How to Become a Personal Trainer
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Personal trainers develop safe, effective exercise programs for people looking to achieve and maintain fitness goals. Personal trainers can also assist their clients in nutrition with the proper education. Personal training is a rewarding profession — you get to improve people's lives and see real results over time.
On average, personal trainers earn $45,650 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Personal trainers don't need a college degree and can get certified for a fraction of the cost.
If you're interested in fitness, helping others, and seeing rewarding results for your work, read on to determine whether this career is right for you.
What Does a Personal Trainer Do?
Personal trainers work with clients to develop and implement fitness training regimens that help achieve goals. Trainers introduce clients to exercises based on their skill levels and needs. They must keep up with the latest professional recommendations and findings in fitness and nutrition.
Steps to Becoming a Personal Trainer
Most national certification programs only require a high school diploma or GED. You can get your GED for under $150 in most states, and it should only take about three months.
Personal trainers must complete cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillator (AED) certification programs. These programs teach trainers how to help a client in a medical emergency until a medical professional arrives.
Nearly every national personal training certification organization requires AED and CPR certifications. They typically cost up to $55 and take about four hours to complete.
Prospective trainers should choose a specialty that matches their skill sets, personal interests, and professional goals. Once you determine your specialization, review the various fitness certifying bodies and each of their fitness certifications. Choose the program that makes the most sense for you and your goals.
The National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) is the primary accrediting body for personal training certifications. The major certifying bodies include:
- American College of Sports Medicine
- National Academy of Sports Medicine
- American Council on Exercise
- National Strength and Conditioning Association
Once you choose the certification you want, you'll need to prepare for the exam. Most exams have practice questions you can run online, and there are also online prep courses. You should study hard and make sure you are confident when you register.
Once you're feeling prepared, excited, and ready to become a personal trainer, it's time to register for your exam. Typically, this includes an application and your fee.
The test will most likely be computer-based and include between 120-150 questions. The question amount and types will be similar but depend on the individual test. For example, the Certified Personal Trainer Certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) has questions across four sections:
- Program Planning
- Client Consultation and Fitness Assessment
- Exercise Techniques
- Safety/Emergency Issues
Now that you're qualified for positions in various fitness settings, it's up to you to decide the best fit. As a start, you can check the NASM and other fitness organizations for job postings. You can gain experience by working at your local gym and possibly shadowing an experienced trainer. Some new personal trainers opt to build a client roster on their own and work independently.
As the fitness field expands, you will need to continue learning and growing to stay competitive. Some ways to do that include:
- Taking courses at a career-focused school
- Enrolling in community college training or degree programs
- Taking external personal training courses
- Enrolling in a four-year university
Personal Trainer Salaries and Job Growth
Top 10 states with the highest job growth:
- Utah: 35.5%
- Louisiana: 27%
- Nevada: 26.6%
- Maryland: 25.8%
- Colorado: 25.6%
- Wyoming: 24.1%
- Texas: 22.8%
- Kentucky: 21.6%
- Oregon: 20.2%
- Florida: 20%
Career Paths for Personal Trainers
Garnering the certifications and experience necessary, you can find a personal training job at a gym. You could also freelance as a personal trainer, building a client base on your own, or make fitness videos to post online or on social media.
With some time in the industry, you could run a gym and lead a team of personal trainers and gym instructors. You'll most likely need a bachelor's degree and management experience to become a fitness director.
Once you've built a client base and networked in the fitness industry, you might consider opening your own gym and hiring personal trainers and fitness directors yourself. Running your own business comes with many perks, including setting your own schedule and determining your pay.
However, it also means you're responsible for everything and everyone involved in the gym.
Courses in Personal Training Programs
Though most personal training certificate programs only require a high school diploma, expanding your education is a great way to expand your career. Generally, you could seek a personal training certificate or associate degree. You also have the option of seeking an advanced degree such as a bachelor's or master's.
Personal Training Certificate
These programs typically require two to three semesters of study and expose students to the fundamentals of exercise science, nutrition, and human anatomy and physiology. Some courses include:
Combines classroom-based and practical instruction in the fundamental concepts behind physical fitness and the development of exercise plans.
- Exercise methodologies
- Client assessment
- Fitness plan development
Introduction to Personal Training
Explore one-on-one personal training basics, studying fitness techniques, kinesiology, and exercise science.
- Scientific principles of exercise
- Motor learning
Methodologies of Personal Training
An overview of the personal trainer's role, including topics like client assessment, feedback, and evaluation.
- Ethics and professionalism
- Trainer communication
- Fitness planning
Personal Training-Focused Associate Degrees
These are two-year programs allowing students to complete a comprehensive course in a range of professional areas. Some courses include:
Exercise Science and Nutrition
Study nutrition and fitness fundamentals, focusing on the relationship between exercise, nutrition, and health.
- Nutritional planning
- Energy balance
- Basic exercises
Exercise Program Design
An introduction to fitness programs, focusing on aerobic, strength, and flexibility training for individuals and groups.
- Weight management techniques
- Motivational communication
- Fitness training techniques
Strength and Conditioning
Introduces muscle physiology, particularly how to use resistance training properly and effectively.
- Correct exercise form and technique
- Resistance training techniques
Components of a Successful Personal Trainer Career
Personal trainers need education, experience, and personal qualities to help clients achieve their fitness goals. Learn more about the skills that can help pave the way to a prosperous career in personal training.
Personal Trainer Skills
Getting Financial Help with Your Personal Training Program
Scholarships for Personal Training Programs
- Applicants must be a high school, college, or university student
- $1,000 award that can go to any education-related expense
- November 1, annually
Ash Hayes Scholarship
- Applicants must be over the age of 18 and currently working with or aspiring to work with youth
- Grants all the materials needed to become an ACE personal trainer at no cost
- January 1, annually
- This award is given to 25 applicants each year
Related Careers at a Glance
Fitness and health are expansive industries with multiple possible career paths available. For individuals unsure about the personal trainer certification path, below is a list of other potential employment options to consider.
- Growth: 11%
- Median Annual Salary: $50,280
- Entry-Level Education Requirements: Bachelor's degree, with national certification recommended
- Growth: 16%
- Median Annual Salary: $86,280
- Entry-Level Education Requirements: Master's degree, clinical internship, national certification, and state license
- Growth: 18%
- Median Annual Salary: $91,010
- Entry-Level Education Requirements: Doctoral or professional degree, national certification, and state license
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