How to Become a Fitness Instructor in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for fitness instructors. Get the facts about education and certification requirements, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Education - Sports Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Fitness Instructor?

Fitness instructors guide, teach, and encourage groups and individuals during exercise routines and activities. They show clients how to execute exercises and monitor their progress and provide information about lifestyle, weight management, and food and beverage choices. They must monitor client progress and adjust programs accordingly. Safety rules must be enforced. They must also be prepared to execute emergency first aid. The following table provides some basic information on this career.

Education RequiredHigh school diploma, associate's or bachelor's degree recommended
Education Field of StudyExercise science, kinesiology, physical education
Key SkillsCustomer service, motivational, physical fitness, problem-solving
CertificationVoluntary but many employers prefer certification
Job Growth (2018-2028)13% for fitness trainers and instructors*
Median Salary (2018) $39,820 for Fitness trainers and instructors*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Fitness Instructor Do?

Fitness instructors lead a person or group in exercise routines to improve health and wellness. They often train clients in aerobics, cycling or weight-lifting exercises, but may also specialize in areas like yoga or Pilates. They typically work at gyms and health clubs, but may also work at private clients' homes.

Step 1: Research a Fitness Instructor's Career Duties

Fitness instructors typically work with groups demonstrating exercise routines. In this role, you would teach participants proper form to avoid injuries. You would also provide instruction on how to breathe properly and use equipment correctly. Music is usually an important factor in leading a class, so you may spend time choosing selections that can keep your class motivated and energized.

Some fitness instructors are personal trainers who provide one-on-one consultations to clients. You may work with individual clients at a fitness facility or in their home. Common tasks you would do include creating specific exercise programs based on clients' health needs, developing nutritional plans and monitoring weight and muscle changes.

Step 2: Complete a Training Program

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), on-the-job training is usually not provided for this profession and prior experience is often necessary ( You can train to be a fitness instructor by completing a non-degree college program or certification preparation program. Courses for these programs usually cover strength training, cycling and dancing.

Step 3: Earn a Degree

Some employers prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree in a health-related major. Bachelor's degree programs you may consider include exercise science, health behavior science or physical education. Completing required courses such as anatomy and physiology, cardiovascular health and personal health management can provide you with the knowledge and skills necessary to work as a fitness instructor.

Step 4: Become a Certified Fitness Instructor

Although certification is not mandatory, employers may require or prefer it, according to BLS. You may obtain the Personal Trainer Certification or the Group Fitness Instructor Certification offered by the American Council on Exercise (ACE). To sit for these certification exams, you must be at least 18 years of age and be certified in adult cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillator (AED).

There are several other organizations that offer certifications for this career. To ensure that a certification program is credible, you can utilize the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) website to see a list of accredited fitness instructor programs.

Step 5: Find a Fitness Instructor Job

Becoming certified can make you more marketable to employers. Working at a gym or health club as a front desk receptionist or sales representative can help you learn more about the industry and prepare you for a fitness instructor career. Taking classes or utilizing a personal trainer for several years to learn technique and training skills may also be useful.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Some related careers include recreation workers, athletic trainers and exercise physiologists. Recreation workers implement leisure programs, like dance classes, for recreational facilities such as youth centers. Athletic trainers work to prevent, treat and diagnose conditions related to the muscle and bone. Exercise physiologists work with clients suffering from chronic illnesses, developing programs to restore functionality. Recreation workers only need a high school diploma, while the other careers require a bachelor's degree.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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