Changing careers or beginning your first career is a big step. There are so many factors to consider. If you love fitness and working with people, being a personal trainer is an ideal choice. Before you get started, though, make sure you understand what it takes to not just work as a trainer, but to be successful and to have a lasting career in the fitness industry.
One of the most important factors in personal training is being certified. You should be prepared to complete an educational program that results in an official certification. This is not legally required. In fact, no state has a law requiring personal trainers to be certified. This doesn't mean you don't have to do it. If you're serious about this career, you need certification.
When choosing whether to get certified, you may want to make a list of pros and cons. But the truth is that there aren't really any pros. If you're sure you want to be a personal trainer, to make a real career of this, you need to be certified.
Skipping certification may seem like a good way to save time and money. Maybe you have years of personal experience in the gym and are self-taught. Maybe you have mentored with professional trainers and learned from them. In these cases, getting certified won't be hard. You have the foundational knowledge, and now you need the documentation to prove it.
While there are no laws that require personal training certification, many gyms and other employers only hire certified trainers. This is for good reasons. They are committed to providing clients with high-quality training and to keeping them safe. It can be a liability issue to hire trainers who are not certified.
Some gyms hire uncertified trainers but limit their responsibilities. Without a trainer certification, you may be trusted to lead classes as a type of group fitness instructor. A gym may give you some quick training in how to run a group fitness class, for instance, but won't let you take on individual clients.
For those serious about personal training, learning doesn't end with passing a certification exam. If you really want to be a successful and good personal trainer, you need to continue your education by getting some hands-on experience.
Most fitness professionals do this by working with fitness mentors who are already experienced trainers. A gym, for instance, may hire you but have you work with a more experienced fitness trainer before you take on your own training sessions. This is an important part of the learning process for a career that includes skills you can't learn from a book.
But, if you haven't gotten certified, a mentor trainer may not want to work with you. They'll want to see that you have the foundational knowledge for the job and also that you're serious about training as a career.
Another important consideration is insurance. If you can land a job with a gym, fitness center, or another employer, they should have liability insurance that covers all their trainers. But, if you're starting your own small business as a trainer, it's up to you to get insurance.
Business liability insurance protects you if a client gets hurt on your watch. For instance, if a client is doing an exercise you recommended and they become injured, you could be liable. They can sue you. The right insurance protects you financially in this kind of situation, and others, like damaged personal property.
You may find that an insurance company won't provide you with a policy if you are not certified. With certification, the insurer recognizes that you are qualified to work with clients and less likely to cause injuries or harm. Some insurers may still offer you a policy but expect to pay more because you are a bigger risk without certification.
Consumers today are savvy, and they have options. They are unlikely to settle for an uncertified fitness professional if they can work with someone who has put in the time and the training to get certified. Word of mouth and good reviews from clients will help, but for many, a lack of certification may be a deal-breaker.
With all the reasons certification is important for you personally, it's easy to forget how this impacts other people. A personal trainer certification program teaches you how to train clients, and crucially it teaches you how to keep them safe.
No matter how long you've been working out, how enthusiastic you are about fitness and reading up on current trends, you still need to learn how to guide people safely. Someone could genuinely get hurt if you try to train without the proper background knowledge.
With no laws regulating personal training, any organization can offer certification programs. This means you need to be selective. Here are some important factors to consider:
Check for accreditation. At a bare minimum, a program you choose should be accredited by or affiliated with one or more recognized organizations. For personal training, this may include the National Board of Fitness Examiners, the Distance Education Accrediting Commission, or the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.
Look at how long the program or school has been in business. Any program that has been certifying trainers for decades sends a strong message about quality and authority.
Consider personal needs. For instance, is the program conducted online? Is it self-paced? Does it have a timeline you have to follow or is it flexible? What are the costs, and can you afford them?
A good school should have a variety of programs. For now, you may want to get a general personal training program, but you might want to go back later for a specialization in nutrition, senior fitness, or strength and conditioning, for instance.
Look for extras. Choose a program that offers students more than just learning materials and a certification exam. You should also have access to online resources, networking, tools for growing a business, and regular support.
Evaluate the learning materials. A good program keeps its textbooks and online resources up to date to reflect the constantly-changing science of fitness and exercise.
Look for job assistance or a guarantee. Some of the best programs for personal trainers give you a guarantee. Not only will they help you land a job after getting certified, but they may even refund your tuition if they can't get you placed.
Any good program should end in a certification exam. And a good program will prepare you to pass that exam. Before you take it, though, make sure you're ready. Spend some time reviewing your study material and follow this guide to ensure you pass on the first try.
You can also consider earning an associate or a bachelor's degree in subjects like exercise science or even sports medicine, but it's not necessary. On a full-time basis, an associate degree program takes two years to complete, a bachelor's degree program, four years.
Most employers do not require personal trainers hold a degree. However, there may be some that prefer to hire trainers with a minimum of a two-year degree. Consider a degree if you want to have more career options. Having a degree will open the door to more opportunities, like working in sales or management at a gym.
A degree is also a stepping-stone to more advanced fitness and health careers. These require more advanced or specialized degrees: athletic trainer, dietician, or a physician or nurse specializing in sports medicine.
If you're thinking of getting a degree to become a trainer and to also have more opportunities in the future, consider exercise science. This is a good foundational major for a number of careers, from personal training to physical education. Subjects of study include anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, nutrition, biology, research, athletic training, and more. It's a well-rounded degree for any fitness-related career.
The final answer is technically yes, but with a very strong caution. Laws do not currently require trainers to be certified, but that may change. Even without regulations in place, trying to work as a personal trainer without certification is risky. You risk hurting a client, big legal fees, and simply not being able to find work.
Certification, for these reasons, is essential if you want to be a successful, good personal trainer. To help people meet their fitness goals and to have a lasting career, start off on the right path. Get certified.
The next step to a career in personal training is to check out ISSA's Certified Personal Trainer - Self-Guided Study Program. This course provides everything you need to start working with clients and to get certified.
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