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Getting Experience as a Personal Trainer

Getting Experience as a Personal Trainer

Reading Time: 7 minutes 30 seconds


DATE: 2023-06-14

Getting personal trainer experience while you're still learning sets a strong foundation for your personal training business. In this article, we'll share what type of experience future employers are looking for. We'll also discuss the best ways to gain personal training experience. Finally, we'll cover proven methods for finding potential clients once you get hired.

What Kind of Personal Trainer Experience Do Employers in the Fitness Industry Want?

As an up-and-coming fitness professional, it's helpful to know what kind of experience is valuable to your future employers. This enables you to look for specific opportunities. It's also helpful when tracking relevant fitness information.

General Knowledge and Personal Trainer Certification

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that some employers require that their fitness trainers and instructors have an associate's or bachelor's degree (1). In instances such as these, it is typically preferred that the degree is in health or fitness. Examples include exercise science, kinesiology, and physical education.

Medically supervised and highly specialized programs—think rehabilitation or athletic training—are more likely to require a degree. Otherwise, certification is the next most-desired qualification.

Earning your personal training certification tells the employer that you know how to develop a fitness program. That you are able to offer their clients workout sessions that provide results.

It also tells them that you're serious about your career in fitness. That you're willing to go the extra mile and obtain your trainer certification. This can set you apart from applicants who don't have certification.

In addition to personal training certification, employers may also require their fitness instructors to have their CPR/AED certification. Some require additional trainer certification beyond these, such as when hiring group fitness instructors. Holding this certification tells the employer that you know how to develop an effective group workout.

Hands-On Skills Demonstration

Employers want to see your program development skills. This impromptu workout plan demonstration may occur in the gym itself. It could also occur in a separate interview room or private studio.

You may be asked how you would create a workout program for a made-up profile that fits the gym's client base. If you're interested in working at a specific gym, do your research beforehand. Find out what types of clients they attract most. Familiarize yourself with the workout regimens most appealing and most effective for that demographic.

You may also be asked to conduct a live training session. During this mock fitness assessment session, the interviewer will assess your skills. They will observe the way you engage with them in conversation. They'll note how you demonstrate exercises during your sessions, the cues you give to correct form, and how you carry yourself.

Expect to be asked how you would handle an unhappy client. Every gym has those hard-to-please members. A good personal trainer is highly skilled in client retention techniques. This skill also benefits you if you want to start your own personal training business in the future.

Sales Experience

Sales is important to know because fitness trainers are frontline representatives for that gym. The more you can sell your services, the more you are an asset to that business.

Most gyms provide sales training to their fitness trainers. Show the employer that you are eager to learn. Participate in requested exercises and study available techniques. Demonstrating that you're working on your sales skills can go a long way.

If you have previous experience in sales, include it on your personal training resume. Note the dates, location, tasks, and contact information of your supervisors. This enables the employer to confirm your work history.

In sales, the main thing to remember is to demonstrate persistence and a positive attitude. This helps you "close the deal" and bring new clients on board.

How Do You Get Personal Training Experience Before Completing Your Certification?

Now that you know the kind of experience employers are looking for, you can go out and seek the right opportunities to learn! And you can begin to work on this before you even have your certification.

But let's set some expectations right out of the gate. Gaining experience is usually not a big money-maker. If you do an internship, for instance, it may be unpaid.

If this isn't an option, you might create workout plans for your family and friends. Another option is to transform your own body. This shows that you have the knowledge even if you don't yet have your trainer certification.

Whatever you decide, don't expect to earn a whole lot while you get your feet wet. That will come after you're ready to dive in the deep end.

In the meantime, keep working on your certification. With a self-paced trainer certification program like the one offered at ISSA, you can be certified in as little as a few months.

How to Get Experience as a Personal Trainer by Volunteering

Offering your services at non-profit organizations or events is an excellent way to get training experience. Mentorships, group fitness, race events, and community health events can all benefit from a fitness volunteer.

Apprenticeships, Mentorships, Internships

Seek out apprenticeship or internship programs at fitness centers, gyms, or sports clubs. These opportunities allow personal trainers to work under the guidance of experienced professionals, learn from their expertise, and gain hands-on experience with clients.

Group Exercise Classes

Leading group exercise classes, such as boot camps or circuit training sessions, can help trainers improve their communication skills, learn how to manage larger groups, and gain experience in program design. You can even start by hosting a free bootcamp class in your neighborhood or offer to start working as a sub at the gym. There are a variety of way to get your foot in the door and gain personal trainer experience through group fitness. 

