as a personal trainer was the right choice for them can meet with a guidance counselor to help them select a good training program. Those already familiar with local vocational schools and colleges in their state are off to a great start. Aside from doing a Google search and entering the name of your state and programs for personal trainers, here are a few online tools to help you track down a good school:

National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM): You can quickly and easily find a school to meet your needs by using the search tool provided by NASM. The drop-down menu includes options for selecting a country, state/providence, type of school, certification, and program delivery methods. The search results will include school names along with more information about training programs and services offered.

NCES College Navigator: This site is maintained by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). This is an excellent resource that lets you search for a school based on location, level of award, types of programs, and much more. Clicking on the Browse for Programs button will open up a small window where you can enter the search terms such as “fitness” to bring up relevant results. After you save the info and close the window, click on Show Results to view a complete list of schools that offer training programs for personal trainers. This site provides a search tool that allows you to locate schools based on the alphabetical listing of each state. Your options include clicking on a selected state icon or the link that says Find a School, which will direct you to a page that provides more information. Search results provide detailed school information including program overview, accreditation, admissions, and financial aid.

Select and Invest in a Certification Program

Finding the best personal trainer certification is an important step toward becoming a personal trainer. Recognized accredited certification for personal trainers is a major requirement for positions in most health clubs, fitness centers, and gyms. The reasoning for this is that insurance companies will not provide liability coverage to fitness centers that do not adhere to these standards. A complete list of organizations that offer certification within the category of Fitness and Wellness is posted on the website of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE). Programs recognized by the National Commission of Certifying Agencies NCCA are as follows:

Academy of Applied Personal Training Education (AAPTE)

ACTION Certification (ACTION)

American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

American Council on Exercise (ACE)

Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCa)

International Fitness Professionals Association (IFPA)

National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB)

National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF)

National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association (NESTA)

National Exercise Trainers Association (NETA)

National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT)

National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)

Pilates Method Alliance (PMA)

PTA Global, Inc. (PTA Global, Inc.)

The Cooper Institute (CI)

Maintain Your Certification with Continued Education

Certification is important both at the beginning of your career as a personal trainer and throughout it as well. Maintaining certification is done by successfully completing ongoing continuing education and learning. Continuing education credits, also known as CECs, enhance professional development and also provide you with a refresher relative to ongoing trends and changes within the industry. The specific requirements for the amount of CECs you need to complete will vary depending on the agency through which you sought and obtained the original certification.

Examples of ways to earn the necessary CECs include attending specialized workshops and seminars as well as taking additional classes and completing courses. You may need to pay a renewal fee and will have to provide documentation of the completed CECs to maintain your certification status. Each accrediting agency may have different intervals during which you will be required to submit and renew your certification as a personal trainer. If you are unsure as to how to maintain your certification, contact the organization that originally certified you for information and guidance.

Future Job Outlook for Personal Trainers

Career prospects and job opportunities for potential personal trainers is anticipated to increase at a rate of about 8 percent during the period from 2014 to 2024. These statistics, which correlate with data for fitness trainers and instructors, are maintained by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The data also notes that the overall growth rate for this industry is “about as fast as the average for all occupations.” (BLS, 2015)

Salary and wage levels are determined by several factors that include specialized training and education, industry certification, skill level and experience, and the geographic location. Other elements that play a role in the overall earning potential of a personal trainer include the type of setting where one is employed. Examples provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) include the following categories:

  • Fitness and recreational sports centers
  • Healthcare and social assistance
  • Educational services; state, local, and private
  • Government
  • Civic and social organizations (BLS, 2015)

Future trends that contribute to the popularity of this industry include expanded areas of specialization based on increased levels of interest produced by consumers that are seeking alternative fitness programs to maintain a healthy lifestyle. CNN rated the top 100 jobs in America, ranking personal trainers up near the top, positioning it as #18 on the list. Average salary figures as posted on CNN can range anywhere from around $50,000 or more per year, with some individuals topping out with six-figure salaries.

The overall outlook for those considering a career as a personal trainer is both bright and promising. Job prospects abound across the country in a variety of settings. You can work within large health club or fitness center or start your own business, based on your unique goals and interests. The industry is projected to continue to grow, providing opportunities to motivated individuals in multiple areas of specialization.