How to Become a Personal Fitness Trainer

What Does a Personal Fitness Trainer Do?

fitness trainer and client

Personal trainers are experts at helping others to achieve their highest possible level of fitness and well-being. Trainers work with clients one-on-one or in small groups to help them safely meet their goals. Whether the desired result is weight loss, injury rehabilitation or management of a chronic condition like heart disease, the trainer has the knowledge and skill to keep the client moving forward.

The need for trainers is greater now than ever before. Lack of personal fitness and physical activity is thought to be a growing problem in the United States. Lacking activity is an important factor in the progression of chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes. In fact, these preventable conditions now account for the majority of U.S. health care spending. For these reasons, employers, schools, insurance companies and community service agencies are all taking steps to promote better all-around fitness in communities.

Personal trainers are an important force behind this change. The services they provide can help their clients eliminate problem behaviors and adopt healthier lifestyles. One of the most alluring aspects of the job is the satisfaction of helping at-risk individuals overcome challenges to live healthier and higher-quality lives.

Some common duties of personal trainers include:

  • Screen clients’ health and fitness levels prior to starting exercise
  • Develop personalized training programs
  • Teach proper exercise techniques, and guide clients through exercises, including cardiovascular conditioning, strength training and stretching
  • Provide motivation to help clients keep consistent
  • Monitor individual progress and adapt the program as needed
  • Educate clients about fitness, weight loss, strength training and other fitness-related topics
  • Provide first aid in emergencies
  • Sell gym memberships, training packages and classes
  • Provide clerical and customer service support, especially at small facilities

Workplace Details

The majority of personal fitness trainers - about 58 percent - work in health clubs, gyms and recreation centers. Other common work settings include health care facilities, government and community agencies and the tourist industry.

Inadequate time is the number one barrier most people say impedes their ability to be active. Thus trainers’ schedules are often highly dictated by the free gaps in their clients’ schedules. Most trainers will be required to work evening and weekend hours to accommodate clients’ schedules, and may be less busy during usual working times (Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm).

Trainers may be employed full- or part-time, depending on their demand. A growing number of personal trainers now operate as self-employed individuals who market their own services. This allows them more flexibility to set their own hours and often involves traveling to clients’ homes or workplaces for training sessions.

Salary and Job Outlook

State
Average Wage
California
$50260
New York
$61660
Texas
$42790
Florida
$38200
Illinois
$43960

Hover over any state to explore local income and job growth data.

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ALABAMA
Median Salary: 
$39,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 30%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Birmingham$28,910$37,160$56,860

ALASKA
Salary Data Not Available

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

ARIZONA
Median Salary: 
$39,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 34%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Phoenix$27,020$38,060$59,160
Tuscon$36,580$47,620$74,470

ARKANSAS
Median Salary: 
$38,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $17,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Little Rock$16,600$29,910$51,140

CALIFORNIA
Median Salary: 
$46,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $23,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $76,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 70

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Los Angeles$28,650$48,800$78,460
San Francisco Bay$31,770$52,380$66,450
San Diego$30,900$48,560$98,250
Sacramento$32,880$48,440$76,230

COLORADO
Median Salary: 
$41,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $75,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 35%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Denver$32,340$39,040$62,780
Colorado Springs$33,520$65,880$109,950

CONNECTICUT
Median Salary: 
$43,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $21,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $73,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Hartford$39,100$46,460$67,720
Bridgeport$20,970$41,790$79,120
New Haven$21,950$45,380$67,810

DELAWARE
Median Salary: 
$37,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $30,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $57,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wilmington$30,420$36,970$56,460

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Median Salary: 
$53,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $35,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $99,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Washington DC$33,000$44,490$89,080

FLORIDA
Median Salary: 
$43,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $21,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $61,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Miami$20,560$42,900$61,990
Orlando$40,730$53,880$64,370
Tampa$28,280$41,420$52,990
Jacksonville$28,080$42,090$76,600

GEORGIA
Median Salary: 
$46,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $62,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Atlanta$33,600$46,010$62,640

HAWAII
Median Salary: 
$50,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $39,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $62,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Honolulu$40,320$50,700$62,790

IDAHO
Median Salary: 
$41,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $18,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $58,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boise$18,480$41,520$58,590

ILLINOIS
Median Salary: 
$46,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $64,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Chicago$31,550$45,600$65,830
Rockford$34,540$47,070$60,250

