Just Got Certified? Where to Work as a Personal Trainer
So now you’re a personal trainer, congratulations! You have taken an important step toward making your dreams come true and turning your passion into making a living. But while you may be a certified personal trainer officially, you’re not really a working trainer until you land that first job.
The job market is really strong for trainers right now. You can expect to see ongoing growth, which means there should be plenty of jobs out there. On the other hand, it can seem overwhelming initially, and maybe you’re not sure where to turn for that important first position.
Or, maybe you have already been working as a trainer for a few years and you’re ready for a switch. Working in one place or in one type of job for an extended period can be really great, but it can also be draining. Sometimes you need to change to advance your career or just to try something different and get inspired again. Here’s what you need to know in either case.
Determine Your Fitness Trainer Career Goals
Before you make any big decisions, take a minute to outline what you want from your career as a fitness professional. This is really important if you are just starting out and newly certified, but it also doesn’t hurt to reflect a little if you’re already in the business. Here are some questions to consider as you figure out what your career goals are:
- Do you want to work full time as a trainer or will this be a supplemental income?
- How much money do you imagine you’ll earn per year as a personal trainer?
- Is your dream to be an entrepreneur or self-employed? Or are you more of a team player/employee type of worker?
- Do you want to teach group fitness classes or focus on one-on-one training sessions?
- Do you have or do you plan to get any specialty certifications, like nutrition or youth fitness?
- What is your fitness or training philosophy?
If these are not questions you’ve thought about before, now is the time to start mulling them over. If you don’t have a good idea of the kind of trainer you want to be, how you envision the work you do, or what your basic philosophy of training clients is, you may end up with a less-than-perfect position.
Where to Work as a New Certified Personal Trainer – Landing Your First Job
Answering these questions and setting your occupational goals are especially important if you are new to the business. You also need to know what type of options exist for trainers in the fitness industry. There are a lot of different occupations in fitness that you may not have been aware even existed. From working for yourself to being part of a large gym chain, and even landing a job that lets you travel, you’ve got choices.
Working for a Gym
Not all personal trainers who work in gyms actually work for the gym. Some are self-employed and rent space and time to work with clients. There are some advantages of actually being a gym employee, though:
- Steady work and regular clients
- A regular and (more) guaranteed paycheck
- Insurance covered by the gym in most cases
- Access to all the equipment and space you need
- Professional marketing so you don’t have to find new clients
- The option to mix group sessions with one-on-one clients
Spas, Resorts, and Smaller Fitness Centers
Wherever there is a gym, there is a potential job for a certified trainer. Look at any type of facility that includes but is not necessarily dedicated to providing workouts. Spas and resorts are great examples of this. They often hire one or two staff trainers to help their guests. This can be an interesting job because you are likely to see different clients all the time, as people come for a week’s stay and go home again. Large apartment complexes may also have trainers on staff.
Before you take one of these smaller jobs, though, be sure you understand that the work may not be full time. Some facilities may only hire part time trainers or hire personal trainers to work on a contract basis. As a contractor you would not be an employee and would not get the resulting benefits. Contractors only work when work is available, so income may be limited with that type of position. It’s a good option for anyone interested in part time, freelance work.
Take the idea of working in spa and vacation facilities a step further and consider getting a job on a cruise ship. These massive ships have thousands of people on them at any given time and are like small cities. There is a need for all kinds of professionals to assist guests, and that includes personal trainers. Just be sure you have your sea legs and are comfortable traveling before accepting this type of position.
Senior Living Facilities
The fitness industry is growing in all segments, including for older adults. People of all ages are more interested in getting in shape and being healthy and active than ever before. And senior living facilities are now including gyms and trainers to meet the demand.
Working with seniors is a great choice if you have a specialty certification for working with older adults or with people who have special needs or physical disabilities or limitations. Depending on the size of the community you may be able to land a full time, part time, or contract and freelancing job.
