Those who work as personal trainers develop effective exercise programs to help their clients achieve specified fitness goals. This may also include assisting clients with meal planning and nutrition awareness. Many people who work in this profession find it rewarding because they get to improve people’s lives and watch them become healthier.
Most personal trainers work in fitness centers, in their own homes or in the homes of their clients. Although having more education and credentials makes you stand out from the competition, you won’t need a college degree to become a personal trainer.
Keep reading to learn the four steps necessary or recommended to enter this fast-paced career option.
Steps to Become a Personal Trainer
Step 1: Complete High School or Pass the GED Exam
These days, most employers require a high school diploma or equivalent, and fitness centers are no exception. If you graduated from high school, you already have your diploma. The General Educational Development test or GED varies by state, and there are many organizations that offer guidance on preparing for the test. You can even take it online!
The GED has different components, and you’ll need to pass exams on math, science, social studies and language arts. These are topics that high school students learn and are considered the minimum standard for obtaining GED certification. For those who attended high school through eleventh grade, subjects on the test might seem very familiar. Others will need to take classes to brush up on their knowledge and pass the exam. So, what happens next?
Why It Matters
After passing all four exams, you receive your GED credential. Even if you didn’t graduate from a high school, this certification shows that you have obtained 12-grade level knowledge. With this certification, you can apply to community colleges and universities. Alternatively, you can show it to gym owners and managers where you want to become a personal trainer.
Step 2: Apply to Programs
Personal training certificate programs will typically require a high school diploma or equivalent. In any case, you also need to obtain a personal training certificate to work in most gyms and fitness centers.
Before applying to certification programs, find out what certification the fitness center organization you wish to work for requires.
However, many personal trainers have associate’s degrees related to sports medicine, exercise science and similar majors. Others go on to obtain a bachelor’s or master’s in physical education or nutrition.
Choose a certification that makes the most sense for your goals. Additionally, consider what prospective employers will value. There are online prep courses and in-person classes available for most certifications. Keep in mind that obtaining experience in the form of an internship or apprenticeship can go a long way toward helping you qualify for a job in this field.
Various Professional Certifications
Organizations offering personal trainer certifications include the following National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and the American Council on Exercise (ACE). You can also pursue certification through the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) or American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), as well as the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).
There are also many other organizations and certifications that you may choose to pursue. As long as you put in the research and check that the program you choose is likely to lead to employment, you should be good to go.
Degree Options & Career Advancement
If you would like to obtain an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, you can look for community colleges and universities that combine certification and degree programs. Taking this extra step can make you stand out from the competition and open up additional job opportunities. For example, if you pursue a degree in physical education while pursuing your personal training certification, you can teach elementary or high school students while building your portfolio. Then you can pursue personal training sessions as a side gig or build your clientele until you are ready to quit your day job.
Step 3: Complete the Program
Colleges and universities sometimes offer personal training certification classes. These programs last between two to three semesters and give students a fundamental knowledge of human anatomy, exercise, physiology and nutrition.
Whether you pursue a shorter certification program or a degree, your program will consist of classroom and practical instruction that includes in-depth knowledge of physical fitness.
What Will You Learn?
Students also gain numerous skills, including client assessment, exercise methodologies, fitness plan development, kinesthesiology, exercise science and fitness techniques.
Other skills gained in personal training programs include:
- Ethics and professionalism
- Effective communication with clients
- Energy balance
- Basic exercises
Since weight loss and bodybuilding are areas of special interest, most programs will focus some time on each of these areas. If you are interested in a specialization, choose a program that caters to your career goals.
Personal trainers often choose specializations that suit their experience and interests. This could include bodybuilding, working with the elderly, working with children or even exercise specializations such as aerobics and yoga.
Step 4: Research Job Opportunities
After you complete the certification, it’s time to look for job postings in your area. NASM and other organizations often post job openings directly on their sites. You can also meet with the managers of local fitness centers, provide them with your resume and suggest that they allow you to teach one or two trial classes. This can help you get a foot in the door in this competitive field.
How Much Does It Cost?
The cost of personal training courses varies depending on the track you pursue. If you attend a community college or a four-year university, you will pay standard tuition rates plus fees for exams for your certification (if not included).
Programs that specialize in personal trainer certifications also vary by cost. For example, an entry-level personal training certification might cost between $400 and $600. Master-level certifications can cost up to $2,000, including materials and exams. If you want to specialize in other areas such as youth fitness, senior fitness or strength training, your certification for that specialty might cost between $400 and $500.
Find out whether your program includes the cost of the exam, which might range between $200 and $600. Other programs include instruction and study guides and may cost more than $2,000. Find out what you get for your tuition and if there are additional fees for exams and materials.
The expenses of personal trainer certification programs include the following:
- Books or e-books
- Instruction videos
- Guides to starting a personal trainer business
- Instructional support
- Certification course textbooks
How Much Money Can You Make?
The average salary of all personal trainers is $40,700, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means half of all workers in the field make less than the average while the other half make more than this amount. Experience, location and education all factor into how much you can make as a personal trainer. The lowest 10% of earners make less than $23,000, while the highest-paid personal trainers average $76,000 per year.
The top industries for personal trainers include fitness and recreational sports centers, which pay an average of $46,000 per year, and educational services organizations at the federal, state and local levels, which pay slightly less at an average of $39,310. Many personal trainers start their own businesses and charge clients on an hourly basis, which can help increase their salary potential.
Personal trainers often have specific personality traits that help them excel in their field.
- Focus. It takes focus and dedication to commit to a personal exercise regime and to help others stay motivated as they work toward their fitness goals.
- Relatability. In order to get and keep clients, it’s important to relate to them. This also includes showing empathy and encouragement to clients struggling through frustration, burnout and stress.
- Dedication. Personal trainers engage clients by asking questions and providing instruction to help them meet their goals. Showing that you have a stake in your client’s success will motivate them to continue the journey.
- Authenticity and Authority. To motivate clients, you’ll need to exude authenticity as well as authority.
What Kind of Personality Traits Are Helpful?
Personal trainers need the following personal skills to succeed in the field:
- Ability to inspire people
- Outgoing personality
- People skills to work with clients from various backgrounds
- Understanding of human anatomy
- Passion for health and fitness
- Excellent organizational skills
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for personal trainers is excellent. Experts expect the field to grow by 39% through 2030. That’s more than three times the growth rate for all fields combined!