Faith-based Organizations

A community church, synagogue, or mosque is a great place to get experience as a personal trainer. If you're available on a Wednesday night, the youth program would love to have you. Implement some fun fitness games and exercises to bring the energy level up a little bit! You might also volunteer as an assistant coach for the youth sports program.

Senior fitness classes are usually held mid-morning or early afternoon a few times per week. That makes them another good way to develop your skills as a personal trainer.

If you're a member of a faith-based organization, volunteer to start a program. Whether you're offering individual sessions or group fitness classes, this will help you develop and demonstrate sales and marketing skills!

Starting a fitness program is also a great way to gain new clients. This is especially helpful if your goal is to start your own personal training business.

Race Events

What better place to learn than at a sports-focused event like a race? Some events have trainers lead a warm-up session to kick-off the event. Not ready for the spotlight? You could man the registration table, a water station, or hand out snacks or medals at the end.

These events pull double duty as networking opportunities. You can meet potential employers, potential clients, or potential fitness business partners here!

Community Health Events

Your community likely hosts several health and wellness events throughout the year. This is where local vendors are invited to sell their products or services. There is also typically entertainment, food, and family fun activities.

Volunteer to run some of the free activities. Alternatively, seek out volunteer opportunities with vendors. If a local chiropractor is attending, volunteer to attract patrons for the doctor to conduct posture assessments.

Even if your goal is to become an online personal trainer, these local events are a good way to get started. Any time you can get your name out there will help you grow your personal training business.

Where to Find Your First Personal Training Clients

If there aren't many opportunities to get out in your community, take advantage of your social circle. Friends, co-workers, and family members are all potential clients. They know you're still learning the ropes and will happily volunteer to help you gain experience.

Before you earn your personal training certification, it's helpful to work only with generally healthy individuals. Those with medical conditions or injuries may require more experience.

Avoid offering personal training sessions for free if you can. People do not value "FREE" and will quickly drop out of the program. Instead, offer discounted rates or barter. If you need your oil changed and Uncle Eddie needs to lose his "spare tire," maybe he's willing to barter for a few personal training sessions.

At the very least, require them to write a (truthful) testimonial about your stellar services. Social proof is huge. When others rave about your workout results, your services are marketed for you.

You're Hired! How Can You Get More Personal Training Clients?

Congratulations! You are a certified personal trainer and you got the job. Now your new facility expects you to live up to your resume and start bringing new clients through the door. You're totally ready for this...

In Top Tips For New Personal Trainers, we discuss some ways to stay on top of your game as a new personal trainer. While there are many options to consider, networking is one. And it is a big one.

Networking to Grow Your Personal Training Clientele

Social media is a form of online networking. It's also a great way to get the conversation started. Here are a few tips to effectively network using social media:

  • Follow fitness professionals you want to emulate

  • Engage your audience with relevant content (workout videos, form tips, etc.)

  • Share videos to show potential clients what a personal training session with you looks like

  • Share before and after photos of client's reaching their fitness goals

  • Support and market your personal training facility by liking and sharing their content

Create a Referral Program for Personal Training Clients

If you help clients achieve their fitness goals, they will naturally want to share their experience. But don't wait until they start dropping dress sizes to ask for a referral. Let them know from the start that referrals are your favorite kind of compliment.

Ask new clients to recruit some accountability partners. If they can bring a few friends on board, offer to reduce their cost of training. Another option is to host private group training sessions just for them.

Learn More: Top Personal Trainer Salary by Sector, Gym, and State

ISSA Student Job Resources

As a student with ISSA, you gain access to our job resources. This includes opportunities exclusively for ISSA certified personal trainers. It also offers a host of valuable job search resources for starting your personal training business.

Gaining experience as a new trainer can seem challenging at first. But once you realize how many opportunities exist, it's easy to start adding to your resume.

Getting Your Personal Trainer Certification

Building a fitness coaching business doesn't have to take forever. ISSA has the fastest way for you to get started! Sign up for our Personal Training Certification program. In this certification course, you will learn how to create and deliver effective workout plans. We'll also teach you how to motivate your clients to reach their goals.

Beginning a successful career in fitness begins with certification. Start your journey today!

Featured Course

ISSA | Certified Personal Trainer

Start your dream career completely online! Take the course, pass the certification final exam, and be guaranteed a job - or your money back!


  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2022, September 8). Fitness trainers and instructors : Occupational Outlook Handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/OOH/personal-care-and-service/fitness-trainers-and-instructors.htm#tab-4

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