INDIANA
Median Salary: 
$42,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $59,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Indianapolis$34,130$43,920$60,970
South Bend$34,920$45,430$64,040
Fort Wayne$29,550$37,720$50,380

IOWA
Median Salary: 
$39,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $30,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $56,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Des Moines$30,460$40,080$64,510
Cedar Rapids$31,950$37,910$47,920

KANSAS
Median Salary: 
$38,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $59,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Kansas City$28,180$40,750$58,660

KENTUCKY
Median Salary: 
$41,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $72,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 33%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Louisville$32,050$40,350$62,040
Lexington$27,860$40,390$62,120

LOUISIANA
Median Salary: 
$38,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $20,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,200

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New Orleans$31,140$48,600$67,960

MAINE
Median Salary: 
$40,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $56,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$25,630$42,770$52,970

MARYLAND
Median Salary: 
$42,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $64,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 31%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Baltimore$25,190$43,240$68,540
Frederick$32,350$43,530$57,510

MASSACHUSETTS
Median Salary: 
$51,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $74,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 7%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boston$36,460$54,630$78,200
Worcester$32,390$39,400$62,350
Springfield$26,280$38,140$60,560

MICHIGAN
Median Salary: 
$44,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 13%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Detroit$33,710$45,580$59,340
Grand Rapids$31,920$42,970$50,920

MINNESOTA
Median Salary: 
$44,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $59,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Minneapolis - St. Paul$28,870$44,040$58,310

MISSISSIPPI
Median Salary: 
$44,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $21,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Jackson$19,640$46,400$60,760

MISSOURI
Median Salary: 
$43,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $59,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
St. Louis$29,830$47,020$60,400
Kansas City$28,180$40,750$58,660

MONTANA
Median Salary: 
$38,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $57,500

Job Growth Data Not Available

NEBRASKA
Median Salary: 
$45,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $34,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $61,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Omaha$34,920$43,520$49,720
Lincoln$34,290$48,750$75,320

NEVADA
Median Salary: 
$65,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $35,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $87,800

Job Growth Data Not Available

NEW HAMPSHIRE
Median Salary: 
$45,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $62,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

NEW JERSEY
Median Salary: 
$59,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $30,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $92,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Newark$35,370$61,160$91,430

NEW MEXICO
Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

NEW YORK
Median Salary: 
$46,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $29,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $74,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New York City$32,770$56,420$93,490
Buffalo$19,330$37,750$54,350
Rochester$34,530$45,350$66,850
Albany$34,570$49,540$70,550

NORTH CAROLINA
Median Salary: 
$39,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 22%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Charlotte$31,520$40,330$60,550
Raleigh$29,070$47,370$63,940
Greensboro$17,710$34,410$55,120

NORTH DAKOTA
Median Salary: 
$37,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $50,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

OHIO
Median Salary: 
$44,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 13%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cleveland$33,440$43,600$58,620
Columbus$38,830$47,880$70,140
Cincinnati$32,160$44,230$81,980
Dayton$34,910$46,230$61,480

OKLAHOMA
Median Salary: 
$38,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $24,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $57,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Oklahoma City$26,600$38,360$53,400
Tulsa$27,960$37,410$58,970

OREGON
Median Salary: 
$45,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $62,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$26,200$45,190$62,660

PENNSYLVANIA
Median Salary: 
$41,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Philadelphia$31,000$44,300$67,200
Pittsburgh$32,040$38,330$52,440
Harrisburg$19,080$37,400$60,040
Allentown$33,400$44,240$62,100

RHODE ISLAND
Median Salary: 
$47,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $74,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Providence$33,330$47,000$73,750

SOUTH CAROLINA
Median Salary: 
$42,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $24,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $61,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Greenville$31,580$40,350$53,240
Charleston$19,010$42,610$49,280

SOUTH DAKOTA
Median Salary: 
$42,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $58,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 13%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

TENNESSEE
Median Salary: 
$41,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 32%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Nashville$33,220$42,280$56,820
Memphis$31,810$42,440$61,260
Knoxville$31,830$42,230$75,150
Chattanooga$32,680$39,440$58,400

TEXAS
Median Salary: 
$50,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $78,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 27%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 120

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Dallas - Ft. Worth$36,530$54,480$76,070
Houston$36,390$65,680$96,530
San Antonio$24,660$29,300$59,370
Austin$26,610$44,860$67,560

