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Should I Be a Personal Trainer Contractor or Employee at a Gym?

Reading Time: 5 minutes


Date: 2022-07-29

As a working personal trainer, you have a lot of choices for where and how you work. One of the biggest is working as an employee or an independent contractor. A gym can hire you as either, so know the differences and decide which better fits your lifestyle, preferences, and career goals. 

Independent Contractor vs. Employee – Legal Differences

Before you make this big decision, be sure you understand the differences. The distinction is largely one of laws and taxes, but it has many implications for how you work and earn. 

What is an Independent Contractor? 

Often referred to as just a contractor, an independent contractor is a self-employed worker who contracts out their services to someone else. The main distinction is the level of direction from the person or company paying for those services. If you are a contractor, they tell you the work that needs to be done but not how to do it. 

In other words, they are contracting out to you for your expertise. You should already know how to do the job and need no training. 

As an example, if you are a personal trainer contractor, a gym might hire you to provide sessions to clients. The gym can tell you that this is your job duty, but it cannot tell you how to do it. The gym cannot outline a routine for your sessions or classes or direct how you interact with clients. They direct the end results and leave it up to you to determine the process that gets you there. 

For more details on what it means to be a contractor, read the IRS guidelines. Employers need to be very careful about how they designate workers. Some try to cheat the system, hiring contractors avoid providing benefits but treating them as employees. Know what the IRS allows to protect yourself. Be sure the gym isn’t taking advantage of you or calling you a contractor when you’re really an employee. 

Personal Training Employees

An employed personal trainer plays a very similar role as a contractor, but the gym has more control over how they do their jobs. As an employee, a gym can tell you what method to use during sessions. They can even outline the sessions and create the routines for you. 

Keep in mind that gyms might hire you as a contractor. Just because you land a job at a gym does not mean you are an employee. Many trainers and instructors you see at the gym are actually working as independent contractors. Make sure you get clarification on this before taking the job. 

Taxes and Benefits

Different rules apply to independent contractors and employees when it comes to payment for services. Employees are legally entitled to certain benefits, like retirement and insurance plans. Contractors are not. Employees are paid regularly, while contractors bill for services and jobs. 

Employers withhold taxes from employees but not from contractors. If you are an independent contractor, you get paid in full and are responsible for paying taxes on that income later. Contractors can use business deductions to lower their tax bills. 

Want to be a studio or gym owner? Here’s a list of everything you need to start your own fitness business

Personal Trainer Contractor or Employee – Factors to Consider

You could write an extensive list of pros and cons for each option. They will vary depending on who is making the list. Take a good look at the various factors involved in each style of working and make your own list to see which one comes out on top. 

Creative Control 

If you prefer to have complete control over how you train clients, you might want to be a contractor, or private personal trainer. Contractors are recognized as experts who can be trusted to get the job done the way they see fit. As an employee, you are subject to the direction of the gym, whether you agree with the training strategies or not. 

Flexibility and Freedom

One of the biggest draws of working as an independent contractor is the freedom to work how and when you want. Within reason and the limits of the type of work, you can set your own hours and work as many or as few hours as suits you. As a contractor, you can also work for multiple different gyms or studios. You’re not locked into one.

As an employee at a gym, you will be subject to gym hours and scheduling of clients and classes. Employers vary on how flexible they can be or are willing to be with making schedules. 

Regular Paychecks vs. Less Certainty 

In general, as an employee, you’ll benefit from a regular paycheck. There might be some variability depending on the schedule and how many people sign up for sessions. 

As a contractor, you might have less certainty, especially if you strike out on your own and start a small business offering personal training. 

Learn more: What is the average personal trainer salary?

Being Let Go

Overall, an employee-employer relationship is more stable. It’s more difficult to fire an employee. If the gym doesn’t want to keep you as a contractor, they don’t have to provide a reason. They simply terminate the contract. 

Liability Insurance 

As an independent contractor, you will most likely not be covered by the gym’s liability insurance. This is a great protection in the event something happens with a client, and they want to sue you for damages. If you work as a contractor, you must purchase your own personal training insurance to protect yourself and your finances. 

Learn more: What personal trainer insurance do you need?


The benefits you can get as an employee depend on the gym and whether you work full time or part time. Laws ensure employees of businesses of a certain minimum size get some benefits, including health and dental insurance, retirement savings, paid days off, paid sick time and medical leave, and more. Employers can attract better employees when they offer more quality benefits beyond what the law requires. 

Independent contractors are not entitled to and do not receive these benefits. This means you will have to pay the costs of your own health insurance and fund your retirement accounts without employer contributions.  

Personal Trainer Contractor or Employee? It’s Personal

Ultimately, there is no right answer for all personal trainers. This is a personal choice based on your preferences, how you like to work, and practical matters unique to your situation. 

Your options aren’t limited to working in a gym or by yourself. Here are some personal trainer job options to get you started on your fitness industry job search. 

Can You Do Both? 

Let’s say you are employed at a gym, but you want to earn extra with a side hustle. Is it possible to do both? Generally, you cannot be both an employee and a contractor with the same company doing the same job. This is a red flag for the IRS. 

The best way to go about earning extra income as a trainer is to freelance on the side, but not at the gym where you work as an employee. You could contract yourself out at another gym or strike out on your own and take on clients in your spare time as a small business. 

If starting your own training business is a goal, this is a great way to start. You get the security of employment while you start building a business on the side. It takes a real time commitment and a lot of hard work, but it’s doable. 

Whichever fitness career path you choose, first choose the ISSA’s Certified Personal Trainer – Self-Guided Study Program. It’s the perfect foundation for a career as a trainer, both for small business owners and gym employees. 

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