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An independent personal trainer can set their own rates. But if you work at a gym or fitness center, you’re likely to be paid based on a commission. In a commission position, you earn a percentage of what the client pays for the personal training session.
Here we share a few of the most common commission structure options and the factors that can affect them. We also talk about why you may want a commission position versus training on your own. Finally, we end with questions to ask a gym before agreeing to its compensation structure.
Each gym can decide how to compensate its trainers. One option is a flat-rate commission. In this case, you make a set amount for each training session provided. This commission varies depending on the gym. However, a general range is between 30% and 60% of the cost of the fitness session.
For example, if the gym pays a 50% commission rate and charges members $75 per session, you would earn $37.50 for that training. The gym would keep the other $37.50.
Some gyms pay trainers a tiered commission. With a tiered commission, your compensation is based on performance. The more revenue you bring in, the more you earn.
As an example, you might earn a 30% commission if you train 10 hours per week but this bumps up to 40% if you train 20 hours per week or more. The more hours you train, the higher your salary potential.
A tiered structure encourages trainers to act as a sales rep for the gym. You can earn a higher commission by getting gym members to work with you more often.
In addition to these commission structures, a personal trainer may also be paid an hourly wage. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median personal trainer salary is $40,700 per year. This equates to roughly $19.57 per hour.
You might not earn this much per hour since annual salary includes what you make hourly as a personal trainer and what you receive in commission. Depending on how your commission is structured, the bulk of your pay may come from a commission. So, the rate you earn per hour (your base pay or base salary) would be less.
Several factors can impact how much a gym pays in commission. Among them are:
Your level of education. A gym may pay a higher commission for employees with higher levels of education. This includes not just a fitness degree, but also any relevant certifications. The most basic is a personal trainer certification. But you can also become certified in a specific area of fitness. The gym may reward your higher level of knowledge with a higher level of compensation.
Your level of experience. Have you been in personal training for years or is this a new profession? Additionally, what is your experience with that gym, specifically? If you’ve been with them for some time, they may pay a better commission.
Your ability to make a sale. You’re a fitness trainer, not a sales rep. But a gym may reward higher sales with a higher commission. If you hit a sales target, for instance, you might be paid more per training session. (Even if the gym doesn’t use a tiered structure, you may still earn more with each sale you make. Some call this a bonus versus a commission.)
Any other duties you may perform. Employees who do more for a gym may be rewarded with more commission. Do you help your clients fill out their gym membership forms, encouraging them to sign up? Maybe you also teach a group fitness class? Performing more duties may earn you a higher spot on the commission structure.
Some personal training professionals have a hard time giving up a portion of their salary. This can make a commission position less appealing. But there are a few benefits of taking a commission-based training job.
One is that you don’t need to do your own marketing. The gym likely has a sales team that is responsible for growing membership. This can be a huge advantage, especially if you’re new or uncomfortable with selling. As an independent trainer, you have no sales team to do the work for you. You must market your own business and build your own brand.
Another benefit of taking a commission position is that all the training expenses fall back on the gym owner. They must secure and maintain the exercise space. They’re also responsible for buying and maintaining strength training and cardio equipment. This allows you to enter the fitness industry with little to no investment.
You also forego all the other stresses of starting a fitness business. No worrying about payroll taxes or if you have enough employees. You only have to worry about yourself.
Of course, earning your salary via a sales commission structure isn’t for everyone. Even if it is for you, it’s important to enter into this type of agreement with your eyes wide open.
Here are a few questions to ask before taking a commission role:
What is your client demographic? A gym that caters to upscale clients might pay a higher commission. Conversely, if the gym is in a lower-income area, it may pay less.
Do you have a dedicated sales team? If the gym doesn’t have a sales rep or team, they may rely more on you to make the sale. Not having a sales team also means that there is no one working to build your client list. That makes it your responsibility.
Do you have sales goals for your trainers? Are you expected to make a certain number of sales every week or month? What happens if you don’t? Also, is the goal for membership sales, training session sales, or both? Answers to these questions will help you know what is expected of you.
Is there a different commission structure for different types of trainers? Some gyms pay different amounts for one-on-one trainers than for group fitness trainers, for instance. If you’re trying to boost your salary, you may want to go for a position that earns better commissions. Keep in mind that this doesn’t just involve how much you earn per hour or session. If you get less commission when teaching a group, you can still earn more if the groups tend to be large. So, you might want to ask about this as well.
Any other benefits provided? Your salary and commission earnings are only part of the equation. If the gym offers you health insurance, this cost should be factored in. Other benefits to consider include paid time off and retirement account options. The more the employer gives its employees, the more appealing it would be to work there.
Is there room for advancement? Maybe a commission position is more of a stepping stone than a final destination. You want to use this opportunity to learn more about the art of personal training. Then, when you’re ready, you’ll seek a higher position (such as applying for some type of management role). Think about the career path you want to take. If the position helps you get there, it is worth your consideration.
If you’re not yet a certified personal trainer, ISSA offers this option. Our Personal Trainer Certification program teaches you how to create personalized fitness plans. You also learn how to better motivate clients to reach their fitness goals. And if you are responsible for your own sales and marketing, it can help with that too.
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Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Fitness Trainers and Instructors, at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/fitness-trainers-and-instructors.htm (visited July 05, 2022).
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