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How To Become A Personal Trainer

One morning you wake up and have yourself a cup of java...You brood over this new vision you have for the future, becoming clearer with every caffeinated sip. I want to be a personal trainer, you finally decide. So what now? There are steps you have to take, right? Of course, you can't just jump in and call yourself a personal trainer. So let's first find out... 

What Do Personal Trainers Do 

They are the fitness gurus of our society. Versed in the intricacies of human anatomy and nutrition, these experts help whip your butt into shape. No matter what your goal--losing weight, toning up, gaining mass--personal trainers help you reach it through assigning you tailor-made exercise regimes. Depending on the trainer, you can get one-on-one sessions with them or even work in groups.

In a nutshell, personal trainers:

  • Are trained and certified fitness professionals
  • Help clients reach fitness goals through a systematized diet/exercise program
  • Are also great motivators who keep clients accountable


The following is a rough average of personal trainer salaries and market demand in the U.S.

Median Pay


Top Pay


10-year job growth


Like in most careers, the salary earned in personal training largely depends on your experience, qualifications, geographic location, and whether or not you're working at a fitness club. Personal trainers who build up clientele and strike out on their own usually experience much higher earnings.

What Qualifications Are Needed

To become a personal trainer, there are two types of qualifications one needs.

Personal qualities. And certifications.

Personal trainers need to be patient, encouraging, analytical, persistent, organized, great motivators and amazing listeners. It's also important that you lead by example. No, you don't have to be built like Ronnie Coleman. But ideally you shouldn't be carrying around a beer gut. After all, like most products or services, packaging goes a LONG way toward enhancing perceived value.

Certification is a must if you want to get anywhere. You really shouldn't just settle for any random "Jim Bob Fitness Certification" (do 25 pushups and you're a certified PT). No! Go for something nationally recognized that gleams with prestige.

The five most popular personal trainer certifications are:


1. American Council on Exercise (ACE)
2. National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
3. International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)
4. American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
5. National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)

Every program requires that you are 18 years or older, and that you have a hands-on CPR and AED (automatic external defibrillator) certification. You can get this certification through a community education program or the Red Cross. For the ACE and NASM certification, that’s all you need.

In addition to these requirements, the ACSM, ISSA, and NSCA require that you have a high school diploma or GED.

ACSM offers the cheapest recertification at $30 every three years; but they also require the most continuing education, with 45 CECs (continuing education credits) in the same period. The approximate equivalency is one hour for one CEC. ACSM conducts many conferences around the country, online courses, and webinars, and also accepts CECs from other health and fitness organizations.

ACE requires recertification every two years, and requires a $129 fee. They require 20 CECs, where each CEC is equal to one hour of training. NASM also requires 20 hours every two years, and has a $99 recertification fee. However, when you get certified, you have the option of paying $299, which will cover your recertification fees for life.

ISSA offers a low recertification fee of $75 every two years, and requires the accumulation of 20 CECs. NSCA has the lowest fee at $50 every two years, and, like most of the other organizations, requires 20 hours of continuing education per recertification period.

If there's a specific club or fitness center you want to work for, I'd suggest phoning them in and verifying what certifications they require.

 Professional Development

There are two ways that you can go about this career path. One is high-risk/high-reward and the other low-risk/low-reward. The first route involves starting your own personal training business. It doesn't take too much. Just choose a business name, register it, acquire liability insurance, and set up a gym (feel free to use your place). After that, it's all about doing your research. Choose a target audience/market.

Once you do, then your next step is putting your name out there--marketing. When you finally get your first client, assuming they're satisfied, then the rest is essentially a snowball effect. You'll likely get repeat work and referrals.

But don't make the classic mistake of getting lazy on the marketing when you're packed with clients. Because one morning you'll wake up and your clients might not be there, and then you'll be stuck at square one. So don't wait for the lean days to market your business.

Make sure you commit to a routine and systematic marketing strategy. Your well will never run dry.

Then the other option is to work at a fitness club. Hey, maybe it's too soon to grab your dumbbells, weighted balls, and strike out on your own. So go online and do a quick search of fitness clubs in your area.

Beware. If you think you're going to simply work there for a few months, schmooze everyone there, and walk off with the club's clientele... well that can be dangerous--legally. That's because there's this little thing that most clubs have you sign in their employment agreement called a "non-competition clause", preventing you from doing just that--becoming a competitor.

If you want to make the big bucks as a personal trainer, you should look into specializing your expertise. Yeah, you might get by just fine as a generalist. But, likely, that's as far as you'll go. Merely fine. There are just too many jack-of-all trades personal trainers out there for you to stand out.

When you specialize, you automatically position yourself as one of few (if not the only) experts in a specific field--thus raising your perceived value in the market. And guess what? When your perceived value goes up, so can your prices.

 Career Prospects

As previously mentioned, the market for this career depends on: geographic location, education, expertise, and clientele base. Because personal trainers are in such high demand, the issue newcomers will face isn't whether they'll find work. The issue is how much they'll grow. A lot of this limited to the trainer's ambition, diligence, and networking ability. Furthermore, businesses and insurance organizations are now recognizing the benefits of health and fitness programs for their employees. Corporate wellness programs help employees prevent illnesses by encouraging them to live a healthier lifestyle. Employee incentives to join a gym or another type of health club increases the demand for personal trainers and other fitness professionals to enter into the marketplace.

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