UTAH
Median Salary: 
$45,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $86,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 39%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Salt Lake City$33,110$47,180$93,680

VERMONT
Median Salary: 
$45,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Burlington$34,480$48,510$59,810

VIRGINIA
Median Salary: 
$43,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $74,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Virginia Beach$34,290$45,060$62,700
Richmond$31,070$40,130$55,840

WASHINGTON
Median Salary: 
$45,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $24,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $68,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 29%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Seattle$24,560$47,700$71,700
Spokane$23,970$37,220$47,680

WEST VIRGINIA
Median Salary: 
$38,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $72,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

WISCONSIN
Median Salary: 
$47,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $70,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Milwaukee$26,080$48,880$75,740
Madison$42,300$56,850$78,290

WYOMING
Median Salary: 
$44,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $59,300

Job Growth Data Not Available

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for all fitness trainers and instructors is $42,780, or $20.57 per hour. The lowest-paid 10 percent earn a median salary of $19,150, and the highest-paid 10 percent earn a median of $72,980.

Trainers can boost their earnings potential by obtaining a degree in an exercise-science related field plus advanced certifications or multiple certifications. Earnings generally increase with experience and even less educated trainers can reach higher salaries by being good salespeople.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of fitness trainers and instructors is expected to grow by 8 percent from 2014-2024, which is about the same as the average for all other occupations.

Employment of trainers is increasing as more people join health clubs. To control rising healthcare costs, employers and insurance companies are even beginning to cover the cost of gym membership. In addition, more and more businesses are providing employees with onsite workout facilities and personal training. These changes in policy are providing for rapid job growth, by decreasing the financial burdens of hiring a trainer.

There is also a growing demand for fitness trainers to work with the elderly. Many Baby Boomers are interested in healthy, active aging, and trainers can help them to exercise safely and effectively. Seniors are also more likely to need rehabilitation services to maintain function, creating additional need for trainers.

Finally, trainers are needed to combat the national crisis in lifestyle-related illness. Many government and community agencies are creating programs to manage chronic conditions and fight obesity, especially in young adults. Trainers can play an important role in developing and delivering these programs.

With this growing interest in health and with little entry-level training required, the field of personal training is becoming increasingly saturated and competitive. The variety of work environments, flexibility of schedules and opportunities to help others in a meaningful way make this one of the most sought-after jobs. Nevertheless, trainers can stand out among the crowded market by obtaining a field-related degree, gaining high-level certification or gaining experience with unique clientele (older clients, corporate fitness, overweight individuals, young adults, athletes, etc.).

ACSM and NSCA are often considered the gold standards in certification options. Both have online career resource centers that allow job candidates to post resumes, search for openings and learn about opportunities in the field.

Compare Salaries by City

New York City NY Median Pay

$56420 Per Year

$27.12 Per Hour

Chicago IL Median Pay

$45600 Per Year

$21.92 Per Hour

Steps to Become a Personal Fitness Trainer

1

Start thinking about your future career in high school.

Aspiring fitness trainers can begin preparing in high school by taking courses in biology, anatomy, physiology, chemistry, health and physical education.

2

Consider a self-study program.

If you’re not ready to commit to college, many self-study programs are available online, in career centers and through community colleges. These shorter programs are a great way to quickly learn about exercise techniques, nutrition, physiology and other topics that will prepare you for your chosen certification exam.

3

Enroll in an accredited degree program.

There are no formal educational requirements to become a personal fitness trainer. However, trainers with an associate or bachelor’s degree in a health- and exercise-related field generally have an easier time finding work. In college, many trainers choose to major in exercise science, physical education or kinesiology.

Show Me Schools »

When choosing a certificate or associate degree program, look for ones accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). In some cases, graduation from an accredited program will streamline the credentialing process and allow you to waive some certification requirements.

4

Get supervised on-the-job experience.

Some personal fitness trainers prepare for entry-level certification by learning on the job under the supervision of an experienced trainer. In addition, most certificate and degree programs involve supervised practical experience.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) for example, offers a mentoring program. This is a great way for new trainers to enhance their skills, receive support and make connections as they work to establish themselves.

5

Complete the certified personal training credential.

At present, states don’t regulate the practice of personal fitness trainers. However, employers will prefer candidates who hold certification through accredited organizations. Trainers with multiple or specialty certifications will be more desired too.

