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How to Become a Personal Trainer

personal trainer
A personal trainer leads people and groups in proper exercise techniques.
Credit: Kzenon | Shutterstock

Personal trainers and fitness instructors are responsible for motivating people to get healthy by leading individuals and groups in proper exercise techniques. They work with people of all ages and abilities, in a variety of settings, to deliver the invaluable gift of health.

There’s a lot more to being a trainer than knowing how to do a few pushups. Many establishments that hire fitness instructors require various forms of certification or training, and the job necessitates a specialized skill set. Keep reading to see if you’re in shape to get the job.

What personal trainers do

Personal trainers work one-on-one, or in small groups, with clients to help them increase fitness confidently and safely. Trainers tailor general exercise routines to specific clients depending on each one’s level of fitness, strengths and weaknesses, and personal goals. It’s the job of the trainer to demonstrate proper exercise techniques, including the use of exercise equipment. Trainers are often called upon to give advice on nutrition, weight control, and healthy lifestyle habits. 

Some personal trainers also work as group or specialized fitness instructors. They choreograph and lead classes in a specific routine, such as aerobic exercise, strength training, or stretching. Specialized instructors may teach popular conditioning methods like yoga or Pilates, for which they must possess particular skills and certifications.

Where personal trainers work

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, employment of fitness instructors is expected to grow by 24 percent between 2010 and 2020, as businesses and insurance organizations continue to seek new ways to keep workers healthy while reducing healthcare costs.

As of 2010, the majority of personal trainers and fitness instructors worked for health clubs, gyms and other fitness and recreational centers. Other instructors find work in hospitals, offices, universities and civic centers. Though many trainers work full time at such health facilities, others work for more than one location and must travel throughout the week to their different job sites or clients’ homes. Some instructors work other full-time jobs and only train at night or on weekends and holidays.

The median annual wage of fitness trainers in 2010 was $31,090. About 8 percent of personal trainers in the United States are self-employed.

How to become a personal trainer

Getting hired as a personal trainer is easier for those who possess the proper certification. Employers require different types of training depending on the role of the instructor, but most employers look for trainers who have completed an accredited fitness certification program, such as those offered by the American Council on Exercise, the National Academy of Sports Medicine, or the National Federation of Professional Trainers.

Other requirements vary depending on the type of fitness training you wish to perform. For example, specialized fitness trainers, such as yoga instructors, must be certified in their field of expertise. Personal trainers may be required to work alongside a more experienced colleague before taking on their own clients. And group fitness instructors often have to audition for a job before gaining employment.

Advanced certification, such as that required to train athletes or work with injured clients, may require an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in an exercise-related field of study such as kinesiology, exercise science, or physical education.

Other important qualifications of a successful personal trainer include excellent customer-service and communication skills, the ability to affectively listen and respond to clients’ needs, and superior physical fitness.

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