For a really rewarding job, consider looking into local community centers and non-profit groups that offer recreation and workouts training for community members. These positions may pay less than what you would earn at a private gym, but you would be helping to reach people who may not otherwise have access to fitness and training.
At a community center you may lead group fitness classes more often than taking on one-on-one clients. You may also organize and design classes and guide recreational activities like intramural sports teams or fitness outings, like hikes. Expect to work with community members of all ages, from kids to seniors and sometimes entire families.
Where to Work for Experienced Personal Trainers – Room for Growth
As a fitness professional with years of experience under your belt, don’t think there is no room to grow or advance. You can move your career up and forward in several ways, earning more and taking on more responsibility and new challenges. Here are some of your options:
Get a New Specialty Certification
A fun way to challenge yourself and to change your occupational path is to get certified in a new specialty area related to fitness. Consider becoming certified in nutrition, for instance and offer your clients a new service helping them make better food choices. As a corrective exercise specialist you’ll be training clients who need specific help with injuries or improving form and performance.
Some other ideas for specialty certifications include group fitness, bodybuilding, exercise as therapy, senior fitness, youth fitness, sports nutrition, and strength and conditioning. You may also want to improve your overall skills and abilities by becoming a master certified trainer.
Learn more about becoming an Elite or Master Trainer through the ISSA’s advanced certification programs.
Land a Job as a Gym or Fitness Center Manager
Another way to advance your career as a trainer is to take on a job with more responsibilities. Gyms, fitness centers, spas, resorts, senior living communities, and community centers need managers and often prefer to hire trainers as they will be overseeing the other trainers.
This is the kind of job you can work up to if you are happy at the facility where you currently work. But you can also branch out and take the experience you have accumulated to a new gym or a totally new type of fitness center and land a job as a manager.
Take the Leap into Small Business Ownership
Take your experience as a working trainer and start your own fitness business as long as you are prepared to work long hours, do all the marketing and invoicing, find places to train clients, and shop around for liability insurance. A lot goes into being a small business owner, and it takes a lot of work but it can also be rewarding. You will get to make your own hours and determine how much you earn. Plus, you can offer any style of fitness that interests you: individual sessions, group classes, boot camps, and more.
Where to Work as a Personal Trainer – Small Gyms vs. Large Gyms
Whether you’re a new or experienced personal trainer, you are most likely to end up working at a gym at some point in your career, if not for the duration. Here you also have a choice: small or large. There are advantages and disadvantages of both, and the decision largely comes down to your own preferences:
- A large gym may be able to get you more clients, sessions, and group classes.
- You can develop closer relationships with clients at a small gym.
- A small gym may allow you to give more personalized attention to each client.
- You may struggle to get full time work at a small gym.
- Large gyms often have more equipment and variety.
- A large gym, despite its size, can get uncomfortably crowded at times.
- You may earn more at a larger gym.
Getting into Private Personal Training
Private personal training is a service many but not all trainers offer. This means working with just one client at a time, and as a trainer you may choose to do this exclusively. The benefits are that you really get to know your clients and that you can set your hourly prices to earn what you feel is fair. It’s not always easy to get into this kind of training, though, especially as a newbie.
To get into private training, you may need to start by working in a gym. This will give you experience and help you network with potential clients. As you make a transition to private personal training, consider offering a few free sessions to select first clients. This will give you the chance to get good reviews so that you can market to new clients.
You will also need to find a space to work with your clients, another good reason to start with a gym job. You’ll have an established relationship with a gym and your foot in the door for renting space at a reasonable rate. Also remember that as a private trainer, if you are not affiliated with a gym or fitness company, you will essentially be a small business owner and will need to have insurance.
Beginning your career as a certified personal trainer is exciting. Your future is wide open and opportunities are seemingly endless. This can be overwhelming, so weigh your options carefully and take time to figure out what your short-term and long-term goals are for your career before you take the next step.
To learn more about becoming a successful, certified personal trainer, check out the ISSA’s certification program that includes tips on starting your own business.
Click HERE to download this handout!