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How to Become a Personal Trainer: An In-Depth Guide

How to Become a Personal Trainer: An In-Depth Guide

More and more people are waking up to the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle. As a result, the fitness industry is experiencing incredible growth in recent years.

You may be considering a career in the fitness industry. Specifically, you want to become a personal trainer. But as you already know, it’s not enough to just learn the essential exercises and start telling people what to do.

That’s why we’ve prepared a comprehensive guide to help you get a head start. We break down the skills, certifications, and steps needed to launch your career and become a great personal trainer. So, keep reading!

What it takes to be a personal trainer

Being a personal trainer may appear simple at first glance. You come up with a series of exercises and show your clients how to do them. Then you just stay at their side to make sure they do them correctly and motivate them to follow through. Right?

Well, it’s a bit more complex than that. A great personal trainer needs a range of skills to prosper and truly help their clients reach their fitness goals. Let’s take a look at what they are.

1. A love of fitness and helping others achieve their goals

If you want to be successful in any career choice, you need to have passion and love what you do.

You need to be a fitness enthusiast who loves working out and taking care of your own body. You should also enjoy helping others achieve their goals and become the best version of themselves.

Loving what you do will drive you to keep improving yourself and the services you offer. Enthusiasm tends to rub off on other people, so it will help you motivate your clients to give their best effort.

The fastest way to your own success is helping others succeed. If you can also find joy in it, this creates a positive feedback loop that benefits you both.

2. Great people skills

Being a personal trainer requires strong communication and social skills. Above all, you need to be able to listen!

The whole point of someone hiring a personal trainer is to get workout regimes and nutrition plans that are tailored to their specific needs and circumstances.

A client may have some health issues that need to be considered, or an old injury they never completely recovered from.

You need to be able to listen and understand their particular situation. This enables you to create workout and nutrition plans that will ensure their safety and give them the best results.

The goal is to communicate well with your clients and make them feel comfortable around you. This is how you build a strong network of loyal repeat clients.

3. Educational skills

As a personal trainer, you’re also responsible for educating your clients on how to stay active and lead a healthy lifestyle.

You need to make sure that your clients understand:

  • what they are doing,
  • why they are doing it,
  • and the long-term benefits of their exercise plan.

Having some educational skills will be of great help. This includes being able to break things down to your clients’ level of understanding. It also means having patience until they learn and get it right.

4. Fitness skills

Personal fitness is one of those professions where you must lead by example.

Your fitness skills and knowledge must be impeccable if you’re going to instill confidence in your clients to put their trust in you.

Your fitness expertise is what you’re being paid for, so you must be and act like an expert at all times.

This is not only about knowing the physical motions of each exercise. It’s about knowing their effects on cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, strength and stamina. It’s also about being able to adjust certain workouts to your clients’ capabilities.

How to Become a Personal Trainer: An In-Depth Guide

5. Nutrition and health knowledge

Nutrition is an indispensable part of reaching one’s fitness goals. Whether it’s losing weight, building muscle or improving overall health, nutrition is key.

Deep knowledge of nutrition will enable you to create meal plans that are best suited for your clients’ body types. Certain foods have a better effect on weight loss, while others improve muscle gain. It’s important to understand your clients’ goals and know what’s right for them.

Some of your clients will most likely be vegetarians or vegans. So, you will need to know what substitutes they can incorporate into their diets for best results.

Others will need help developing healthy eating habits to achieve long-term success.

6. Psychology knowledge

Motivation is something we all struggle with from time to time. You need to have a good grasp on human psychology to help your clients develop the right mindset to succeed.

A good understanding of psychology will also help you adapt to the different personality types of clients. Each client is unique and may need a different approach.

Some clients will be easy to work with and some will be difficult. Some will ignore your instructions and then blame you for their lack of results. Others will cancel appointments at the last minute or simply not show up.

People also have different motivations for hitting the gym. Some want to improve their health. Some want the mental benefits of a great workout. Others just want to look good. It’s important to understand where each client is coming from to be able to motivate them the right way.

Having some psychological tricks up your sleeve will make your life easier. It will enable you to get through to your clients to help them achieve the best results.

7. Business-related skills

If you wish to build your own fitness business, you will need to develop some business skills as well.

This includes the ability to:

1. network
2. sell your services to potential clients
3. market your services, build a strong online presence and a recognizable brand.

Running your own business also means you need to be able to handle money and finances. You need to balance your expenses and revenue and maintain clean records.

You will need to determine pricing of your services and handle billing. You will also need to make decisions on reinvesting your profits to grow your business.

8. Organization & time management

This is a big one. To run your own fitness business, you need to be organized and manage your time well. This includes maintaining your clients’ records and tracking their progress and overall performance.

You also need to be able to optimize your work schedule. Not only to be reliable with your appointments, but to maximize your profits as well. As in any other service-based industry, time is money.

What personal trainers do and where they work

In a nutshell, personal trainers support their clients with workout and dietary advice that is based in science. They help them achieve their fitness goals and improve the quality of their life.

Main responsibilities of a personal trainer

Your primary role as a personal trainer is to guide your clients through a workout program that is tailored to their specific fitness goals. This is most often done through one-on-one sessions.

