Personal trainers assist the public in meeting their health and fitness goals. If you enjoy helping people and are passionate about fitness, personal training may be a great fit for you.
How To Become A Personal Trainer
While it is possible to become a personal trainer with no formal training, most gyms prefer to hire certified personal trainers. Certification is earned by passing an examination offered by one of several national certifying agencies. Most agencies offer exam preparation courses and testing services.
Research NCCA-accredited certification programs from which to earn your personal training certification
There are several certification programs out there to choose from, but the most reputable are those accredited by the National Commission of Certifying Agencies (NCCA). There are currently twelve accredited personal training certifications recognized by the NCCA. Included among these certifications are Certified Personal Fitness Trainer (CPFT), offered by the Academy of Applied Personal Training Education (AAPTE), Personal Trainer (ACE-CPT), offered by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), and ACSM Certified Personal Trainer (CPT), offered by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).
Enroll in an exam preparation course through one of the certification programs
In order to get certified, you’ll need to take a written exam. Most accredited certification providers offer both exam preparation and testing services–one such organization is the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Most exam preparation courses take between 80 and 100 hours to complete.
Register for your personal training examination within applicable timeframes
Some organizations require that you register to take your exam within a certain timeframe of enrolling in your exam preparation course. For example, ACE requires students to register within six months after enrolling in its study course. Keep in mind that many organizations require you to be CPR/AED-certified before taking your exam.
Become certified as a specialist through an NCCA-accredited certification program
Once you’ve gotten your feet wet as a trainer, you may want to look into picking a specialty. While it’s certainly possible to specialize in an area based on your experience alone, for maximum credibility you should consider earning an additional certification. Popular specialty certifications offered through NCCA-accredited organizations include Fitness Nutrition, Sports Conditioning, and Weight Management.
Maintain your certification
The most reputable programs typically require you to take continuing education courses to maintain your certification, so be sure to stay aware of all deadlines and requirements. For example, ACE requires 20 hours of continuing education every two years to maintain certification.
The costs associated with becoming a personal trainer can vary depending on multiple factors. However, an aspiring personal trainer can typically expect to pay the following amounts if certification is earned through a highly rated organization:
- Initial certification exam preparation: $500.00 and up;
- CPR/AED certification: $20.00 and up;
- Certification exam: $300.00 and up;
- Specialty certification: $200.00 and up;
- Continued education courses: Varies by organization.
Job Description / Responsibilities
Personal trainers assist clients in reaching their health and fitness goals. With obesity rates on the rise worldwide, the services provided by personal trainers are more important than ever. Below is a list of typical duties performed by personal trainers:
- Meet with clients to determine individual fitness goals. Typical goals include weight loss, muscle growth, and overall health improvement.
- Design and implement training programs. Training programs must be designed to meet the unique needs of each client. The client’s stated goals will be instrumental in determining the appropriate training program.
- Provide instruction on the proper use of gym equipment. Many clients will have little to no previous exercise experience. It is imperative that each client receive instructions on safely using all gym equipment.
- Provide instruction on proper exercise technique. Proper technique and the appropriate use of exercise equipment go hand in hand. In order to avoid injury and maximize progress, the trainer must ensure that all clients use proper technique.
- Provide motivation. Many clients seek out personal trainers because they lack the motivation to exercise independently. Helping clients stay motivated ensures that all goals are met.
- Provide emotional and moral support. Once you begin training clients, you will find that there is more to the position than just technical knowledge. Many clients, in addition to seeking exercise instruction, simply want someone to talk to. A trainer’s ability to provide moral and emotional support is directly related to client success.
- Provide lifestyle advice. Good trainers know that what happens in the gym is only a piece of the overall fitness puzzle. The ability to provide clients with guidance on issues such as sleep habits and stress reduction will have a direct effect on the progress they make.
- Provide nutritional advice. While most trainers should be able to provide general advice on nutrition, it is important for those not certified in this area to disclose this information to clients. In order to give more detailed nutritional advice to clients, consider earning a specialty certification in Fitness Nutrition.
As of 2014, there were approximately 279,100 individuals employed as personal trainers. This number is expected to increase by eight percent through 2024, which is slightly higher than average.
A major factor affecting the growth of the personal training industry is the recognition by government, businesses, and insurance organizations of the benefits of health and fitness programs for their employees. This recognition is expected to increase the need for personal trainers in the coming years.
With growth expected to increase steadily over approximately the next decade, the long-term career prospects for this profession are positive. Also, with obesity steadily on the rise worldwide, it would not be unreasonable to expect the growth of this industry to exceed eight percent in the coming decades.
A personal trainer’s specialty typically determines his or her work environment. Trainers work in facilities such as gyms, health clubs, fitness centers, and recreation centers. Working hours will vary depending on type of employment. For example, some trainers are employed by private gyms and work traditional eight-hour shifts, while others work as independent contractors and set their own schedules.
