5 steps to become a personal trainer

Last updated: April 16, 2024
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Eleana Bowman
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5 steps to become a personal trainer
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Have you always dreamt of becoming a personal trainer? Does the idea of helping people become fit and healthy make you excited?

As a fitness enthusiast, you may have already done unofficial personal training. Perhaps you’ve coached someone or created an eating plan for a family member.

Now you’re ready to make it official.

But how exactly do you become a certified personal trainer? What steps do you need to take? And how much can you expect to earn?

This article will give you five steps you should follow to become a personal trainer. You’ll also find information about what a personal trainer does, how much they earn, where they work, and more so you can step confidently into this career path.

What is a personal trainer?

A personal trainer, also called a fitness instructor, is an individual who helps clients achieve their fitness goals. They do this by creating and delivering exercise and eating programs for them.

Each client’s plan is unique depending on their goals, lifestyle, and general health. Some clients may wish to lose weight, build muscle, or increase their fitness levels.

Aside from the training aspect, eating programs play a dominant role in the client achieving optimal results. Eating programs include the number of calories individuals are allowed to eat and the number of macronutrients, such as protein, carbs, and more.

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A personal trainer’s primary responsibilities may include:

  • Evaluating clients’ health conditions and fitness levels

  • Performing client assessments

  • Building personalized fitness plan

  • Helping with body conditioning

  • Explaining exercises and providing alternatives to clients with injuries

  • Explaining how to use specific equipment safely

  • Tracking each client’s progress

Personal trainers are in high demand as people become more conscious of their health and physical appearance.

The employment of personal trainers is projected to grow by 19% from 2021 to 2031. This is much faster than average — meaning this is an excellent career opportunity with future security.

Fitness trainers work on flexible and part-time schedules. This may require them to work nights, weekends, and holidays. Some may also need to travel to clients’ homes to give training sessions.

How much do personal trainers earn?

On average, personal trainers earn around $19.70 an hour, or just over $41,000 a year.

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However, your salary will depend on several factors, including skills, experience, location, and more.

Skills

According to over 1,500 salary reports on Payscale, the company found that specific skills can increase personal trainers’ salaries.

  • Rehabilitation skills can increase their wages by 26%

  • Crossfit coaching skills by 25%

  • Nutrition support skills by 25%

  • Sports nutrition by 20%

  • Professional coaching skills by 7%

  • Weight loss and management skills by 3%

  • Health and wellness skills by 3%

Experience

Personal trainers with more years of experience earn higher salaries. Those with 10–19 years of experience make nearly double the amount those with less than a year of experience earn.

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Furthermore, senior-level personal trainers who have 20+ years of experience earn over $40 an hour. This equates to around $240 a day (if they work six hours) and $5,280 per month.

Location

Trainers’ salaries can also vary based on their location. For example, those who live in Los Angeles earn up to 24% more than the national average. While those who live in Houston, Texas, make around 27% less than average.

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Another thing to consider is the environment in which they work.

For example, self-employed trainers earn a median salary of close to $51,000. In contrast, those who work on a cruise ship earn between $2,000–$2,800 per month (which is only about half the amount of self-employed trainers). However, cruise ship trainers receive accommodations and food for free.

5 steps to become a personal trainer

Here are the steps you need to take to become a personal trainer.

1. Complete your prerequisites

Before you can begin a personal trainer course, you need a few prerequisites.

  • Firstly, you need to be 18 years or older.

  • Secondly, you need a high school diploma, GED, or equivalent. Some training certifications and degrees have additional requirements, so make sure you know the prerequisites for the course you’re planning on taking. You can get a GED for under $150 in most states, and it’ll take about three months to complete.

  • Lastly, many personal trainer courses require you to have an Emergency Cardiac Care (CPR) and Automated External Defibrillator (AED) certification. However, some courses include CPR and AED certifications in their study program.

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The best approach would be to look at the particular course you're planning on pursuing before getting these certifications.

2. Choose the ideal personal trainer course for you

It’s essential to do your research to find a personal trainer program that suits your needs. Personal training education isn’t one-size-fits-all, and there are numerous options for you to choose from, including:

  • Vocational colleges offering certifications in the form of in-person study.

  • Certifications via accredited U.S. companies, which is self-study.

  • University degree programs. This includes associate and bachelor’s degrees for personal trainers, such as a kinesiology or exercise science degree.

But how can you choose the best program for you? Here are some things you should consider:

  • How much time do you have: Personal trainer certifications generally take 3–6 months to complete. On the other hand, associate’s and bachelor’s degrees can take anywhere from 2–4 years to complete.