Over 300 organizations “certify” personal trainers, but not all of them are recognized or respected by employers. When choosing a certification program, look for ones accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). The ACE (American Council on Exercise) website offers a useful comparison chart of the more common credentialing programs.

The following NCCA-accredited organizations administer an entry-level certified personal trainer (CPT) credential:

To obtain CPT certification, you’ll need to pay a fee and pass a knowledge exam. Exams can usually be retaken if needed, until a passing grade is reached. Certified trainers must also adhere to a code of professional conduct and engage in regular continuing education to keep up on the latest fitness trends.

Most credentialing bodies also require trainers to maintain certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillation (AED). For more information, contact your local chapter of the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association.

6

Look into advancement opportunities.

There are more clinical areas of exercise, which often require a bachelor’s or graduate degree as a prerequisite. If prerequisites are met, there are several opportunities for fitness trainers to advance into new work environments as the field grows and diversifies.

  • Leadership positions. Experienced trainers often advance to become fitness directors, head trainers or general managers of health clubs. In this role, they supervise the work of other trainers and develop the facilities’ fitness programs.
  • Public health. Public health is a newer source of opportunity. Experienced trainers can now transition into working with policymakers and nonprofits to develop and deliver community health programs. Common examples include chronic illness management, workplace interventions and obesity prevention. A bachelor’s degree and advanced certification is essential for those pursuing this route.
  • Healthcare teams. Experienced trainers can also work with healthcare teams to treat patients with complex medical conditions like heart disease and COPD. Like exercise physiologists, clinical trainers are employed by hospitals, rehabilitation centers and nursing homes. Advanced degrees will almost always be required for these settings. Nevertheless, these positions provide rewarding opportunities to help those most in need of the benefits of physical fitness.
  • Business owner. More and more personal trainers own their own businesses and operate in different ways. Some will own gyms and work full time, while others will use their training as part-time or supplementary work and coordinate training from their home.
  • Academia. Finally, academia offers many opportunities for highly educated and experienced trainers. The field of exercise physiology is now a well-established scientific sector with medical journals and a body of researchers. Thus, experienced trainers with more education now will have opportunities to teach students and conduct research.

Exploring Degree Paths

SELF STUDY

6 months to 1 year

Personal fitness training is an unregulated industry. Just about anyone can train others and charge money for it. However, there are few reasons you should pursue at least some basic education before embarking on this career path.

First, if you want to work for yourself, you’re going to need to carry liability insurance. Otherwise you could loose everything if a client has an accident or develops an illness related to your instruction. Most insurance carriers only cover trainers who are certified by reputable organizations.

Credentials also matter if you want to work for others. Most gyms and companies only hire certified trainers. What’s more, an increasing number of employers prefer candidates with an associate or bachelor’s degree in the field.

The fastest way to prepare for a career in personal fitness training is through self-study. Many certification programs offer a range of training materials from manuals to online courses. Another option is to learn from an experienced trainer. Once you feel ready, you can take your certification exam.

For information on certification programs, see the “Advanced Credentials” section.

CERTIFICATE PROGRAM

6 weeks to 2 years

If you want more mentoring and hands-on preparation than self-study can provide, consider a certificate program in personal fitness training. These programs are offered by many community colleges and university outreach offices. They provide formal instruction and support, but usually don’t confer college credit.

The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) provides voluntary accreditation of personal training certificate programs. However, very few schools pursue this option. This means it’s important to do your homework and research your program thoroughly before enrolling. The better programs will be associated with a reputable certification program. (See advanced credentials for more info.)

Some certificate programs have prerequisites, so be sure to factor these into your educational planning. Most programs require students to hold current CPR and AED (defibrillator) certification.

Personal trainer education combines classroom instruction and hands-on learning in the gym. Expect to cover about topics like:

Fitness testing

Learn techniques to assess strength, cardiovascular fitness, and overall wellness.

Wellness and lifestyle change

Develop the coaching skills you need to promote health through diet, weight loss, activity, and self-care.

Exercise program design

Gain the skills to create an individual training program based on client needs.

Nutrition

Learn about digestion, absorption, metabolism, and the role of diet in human health and disease.

Longer certificate programs often include a practicum or internship under the supervision of a certified trainer.

ASSOCIATE OF APPLIED SCIENCE (AAS)

2 years

An associate of applied science (AAS) degree in personal fitness training or exercise science covers many of the same subjects as a certificate program. However, you’ll earn college credit for your AAS coursework, much of which can later be applied to a bachelor’s degree. In addition, an associate degree can boost your resume in the eyes of gyms, companies, and other employers.