You demonstrate how to do each exercise and then observe the client to make sure they use proper form. You also track their progress and adjust their regimes as they move closer to achieving their goals.

With a strong knowledge of nutrition and wellness, you can also create personalized meal plans. This helps accelerate your clients’ fitness goals and improves their health.

Finally, you’re there to motivate and inspire your clients to be accountable and give their best effort. You also monitor their physical condition during the workouts to ensure their safety.

Working hours & locations

Unless you’re a full-time employee at a gym or fitness center, you will rarely be working 9 to 5 as a personal trainer. The reality is, your main working hours will revolve around your clients’ schedules and availability.

This mostly means early morning sessions before regular office hours or late afternoons. It also means evening sessions when your clients get off from work, and weekends. As an independent personal trainer, you will need to use the time in between to market your services, network, and look for new clients.

As far as workplaces go, a self-employed personal trainer has the luxury of being able to work practically anywhere. Depending on the type of training you offer, you can even organize sessions out in nature or at a public park. Or you can do it in digital spaces like social media and apps.

If you have adequate space at home, you can do one-on-one sessions at your place, or you can visit your clients’ homes. As an alternative, many trainers opt to rent out a space and open their own fitness studio. Others simply work at a local gym or health center.

Last but absolutely not the least, you have the option of holding online workout sessions. In fact, the virtual fitness market is projected to grow by up to 33% annually over the next 6 years! This can be a huge opportunity to get your fitness business off the ground.

How to Become a Personal Trainer: An In-Depth Guide_3

Benefits of working as a personal trainer

Working as a personal trainer can have many perks and benefits.

First of all, when you’re your own boss, you have the freedom to set your own schedule. It’s also up to you to charge how much you feel you deserve for your services.

Helping others improve their health and lifestyle can be very emotionally rewarding. The satisfaction of helping your clients reach their goals pushes you to keep improving yourself and your services.

A career as a personal trainer offers many opportunities for growth. It’s also great for meeting new people and building relationships that can benefit other areas of your life.

How to become a personal trainer

As with any other career choice, there is an ideal path and set of steps you should take if you want to become a successful personal trainer.

1. Decide what you want to specialize in

First off, you need to decide on the area of expertise you want to focus on.

This can be anything from yoga and pilates to bodybuilding, performance training or sports nutrition.

Focusing on a specific niche can be much more lucrative than offering one-size-fits-all fitness programs.

2. Decide what kind of programs you want to offer

Next, you should decide whether you want to hold one-on-one sessions or group sessions up to a certain number of people.

You can also choose to offer weekly, monthly, or longer workout and nutrition programs.

3. Decide what kind of clients you want to have

Knowing what type of clients you want to focus on will make it easier to create tailored workout and nutrition plans. It’s also easier to market your services when you know your ideal customer.

You can work with younger people, seniors, athletes, or people who want to lose weight. You can also work with special groups such as prenatal or postpartum women.

4. Decide where and how you want to work

This can be any place ranging from your local gym or health center to various bootcamps or fitness studios. You can also work outdoors, at your place or at your clients’, as well as online.

5. Find quality courses and educate yourself

Once you have decided on all the above, it’s time to get busy studying and expanding your knowledge.

If you have the time, you can get a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, physical education or exercise science.

If not, there are various online courses for personal trainers where you can learn everything you need to get started.

6. Find a mentor

Finding someone to mentor you is the best way to hone your skills and gain valuable experience.

You can ask to volunteer at the local gym or fitness center where you usually work out. This is a great approach if you already know the people who work there.

Shadowing experienced trainers can give you great insight into the tricks of the trade.

7. Get certified

There is no legal requirement to have a university degree or a certificate to help people achieve their fitness goals.

But as in any other line of work, it’s a matter of credibility and upholding industry standards.

Having an accredited certification will legitimize your personal training services. More importantly, it will open many other employment opportunities in the fitness industry.

Corporate gym chains, health centers and cruise ships only hire certified personal trainers. If you decide not to get certified, you will be limiting your employment options to a great degree.

8. Create a business plan

If your goal is to launch your own fitness business, it is crucial that you come up with a solid business plan first.

This includes:

  • analyzing your competition,
  • defining the prices of the services you plan to offer,
  • defining your ideal customer and how you plan to reach them,
  • developing an actionable marketing plan,
  • determining your costs and expenses and how many clients you need to land to break even or make a profit,
  • making an honest assessment of the risk involved.

9. Develop your personal brand

Building an online presence and marketing your services is much more effective when you create a personal brand.

Invest in a professional logo and an attractive website. Dedicate time to building a strong social media presence.

It’s important to be consistent and engage with your audience as much as you can.

10. Execute

Building a business relies on the same principles as achieving your fitness goals.

You need to stay focused on your goal, be consistent, and follow through on your plans even when it gets tough!

How to get certified as a personal trainer

A certificate proves that you have the necessary knowledge and skills to provide safe and effective fitness programs to your clients.

