How to Become a Personal Trainer

Male personal trainer working with female client in gym

Long before Kim Kardashian and her famous asset (no pun intended) made squats an ‘it’ thing, physical training had already been a valued art form by many cultures across the globe. The ancient Greeks considered it essential to anyone’s pursuit of excellence, while the Persians believed it was critical to building a stronger and more united army.

Physical training is a job that demands dedication, discipline and copious amounts of energy. So, if the thought of spending hours sweating in the gym and motivating others inspires you, then here’s a list of steps you should take to make your dream job come true.

This is how to become a personal trainer.

1. Research the Profession

Nowadays, physical health is valued more than ever, especially with social media making people feel more conscious about how they look (see also: #gainz). But there’s also an increased appreciation for physical fitness and how it can greatly benefit you in all other aspects of your life.

What once seemed like a vapid pursuit of vanity is now an essential lifestyle habit, which is why becoming a personal trainer today is not only a good choice, it’s a smart one, too.

Below is an overview of exactly this exciting career path entails.

Job Description

A personal trainer’s main function is to motivate, guide and help his or her clients achieve their health goals through proper diet and exercise instructions. Their duties include:

  • helping clients determine and achieve their fitness goals
  • providing clients with the correct exercise routine and diet
  • demonstrating and assisting clients on how to properly execute exercises to avoid injuries
  • tracking clients’ progress and modifying their exercise regimen as they see fit
  • giving honest feedback to clients
  • providing first aid if and when necessary

Essential Skills and Qualities

Personal trainers share a special set of skills that make them great at what they do. To check if you’re a good fit for the job, be sure you possess most or, better yet, all of the following skills and characteristics:

  • discipline: personal trainers must demonstrate discipline to gain the respect and trust of their clients. If they’re not disciplined enough to stick to their own diet and exercise regimen, then they wouldn’t be able to do it for others.
  • patience: it’s not uncommon for clients to cheat on their exercise routine and blame their personal trainers for not seeing results. It’s important that personal trainers have enough patience to deal with these kinds of situations and, more importantly, not give up on helping them reach their health goals.
  • honesty: while it will be easier to play ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ and just tell clients what they want to hear, personal trainers must be honest with their feedback when it comes to their clients’ progress.
  • negotiation skills: there will be times when clients will try to weasel out of an extra set of burpees; it’s up to personal trainers to continue to motivate them by coming up with a good compromise.
  • networking skills: to earn a living as a personal trainer, you must have a strong network that will give you access to potential clients. Remember: the more clients you have, the better.
  • communication skills: in order to efficiently reach their clients’ health goals, it’s essential that personal trainers are able to clearly communicate with their clients.
  • time management skills: personal trainers must be able to juggle their busy schedules, especially if they have numerous clients that they cater to.

Working Hours and Conditions

Personal trainers usually have a flexible schedule so they can work around the availability of their clients. Most of them, however, choose to work at commercial gyms to ensure that they have a regular salary every month. Working hours are generally good but can also be erratic, especially if clients work on very different timetables.

Salary Prospects

According to PayScale, personal trainers can earn an average salary of £19,458 ($25,723) per year. This amount can increase depending on the number of clients that they’re able to retain.

2. Get the Qualifications

Personal trainers must at least have a high school level of education, after which they are required to take specialised courses and be certified by an accredited organisation. Personal trainers must also be qualified to administer first aid.

Depending on what kind of personal trainer you want to be, there are typically two courses you can take in the UK. The first is the gym or fitness instructor course which is used by Level 2 personal trainers. These refer to those who are qualified to work as gym instructors in different kinds of fitness establishments.

The first course is usually the starting point for most health professionals who want to shift to personal training. Meanwhile, the second is the personal trainer course which is for Level 3 personal trainers. These refer to those who wish to work on their own time and build their own clientele. Both courses are widely available through accredited colleges and private training providers.

The US has similar requirements but doesn’t necessarily divide personal training levels into two. Instead, they offer special CPT certifications depending on the specific type of training you want to concentrate on. For example, if you want to be a personal trainer for athletes, then you can take a special course on athletics and sports.

Regardless of what kind of personal trainer you want to be, what’s most important is to make sure that the certifying organisation is accredited, preferably by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).

3. Land Your First Job

After getting certified, most newly minted personal trainers join their local gym to find a community and build a network of potential clients. It’s also good practice for when you start doing your own one-on-one sessions.

If you want to increase your chances of getting noticed, you may consider becoming a member of professional organisations such as the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs) or the National Register of Personal Trainers (NRPT).

Similar to the UK, most personal trainers from the US also start by joining a commercial gym where they can meet clients. They also have professional groups like the United States Registry of Exercise Professionals (USREPS) which you can join to further improve your career aspects.

Another slick trick you can use is to post your own or your clients’ (with their consent, of course) before-and-after photos. Not only is it a great way to build your own portfolio, but it’s also a simple and effective tool to market yourself on social media.

4. Develop Your Career

If you’re from the UK, one of the best ways to develop your career is to enrol in a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) course. Similar to how the US has specialty courses, these programmes are designed to improve and expand your knowledge so you can become an expert in a specific field.

For instance, one of the most popular types of exercise nowadays is indoor cycling but not all personal trainers are able to teach it. By taking a CPD course, not only do you increase your skill set, but you also maximise your earning potential.

You may also want to invest in your own equipment to better service your clients. It doesn’t have to be big or expensive; you can start with something as simple as an exercise ball or kettlebell. What’s important is you continue investing in your craft so you’re never left behind.

Lastly, you can develop your career by going the extra mile for your clients. Even when your sessions end, keep in touch with their progress and offer the support they need without charging. This will help you stand out from the rest of the personal trainers out there. After all, it’s your genuine desire to help improve the lives of others that you got into this career and there’s no better way of showing that than by being sincere.


Are you a personal trainer yourself? Share your own tips on how to get ahead in the comments section below.