Many community colleges offer AAS programs in exercise and fitness. When choosing a program, look for one that’s partnered with a reputable certification program (see advanced credentials). CAAHEP accreditation is also a good sign, though relatively few programs pursue this status.

Some AAS programs have prerequisites in English, math, the natural sciences, and exercise science. Requirements vary, so check with your school’s admissions office for details.

AAS programs begin with general education classes in communications, math, science, and the humanities. You’ll then move into personal fitness coursework covering:

Strength training

Use free weights, machines, and body weight to improve clients’ athletic performance and overall health.

Sports first aid and rehab

Learn to treat common injuries and help clients exercise safely during recovery.

Aerobic conditioning

Study techniques and exercise regimens to help clients improve their heart and lung function.

Anatomy and physiology

Explore the organs and systems of the human body, how they work together, and how they impact health and function.

In addition, many AAS students complete fieldwork or an internship under supervision.

BACHELOR'S DEGREE

4 years

Earning a bachelor’s degree will help you to understand the science behind fitness training. It can also make you very desirable to employers. You’ll need a bachelor’s degree in order to prescribe exercise as a treatment for illness. And some trainers use college as a stepping-stone to graduate or professional school.

Many four-year colleges and universities award degrees in exercise science, kinesiology, and physical education. Most of the more reputable programs seek voluntary accreditation through CAAHEP or the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE). Teaching to the standards of a reputable certification organization (for example, the American College of Sports Medicine) can also be a sign of quality.

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Bachelor’s students generally spend a year or two completing general education and basic science coursework before moving on to classes like:

Exercise physiology

Study how physical activity affects the body at the cellular, tissue, organ, and system levels.

Biomechanics

Learn about the body structures and processes that regulate movement and motor performance.

Balance and mobility training for older adults

Use gentle exercise to promote healthy aging and prevent injury.

Behavior change

Help clients make lasting lifestyle changes in order to improve health and manage weight.

Many bachelor’s programs in the health sciences also include a fieldwork or internship component.

Keys to Success as a Personal Fitness Trainer

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Physical fitness

A trainer’s job can be physically demanding, so a high level of personal fitness is a must. You don’t have to have a perfect body, but you should have enough strength and stamina to spend most of your working hours on your feet demonstrating and supervising exercises. Personal trainers are safety experts, but they still run some risk of on-the-job accidents and repetitive stress injuries. Risks can be minimized through proper self-care and exercise technique.

Interpersonal skills

Training is a highly social occupation that involves constant one-on-one interaction with clients. Interpersonal skills are essential for success as a trainer. To be effective, you’ll need to listen carefully to your clients so you can tailor a program to their goals and needs. While teaching exercises, you’ll need to convey information in a clear, engaging way. And because physical fitness is a challenge for many clients, you’ll need patience, empathy and a good rapport to motivate them during hard days.

Sales and marketing skills

Sales skills are also essential to remain desirable in the large fitness market. Health clubs may expect trainers to be active in selling memberships. These skills also come in handy if you decide to open a private practice, which requires building and maintaining a clientele.

Problem solving skills

Finally, problem-solving skills come in handy. As a trainer, you’ll need to create an appropriate fitness plan for your client’s goals and skill level. An effective trainer will be able to develop programs that comfortably allow clients to push themselves to higher intensities while also working around physical or cognitive limitations. This program development will take creativity and a thorough knowledge of all exercise modalities. When equipment or facilities are not available for a client’s specific needs, trainers will need to adapt their programs and sometimes use uncommon equipment or locations to create an engaging fitness session.

Additional Credentials

There are currently over 300 certification programs available for fitness trainers. However, only 16 of these are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

Some certification programs that have a good reputation with employers and insurers:

Most of the above programs offer both an entry-level personal fitness trainer credential and advanced credentials. Examples of advanced certifications include:

Many trainers also certify in modalities like yoga, kettlebell, and power lifting.

Dylan Jones, MS RD, CD, CES

Dylan Jones is a registered dietitian and clinical exercise specialist in the Pacific Northwest. He works in long-term care and bariatric settings, helping radically change the health of patients through whole food interventions and reducing reliance on medications. He also partners with private business owners to launch health programs around the globe. Dylan’s mission is to re-cultivate the philosophy that food and exercise are medicine.

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