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So, you've decided to become a personal trainer. Congratulations! You have taken an important step toward making your dreams come true. A step toward turning your passion into making a living.
The job market is really strong for trainers right now. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that fitness trainers and instructors are expected to experience a 19 percent job growth rate. This means there should be more than 57,800 new jobs created by the year 2031. The median annual personal trainer salary is $40,700. At fitness and rec centers, the median annual personal trainer salary bumps up to $46,260. (1)
Becoming a personal trainer can seem overwhelming initially. 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. Other times it helps to switch things up. To try something different and get inspired again. Here's what you need to know in either case.
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. 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:
What is your fitness or training philosophy?
Do you want to work full time as a trainer or will this be supplemental income?
How much money do you want to earn per year as a personal trainer?
Is your dream to start your own in-home personal training career? Or do you want to provide personal training sessions on behalf of a gym or fitness center?
Do you want to teach group fitness classes or focus on one-on-one personal training?
Do you already have or plan to get any specialty certifications (like nutrition or youth fitness)?
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, you may end up with a less-than-perfect position. The same is true if you don't know what type of training you want to provide.
Determining your personal training goals also helps you recognize what education and certification you need. For example, if you'd like to work with generally healthy clients, a high school diploma and trainer certification should be enough. If your goal is to work with people rehabbing from an injury, you may need a bachelor's degree instead. This type of program teaches you more about exercise science and how to use movement to aid in recovery.
Identifying what you want out of your personal trainer job also dictates which certification programs you'll need to take. Group fitness instructors often take a certification program to learn how to create an effective program for a class. Fitness trainers who work primarily with younger clients can benefit from a youth fitness training certification.
Setting your occupational goals are especially important if you are new to the fitness industry. You also need to know what type of options exist for fitness professionals.
There are a lot of different occupations in fitness. You can work for yourself or join a large gym chain. You can even land a fitness job that lets you travel. You've got choices and here are a few to consider.
Not all trainers who work in gyms actually work for the gym. Some are self-employed and rent space and time to work with personal training 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
If your goal is to work for a gym, trainer certification is often required. Passing the certification exam tells the employer that you know how to create an effective exercise plan.
Having your certification also shows that you are committed to this career path. This makes you more appealing because it takes time to train new instructors. When they know that you're going to stick around, you become a stronger candidate.
Wherever there is a gym, there is a potential job for a certified trainer. But also look at facilities not necessarily dedicated to providing workouts. Spas and resorts are great examples of this.
These types of businesses often hire personal training professionals to help their guests. This can be an interesting job because you see clients from many demographics. Large apartment complexes may also have trainers on staff.
Before you take one of these smaller jobs, understand that the work may not be full time. Some facilities only hire part time trainers or personal trainers who agree 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 fitness industry work.
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. A trainer certification that encompasses working with people who have special needs, physical disabilities, or limitations is good too. Depending on the size of the community you may be able to land a full-time, part-time, contract, or freelancing job.
Non-profit groups and local community centers often offer strength or cardio training for community members. These positions may pay less than what you would earn at a private gym, but you benefit in other ways. You get to help people who may not otherwise have access to fitness and training.
At a community center, group fitness classes are requested more often than one-on-one sessions. You may also organize and guide recreational activities like intramural sports teams or fitness outings. Expect to work with community members of all ages, from kids to seniors and sometimes entire families.
For even more ideas, set up a job alert on various job posting websites. You may be surprised to find out where you can put your fitness expertise to use!
As a fitness professional with years of experience under your belt, there is still room to grow and 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:
A fun way to challenge yourself and open new career opportunities is to get certified in a new specialty area related to fitness. Consider taking a certification program in nutrition, for instance, and offer your clients a new service helping them make better food choices. With a corrective exercise specialist certification, 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 instructor, bodybuilding specialist, 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.
Another way to advance your personal training career 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 who have their certification since 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 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.
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.
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 ISSA's certification program, which includes tips on starting your own business.
Click HERE to download this handout!
Start your dream career completely online! Take the course, pass the certification final exam, and be guaranteed a job - or your money back!
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 January 4, 2023).
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