5 steps to become a personal trainer (Part 1)


“How do I become a personal trainer?” - you
“Well, you get certified.” - your friend
“Cool, I’ll google some stuff and find the quickest and cheapest route. I’m ready!” – you
“Sounds good to me!” – your friend

This may be what it looks like when some people decide to make a career in fitness, but for most, I imagine it’s much more complex. If you are serious, it should be.

Here are the first 3 of 5 steps in becoming a personal trainer.

Step 1: Understand what makes a successful personal trainer.
Over the last decade in observing and developing personal trainers, I’ve learned some simple characteristics that ensure their success.

  • They are great listeners – even the greatest talkers know how to listen
  • They are resilient – be ready to get turned down and roll with the punches
  • They are organized – know how to check your e-mail, schedule everything, and respond quickly
  • They have integrity - Walk the walk, look the part

As much as you may think your clients will value you because you give them physical results, there is another hidden value that trainers don’t understand until they have been in the industry for a while. It’s the relationship. People stick with you because they like you. So, you have to be likable. To be likeable, you have to be loving. Loving someone requires being thoughtful and intentional about your relationship with them. This is what makes a personal trainer successful.

Step 2: Get a Certification
This is a pretty heavy topic to discuss and a sensitive one because it’s a very biased category for discussion. Considering all this, the best I can do is be neutral, but honest.

Here are a couple of bullet points to ask yourself when shopping for a cert.

  • Is it a national/international certification?
  • What are the prerequisites?
  • How much does it cost?
  • What are the continuing education requirements to renew the certificate?
  • Is there a specific club you want to work for? If so, find out what certifications they require or recognize before taking the test.

In no particular order here are a few:

  • NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine)
  • ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine)
  • ACE (American Council on Exercise)
  • AFPA (American Fitness Professionals and Associates)
  • IFPA (International Fitness Professionals Association)
  • ISSA (International Sports & Sciences Association)
  • NCSF (National Council on Strength and Fitness)
  • NFPT (National Federation of Professional Trainers)

I personally don’t feel you should spend more than $800-$1200 for a certification and the certification shouldn’t be a simple 1-2 day workshop. A good cert should require a considerable investment of time, study, and commitment to achieve.

Step 3: Get a Job
Although it comes down to 2 main career paths for fitness professionals, there are many options in finding a job as a trainer. Really, you have 2 roads, work for yourself or work behind another brand.  Here are the main jobs that trainers in this day and age fall in to.

  • Commercial Gyms – Lifetime Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness, Gold's Gym, L.A. Fitness, the Globo Gyms ; ) Being behind a large brand like this allows you to have a significant amount of exposure to gym members and you are around other trainers daily. These are good things. The catch, they are low pay from commission, strict sales goals, and very structured.
  • Personal Training Studios – There are studios that focus on personal and small group training only. This is normally a “rent” scenario. You have all the freedom and independence that you can ask for, but you have very little support and it’s up to you in making a paycheck.

The next batch of suggestions are a little more difficult to fall in to because of availability. I find getting your foot in the door here is about who you know or just good timing. The pros are you can have a salary, but the primary con is that there is a glass ceiling in growth opportunities.

  • Fitness Club Community Centers – you can find a nearby recreation center or community club and often find a part or full-time position in managing the facility
  • Wellness Centers - many hospitals or clinics sometimes house a fitness professional for generic rehabilitation, where they also allow you to train clients
  • Cruise Ships and Resorts – you will find that all-inclusive vacation-type environments will offer onsite personal training and sometimes they are contract or salary positions
  • Corporate Fitness -  companies like Dell, Amazon, Google, etc. will have a budget to develop their own in-house training operations, which are great gigs if you can get into them
  • Work for yourself or be mobile – Lastly, a common avenue for trainers is to create a business under their own name. Here you have the freedom to train at parks, home sessions, etc. The disadvantage here is you are an entrepreneur fending for yourself.

An upcoming option for trainers is a hybrid model such as franchising or licensing a space. Here you can get the best of both worlds, freedom & independence along with support & branding.

My company Gym Studios, is one of the few agencies in the world offering such a category business model. We function much like a franchise, but it’s not a franchise. Our business model is in luxury apartments. Let me share a few points in how lucrative our model has been for personal trainers over the past 8 years. Just to highlight some real stats:

  • We have over 30 trainers in 4 cities.
  • Our highest paid trainers make $8-10K/month.
  • Our most common trainer feedback is that they love their freedom.
  • Our average apartment community houses 300 units. At least half of those have a roommate. If you engage just 5% of those people, that’s over 20 people. If you convert 50% of those prospects, you have yourself 10 happy clients.

If you would like to find out more about Gym Studios careers, please contact support@gymstudios.com

Our next blog post will cover the last 2 steps:
Step 4 – Establish your niche or focus
Step 5 – Start your business and market yourself

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