The Importance of Externships in Personal Training
An externship is a great way to cap off your education in personal training. It will allow you to actually get in a gym and learn from real trainers.
In an externship, you benefit from the mentorship of an experienced professional, but perhaps even more importantly, you get to try your hand at training with real clients.
This real-world experience may or may not be a requirement of your certification program, but if it’s not, do it anyway. Seek out a gym or a trainer that will work with you and give you hands-on learning on how to be a successful personal trainer.
What is an Internship/Externship?
An internship or an externship is basically a work experience position. It is temporary rather than a permanent job, and it may or may not offer pay. The two terms are mostly used interchangeably, but sometimes an externship is considered to be a shorter work experience.
Some certification programs for personal trainers require that students complete an externship or internship. These programs may place you in a gym or let you find your own position. Regardless of the variations, the purpose of any externship is to learn from first-hand experience and from working with certified and trained professionals.
Why Look for Externships in Personal Training?
If you’re considering a program that requires you to go through an externship, you have no choice. To graduate, you will need to complete the work experience. But even if this is not a requirement for your particular training program, there are several good reasons to seek out and land an externship position.
Get Valuable Experience
You can only learn so much from books and studying. Yes, there are fundamentals to be learned in classrooms and online programs, but personal training is an active job. To really understand how to do it, you have to actually do it.
An externship will give you real-world experience in personal training. You will have the opportunity to observe trainers working and also to roll up your sleeves and start doing the job with real clients. This kind of hands-on experience is invaluable and will make you a better trainer.
Learn Even More about Exercise Science
To be a good trainer you need to understand the basics of exercise science, but to be a great trainer you need even deeper knowledge. Working as an intern gives you the chance to work alongside someone who knows more than you and to see exercise science in action.
These experiences will enhance your knowledge of your subject and allow you to see how all the principles you’ve read and learned about work in a real setting with actual clients.
Find and Benefit from a Mentor
In any career, it’s great to have a mentor. A mentor is someone with more experience and knowledge than you, a professional who can guide you, teach you, and provide opportunities and support as you work toward your career goals.
By working in an externship, you may find a trainer willing to be a mentor. While having a mentor may not be an official requirement of becoming a trainer, it can be beneficial and worthwhile. Developing a relationship with a mentor can help you learn more, find areas where you need improvement, provide encouragement and advice, and connect you to other professionals and work opportunities.
Boost Your Confidence
With a job like personal training, in which you don’t know if you can do it until you actually do it, internship experience is great practice. You’ll have the chance to put what you learned in your course into action. This will give you confidence in your abilities before you begin working as a certified trainer with your own clients.
Increase your Chances of Landing a Great Job
Working in an externship or internship is one more step toward getting the job of your dreams. You’ll have a big advantage over a job candidate who did not have this work experience. It’s a great thing to be able to put on your resume. You’re showing to potential employers that you have already practiced your skills and learned from more experienced professionals. This is highly desirable to those sorting through candidates for jobs.
What to Look for in an Externship or Internship Program
If you need to find your own internship or externship program, it’s important to shop around. Don’t just take the first position that comes along, because not all programs are the same. For instance, you may find an externship that lasts just one week when what you really want is an internship that will allow you to work alongside a trainer for a couple of months.
Look for Programs That Meet Your Needs
That week-long observation may be just fine for someone else, but it may not match your goals. Before you start searching for externship programs, know what you want to get out of your work experience.
Do you need to be paid or can you do this for free for a certain period of time? Do you want to work with a general trainer or find a position with someone who specializes in just one area of fitness? Once you know what you need from a position, you’ll be better able to find the right one.
The Best Externships in Personal Training are Hands-on
Unless you only want a position for a few days to observe trainers at work, look for an externship that allows you to actually work with clients. This is how you will learn the most, be able to practice your skills, and develop your confidence as a trainer. Before committing to a position, ask how much time you can expect to be actually working with clients.
Choose a Good Gym or Trainer
This may seem obvious, but you’ll get the most benefit out of working at a gym or with a trainer with an excellent reputation. Not all gyms or trainers are great at what they do. If you don’t like a particular gym or feel uncomfortable with a trainer you may be matched with, don’t waste your time. Move on and find another position.
Nervous Finding the Right Fit?
As part of ISSA’s Full Training Experience, you can get certified AND be matched with a top-notch externship program. ISSA will place you in a local gym, eliminating your anxieties about working as a fitness trainer. You'll work with ISSA and local gym professionals who will support you, give you tips to get you started, and guarantee your success.
What are the Prerequisites for an Externship?
This depends very much on the gym, trainer, or program, so be sure to ask. Some programs for internships in personal training are highly structured and may require that you are enrolled in a certification program, or even that you have already completed one.
Other programs are more open-ended and may not have specific requirements. These programs are likely to take on each intern or extern on an individual basis. If you are only beginning your exploration of a career in training you may be able to find a gym or a trainer who will take on a short-term extern just to observe for a few days. In this case, your only prerequisite is an interest in learning more about becoming a trainer.
How to Get the Most out of an Externship or Internship
Once you have done the hard work of landing a work experience position, it’s up to you to make the most of it. This is your opportunity to learn and grow as a trainer and to find out where your areas of weakness and strength are when working with actual clients.
- Give more than 100 percent. This is a great opportunity, so don’t slack. Do the work, and do more than what is asked of you.
- Insist on working with clients. If you were promised that your work experience would include actually training clients, insist on it. Be polite and respectful, of course, but this is your opportunity to learn and train.
- Ask for feedback. No one likes to hear criticism, but it’s important. Ask the trainers you are working with to give you feedback, both positive and negative, so you can learn and improve.
- Rotate through trainers. If possible, spend at least a little time working with each trainer in your gym. You’ll learn from their different styles and specialties.
- Learn new skills. This is a great time to learn what you couldn’t from a textbook. Use and learn all the equipment, sit in on or participate in classes, and do whatever else it takes to learn more.
- Ask for a reference. As your externship comes to an end, ask for one or more reference letters from trainers or the manager. You can use these as you start applying for jobs.
To become a great trainer, you need to learn more than just textbook principles. Getting an externship or internship is the best way to take your education to the next level, to practice, to learn from those with more knowledge and experience, and to launch your career in fitness.
To get started in a great training program for certification and to be gym-ready, check out the ISSA’s Certified Fitness Trainer - The Full Training Experience course. You’ll gain all of the necessary knowledge plus real-world experience training in a gym. It’s the ultimate way to set yourself up for success.
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