Personal training is both a career and business. A good gym workout or weight loss routine may be your passion and hobby now, but if you want to earn a living in the fitness biz by teaching your own training sessions, it's time to get serious.
You'll learn so much as you go, but it doesn't hurt to have a little help too. Here are some of our best tips to help you succeed as a fitness instructor.
First, let's start at the very beginning—our apologies if you're an instructor who's already opened your doors (we'll get to you in a minute).
If you haven't done it yet, become a certified personal trainer. Competition for clients can be fierce, and without appropriate training and certification, you'll have a tough time landing clients. Think of your education as an investment in your career success. It costs money up front but will pay off in the end.
Not all certification programs for personal trainers are the same. Look for one that's accredited and backed by fitness professionals in the exercise field. Start with the essential personal trainer certification. This is the program that will give you the educational foundation you need to be a successful trainer.
You don't need to have a degree in sports medicine or exercise science to be a personal fitness trainer, as long as you have the right certification and keep up with fitness requirements imposed by the strength-and-conditioning community.
That said, fitness industry trends change, exercise science advances, and trainers need to keep up. So, it's important to have long-term goals, and continuing education in the fitness field should be one of them.
Getting a basic personal training certification isn't too difficult, but the true challenge is in continuing education. Go to fitness industry conferences and conventions for personal trainers; add specialty certifications with online courses and programs to your résumé; and always keep reading industry magazines, books, and journals.
Don't forget to learn what your clients want to learn. Many will be reading popular magazines and blogs, so don't just focus on your own exercise industry materials.
A successful personal trainer should have a personal trainer résumé that shows both versatility—listing online personal trainer experience, for instance—and specialty certifications, such as additional training in nutritional consulting or fitness for seniors. Competition can be serious, and if you have one or more specialty certifications, potential clients will see you have more to offer them.
First, you'll need tools to track your clients' physical activity and progress toward their fitness goals. You may need a clipboard, a timer, forms to track results, and a tape measure. Your first exercise equipment should include resistance bands for resistance training, a yoga mat, foam rollers, and a jump rope.
Being a successful personal trainer means being a successful businessperson. Even if you are an employee in a gym, you need to understand some basic business principles to be successful. From marketing to managing appointments, personal training is a business, and it's always tough to start a business.
If you're not working for a commercial gym, it's up to you to set your own pricing structure. First, take your education and experience into account. Then, look at prices in the area—check out a few websites of other fitness professionals to see their prices. You might then choose hourly pricing, pay-per-session pricing, or subscription pricing by week, month, or longer.
However, be willing to volunteer some time to get started. Offer your services at the local high school or community center, or give free training sessions to a few potential new clients that may be on the fence. In return, ask for honest reviews to post on social media.
Consider implementing a membership model instead of a pay-as-you-go system. You can offer different memberships for different lengths of time and set up client payment through auto-debit for an agreed term.
For clients who can't afford one-on-one training, think about offering a group boot camp. On the other hand, some people like the convenience of training at home, so you might offer in-home training sessions for an added fee.
As a certified personal trainer, you need commercial general liability insurance, which covers third-party bodily injury, property damage, and reputational harm. Trainers who operate studios or own a lot of fitness equipment may also need commercial property insurance. Look for a top business insurance company that works with small businesses and has specialized packages for personal trainers and fitness instructors.
Without clients, you're only a trainer in your own imagination. The most important things you'll do include not only acquiring new clients but also retaining those you have.
Be your own best promotional tool. As a certified personal trainer, you live and breathe fitness, right? Always be prepared to talk about fitness, and when people ask how you know so much, you may have a new client on the hook. Also, wear gear that promotes your brand; be a walking billboard for your services.
Build relationships. Retaining clients is all about developing good relationships where the client can see results. Don't focus only on training programs and reps.
Use social media. And don't just use your personal pages. Set up pages on all the major sites for your personal training business. Post regularly with tips, offers, fitness news, and other related content to keep followers interested.
Build a website and keep it fresh. Most people these days research businesses online. Make sure you have a strong and professional presence. Pages that have updated content rank better, too, so make regular blog posts about fitness and training.
Learn how to network. Networking is essential for small-business owners, especially those in an industry like fitness that relies so much on word of mouth. You need to know people to get clients. Go to fitness expos and conventions, local recreation areas, community events, marathons, and any type of local business event and start introducing yourself. Bring business cards, of course.
One of the best things about a personal trainer business is your minimal ongoing expenses. Your regular payments are generally just the monthly contribution towards insurance, any fuel costs for traveling to clients, and the cost of the equipment that you buy. You might also consider paying for continuing education in exercise science or sports medicine.
You won't get along with every client. Some will be more fun to work with than others, and certain clients will develop an immediate rapport with you. In most cases, you'll have to work for that good relationship, though.
Be yourself. You need to be professional with clients, but no one wants to work out with a machine. Don't be afraid to laugh and converse during workout sessions. Ask your clients about their lives and their work, and offer some of your own stories in return while always remaining professional, of course.
There is no one best workout plan, but there are lots of excellent options depending on your client's starting point and fitness goals. Do your research, agree on a plan with your client, and do your best to get them to stick with it. Training sessions may be difficult, especially at the beginning; try to focus your client on outcomes.
At the same time, be flexible with clients. They have options in choosing a trainer, and have lives outside the gym. If your client has to cancel at the last minute sometimes, roll with it. Of course, if it happens all the time, you may need to fire the client (see below).
The answer depends on whether you are a full-time or part-time trainer. Full-time trainers typically aim for thirty to forty hours a week, or around fifteen to twenty-five clients. Part-time trainers may only have five to ten clients a week.
Educate clients. Your clients come to you as the expert. And if you don't have an immediate answer to a question, research it. As we've mentioned before, continuing education makes you more valuable and helpful to clients.
Some of your clients will be highly motivated. We call these our dream clients. But most need some pushing. It's a part of your job as a certified personal trainer, because if your clients don't get to their goals, they probably won't come back for more training sessions.
In setting fitness goals, design programs for your clients, not for you. This may sound obvious, but as you get into training, you'll discover how easy it is to revert to training for your own personal mindset. Instead, get into the heads of your clients. Figure out what motivates them, under what conditions they work best, and what kinds of workouts they are most likely to do.
Just getting regular physical activity is a big step for many clients. But be prepared to challenge your clients in a realistic way. This doesn't mean being a bully or saying mean or belittling things. Challenge clients in a positive way by pushing them a little further than they think they can go. This is how you hit goals.
Always take "before" measurements and do a fitness analysis. Showing your clients how far they have come is a big motivator. Only two pounds of weight loss? That can be demotivating. But your client may have also lost two inches from their waist. Now that's a big deal.
A successful personal trainer helps clients to see a workout as not just exercise for exercise's sake, but as a step on the path towards their long-term goals. Taking regular measurements so clients can see their progress can be immensely motivating. Finally, positive reinforcement from you during exercise sessions can help your clients push harder than they thought they could.
SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely—all of which are important in reaching fitness goals. SMART goals can help keep clients on track and remind them of their priorities, so they're able to follow through with every workout or healthy meal you have planned.
Give your clients homework. Giving a client something to do between exercise sessions helps extend the session and gets them closer to their long-term goals. Also, let clients make some decisions about workouts and programs to give them ownership. Have good options ready so they can choose.
If you're not yet a certified as a personal trainer but are ready to help people build healthier lives, sign up for the ISSA's personal trainer certification course online.