Prerequisites to apply for certification

You need to:

1. be 18 years or older
2. have a high school diploma or GED
3. possess Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CRP) and Automated External Defibrillator (AED) certifications. You can get these certifications through the American Heart Association or the American Red Cross.

Available personal trainer certifications

There are several ways to get certified and a range of professional associations that offer personal training certification. It’s important to understand the difference between them before deciding which one to pursue.

The available certification options include:

1. A bachelor’s or master’s degree from a university
2. A vocational college course
3. Certification from an organization that is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) or the National Board of Fitness Examiners (NBFE)
4. Unaccredited online courses
5. Unaccredited gym programs that train you for employment at their facilities

Many people don’t have the time and resources to get a degree or take a vocational college course. If you’re among them, it’s best to get certified through one of the following accredited personal trainer organizations:

  • The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
  • National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT)
  • The American Council on Exercise (ACE)
  • National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
  • Fitness Mentors (FM)
  • National Council on Strength & Fitness (NCSF)
  • National Council for Certified Personal Trainers (NCCPT)
  • National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association (NESTA)
  • American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

How long it takes to get certified as a personal trainer

Getting a bachelor’s or master’s degree from a university takes 4 to 6 years. A vocational college course can last anywhere between 6 months and 2 years. So, your best option is to get certified through one of the accredited bodies we listed above.

Depending on the certification you’re aiming for, you should set aside at least 3 to 6 months to prepare for the exam. This means you should plan on dedicating up to 100 hours of effective preparation.

Before you buy and schedule any of the exams, consider how much time you can dedicate to studying. Take into account your other obligations before deciding and be honest with yourself. Most of the exams have an expiration date from the day that you make a purchase.

So, you want to make sure to give yourself enough time to study. The last thing you want to do is waste money on an exam you don’t end up passing.

Time requirements for the certification exams

  • NASM: You must complete the exam in under six months from the date of purchase.
  • NFPT: You must pass the exam within 1 year after making the purchase.
  • ACE: You can schedule the test within 6 months of your purchase date, but you must complete it before the end of 9 months.
  • NSCA: You must take the exam within 120 days after registering.
  • FITNESS MENTORS: The recommended study time for this certification is 80 hours.
  • NCSF: You must complete the exam in under 6 months from the date of purchase.
  • NCCPT: The recommended study time for this certification is 80-100 hours.
  • NESTA: You must pass the exam within 90 days of making the purchase.
  • ACSM: Available options include exam terms of 3, 6, 12, or 24 months.

Employment options for certified personal trainers

When job hunting as a personal trainer, you should first decide on the type of setting that works best for you. Then, decide whether you want to hold one-on-one sessions or larger group classes. Finally, consider the available pay ranges offered by different employers.

The median annual income of personal trainers in the US is close to $60K. The top 10% of personal trainers make over $80K per year.

There are many different employment options you can consider as a personal trainer. Below are some of the most popular ones.

Commercial gyms

Large, corporate gym chains such as 24 Hour Fitness, Planet Fitness and Gold’s Gym are always accepting applications for new personal trainers.

If you’re certified, this is the fastest route to employment, but also offers the lowest rates.

Corporate fitness

Various companies specialize in providing personal training packages for businesses and corporations. You can work with corporate employees to help them overcome the health challenges of a sedentary lifestyle.

Hospitals and healthcare centers

As a certified personal trainer, you can work at healthcare facilities with people who are recovering from severe injuries or illnesses that require rehabilitation.

Local community centers

These are great places where you can get in touch with local clubs that are in search of personal trainers for their group activities.

Fitness studios

Small, privately owned fitness studios are a great place to work if you prefer working one-on-one or holding smaller group sessions.

Country clubs and resorts

Top tier country clubs and resorts offer personal training services to their guests as part of their all-inclusive packages. They can be a nice opportunity for you to work in a fancy, high-class setting.

Cruise ships

Are you feeling adventurous and willing to spend a few months at a time away from home? A cruise ship could be a great option to work as a certified personal trainer.


For most personal trainers, this is the ultimate goal. With an accredited certificate, the right set of business skills and adequate resources, you can very well make it your primary goal.

How to grow your fitness business

Are you ready to embark on the journey of building your own personal trainer business? You can increase your chances of success by focusing your time and effort on activities that will make the biggest impact.

1. Build your personal brand and a strong online presence.
2. Build your network of clients at various gyms and on social media. Consider teaming up with other fitness brands and professionals for cross-promotion opportunities.
3. Do your best to create satisfied clients. Offer them referral programs to recommend you to their acquaintances. This is a great way to attract new clients.
4. Offer at-home training sessions to clients who like working out at home but prefer the presence and support of a personal trainer.
5. Offer your training on the go with your own branded fitness app.
6. Automate your processes and scale your business.

Seize the opportunity and launch your personal trainer career the right way

Personal fitness is becoming essential for an increasing number of people. They are also moving away from the traditional fitness venues such as gyms and wellness centers. Instead, they are turning to personalized workout programs that are accessible on the go wherever they are.

There is great opportunity in becoming part of the rapidly growing fitness industry. However, you should do it wisely and well prepared. It may look easy at first glance. But it takes constant self-development, dedication, and adaptation to industry trends and changes.

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