Personal Trainer: Career Definition, Employment Outlook, and Educational Requirements

Research what it takes to become a personal trainer. Learn about job duties, job outlook, education requirements, and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Fitness Trainer degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Personal Trainer?

A personal trainer instructs and leads individuals and groups in exercise activities like cardiovascular training, strength training, and stretching. Personal trainers often work for gyms and fitness clubs, where they teach and help clients to exercise properly. Some people hire personal trainers to help them with not only workouts, but also motivational factors and nutritional advice. They work with clients with all levels of ability and varying fitness needs, such as obese clients and those needing stress relief. The table below outlines the general requirements to become a personal trainer.

Degree Required High school diploma; postsecondary training and/or associate's or bachelor's degree recommended
Education Field of Study Exercise science, kinesiology, or physical education
Key Skills Physical fitness, listening and motivational skills, problem solving skills
Certification Required Must be certified in CPR, further certification depends on employer
Job Growth (2014-2024) 8% (for fitness trainers and instructors)*
Mean Annual Salary (2014) $40,970 (for fitness trainers and instructors)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What is the Career Definition of a Personal Trainer?

A personal trainer helps his or her clients get into peak condition and achieve fitness objectives by providing personal fitness training, motivation and support. Trainers assist their clients in all types of fitness disciplines, including strength and flexibility training and weight lifting. A personal trainer usually conducts assessments of the client's level of fitness before training begins. Then, she or he puts together a plan that is designed to help the client reach optimal fitness through proper nutrition, exercise and necessary lifestyle changes. Various duties include monitoring a client's progress, altering fitness programs according to the client's needs and choosing music to accompany their fitness training. In the event of minor injuries, personal trainers are prepared to offer first aid to their clients.

What is the Employment Outlook?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that job opportunities for fitness trainers will be favorable between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). In 2014, there were approximately 279,100 fitness workers employed in the industry in the United States, and it is projected that nearly 302,500 will be employed by 2024, according to the BLS. Since more people are motivated to live healthier lifestyles by exercising more, it is predicted that the demand for fitness workers will expand at a rate of 8% during this decade, especially in fitness clubs. Also, the reduction of school physical education programs will increase the need for fitness workers to help keep children physically conditioned. The BLS estimates that fitness trainers who work in the recreation and amusement industries earned a mean annual salary of $42,350 in 2015.

What Educational Requirements Should I Satisfy?

The educational requirements for personal trainers are not standardized; however, many employers prefer that you become certified or hold an associate or bachelor's degree. To prepare yourself for a career as a personal trainer, enroll in a program that includes coursework in areas such as athletic performance, sports nutrition, first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), exercise physiology and client fitness assessment. You may find suitable training programs through community colleges that offer associate's degrees in personal fitness training. These programs may have classes that are transferable to a 4-year university offering a degree in fitness management.

When you have completed your educational training program, you may need to become certified. Some certification agencies require only a high school diploma, while others request an associate's or bachelor's degree. In addition, you must become certified in CPR and pass a personal trainer certification examination.

Some of the top nationally accredited certification agencies are the American College of Sports Medicine, National Strength and Conditioning Association, National Academy of Sports Medicine and American Council on Exercise. After a period of time, you may have to re-certify, which will require continuing education courses.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Related career fields include recreation workers, who need a high school diploma and lead activities like sports and crafts at recreation facilities and senior centers. Physical therapist aides work under the supervision of a physical therapist and help patients with proper exercise techniques, rehabilitation of broken bones or after surgery, and even pain management techniques. Aides also need a high school diploma, plus on-the-job training.

Bachelor's degrees are required for athletic trainers and exercise physiologists. These professionals work with specific groups to help them maintain health, rehabilitate an injury or keep mobile. Athletic trainers will work very closely with physical education centers and sports teams. Most universities and all professional sports teams will have athletic trainers who help athletes with on-field injuries or after-care rehab. Exercise physiologists work with chronic disease or cardio patients needing specific exercise plans to promote better flexibility, stronger muscles and a healthier lifestyle.

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