As one might expect, personal training is a physically demanding job. In other words, personal trainers should expect to be on their feet for most of the day. In addition, trainers should be prepared to demonstrate proper exercise technique to their clients.
Fitness centers can be dangerous environments for those unfamiliar with the proper use of fitness equipment. Accordingly, safety should be of paramount concern to both personal trainers and their clients. Through proper instruction, situational awareness, and technical knowledge, risks associated with this profession should be greatly reduced.
As with any profession, life as a personal trainer can be stressful. However, the level of stress and number of challenges faced will vary greatly depending on facility, number and temperament of clients, and specialty.
The following resources should help get you started towards your new career as a personal trainer.
- National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA): The NCCA is considered the gold standard of personal training accrediting agencies. To find a program, use the “Accredited Programs Directory” on the left hand side of the page. On the next page, select “Fitness and Wellness” from the “Industry” dropdown menu for a list of programs.
- American Council on Exercise (ACE): ACE is the world’s largest nonprofit health and fitness certification organization. It is NCCA-certified and offers multiple certification options for the aspiring personal trainer.
- National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA): The NSCA is considered one of the top certifying organizations for both personal trainers and strength coaches. This organization offers certification, membership, and educational options.
- IDEA Health and Fitness Association: IDEA is a fitness organization and educational resource offering over 8500 professional articles and 500 training videos. This site also offers a fitness professional directory.
- FitnessJobs.com: FitnessJobs.com is a fitness industry job search website. The site has been in service for over fifteen years and offers several customizable job search functions.
- National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Job Board: The NASM Job Board is another excellent resource of finding a position in the fitness industry. The site offers a series of specific job categories to choose from.
- NSCA Conferences: The NSCA offers several conferences every year. NSCA conferences provide attendees with information on the latest research, techniques, and developments in strength and conditioning.
- The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research is the official research journal of the National Strength and Conditioning Association. It is an excellent resource for keeping informed of the latest developments in exercise science.
- Fitness Trainer Magazine: Fitness Trainer Magazine is a digital publication dedicated to the personal training profession. Its expert staff ensures that every issue contains the latest developments in strength and fitness.
- Ignite the Fire: The Secrets to Building a Successful Personal Training Career: This highly-rated book provides personal trainers with a series of excellent tips for career success. Released by Jonathan Goodman in 2015, this handy guide belongs on every personal trainer’s bookshelf.
Personal training requires a broad skillset. While you may not possess all of the following skills at the outset, it is imperative that you work to develop each of them in order to enjoy a long and successful career as a personal trainer. Note that several of these skills will be acquired during the certification process.
- Assessment ability: Personal trainers must be able to properly assess their clients. This includes both initial and periodic assessments. The initial assessment will help you determine the current fitness level of your clients, while periodic assessments will allow you to monitor their progress.
- Exercise program design ability: The ability to effectively design training programs for your clients is arguably the most important aspect of personal training. Personal trainers must become experts in designing effective exercise programs based on the individual needs and goals of their clients.
- Anatomical knowledge: Personal trainers should possess a basic understanding of how the human body works. In addition to being useful during the program design process, basic anatomical knowledge is required in order to observe and detect deficiencies in the technique of your clients.
- Exercise knowledge: As a personal trainer, you should become an expert in demonstrating, explaining, and prescribing a wide variety of exercises. Not only must you know the purpose behind each exercise, but you need to understand how exercises can be combined to help your clients reach their individual goals.
- Safety knowledge: Safety should always be your top priority as a personal trainer. This includes precautions based on client age, physical fitness level, and health status. In addition, environmental awareness should be practiced to avoid potential dangers associated with gym equipment.
- First aid knowledge: It is recommended that personal trainers learn basic first aid techniques. While proper assessment and the use of appropriate precautions should prevent most emergency situations, accidents and negative health reactions are always a possibility, so it’s important to be prepared for them.
- Nutritional knowledge: Even if you aren’t certified as a nutritional specialist, you should possess a basic understanding of proper nutrition. Providing clients with general advice on the development of healthy eating habits is a key component to a successful training program.
- Communication ability: As a personal trainer, you must be able to effectively communicate with your clients. While this comes naturally to some people, others must develop it as they go along. Clear, direct communication will ensure that your clients get the most out of their training experience.
- Customer service: Effective customer service will ensure that you keep your clients happy. Typical elements of good customer service include receptiveness to feedback, respect for your clients, and a service-oriented attitude.
- Sales ability: Believe it or not, personal trainers are in the sales business. You must develop the ability to generate business, particularly if you’re employed as an independent contractor. The first step in selling your services is doing a great job with your current clients. People tend to share their experiences with others, and positive reviews from your current clients will go a long way in generating new business.