  • How you learn information the best: You can study independently or in classroom settings. If you enjoy working on your own, self-study may be best.

  • What are your end goals: Are you aiming to build a career in personal training long-term, or do you want the option to pursue other related careers? Studying for a college degree opens up additional career paths. For example, a bachelor’s degree in exercise science allows you to become a medical fitness specialist, exercise physiologist, and more.

3. Find a job as a personal trainer

As a personal trainer, you’ll be able to work in several places. You may be hired as an employee or as a contractor. You may also train clients independently.

When first starting out, it’s a good idea to work for an established business to gain experience. Here are several places you can find a personal trainer job.

  • Commercial gyms and recreational sports centers: This is the most likely place of employment. Over 50% of fitness trainers work in fitness and recreational sports centers. Popular gyms like Planet Fitness constantly hire new trainers.

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  • Corporate fitness: Some businesses offer fitness and wellness packages to improve their employees’ health.

  • Wellness centers: Many hospitals and wellness centers employ personal trainers to help patients recover from injuries or illnesses. However, these opportunities often require a degree — especially when working with patients’ health challenges.

  • Personal training studios: Studios primarily focus on one-on-one or group training sessions instead of independent exercise. However, studios are more specialized than gyms, so they may require more experience or education.

You can also work at spas and resorts, fitness clubs, cruise ships, health clubs, local community centers, etc.

Search for personal trainer jobs on Jobcase’s job board. This way, you can see where personal trainers are most in demand and start looking for possible places to work. You may even be able to get an entry-level job while completing your course.

Learn how to highlight your hard skills on your resume so you can stand a better chance of landing the job.

4. Define your specialty

As a personal trainer, you don’t have to be everything to everyone. No matter how good of a trainer you are, you need to know your target market and what type of clients are a good fit for your services.

It’s a great idea to specialize in a particular field. For example, here are some of the areas you can choose to specialize in:

  • Fitness Nutrition

  • Functional Training

  • Senior Fitness

  • Weight Management

  • Youth Fitness

  • Orthopedic Exercise

  • Sports Performance

A specialization will make it easier for you to find jobs in your area of expertise and increase your income potential. You’ll also be able to fill your client list with the ideal people you want to work with.

5. Build your portfolio

Building a portfolio is a great way to showcase the results your clients have achieved. In doing so, you’ll prove your experience and skills to prospective employers. It’s also excellent if you’re considering starting your own training business.

Showing your portfolio to your potential clients or employers will help you stand out from other candidates and personal trainers in the area.

You can even bring your portfolio directly to your interview to increase your likelihood of being hired. Discover the top nine things to bring to an interview.

Advancement opportunities for personal trainers

As a personal trainer, you’ll have many advancement opportunities, especially if you have a degree.

You’ll be able to advance to positions such as physical therapist assistant, fitness manager, lead physical therapist, and more.

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However, keep in mind that some of these positions require additional education. For example, to become a physical therapist, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree and a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. Similarly, a fitness manager position also requires a degree and several years of experience.

Therefore, consider a degree when studying to become a personal trainer since it provides many opportunities for future career advancement.

FAQs about personal trainers

Can you work in a gym without a qualification?

While there are no laws that require you to have a personal trainer qualification to work in a gym. However, many gyms and other employers only hire certified trainers.

This is because they’re committed to providing clients with top-quality fitness training. Having a trainer who has a qualification will remove any liability issues they may run into.

Is personal training a good part-time job?

Personal training is a great part-time job to have if you’re planning on pursuing a career in the fitness industry. Since personal trainers generally have flexible schedules, this job allows you to build experience even while studying.

What age is it too late to become a personal trainer?

There’s no age limit to becoming a trainer. Fitness and knowledge are the two most important things you need to become a personal trainer. So, as long as you’re fit and you have a good understanding of fitness and wellness, you can pursue this career.

Can a shy person be a personal trainer?

Introverted (or shy) trainers are just as effective as extroverted trainers. This is because personal trainers often work one-on-one — making it less intimidating and allowing them to express their knowledge and passion for training.

As long as you deliver the training in an interesting and engaging way, you’ll be able to succeed as a trainer.

Ready to become a personal trainer?

Becoming a personal trainer requires a monetary and time investment. However, once you have your certifications, you’ll have vast opportunities to work in different fitness settings. From a gym to a wellness center, there are many options.

You may even be able to get an entry-level personal trainer job or internship while you’re finishing your certifications. Head to Jobcase’s job board to see if there are any open positions.

Also, look at what people are asking about personal training in our resource center.

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