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Build Your Career Get the Job

How to Become a Personal Trainer

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

The fitness industry is booming today. New gym franchises are opening, more Americans are joining health facilities and many individuals are pursuing personal training as a career.

Most establishments that hire fitness instructors require various forms of certification or training, and the job necessitates a specialized skillset. Keep reading to learn what it takes to become a personal trainer.

As a trainer, it's your job to teach clients how to use equipment, eat a nutritious diet and live an overall healthy lifestyle.

"Personal trainers work with clients to address functional- and/or performance-based physical goals, while teaching them to be safe and effective in their workouts," said Alysa Boan, certified personal trainer. "Depending on your trainer's specializations, specific goals can range from weight loss, to improving balance and functionality or targeting athletic performance."

Some personal trainers 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 skills and certifications.

Most personal trainers and fitness instructors are employed by health clubs, gyms and other fitness and recreational centers. Other instructors find work in hospitals, offices, universities and civic centers.

"Personal trainers can choose to work as a full-time employee or contractor in a gym setting, or independently at apartments or homes," said Boan. "There are pros and cons to either situation, and as a new trainer, you should evaluate both options to find the best fit for your personality, location and clients."

When first breaking into the industry, working at a gym is the best way to build your clientele and learn from more experienced trainers, Boan added. Though many trainers work full time at such health facilities, others work for more than one location and must travel throughout the week to different job sites or clients' homes. Some instructors work other full-time jobs and consult with clients only at night or on weekends and holidays.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook, employment of fitness instructors is expected to grow by 8 percent between now and 2024 as businesses and insurance organizations seek new ways to keep workers healthy while reducing health care costs. The median annual wage of fitness trainers in 2016 was $38,160.

Getting hired as a personal trainer is easier with 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 NASM, ISSA, ACE, ACSM and NSCA, Boan said.

Other requirements vary depending on the type of fitness training being performed. 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 effectively listen and respond to clients' needs and superior physical fitness.

The number of personal trainers and fitness enthusiasts is increasing. If you want to make a name for yourself, you'll need to stand out. Boan recommends getting online and connecting with possible clients and others in the industry. She said she uses FitnessTrainer.com, social media accounts and her own website to build her business.

Your current clients can be your best marketing tool, she added.

"They already invest in you personally and understand the value of personal training. Don't be afraid to mention you have a few training slots opening up, or run promotions for referrals especially as a new trainer."

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Peterson.

Sammi Caramela

Sammi Caramela is a recent graduate of Rowan University, where she majored in writing arts and minored in journalism. She currently works as a Purch B2B staff writer while working on her first novel in her free time. Reach her by email, or check out her blog at sammisays.org.