How to Become a Personal Trainer

LearnHowToBecome Team
Cheyenne Green Vowell
September 15, 2021

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 Trainer Careers Basics

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

Step 1
Earn a High School Diploma

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.

Step 2
Complete AED/CPR Certification

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.

Step 3
Choose a Fitness Specialty

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.

Step 4
Prepare for Certification

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.

Step 5
Take and Pass Certification Examination

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
Step 6
Apply for Jobs and Build a Portfolio

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.

Step 7
Additional Education Options

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

State

Top 10 states with the highest job growth:

  1. Utah: 35.5%
  2. Louisiana: 27%
  3. Nevada: 26.6%
  4. Maryland: 25.8%
  5. Colorado: 25.6%
  6. Wyoming: 24.1%
  7. Texas: 22.8%
  8. Kentucky: 21.6%
  9. Oregon: 20.2%
  10. 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:

Physical Fitness

Combines classroom-based and practical instruction in the fundamental concepts behind physical fitness and the development of exercise plans.

Skills Gained
  • 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.

Skills Gained
  • Biomechanics
  • 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.

Skills Gained
  • 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.

Skills Gained
  • 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.

Skills Gained
  • Weight management techniques
  • Motivational communication
  • Fitness training techniques

Strength and Conditioning

Introduces muscle physiology, particularly how to use resistance training properly and effectively.

Skills Gained
  • 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

Fitness Assessment
Trainers can understand fitness screening techniques, determine the appropriate type of screening based on the client and setting, and identify risk factors that could impact the client's health.
Communication
Effective communication is key to becoming a personal trainer. You must be able to teach clients, listen and respond to their needs, and maintain professional relationships.
Leadership
Trainers should be ethical professionals that can convey information effectively to motivate clients to achieve their goals.
Nutrition and Weight Management
To establish appropriate programs for clients, trainers should be knowledgeable in nutrition, weight loss, and weight management.
Analytical Thinking
You should understand human behavior and know how to leverage a client's learning style to maximize their exercise needs.
Exercise Mechanisms
Trainers should know exercise in and out, including proper warm-up, cool-down, session length, equipment, physical limitations, and exercise monitoring to provide safe training plans for clients.

Getting Financial Help with Your Personal Training Program

Scholarships for Personal Training Programs

FitnessTrainer.Com Scholarship

Ash Hayes Scholarship

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.

Exercise Physiologist

  • Growth: 11%
  • Median Annual Salary: $50,280
  • Entry-Level Education Requirements: Bachelor's degree, with national certification recommended

Dietitian or Nutritionist

  • Growth: 8%
  • Median Annual Salary: $63,090
  • Entry-Level Education Requirements: Bachelor's degree, internship, national certification, and state license

Occupational Therapist

  • Growth: 16%
  • Median Annual Salary: $86,280
  • Entry-Level Education Requirements: Master's degree, clinical internship, national certification, and state license

Physical Therapist

  • Growth: 18%
  • Median Annual Salary: $91,010
  • Entry-Level Education Requirements: Doctoral or professional degree, national certification, and state license

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Cheyenne Green Vowell
Contributing Writer

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